The gigantic monolith in the centre of the heart of Australia is a place of curious contradictions.
Firstly, the name. Most people know it as Ayers Rock, yet you won’t find those two words on any map. Its official name is Uluru, the name given by the Anangu, who are the Aboriginal people native to the region, and who have lived there for 60,000 years.
Secondly, the physicality. The monolith itself is an incredibly striking natural feature, but it is accentuated by the completely unremarkable landscape which surrounds it. A flat, otherwise featureless landscape. The two are at complete odds with one another.
Thirdly, the rules, the most baffling contradiction of all. Specifically, the rules to do with climbing the rock. No one is really quite sure what they are; it’s all terribly confusing. On the one hand there are signs pleading with visitors not to climb the rock. These have been erected by the native Aboriginal folk, who regard it as something deeply sacred, and certainly not a playground for tourists. These signs also remind that many people have died trying to do so. On the other hand, running up the side of the rock, like a stitched wound, is a line of poles and cables. These have been erected by the Australian government, to help people climb the rock.
Why give the option? It’s a bit like putting up a banner in a church saying: “You can moon the Virgin Mary if you want, but we’d really rather you didn’t.”
It does seem, however, that common sense and moral sensitivities are finally prevailing, and this is largely due to visitors themselves steadily opting out of climbing. A recent survey has revealed that in the last two years alone there has been a 20% drop in the number of people who choose to climb, meaning that just one in five now take it on. In 1990, it was four in five. Although nothing has been set in stone yet, there have been indications from Australia Parks (the body that manages the country’s national parks) that a climbing ban will be put in place. “But,” a spokeswoman has said, “we want to ensure we have more alternative experiences – more indigenous guided tours, for example – in place for visitors before that happens.”
If the current trend continues, however, an official ban may not be necessary. It seems education, rather than rules, is most effective in preventing people climbing, and this can only be a good thing.
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