The Traditional Owners of Uluru have announced today that the culturally significant site will be closed to visitors from October 26, 2019.
Today the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Board of Management unanimously voted to close the site to climbers.
Chairman and senior Traditional Owner Sammy Wilson said the decision to close the climb came after extensive consultation.
"Over the years Anangu have felt a sense of intimidation, as if someone is holding a gun to our heads to keep it open. Please don’t hold us to ransom," he said in an address to the board today.
“More recently people have come together to focus on it again and it was decided to take it to a broader group of Anangu. They declared it should be closed. This is a sacred place restricted by law.”
The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park board of management made the decision today to close the climbing path on Uluru, with figures showing only 16 per cent of visitors made the climb during its open times between 2011 and 2015.
The closure is possible under the terms of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Management Plan 2010-2020, which states that if the proportion of climbers falls below 20 per cent, or if the board believes people will continue to visit the site without being able to climb.
Mr Wilson acknowledged there were some who had different views, but said the views of Traditional Owners needed to be respected.
“Some people, in tourism and government for example, might have been saying we need to keep it open but it’s not their law that lies in this land. It is an extremely important place, not a theme park like Disneyland,” Mr Wilson said.
“If I travel to another country and there is a sacred site, an area of restricted access, I don’t enter or climb it, I respect it. It is the same here for Anangu. We welcome tourists here. We are not stopping tourism, just this activity.”
Director of National Parks Sally Barnes, also a member of the Board, said they had set the firm date of 26 October 2019.
“We’ve chosen the date of 26 October 2019 to close the climb permanently as it is a date of huge significance to Anangu. On 26 October 1985 Uluru and Kata Tjuta were handed back to Anangu after many years of hard work by elders,” Ms Barnes said in a statement.
“We’ve always committed to giving the tourism industry at least 18 months’ notice. While there has been a significant reduction in the numbers of people wanting to climb, to less than 20 per cent, today we’ve got many alternative activities on place on the ground that people can enjoy instead of climbing."
The climb is considered dangerous. Over 30 deaths have been confirmed as a result of the climb, and frequent rescues are required to aid trapped and injured climbers.
The park plan outlines that the park would work towards the eventual close of the climb in consultation with the tourism industry.
"For visitor safety, cultural, and environmental reasons the Director and the Board will work towards closure of the climb.
"Parks Australia will work with the tourism industry and Nguraritja to ensure that; visitors continue to be provided with a unique and rewarding experience of the park, the tourism industry has sufficient lead time to amend and advertise new itineraries, impacts on the tourism industry are minimised."
Mr Wilson also called on the federal government to respect the community’s decision on the matter.
“After much discussion, we’ve decided it’s time.
“The government needs to respect what we are saying about our culture in the same way it expects us to abide by its laws. It doesn’t work with money.”
Since 2008, the climb closes whenever weather conditions make the trek dangerous, such as when the temperature rises over 37 degrees Celsius, when there's rainfall or high wind speeds. The climb also is occasionally closed for cultural reasons.
Uluru was handed back to Traditional Owners in 1985 by the then Hawke Government, but as part of the hand back agreement there was a requirement that the land be leased out to the Australian Parks and Wildlife Services for 99 years.