25 October 2019 14:35
Huge crowds scrambled up Australia's Uluru for the final time on Friday, ahead of a ban on climbing the sacred rock. Uluru is sacred to its indigenous custodians, the Anangu people, who have long implored tourists not to climb. The final climbers faced a delayed start due to dangerously strong winds - one of many reasons Uluru has been closed to people wishing to reach the top over the years. Yet after park officials deemed the climb safe to open, hundreds of people made the trek up on Friday. Image copyright Supplied Image caption Thousands of tourists have rushed to climb the rock before the activity is banned Once people come down, officials said a metal chain used as a climbing aid would be immediately dismantled.
In 2017, the board of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park voted unanimously to end the climb because of the spiritual significance of the site, as well as for safety and environmental reasons. One Anangu man told the BBC that Uluru was a "very sacred place, [it's] like our church". Image copyright AFP Image caption Aboriginal elders have long argued people should not be allowed to climb the rock There are several signs at the base of Uluru that urge tourists not to climb because of the site's sacred value. Phil Mercer, BBC News at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park There was joy when signs that had asked visitors not to walk up Uluru were removed by park rangers at the base of the big red rock. An Aboriginal elder said it was time to let this most sacred of places "rest and heal".
Hundreds of Australian and international visitors had queued to scale the 348-metre high sandstone monolith, once known as Ayers Rock, on the final day. Tjiangu Thomas, a 28-year-old Uluru-Kata Tjuta national park ranger, said it had been easy to wake up on Friday knowing the climb was closing for good. For years a sign at the foot of the rock encouraged visitors to respect the wishes of traditional owners and "please don't climb" and to instead walk the six-and-a-half mile (10.6km) track around the base. Climbing of the rock began in the 1930s, taking a spiritually significant route up the steep slope that traced the steps taken by the ancestral Mala men who arrived at Uluru. In 2016, the government resisted persistent pressure to close the climb, but a year ago, a management board meeting of the national park voted unanimously to ban the practice.
Watching the last of the climbers, the Anangu man Vince Forrester, from Mutitjulu, said the discoloured and damaged rock along the climbing route was like a scar that would not go away in his lifetime. He said tourists using the top of the rock as a toilet had poisoned waterholes and wildlife, and he was glad the climb would soon be closed. Hundreds of tourists flocked to Australia's Uluru on Friday to climb the world-famous red rock before a permanent ban comes into place. Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is sacred to the Anangu nation, the traditional owners of the Unesco-listed rock, who have spent decades encouraging people to not climb it out of respect. "You want to respect the cultural side of things, but still you want to have it as a challenge to get up the rock," she told Reuters. Usually most visitors do not climb Uluru's steep, red-ochre flanks, but the impending ban has triggered an upsurge in climbers. In early October, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park manager Mike Misso said that it has been the busiest time in more than a decade, with "near to 1,000" people making the climb every day. According to the park 300,000 people visited Uluru in 2015, of whom 16.2 per cent climbed the rock - roughly 135 a day. Thousands of tourists were turned away from Uluru rock as a ban on ascending the iconic landmark came into force. Rangers officially closed the indigenous monolith at 4pm local time today, stopping thousands queuing from making the trek. Uluru is a place of great spiritual and cultural importance to Australian Aboriginals, who believe visitors climbing the rock are defiling a sacred site. Traditional landowners the Anangu, who were given back control of Uluru 34 years ago, pushed for the ban and erected a sign at the base of the rock many years ago pleading: 'This is our home. But their wishes did not stop swarms of eager tourists heading to scale the famous landmark, formerly known as Ayers Rock, ahead of Friday's deadline. Tourists queued for hours to climb Uluru one last time (Picture: Jake Gelly/YouTube) Climbing the rock has divided opinion as it goes against the wishes of the indigenous people (Picture: Reuters) Rangers had to halt the climb due to dangerous weather conditions, leading to queues building up (Picture: AAP) The video emerged as hundreds were forced to wait for hours for strong winds to die down so they could scale the rock for the last time. Rangers banned people from attempting to climb it early on Friday morning due to dangerous weather conditions. A view of Uluru the day before a permanent ban on climbing takes effect following a decades-long fight by indigenous people (Picture: REUTERS) Visitors from across the world have rushed to climb Uluru (Picture: AAP) A decision to ban the climb was made in November 2017, leading to a surge of visitors (Picture: AAP) Aboriginals say climbing the rock defiles their sacred land (Picture: APP) Those who managed to scale the rock have been criticised by some who say it's disrespectful to the wishes of the indigenous people. The BBC has reported only 16% of visitors to Uluru actually climbed it in 2017, when the ban was announced, but that number has surged as the deadline drew nearer. It is now illegal to scale the rock and anyone caught doing so will be handed a huge fine (Picture: AAP) Aboriginal ranger Tjiangu Thomas eagerly awaits Uluru's closure (Picture: AAP) Many were turned away when the climbing was shut at 4pm Australian Central Time (Picture: AFP) People who now attempt to climb Uluru could face thousands of dollars in fines. Local Anangu ranger Tjiangu Thomas said it had been an important day for the community and the region. A ban on climbing Uluru, the world-famous landmark in the Australian outback, comes into effect this weekend, prompting hundreds of tourists to flock to the holy site on Friday for the last chance to scale the rock. Uluru, also known by its English-language name Ayers Rock, is a 550 million-year-old sandstone monolith that has long been a sacred site of the Pitjantjatjara or Anangu, the Aboriginal people of the area. As a result of its significance in Anangu culture, members of the indigenous group have called for the monolith to be closed to climbers since 1985, when the park was returned to indigenous control. Last year, more than 370,000 people visited Uluru, with around 13% of those who visited during that period making the climb, park authorities said. "This is our Tjukurpa [our cultural inheritance], our law and our stories, from long ago," said Sammy Wilson, a member of the board of joint management of the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park. Australia's Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt added that tourists flocking to Uluru is akin to "a rush of people wanting to climb over the Australian War Memorial". "Our sacred objects, community by community, are absolutely important in the story and the history of that nation of people," he said on AFP. After the National Park's board voted unanimously in November 2017 to bring an end to climbing at the site, Australian officials announced that an official ban would take effect on 26 October 2019 - this Saturday - prompting thousands of visitors to flock to the site in the months before its closure. On Friday, the final day of opening, the climb opened to visitors three hours later than its usual time of 7am after park rangers "deemed it was too dangerous because of high winds", says Al Jazeera. The implementation of the ban has come as a relief to local Anangu people.