Uluru: The Controversial Climb

Uluru: The Controversial Climb

By: Mike Jerrard

From the beginning of time it seems as though humans have had a fascination with climbing. From Kilimanjaro to Everest, we seem to have this desire to reach the top of things. The reasons are quite clear as reaching the summit of anything whether it be a hill or a mountain brings a sense of achievement and the view never disappoints. Some of us climb to remain fit, some simply love the feeling of being outdoors, and some make treks upwards for spiritual reasons. Whatever the motivation, heading towards the clouds has and always will be a desire and Mother Nature has blessed us with majestic peaks which allow us to do so. To suppress that desire would be to take away part of us which makes us human. Unfortunately in the case of Australia’s Uluru, one of the most remarkable landmarks in the world, prohibition of our human nature may soon be a reality.

Uluru, or Ayers Rock as Europeans renamed it, is a stunning rock jutting out from the outback of Australia. Almost anyone who is shown a photo of the massive orange rock can tell you its importance as a symbol of Australia. It makes up part of the Uluru- Kata Tjuta National Park. Kata Tjuta is equally impressive with its 36 dome like rock formations and doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Today with consistent flights managed by Qantas, Jetstar, and Virgin all linking the outside world to Ayers Rock Airport, it has become a must see destination when visiting down under. Unfortunately whenever you bring differing cultures together there are bound to be quarrels and that has sadly turned a place that is so incredibly beautiful into a controversial war zone.

To climb or not to climb? That is the dilemma when one finds themselves face to face with this incredible monolith.  My wife and I stood there reading the sign posted by the Anangu people asking that we not climb the rock as it crosses an important and sacred ceremonial path taken by the ancient Mala men. Under Australian law it is not illegal to climb Uluru and you face no fines for climbing it unless it is closed by the park service due to weather such as wind which could post a safety risk. It was a difficult internal decision to make weather to climb or not as the last thing you want to do as a world traveler is disrespect any culture you encounter. Ultimately we chose to climb however and I will tell you why I personally decided to do so. But first a little background on how the National Park came to be.

Tourism around Uluru really began to take off in the 1950’s and by 1958 it had been designated a National Park. There is no fighting the fact that the Anangu people and their lifestyle suffered from the new migrants who pretty much took over their land. It would take many decades later until Australia would finally hand back the land to the previous owners in 1985, well sort of. They may have made the symbolic gesture to aboriginal land rights but only under the forced condition that the land be leased back to the government for nearly 100 years. The Anangu truly owned their land, in the eyes of the law anyway, for all of 5 minutes before signing the lease which made management of the land a joint effort between the Anangu and the National Park Service. The agreement would give them much needed money to cope with the new life that had been imposed on them but it would come at the cost of their heritage and safeguarding their beliefs.

What happened to the Australian Aborigines when the Europeans found and took over Australia is devastating as is anytime a group gets forced off the land they are currently inhabiting. We are a species that loves a voyage and we have never stopped exploring. It is the nature of any living thing to compete for space on this planet and whether it is right or wrong, that fact will never change. The sad fact is that we are all both individually and  collectively as ethnic groups just leasing land on this earth and territorial boundaries will continue to shift and sometimes change drastically until our species takes its last breath. True ownership of land is never really possible.

The Australian Aborigine also holds the belief that land cannot be owned but rather the land owns us. That somewhat contradicts the argument that the land is truly theirs and that we should therefore hold to their beliefs. Aborigine by very definition is defined as a person, plant, or animal that has been in a country or region from the earliest times. One could argue that the animals that came before us were the true landowners and we should have therefore left them to live as they had. Human nature however does not work that way. We all want a piece of this planet and as our population continues to grow, we will need to combine our beliefs and as treat each other with respect. I believe its possible to respect one another but that not necessarily does that mean you have to adhere to differing spiritual beliefs. This is why I chose to make the climb.

As I took my first steps I admit that a bit of guilt crept its way inside me but as I reached the top the guilt had vanished and a magical spiritual feeling overtook me. All the worries of the modern world vanished as I gazed out over the stunning landscape and I felt I had made the right decision. With all the controversy surrounding Uluru it is simply when you break it down just a rock. If we look thousands of years into the future, past spiritual traditions and beliefs that once took place here will most likely be forgotten. Look deep into the past and these beliefs hadn’t even developed yet. Take the human element out of the equation and it is just another natural landmark that will far outlive the human race. I think the rock itself deserves the most respect more so than any group of people or spirituality. My personal opinion is that as long as the rock and its surrounding landscape are shown respect, then it should be climbed and experienced by all those who make the voyage. We can only hope that the nudity, bathroom habits, and just pure utter disrespect shown by some doesn’t ruin it for the rest of us.

Currently Uluru is still legal to climb but that may not be the case for much longer. If any of three things happen, the park service may look into closing the climb for good.

  1. Less than 20% of those making the trip to Uluru make the climb.
  2. Enough alternative experiences are added to replace the climb such as the planned 5 day, 100 km hike from Amata to Uluru.
  3. The climb is not the principle reason tourists make the visit.

Many argue that at least one of these has been met and the climb should be closed immediately. I personally believe it should never be off limits for the reasons I have shared. The only thing that would sway me from encouraging others to climb is if the Anangu were granted full rights to the land and therefore could set their own rules. If they are deemed the landowners in the eyes of the law then it would become their property and to climb would be to trespass. This ownership idea however goes against everything that the Anangu stand for.


Planning your trip to Uluru:

  • Jetstar and Virgin operate direct flights from Sydney to Ayers Rock Airport and Qantas have flights from Sydney via stopover in Alice Springs (car hire is available at airport)
  • 3 -Day park passes are available at $25/adult and $12.50/child. Family and annual pass discounts available
  • Park opened year round and best time to visit is the cooler months  of May to September ***NOTE: Climbing Uluru is prohibited by the park during the hot summer months of December thru February after 8am due to safety issues
  • Accommodation options- Ayers Rock Resort & Longitude 131 are highly recommended



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Author: Michael Jerrard

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  1. Boy that’s some circuitous logic you used to justify your utter contempt for the traditional landowners there bud. But at least you can tick it off your bucket list. We as a species love to tick shit off lists. To suppress that desire would be to take away part of us which makes us human.

    Post a Reply
    • Thank you for your comment however your statement that I hold “contempt” for the Aboriginal culture could not be further from the truth. I have spent a great deal of time learning their culture and experiencing the land as they have. In fact I believe if we all lived as they traditionally have, the world would be void of the many problems facing it today.
      I may disagree with this one aspect that some not all of the local indigenous believe in, however that in no way deserves the term contempt. Climbing Uluru was never part of a “list” as you have brought up and it would be ignorant for a list to be the motivating factor for anyone searching for life experiences.

  2. I mean, we can take it down a notch from contempt to just outright disrespect if you like. You say you and your wife read the sign asking that you not climb the rock but did so anyway and justify it in the end by stating, essentially, colonialism is inevitable and we (as white people and the only beneficiaries of it) should just roll with the changes it brings. Yeah no, maybe contempt is not a strong enough word.

    The indigenous peoples of the area may have ‘contradicted’ themselves as you put it, but the concept of ownership as enforced by the Australian government is a foreign one to them and does not apply. The Terra Nullis law that allowed this country to be invaded and genocide committed against these people is an example of what happens when outsiders force their rules onto people to whom they do not apply. It is grossly irresponsible to publish such apologist tripe. You do not understand their (our, speaking as an Australian) culture and it’s clear you have not made any effort to.

    Post a Reply
    • I respect your opinion and thoughts. I am sorry that your take on the article was far from what was being conveyed.
      There again as stated in the article no denying the atrocities that were inflicted on the native aborigines of Australia and nothing could ever suffice as an apology. Getting back to the main point of the article however is that I truly don’t believe anyone or group should be allowed to impose restrictions on the viewing or use of natural landmarks or areas unless those actions would endanger the site’s future existence for future generations to experience . I just don’t see how anyone can claim ownership of earth’s wonders as they belong to us all and should be allowed to be experienced by those who of course treat them in a dignified respectful manner. It may be a difference in opinion or beliefs but most definitely doesn’t warrant a label of disrespect or contempt by any means.
      In the case of Uluru, the impacts to the area itself are quite minimal and only when those impacts become severely threatening should the need arise to restrict use of the area.

  3. Wow. I did not know how controversial it was to climb Uluru. I am not sure what I would have done when placed in that situation. Although I agree with you when you say that we are all just temporarily “leasing” the earth, cultures and traditions which have been established generations before us need to be respected as well. This was definitely an insightful read which has caused me to ponder what I would have done in that situation.

    Post a Reply
    • Thank you for your comment. It definitely is a difficult decision whether or not to choose to make the climb. a decision made all that more difficult when you are standing in front of Uluru for yourself. I can respect those who decide not to climb and completely understand the reasoning but I think one should at least have the option to do so.

  4. I’m in agreement that no one really owns the land and I personally would climb it. Respect is as muchaccepting the fact that we all have different opinions and are never to agree on everything

    Post a Reply
    • I much appreciate your comment and your take on the issue.

  5. Quite a dilemma! I don’t know what I would have done. I hold the same beliefs as you, no one owns natural beauty. Sure, some places are sacred, like burial sites. And every place you visit should be shown respect. But as long as there is no impact on the men following the sacred path and as long as it does not damage the environment, I don’t really understand what good not climbing would do. Would I choose to climb though? Or would I feel too guilty to do it? I can’t say, and either one of the choices is not an easy one.

    What I can honestly say is that I am amazed by how much thought you’ve put into this. You stopped, considered your choices, and then owned up to your decision. That’s quite rare.

    Post a Reply
    • Thank you for your comment and kind words. I do try my best to not intentionally disrespect any culture or individual while traveling but I am in the belief that one needs to follow what they believe in as well as to do otherwise would be to disrespect yourself.

  6. I think you’ve opened up a hornet’s nest there Mike.

    Post a Reply
    • I think you’ve opened up a hornet’s nest there Mike. It’s pretty brave of you to open up a discussion on this subject online. There’s always two sides to an argument but I think one side is always going to be more passionate about this topic.

    • I guess I have indeed done so. I believe it is good to bring up controversial issues and I encourage others to express their opinions despite what side of the issue they support. I can only write and express my opinions which may very well not be correct or part of the majority. I admire passion regarding issues as that is what promotes change. As with anything both sides need to at least have a voice in the matter.

  7. Such a deep history. But of you must climb, then you must, as after all the views at the top will be rewarding. Beautifuly captured pics.

    Post a Reply
    • Thank you for your comment and kind words

  8. Yeah, that would be a hard call. While I’m a rule follower. But I’m with you on this. And I’d also make the climb. Mostly to be connected to Uluru and to walk where the Anangu walked. Versus a cross off the bucket list thing.

    It sounds like I need to get there soon before it’s illegal to climb.

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks for the comment. It most definitely in my opinion gives you a greater connection with Uluru and its surroundings.

  9. I visited 20 years ago, and chose to walk around it even then. (Which is a great walk by the way). I am surprised that during that time, the Australian government has not come closer to respecting the ‘original’ Australians wishes that it not be climbed on.

    Post a Reply
    • It is quite surprising as you say that the government has not given the native aboriginal tribes more control over the land. Should they in the future be given full rights over the land by law, then I will respect their choices on restrictions and will encourage others to do the same.

  10. I love your climb photos. If I do ever get to visit Australia soon, I would climb Uluru too. Its not a bucketlist thing (Im thinking of trashing it soon) but its my way communing with nature and our wonderful planet. I hope they dont make it illegal to climb soon.

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks for your comment and kind words. It definitely is a spiritual and just plain beautiful experience making the climb. Hope you get to experience it or something similar.

  11. Good point made on the land belonging to everyone, that it shouldn’t be exclusive to whichever race or tribe we’re from. Very insightful post on your thoughts to climb and the view must have been stunning. I guess the next step would be to bring the land itself into consideration, and what impact we have on it over time should more people make the climb.

    Post a Reply
    • Appreciate the comment. It is interesting that the land itself receives less consideration those who claim ownership of it.

  12. Definitely a difficult decision. I totally understand why you made the decision to climb. I don’t think I’d really know what to do. Thanks so sharing your honest thoughts and experience!

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks for the comment. I think it is a decision one has to make when they arrive at the site. In the end you can only make decisions based on your own individual beliefs and values which will never be in complete agreement with others.

  13. If I visit a any venue including my corner store and they ask me to take off my shoes and to only walk where permitted, I am good with that.
    If I visit any place, I am happy to follow the rules set out by the owners/lease holders/managers. They have the rights to set these parameters.
    How come aboriginal people don’t deserve these rights? Or Park Managers?
    Have any aboriginal people made other requests regarding your behaviour which makes this one simple request the straw that breaks the camel’s back?
    To me, this is the only time I have been asked by any indigenous Australian for some respect, and by gosh, I am proud to be able to show respect in this instance by keeping my feet on the ground.
    It is about respect for me as well – I am proud of being respectful of others. I would not respect myself if I weren’t.
    Self esteem is not free – sometimes we need to make a less self centred decision in order to make ourselves better people.

    Post a Reply
    • I respect you for standing up for what you believe is right. In the end all we can do is follow what we believe and therefore I stand by my beliefs on this topic. What one person sees as disrespect doesn’t ultimately make that a fact. Cultures and ideas vary so greatly that misunderstandings occur with great frequency.

  14. I faced a similar dilemma a few years back on my 30th birthday (not saying how many years). I wanted to do something epic for the big 30 and, everyday from my cubical, I could see the granite peaks of Baboquivari. Babo is beautiful. It rises about 5000′ above the desert floor to the South East of Tucson. The peak itself is a giant pyramid and the route – the S.E. Arete is a 7 pitch, 5.6 climb that almost immediately has 2000′ of exposure on the first pitch once you traverse onto the arete.

    The catch is, this is a sacred mountain for the Tohono O’odham people. The gods themselves splits this mountain in half to create the fertile Tucson plains (so the story goes). There is access on the western side but still, I was climbing a sacred mountain.

    Going up there was primarily O’odham people hiking along the trail with their families. They were friendly and quite cordial, even with us carrying our ropes and gear. Perhaps it’s because of their warm welcome that I felt secure in my choice to make that climb. However, I am sure there are some people some where that would disagree.

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your incredible experience and knowledge of another remarkable place.

  15. Thanks for the post, I wholeheartedly endorse the choice you made. The climb is a wonderful experience and it is sad that visitors are being made to feel guilty for simply enjoying the environment.

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