karl-jk-hedin

DRAWING A LINE AT ULURU, AUSTRALIA

Here is what setting a boundary and banning tourists from climbing Uluru teaches us about the importance of valuing a sacred place 

Words: Emily Georgieva

Photography: Karl JK Hedin, Gilles Rolland Monnet

28 October 2019

Central Australia is a home of the Anangu people, who live by traditions established by their ancestors, who have walked the same lands over several centuries ago. This part of Australia, like many other places around the island country, is sacred and holds a deep spiritual meaning to the locals. The land and everything it gives birth to exist in harmony. Every tree, every rock and pebble along the way are part of something bigger, of a land that means everything to the Anangu people. Uluru is just one fraction of it all but represents to a certain extend the believe system of the Anangu people.

Although they have lived there for over 40,000 years, the Anangu people have only been recognised as the official owners of this land in Australia back in 1979. They have come a long way to prove their views and fight for their land. Uluru has a huge sentimental value to the locals and exists as a form of monument honouring everything sacred that sourced life into the land nearby. Unfortunately, for a long time Uluru had been open for tourists and despite the signs in several different languages appealing for the rock not to be climbed, many visitors have tried to make their way to the top.

On Saturday, 26th October 2019, Uluru officially banned all climbing activities. This is the result of many local people's efforts to protect their land and keep the monument, which has existed for centuries, safe. A few years ago, the board of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park voted unanimously to prohibit climbing the track because of the spiritual significance of the site. Many people made their way to Australian Outback to climb Uluru one last time before the track was closed. As soon as the ban was officially in place, the locals were thrilled and celebrated the result of their long-lasted efforts.

gilles-rolland-monnet

THE TALES OF ULURU

The Indigenous Australians take this very personally and describe the site as 'their church'. In the past when asked by journalists about the significance of the site, the Anagu people have emphasised on the many sacred stories that originate from the place. Some of those stories, they insist are too sacred to share. 

They believe that at the beginning of time everything was shapeless and then ancestral beings that originated from the land created every living thing.  Some of the stories that are being passed throughout generations is the tale of Lungkata, a blue-tongue lizard, who stole from Emu. When Emu followed him to his cave in Uluru the lizard ignored him and Emu set a fire. Before Lungkata could escape, he got trapped in the burning cave.

Another legend tells the story of Kuniya. She was a woman python, who lived in the rock and had to fight Liru - a poisonous snake - so she could protect her nephew. Those stories are being shared with kids and non-Indigenous people in an effort to make them understand what Uluru means to the locals.

SETTING A BOUNDARY

When people climb the track, they don't just hike another rocky monument - this means a lot more to the Anangu people. They tell stories of a time when ancestral Mala men used to climb that same track all the way to the top. This signifies for the path's multilayered cultural significance. This is not just another pretty rock that is there for the enthusiasts of the outdoor. Uluru is the home of the Anagu people, their house, their church and everything in between. 

Closing the rock for tourists was an important step in establishing a sense of much needed respect towards places that people value as sacred. Protecting a land from being harmed should be a common practice everywhere but keeping safe a site that has a spiritual value even more so.

Prohibiting all climbing activities at Uluru is an important step on the path to make tourism in the area more ethical and tourists culturally aware. Visiting a place and admiring the beauty of nature feeds every adventurer's curiosity, but it is crucial to remember that sometimes there are boundaries, which should never be crossed, even if there isn't a sign that prohibits you to do so.

Indigenous Australians are known to have a very deep and powerful connection with the land. It has been and still is a source for a lot of things for them and as such it needs to be treated with respect. We urge our nomadic community to travel cautiously and become familiar with the spiritual significance of places before you visit them. The Anangu people have called out tourists on their poor cultural awareness, stating that they have no respect for the land. This rule to ban the climbing activities is a long-waited one but we believe that travellers' values have changed. We, as an active travel community, are becoming more aware of what privilege it is to travel freely and therefore the easy access to learn more about a place before we even step foot there gives us the chance to be responsible for our actions. Next time you are about to visit a place that you are not sure whether it is a sacred land or not, try to find out more information before you enter the land.

RELATED STORIES