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The Uluru sacred site in Australia

The Sacred Site of Uluru has Seen its Last Climber


In the 1999 movie The Matrix, Agent Smith said that when trying to classify our species it came to him we are “A virus, a disease, a cancer of this planet, a plague” eating up all the natural resources; and you need look no further than what’s been happening at Uluru, aka Ayers Rock, in Australia to consider this a very valid social observation.

Uluru’s Last Climber

ABC News reports that “Anangu traditional owners celebrated at the base of the rock as a new sign was set up notifying visitors the climb was permanently closed.” The traditional landowner community has been waiting 34 years for this closure to take place.

They also spoke to Uluru’s last legal climber, James Martin from Wodonga in Victoria, who said, “I don't think it was necessarily important to be on the last day, I have climbed it three times this week. I thought it was important to get up there and appreciate Mother Nature for what she is. My initial goal was to spend as much time on the rock as I could, so I got here as early as I could and basically just spent the whole day taking it all in and really enjoying it.”

Facing the pushback on people arriving unprepared and desecrating the mountain, Mr. Martin was certain to tell the news outlet that “he was well equipped for his climb with safety equipment and he said he took up bottles to ensure that he did not leave behind any human waste.” But that seems to have been outside the norm.

People Pushed for One Last Climb of Uluru

Thousands of tourists on self-driving trips climbed Australia’s sacred Uluru before the site was finally closed to the public on October 26. And the action couldn’t have come soon enough, for many of the walkers were allegedly throwing rubbish at their backs, pouring harmful chemicals in organic fields, and defecating on the top of the sacred indigenous site.

Uluru is a sacred rise in the indigenous Australian landscape which began forming about 550 million years ago, and while climbing to its summit has always been discouraged by the park’s owners, the aboriginal Anangu people, the sacred center now features an unsightly white scar from the hundreds of tourists who trudged the same path every day.

In the lead up to the closure, Stephen Schwer, chief executive of Tourism Central Australia, told ABC, “with camping venues at capacity, tourists were veering off-track, with potentially long-lasting damage” and in an article on SMH he was quoted as saying “We are seeing increases in rubbish and illegal roadside camping and generally the kind of behavior which degrades the environment.”

Last minute visitors were failing to book in advance and when they arrived at the site and realized no camping sites were available many of them pulled up on the road side or drove off-road across private property to camp.

Uluru was inundated with visitors before it was closed to the public in October. (Laure /Adobe Stock)

Exceptionally Reasonable Tourist Officials

Where many tourist officials would be outraged and openly blaming the tourists for everything, Mr. Schwer did quite the opposite by explaining that at least some of the confusion was that “a lot of private land in the Northern Territory, often spanning a million acres or more,” are not marked by fences. This meant that driving tourists might be on managed Aboriginal land or national park.

In a News.Com.Au article in July, Mr. Schwer appealed to visitors to plan in advance before making the journey and to book a campsite, and he petitioned visitors “not to climb Uluru” for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s really dangerous, and not only for humans. Mr. Schwer said scientists have observed a recent “decline in the number of plants and animal species at the base of the rock”. What might be the absolute worst aspect of this whole affair is that there are no toilets on the rock, causing a mess which needs no further illustration.

Some visitors to the sacred Uluru seem to have no respect for it or it’s environment. (CC BY 2.0)

Some visitors to the sacred Uluru seemed to have no respect for it or it’s environment. (CC BY 2.0)

Now that Uluru is closed, anyone found climbing the sacred site can expect a hefty fine.

It’s a Respect Thing

Parks Australia manages the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Parks and Mr. Schwer says tourists have to start respecting the wishes of the Aboriginal Anangu people who own the land – and their wish is for people not to climb the rock, which is located in a sacred area. Regardless, thousands of people headed there to climb Uluru before the October closure, a problem compounded by the winter school holidays and new direct flights to Ayers Rock Airport.

Lyndee Severin, manager of the Curtin Springs inn and campground about 100 kilometers from Uluru, told News.Com.Au that “Campers with portable chemical toilets were simply emptying them along the road instead of going to the specialized dump sites available as they are required to do.” She added, ”what we're finding is there are a lot of campers who don't want to stand in line to dump their toilets and so just dump it along the road somewhere,” and if this is on organic cattle farms it might threaten the farm's organic accreditation.

Local Anangu ranger Tjiangu Thomas expressed his dismay at the number of people who hurried over to climb the sacred rock in the last weeks before it was closed – especially because they knew how the traditional owners felt about it, “At the end of the day, respect is a choice,” he said.

A sign at the base of Uluru confirming the landmark's permanent closure. (ABC Darwin/Samantha Jonscher)

Who On Earth Does This to a Sacred Environment?

In an article in Psychology Today, Dr. Rob Wallace, a representative of the anti-litter non-profit Keep America Beautiful said, “research on reasons for littering is ongoing but not yet conclusive.” But he theorized that some people litter because they feel “disenfranchised from society, that they feel powerless.” In some sense, therefore, littering serves much the same purpose as graffiti, a sort of “I was here”.

Dr. Wallace also theorized that people might litter because “they've come to believe that whatever they do, others will pick up after them”, just a sad sense of no responsibility. This thought is supported in the article by a veteran California highway patrolman who said in his 20 years-plus of pulling drivers for littering out their car windows, “not once had an offender ever apologized once caught, they shrugged off the act as insignificant.”

With social psychologists still a long way from solving the problem of how to stop modern society being pigs, isn’t it imperative, for wildlife and the environment’s sake that we stop producing materials that are essentially ‘non-biodegradable’ now, much of which take hundreds and sometimes thousands of years to break down?

Top Image: Uluru, Australia suffered damage as 1000s flocked to climb it before its closure. Source: ronnybas / Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie



Great story. Please keep it up.  You are one of the best.

Mary Madeline's picture

Can you believe people were taking a poop on top of that sacred rock? I mean, come on people you know it's a long walk/climb bring a bag like you would for your dog!

Mary Madeline

Any country that bans climbing a NATURAL rock formation is out of their minds and totalitarian. It is just fine for Australian Aborigines who believe in the certain religious tradition involving said rock not to climb it themselves and exert religious punishment for those in their own community for doing so though they are not supposed to do so. Same goes for Christians, Muslims, Hindu,… within their own religious rules. However, it is absolutely unacceptable for a Government who claims to be religion-agnostic to ban people who do NOT believe in local traditions&religion to conform to them! Government of the FREE people should do no such thing. As for respect, it should be a personal choice-some of non-believers may see it as sign of respect not to climb it, some may feel MORE respect given by climbing it. It s a natural rock after all. It is NOT supernatural as far as rational thought and science go. Shame on Astuailan Totaliatrain Theocracy.

As for nonsense of “damage to the rock” – many climb El Capitan or Mount Everest armed with powerfull tools, drilling, hammering, … yet no such “damage” that would reqire closing access. “Damage” is excuse for instilling other people religious practices on unwilling. 

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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