After the climb: how new tourism opportunities can empower the traditional owners of Uluru

The Anangu community of Mutitjulu stands in stark contrast to the sleek tourism infrastructure in the neighbouring town of Yulara.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Barry Judd, Charles Darwin University; Amanda Kearney, Flinders University; Chris Hallinan; Christine Schlesinger, Charles Darwin University; Joseph M. Cheer, Wakayama University, and Keir James Reeves, Federation University Australia

Last weekend marked 34 years since the land title to Uluru was handed back to the local Yankunytjatjara-Pitjantjatjara peoples. It was also when joint management of the Uluru-Katja-Tjuta National Park began between the traditional owners (Anangu people) and Parks Australia.

The arrangement recognised Anangu title to the land and ensured the direct involvement of Anangu in the development of tourism in the area.

The agreement also coincided with the relocation of tourism facilities from the southeast base of Uluru to the purpose-built resort town of Yulara. The old hotels and other tourist sites were discarded and became the base for the Anangu community of Mutitjulu.

However, if joint management aimed to deliver improved economic and social outcomes for Anangu residents, it has proven to be a spectacular failure.

Read more:
Closing Uluru to climbers is better for tourism in the long run

Today, Yulara and Mutitjulu stand in stark contrast. Yulara is filled with cashed-up, bucket-list travellers from all over the world, while Mutitjulu is an outpost of lingering disadvantage where overcrowding, underemployment, poverty, high rates of suicide and preventable diseases remain pervasive problems.

Mutitjulu was also the epicentre of the controversial Northern Territory National Emergency Response in 2007, commonly referred to as the intervention, when the federal government took control over more than 70 Indigenous communities in response to allegations of child sexual abuse.

Over a decade later, the intervention has done little to close the gap in these communities.

Mutitjulu is emblematic of what academic Jon Altman refers to as the persistent need to reestablish trust between Indigenous Australians and the institutions that for so long failed to ensure their basic human rights were protected.

An end to climbing brings new opportunities

The end of climbing at Uluru provides an opportunity to reset the relationship between the traditional owners and the tourism sector, and look for new ways for Anangu to be integrated into the industry.

Central to this is how the Anangu can meaningfully develop their cultural assets within the park to ensure the long-term benefit of their people, particularly through direct employment.

Read more:
Why we are banning tourists from climbing Uluru

There would appear to be ample opportunities for the people in Mutitjulu to take advantage of the 1,000-plus tourism jobs in Yulara, which are currently staffed largely by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people from outside the community.

The closure of Uluru to climbing also necessitates the development of alternate visitor experiences, particularly more educational and immersive experiences that would entail learning from and interacting respectfully with traditional owners.

The decision to end climbing at Uluru has been a cause for celebration by Indigenous communities.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Obstacles to developing an Indigenous tourism economy

Yet, structural impediments prevent this from becoming a reality at Uluru, as well as other remote parts of Australia.

These obstacles include a lack of education and training options specific to Indigenous needs to help them set up and run their own businesses. Another issue is that land rights and native title claims have tended to benefit a few legally recognised landowners and haven’t been conducive to whole-of-community development.

Both the Anangu and key tourism stakeholders in central Australia, including Voyages Indigenous Tourism and Tourism NT, are keenly aware of the need to reform the local tourism industry.

Read more:
How Indigenous tourism can help bring about reconciliation in Australia

Enabling greater access to commercial bank loans is critical to Indigenous business development, as is collaborative planning between Indigenous groups and the government. Likewise, scientific and traditional Indigenous knowledge could be combined in new ways to drive tourism growth in areas like land and wildlife management.

The Anangu must also be empowered to start micro-enterprises grounded in Knowledge of Country that would strengthen their community, culture and language. One example of this is the Indigenous Ranger and Protected Area program, which involves Indigenous rangers managing their own lands based on traditional cultural practice.

Read more:
Indigenous rangers don’t receive the funding they deserve – here’s why

Another approach that has shown promise is embracing Indigenous knowledge systems as part of the tourist educational experience. This is gaining currency in the NT as remote community arts centres seek to become visitor destinations in their own right.

These approaches to bottom-up initiatives have the greatest potential for growth and long-term empowerment in Uluru.

A model for other Indigenous communities

A major tourism rethink also requires addressing the structural impediments that prevent Indigenous peoples from starting businesses.

For example, new incentives could be built into the Australian tax code for those who invest in businesses on Aboriginal-owned land. However, such measures will only succeed if they are supported by bespoke educational and training programs for Anangu wanting to work in tourism.

The closure of Uluru to climbing should not simply focus on the limits the Anangu have imposed on visitors, but rather on the new possibilities this presents to leverage tourism for a more sustainable and resilient future.

This could also provide a model for traditional owners elsewhere who want to reclaim decision-making authority over tourism and other cultural activities on their lands.

And it signals to the broader Australian public that a greater respect for the rights of Indigenous people might just be the catalyst that helps drive a brighter Indigenous future.The Conversation

Barry Judd, Professor, Indigenous Social Research, Charles Darwin University; Amanda Kearney, Matthew Flinders Fellow, Professor of Australian and Indigenous Studies, Flinders University; Chris Hallinan, Research Associate; Christine Schlesinger, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science and Ecology, Charles Darwin University; Joseph M. Cheer, Professor in Sustainable Tourism, Wakayama University, and Keir James Reeves, Professor of History, Federation University Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Why is it still possible to climb Uluru?

Marianne Riphagen, Australian National University

Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles has described climbing Uluru as an unforgettable tourist experience – comparable to scaling the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The traditional owners, he has said, could derive important economic benefits from keeping it open.

Yet the Anangu people, Uluru’s traditional owners, have asked for decades that tourists not climb it. They explain that Uluru is a sacred place; the path followed by the climb represents an important dreaming track and Anangu feel a personal responsibility for the deaths or injuries of climbers.

So why is the climb still an option?

History of the climb

Uluru has been climbed by tourists for much of the 20th century. In the early 1960s, a safety chain was installed to accommodate the growing number of visitors. Despite this chain, over 30 people have lost their lives climbing “the Rock”. Many more have been injured. Still, about one-third of visitors choose to climb.

The title for Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, in which Uluru stands, was transferred to Anangu control in 1985. Following the Rock’s handback, the traditional owners were obliged to lease the Park back to the Director of National Parks, with day-to-day management handled by Parks Australia.

At the time of the handover, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park board of management (made up of a majority of traditional owners) agreed not to close the climb, to minimise harm to the tourism industry.

In 2010, Parks Australia published a report saying the climb would be permanently closed when:

  • the Board, in consultation with the tourism industry, is satisfied that adequate new visitor experiences have been successfully established, or
  • the proportion of visitors climbing falls below 20 per cent, or
  • the cultural and natural experiences on offer are the critical factors when visitors make their decision to visit the park.

This means that Parks Australia has a clear mandate to develop alternative tourism products. Despite this, the core business of Parks Australia is conservation, rather than tourism development.

Although there are specialist staff to facilitate Anangu participation in tourism at Uluru, an inevitable tension exists between the traditional focus and knowledge base of Park employees and the push to develop Anangu business opportunities.

Conflicting economic imperatives

Between 2013 and 2015, I conducted 20 weeks of research at Uluru as part of a study undertaken by the Australian National University, in association with Macquarie University. I examined how Anangu use their cultural heritage to earn a living. As I discovered, the environment in which Anangu attempt to develop sustainable alternatives to climbing is extraordinarily challenging.

In this complex cultural and economic situation, one challenge comes from the Ayers Rock Resort. The resort is located 20km from the Rock, and Anangu land rights don’t extend to its grounds.

Instead, Ayers Rock Resort is owned by the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC), a federal statutory authority that buys land and businesses to realise economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits for Indigenous Australians.

A subsidiary of the ILC, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, has been responsible for running the resort since it was acquired in 2011. Voyages has focused on transforming Ayers Rock Resort into a prime destination for Indigenous tourism.

As an example of the conflict that can arise from this arrangement, we can look at Maruku Arts, a locally-based Anangu arts and tourism enterprise. Maruku has a regional mandate and serves many communities outside Uluru. The resort contracted Maruku to run a market stall on its lawn, so guests could buy art and watch demonstrations of local artists at work.

Through its new outlet, Maruku is able to put over A$100,000 extra each year into the local Anangu community. However, Maruku has struggled to pay the sales commissions stipulated by the resort, on top of the commission paid to artists and the running costs of the stall. Between May 2012 and April 2015, the Anangu enterprise lost A$16,163 on the market stall, whereas Ayers Rock Resort earned A$112,652 in commission.

As the resort management explained to me, Voyages has invested considerably in developing the market stall infrastructure, and Maruku’s market has caused the resort’s income from its own art galleries to drop. It also argues that the market provides new jobs to Anangu.

The market stall represents just one example of the competitive business environment in which not-for-profit Anangu businesses like Maruku Arts are trying to survive.

Ayers Rock Resort strives to be profitable, not least because the ILC’s acquisition has resulted in a sizeable debt burden, (the ILC recently received a A$65 million loan from the federal government). This induces decisions which, while commercially sound, are not always conducive to the sustainability of Anangu-owned enterprises focusing on “culture work”.

Funding and the Intervention

There are other complications in the attempt to develop sustainable and culturally appropriate alternatives to climbing Uluru. One is the tight operational budget for Australia’s park agencies.

At Uluru, Parks Australia has faced some particularly challenging years, as a decline in tourists – from 349,172 in 2005 to 257,761 in 2012 – caused revenue from the sale of entry tickets to fall.

At the same time, lack of funding has meant that the Uluru Cultural Centre, where tourists are encouraged to begin their visit to the Park and learn about Anangu culture, hasn’t been maintained properly. It looks dilapidated, and anything but an alternative to climbing.

The community has also been impacted by the Northern Territory Emergency Response, known locally as the Intervention. In 2006 an administrator was appointed to run the Anangu village of Mutitjulu, which is adjacent to the Rock.

The Mutitjulu Community Aboriginal Corporation, responsible for delivering aspects of municipal and community services, had its funding and several of its functions taken away.

Although the corporation regained control of the community in 2007, it has since wrestled with a high turnover of CEOs, disagreements over service provision and accusations of corruption. The corporation oversees several local businesses, one of which – a tourism enterprise – failed during my research.

Let us return to Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles and the subject of climbing Uluru. Rather than investing in the climb, in the face of Anangu wishes, Mr Giles should consider resolving the conflicting agendas, governance challenges and funding difficulties that characterise the Uluru economy.

Once tourists can enjoy various sustainable products based on Anangu culture, the destination will become truly unforgettable and benefit Anangu economically. Then, the Uluru climb can be closed.

The Conversation

Marianne Riphagen, Visiting Fellow, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia: Uluru – To Climb or Not to Climb?

The link below is to an article that looks at Uluru and the traditional owners desire that people not climb the rock. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments.

For more visit:

Nepal: 2012 Mount Everest Photos

The link below is to an article from National Geographic showing photos taken of Mount Everest during 2012. Maybe you’ll never climb the mountain youself, but at least you can enjoy some great photos.

For more, visit:

Mount Everest to be Given a Clean Up

The world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest, is to be given a clean up. Everest, which was first climbed by Edmund Hillary in 1953, has become something of a garbage tip. Everything from climbers rubbish to dead bodies has been left on the mountain. Now a Nepalese expedition made up of twenty Sherpa mountaineers and eleven support crew is seeking to remove some of the garbage left behind since that first ascent.

The government of Nepal wants to clean up the popular tourist attraction, bringing down rubbish that includes old tents, climbing equipment and the odd body. Global warming has led to much of the rubbish (and several bodies) no longer being covered by snow and ice.

Over 300 people have been killed attempting the climb to the top of the world, the Mount Everest summit.

For more on this story, see the Reuters article at:

Good News for Visitors to Uluru

303 There are always pros and cons when it comes to such issues as to whether or not people should be allowed to climb Uluru in the Northern Territory, Australia. To continue to allow visitors to climb the monolith is to go against the wishes of the traditional owners of the site (local aborigines), as well as to continue to impact on the local environs of the Uluru area.

Having said that however, the Uluru site is a site of major significance in Australia and to visitors the world over. If the site is looked after responsibly visitors should be able to climb the rock for many years to come with limited impact to the site.

Currently some 100 000 people climb the rock each year, though a number get no further than ‘chicken rock.’

Visitors will be able to continue to climb Uluru until such time as numbers dwindle significantly (to fewer than 20% of visitors climbing the rock), until such time as the climb is no longer the main reason for a visit to the rock or until a number of new visitor experiences (yet to be developed/thought out) are in place.