CANBERRA: Climbing the world’s largest monolith Uluru was banned on Wednesday amid concerns it was becoming a “theme park”, undermining the giant red rock’s deep cultural significance.
Scrambling up the symbol of the Outback, also known as Ayers Rock, is seen by many tourists as a must-do on their visit to Australia.
But they do so against the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal owners, the Anangu, to whom the site is sacred.
At a meeting of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Board, made up of traditional owners and National Park representatives, a unanimous decision was made to ban the activity.
It will come into force in October 2019.
“This decision is for both Anangu and non-Anangu together to feel proud about; to realise, of course it’s the right thing to close it,” board chairman Sammy Wilson said.
Speaking to state broadcaster ABC after the decision, he added that the site was not a “theme park”.
“Some people in tourism and government for example might have been saying we need to keep it open but it’s not their law that lies in this land,” he said.
“It is an extremely important place, not a playground or theme park like Disneyland.”
The rock’s traditional Aboriginal owners’ connection to the site dates back tens of thousands of years and it has great spiritual and cultural significance to them.
Wilson urged tourists to respect the ruling.
“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,” he said in the statement.
“It is the same here for Anangu. We welcome tourists here. We are not stopping tourism, just this activity.”
Park authorities have long looked to close the climb permanently. It is currently left up to visitors to decide whether to tackle the sandstone monolith, which soars 348 metres (1,148 feet).
About 300,000 people visit each year and, while there are no official figures on how many climb, their numbers are reported to have declined significantly.
Tackling Uluru’s sandstone slopes is not an easy exercise and there have been numerous deaths over the years on the rock, where summer temperatures often hit 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit).