'I'm Also An Australian': Thousands Rush To Climb Uluru In Final Days
Thousands of tourists are rushing to climb Uluru before a permanent ban comes into place next week.
It's a move that's been slammed by critics as "peak white entitlement", but that hasn't deterred thousands of tourists from queuing to snake up the steep rock.
Both Australian and international visitors have defended their right to climb the sacred site in the final days they are allowed to do so.
"If you're born in Australia then you're as Australian as any other person who's born in this land, regardless of skin colour," Kade Wiseman told 10 daily after climbing Uluru in July.
Traditional owners of the land, the Anangu people, have spent decades asking people not to climb Uluru, out of a responsibility to keep visitors safe.
At least 39 people have died while attempting to climb the rock, while many more have been injured or needed rescuing.
Just this week, a 12-year-old girl lost her footing and fell between 20 to 30-metres, miraculously sustaining only minor injuries.
The Anangu people are declining all media interviews until the closure of the climbing track on October 26, a spokesperson for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park said.
However, writer and Arrernte woman Celeste Liddle said the tourist rush to climb ahead of the closure was emblematic of "white Australian entitlement".
"These climbers feel they must climb to prove a point but the sole point they’re proving is their unacknowledged racism," she wrote in an op-ed for 10 daily.
"Signs at the base of the climb ask people respectfully to not climb by highlighting Uluru’s significance to its owners. To not see all this is willful ignorance."
Wiseman, an electrician from Sydney's northern beaches, told 10 daily it was "good" Liddle acknowledged he was "also an Australian".
"My general opinion is that if everyone bent over backwards to accommodate the whims of the noisy minority, then then the world is seriously needing a wake-up call," he said.
"You should see the rants people have messaged me with after I climbed it. Some people need to get off social media and go see what this country really is about, more than the sanctums of the inner city.
Wiseman told 10 daily he was aware of the cultural significance of Uluru before choosing to climb it in July, and in fact, advised others to be aware of it and "take it in" before embarking on the climb.
However, he chose to do it as it was "another thing ticked off the list!"
"The experience was awesome if I'm honest," he said.
"However, I do recommend to people that the Olgas [a group of rocks known as Kata Tjuta about 45-minutes away] are much more spectacular!"
Melbourne locals Jeff Lis, 52, and Stefan Gangur, 51, also defended their recent climb, telling AAP it had been a childhood dream realised.
"Now that they're closing it, we thought, well let's get here while we're still relatively mobile," Lis told AAP.
"I was born in Australia, it is part of my culture and ancestry as much as anyone else's but I'm not laying claim to it, saying it is a sacred site or anything like that."
The closure of the climb has been coming for years, with the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Board of Management releasing a management plan in 2010 outlining when it would happen.
The plan stipulated that once certain criteria were met -- including that the proportion of visitors choosing to climb Uluru fell below 20 percent -- the climb would close.
Last year, the board decided the conditions had been met.
It will officially close on October 26, 2019, exactly 34 years after the park was handed back to the Anangu people.
Park rangers are busy preparing for the closure and celebrations, with the closure prompting a "climb fever".
"This year is another step up in the craziness scale, 'climb fever'," ranger Greg Elliot told AAP.
"It causes us a lot more work, this is too much, we can't do our jobs at the moment and have got so much work we should be doing out in the park, maintenance we don't get to because we have to focus on this."
Park manager Mike Misso told 10 daily that will likely all change next weekend when the park will be looking to the next era in its tourism -- one which actively supports the Anangu people.
"This is just a projection, but the staff resources we use to monitor the climb every day might be diverted into providing interpretive, educational activities for visitors," he said.
"There won't be anyone losing their job as a result of [the closure]."
He also doesn't anticipate numbers of people visiting the park each year -- which sits at around 250,000 per year -- will dwindle, with this giving the park an opportunity to revitalise its attraction as a tourist hot spot.
On October 27, a small ceremony complete with Inma (traditional ceremony) will take place, and after that, the next era of the park will begin.
"I'm really just looking forward to that and supporting the aspirations of traditional owners for their own country," Misso said.
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