The Rush To Climb Uluru Reeks Of White Australian Entitlement
The recent documentary on the Adam Goodes booing saga 'The Final Quarter' features a line that still resonates with me.
In archival footage from AFL 360, journalist Mark Robinson labels the booing “racism” whilst criticising AFL Chief Gillon McLachlan’s failure to call it as such at the time. (The AFL finally apologised last June.)
He then states the following:
“I know knuckleheads... They won’t give a stuff what Gillon McLachlan says, they don’t give a stuff what you say or what I say. They don’t care. When they get told they’re not allowed to do something, you know what they say? ‘Stuff you, I’m gonna do it.’ And they actually don’t even know why they’re doing it but they’re doing it because ‘you told me I’m not allowed to do it’”.
This quote rang in my ears as I saw footage of people rushing to climb Uluru in the days before the climbing ban kicks in. Miles and miles of defiant “knuckleheads”, winding around the base like a river of White Australian entitlement. No purpose fuelling their actions except a childish brattiness that Traditional Owners have stated visitors soon won’t be allowed to trample on sacred land. These climbers feel they must climb to prove a point but the sole point they’re proving is their unacknowledged racism.
If you don’t believe racism is fuelling this dash, ask yourself this: why is it that in all the years the climb has been opened, most of these hordes have never bothered visiting?
Pauline Hanson, for example, had 65 years in which she could have climbed Uluru. She elected to visit it only in August in a bid to publicly undermine the Traditional Owners’ decision. She then humiliatingly got herself stuck on the rock at the beginning of the chain climb and required assistance to slide back down to ground on her backside.
Climbers are definitely not climbing out of a misplaced respect that they have for the land or “their country”. It’s well-documented that Uluru has been damaged over the years of it being climbed, with an irreparable scar running along the climbing route.
Why would anyone who cares about this monolith wish to add to the damage? Then there’s the rubbish climbers leave on top of the rock, or the black waste they’ve been dumping from their caravans along the side of the road.
This is purely about the climbers “conqueror complex”, their disrespect for Traditional Owners and their land. Most of these people have probably never bothered setting foot in the Northern Territory before now. To prove their “point”, they’re driving thousands of kilometres only to turn around and drive back without ever learning a thing about the land they’ve just desecrated.
The climb is closing on October 26, the 34th anniversary of Uluru being handed back to the Traditional Owners. It has taken Traditional Owners decades to change the attitudes of visitors via education and signage -- to the point that climbing numbers have dwindled to below 20%, enabling them to make the decision. The Anangu have worked hard for this outcome and the fact that they succeeded should be celebrated by all.
As someone who visits the NT often due to my own cultural and family ties there, I went to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park back in January. The best part about going to the Australian desert in summer is there are few tourists around. Additionally, the Uluru climb is generally shut due to extreme temperatures.
Along the walking trails, detailed information about sites is everywhere. Accessible sacred sites are marked, information is provided on their history and explains what is appropriate nowadays when viewing them. The educational centre is also incredibly informative giving those who visit a wealth of information about the local importance of Uluru. 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 wilful ignorance.
It’s more than signs though. When standing there looking up at the rock, or when walking around it surrounded by the vegetation, the waterholes and the crevices which sometimes turn to waterfalls after a decent rain, it’s hard to not feel complete awe and respect for what you’re seeing.
At the end of the day, perhaps all this last minute coloniser scrambling to the summit is for the best. After the ban begins, the likelihood of any of these people returning to Uluru is most certainly nil.
So in addition to getting people to stop climbing their sacred site, the Traditional Owners have provided the rest of us with another gift. And that's the gift of being able to experience their place -- physically and culturally -- unencumbered by those who will never appreciate the true beauty and magnificence of what they are seeing.
This article was originally published on 7 October 2019.