Indigenous Elders Relieved After Fight To End 'Dangerous' Uluru Climb
Aboriginal elder Reggie Uluru, who was present for the Uluru hand back and the closure of the climb, says it is the end of a long fight for land rights.
Shortly before Uluru was permanently closed to climbers, the crowd was ordered to make way for a group of elderly Aboriginal people.
Several were in wheelchairs and had asked to be brought from their nursing home at the nearby Mutitjulu community to witness another piece of history: the closing of the climb at what is a sacred place in their culture.
Three of them, brothers Reggie and Cassidy Uluru, and artist Nelly Patterson were present when the Australian government returned ownership of Uluru to the Pitjantjatjara Anangu people on October 26, 1985.
Then Prime Minister Bob Hawke assured the traditional owners that the climb to the top would be stopped but that promise was broken.
In front of the 348-metre monolith on Saturday, the 34th anniversary of the hand back and the first day on which climbing on the rock is banned, traditional owner Reggie Uluru said he was very happy.
"We fought for land rights for a long time for this place," he told reporters.
"It was too dangerous, you can slip and fall and kill yourself and that pressure is off us, we don't have to worry about people harming themselves or worse."
The climb's closure and the rush of tourists to beat Friday's ban has captured the imagination of the nation and overseas, dividing people between those who believe it should remain open and others accusing climbers of racism and disrespect.
On Saturday, Uluru placed red earth in the hand of local Anangu boy Jacob, similar to an iconic photo of former PM Gough Whitlam and Gurindji leader Vincent Lingiari.
"We set the example, we closed it, everybody else in Australia, it is up to them what they think, writing things in the papers," Uluru said.
Geologist Marc Hendrickx, a de facto spokesman for opponents of the ban and who has vowed to climb it again, tweeted a death notice in The Australian "in affectionate remembrance of the Ayers Rock climb".
It read: "Banned by petty bureaucrats and spineless politicians supporting animist beliefs over logic and reasons.
"Memorial service to be held annually July 20 at the summit."
The moment was one of joy for Aboriginal people and large numbers with connections to the area have descended on Mutitjulu and the Yulara resort ahead of celebrations all weekend.
The ban is not unanimously supported by Aboriginal people living in poverty in Mutitjulu because of fears that the share of money they receive from national park fees will fall.
The Anangu get nothing from where most of the money is spent -- the Yulara resort.
Mutitjulu resident and chairman of the powerful Central Land Council Sammy Wilson, who runs 4WD tours for tourists to his Patji homelands, said people were "waking up" but tourism operators such as AAT Kings must step up and employ local Aboriginal people.
Fewer than 30 are understood to work at the resort in Yulara operated by Voyages, which is a tiny number.
"Yeah, there are so many beautiful places and homelands out there, families wish to develop tourism and they are going to need outside help to do it," Wilson said.
Anangu people can be shy and passive about talking to tourists but Wilson said he tells them to watch and learn, to "stand up straight and proud".
"They really want to listen to you and learn from you, so look them in the face and and talk clearly," he said he tells them.
"We understand some people might feel disappointed and sad but I think over time they'll come to realise there's so much to do here and come, we really want to show you the country, there's so many other things you can do."