Arguments have been raging for years over whether tourists should be allowed to climb Uluru in central Australia.
Now, Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles has added his voice to the debate, calling for the climbs to continue.
Speaking in parliament, the minister envisaged a practice acceptable to the traditional land owners as well.
“I believe we should explore the idea of creating a climb with stringent safety conditions and rules enforcing spiritual respect, that will be endorsed, supported and even managed by the local Aboriginal community.”
Mr Giles says while he acknowledges the meaning Uluru holds for Indigenous communities, he believes the climb could help others understand Indigenous culture.
He says it could rival other attractions such as the Eiffel Tower and Sydney Harbour Bridge.
“Of course I’m fully aware that the Sydney Harbour Bridge does not have the spiritual significance of Uluru to the traditional owners, but allowing the Uluru climb will help visitors better understand the unique indigenous culture and the significance for the Anangu.”
Anangu traditional owner Sammy Wilson disagrees, saying the minister needs to come and discuss the proposal with the traditional owners first.
“You have to talk to the traditional owners to sit down and explain it. This is a sacred site that belong to the Anangu, some people say we want people to climb – why? Is the big question.”
While local Anangu people don’t like tourists climbing Uluru, they haven’t banned it outright.
The federal government released a management plan in 2010 saying it would revisit the idea of closing the climb if numbers dropped below 20 per cent of total visitors to Uluru.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt recently confirmed the government would abide by this.
The Northern Territory’s Chief Minister says decisions over Uluru’s future shouldn’t be made by politicians.
“It appears that the federal government is yet again considering placing a total and permanent ban on climbing Uluru. The first point to make about this ludicrous suggestion is that this should be a decision for Territorians, not for bureaucrats in Canberra.”
Donald Fraser, a traditional owner of Uluru and a former chairman of the Uluru Kata Tjuta board of management, says he’s pleased with the government’s plan, and looks forward to the end of the practice.
“We are very happy. There was an expression of interest (that) went out, throughout the world, and a few Australians opposed the close, but overseas people and everybody – and the traditional owners – want it closed because we want to make the people who passed on…are resting, sleeping now, happy by closing because they want it that way and that’s what we aim to (do) and we are going to eventually close the climb.”
He says Chief Minister Mr Giles’ comments over the climb’s contribution to the local and territory economy miss the point.
“They opened up a lot of things at Uluru, the walk – go out and visit the country, listen to the story, do activities, join in, and learn about Aboriginal people in the centre. It’s not about the climb and the money, it’s about experiences we would like to share, cultural awareness and everything else.”