After decades of dispute, climbing Australia’s most iconic landmark, Uluru, will finally come to an end.
National park rangers and Indigenous Australians permanently concluded the climb at 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26, exactly 34 years after the Anangu people — the traditional custodians of the land around Uluru — were handed back the land rights from Australian authorities.
Climbers will now face a $6,300 AUD fine.
The closure has been celebrated by the Anangu people, who consider Uluru sacred and a connection to spirit ancestors who originally formed the land.
Uluru, located in central Australia and around 462 kilometers (280 miles) from the nearest town, has been used by the sovereign people of the land for ceremonies for tens of thousands of years.
To Anangu people, the climbing of Uluru brings deep cultural offense and sadness.
Why does closing #Uluru to climbers matter? For the local Aboriginal people, it is a decision they have worked toward for decades https://t.co/jDg7Hziauu— National Geographic (@NatGeo) October 26, 2019
Sammy Wilson, a traditional custodian of Uluru and chairman of the surrounding national park’s Board of Management, says the decision is “the right thing to do.”
"This decision is for both Anangu and non-Anangu together to feel proud about,” Wilson said in a media release. “If I travel to another country and there is a sacred site, an area of restricted access, I don’t enter or climb it; I respect it. It is the same here for Anangu. We welcome tourists here. We are not stopping tourism, just this activity.”
The ban, however, has divided tourists.
In the lead-up to the climb’s closure, Uluru has seen a substantial spike in climbers — despite long-standing signs urging visitors to respect the wishes of the Anangu people.
James Martin from Victoria told the ABC he had climbed Uluru three times in the week before the closure.
"I thought it was important to get up there and appreciate Mother Nature for what she is,” he said. “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.”
Every person who trods across Uluru's surface today will pass this sign: pic.twitter.com/GHLzlgybTp— Rachael Hocking (@Hocking_Rachael) October 25, 2019
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have long fought to have legal and moral ownership over their land.
In 1976, the Australian government passed the Aboriginal Land Rights Act — the first law of its kind to allow Indigenous people to maintain land rights where traditional custodianship could be shown.
The Uluru climbing ban comes at a time when Indigenous Australians continue to fight to obtain land rights, with countless claims, some held for decades, remaining unsolved.
The ban also comes a week before a decision is due on the Indigenous “voice” in parliament — which seeks to enshrine in the constitution that Parliament must hear from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices when they make new laws about Indigenous Australians.