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Ayers Rock: closing the climb

By John Perkins - posted Thursday, 24 October 2019

The climbing of Uluru / Ayers Rock willl be banned for "cultural reasons" from October 26, 2019. The traditional owners, the Anangu people, say that climbing the rock is offensive to them. It is a men's sacred area. So, the motivation for banning climbers is thus the somewhat secret religious beliefs of the Anangu men.

While there are many reasons why we may feel sympathy with the views of the local Aboriginal people of Uluru, is it really fair that their religious beliefs (Tjukurpa) should be imposed on everyone else? It does not appear that the climb, as a rule, prevents them from practising their beliefs. So how far should their desire not to be offended go?

In the Cultural Centre at Uluru (there is no Visitor Centre), there is a wealth of information provided on the Aboriginal cultural and religious aspects of the Rock. It is said that according to the Anangu religion, every cave and crevice in the Rock can provide moral guidance. There is also some information available on the geological origins of the Rock, but these are qualified by the comment that "the Aboriginal people have an alternative explanation". The impression given is that the Aboriginal mythological explanations have equal, or even superior validity to scientific ones.


The Dreamtime stories may seem like a harmless set of quaint creation stories and morality tales, using native animals instead of vengeful gods. But they are taken seriously and believed to be literally true by the Anangu. This is indicated in a statement made by the former chairman of the Park Management board, Sammy Wilson. Explaining the shape of a particular rock formation to the BBC Wilson said "our ancestors are literally set in stone". In the same documentary a little girl said that she could not go on the Rock because " it will make us sick if we step on the dreaming".

So, in accepting that Uluru is sacred, we are endorsing a fundamentalist creationist ideology. We should also note that both the mythology and the practices are highly gender-specific. There is no gender equality in this culture. The adherence to the religion explains why, in the tourist information available, the geology of the Rock is downplayed in favour of the cultural creationist mythology.

The effect of the emphasis on culture and religion is to neglect the geological significance of the site. In fact, the Rock is the remnant of layers of eroded granite, 2.5 km thick, laid down about 500 million years ago. The layers which now form the Rock were tilted from horizontal to vertical about 300 million years ago, during the Alice Springs Orogeny. The Rock, the world's biggest monolith, penetrates possibly six kilometres into the ground. There is surely nothing else in the world like that. The Rock has global geological significance.

There is a Fact Sheet on the geology at the Cultural Centre at Uluru (one of twenty-one Fact Sheets). There is also some mention of geology in the video display. But information on the geology is limited.

It is not stated whether the layers of the rock, that we now see as vertical, increase in age from east to west, or west to east, as we move across the Rock. Moreover, there is no attempt to explain or graphically represent, how a rock 6 km long and 2.5 km high, came to be rotated by 90 degrees. The Aboriginal mythology is interesting, but surely not as relevant and interesting as this.

Australia is the oldest continent on earth. Mountains have been eroded to dust and gravel, then re-formed into rock, which has then itself been eroded and exposed. The time scale is mind-boggling. This is Ayers Rock. It is the science of the Rock that makes it truly awe-inspiring.


There was past mistreatment of Aborigines, including at Uluru. They were unfairly forced from the land. We do need to expunge all manifestations of racism. It is important that all aspects of Aboriginal culture be studied and preserved for posterity. But the climbing of the Rock does not threaten this. Nor does it prevent the practice of the Aboriginal religion. In past decades, climbing the Rock was not considered an issue. Climbing the Rock is not "racist".

Apart from the religious sensitivities, the other reasons given for the closure of the climb seem spurious. It is not plausible that human footprints pose a risk of serious damage to the 500 million year old Rock. The rock is incredibly hard. Any minor effects could be easily repaired. If safety issues are such a concern then measures could be taken to increase safety. If litter is such problem then it could be addressed, and cleaned up. If climbing is to be deterred, then a charge could be introduced to climb, the revenue from which could be used to address the other issues.

The claim that less than 20 percent of visitors climb the Rock seems doubtful. Many who want to climb are dissuaded or prevented because the climb is closed due to unfavourable weather conditions. Over decades, some people have died on the climb. If that is sufficient reason to ban it then countless other public places where people have died should have prohibited entry. We should just manage the risk. Why not build a chairlift? It could be done on the northeast side without affecting the sunrise or sunset views.

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About the Author

Dr John L Perkins is an economist at the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research and a founding member of the Secular Party of Australia.

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