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Climbing Uluru Will Be Banned From 2019

The number of tourists who choose to climb has fallen to 16 percent.

01/11/2017 2:48 PM AEDT | Updated 03/11/2017 11:15 AM AEDT
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Climbing Uluru will be banned from October 26, 2019, after an independent study found only 16 percent of visitors now make the climb.

Tourists will be banned from climbing Uluru within two years, the site's management board has confirmed.

The rock, which is sacred to the local Anangu people, will be permanently closed to climbers from October 26 2019, following a vote by the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Board of Management in Darwin on Wednesday morning.

The day will mark 34 years since Uluru was handed back to its traditional owners -- a date which the Director of National Parks Sally Barnes says is "of huge significance to Anangu".

"This is a significant moment for all Australians and marks a new chapter in our history. It clearly says we put country and culture first when managing this place for all Australians and our visitors from around the world," she said in announcing the planned closure.

Traditional owner and park chairman, Sammy Wilson, said the decision should be "celebrated" by all Australians.

"This decision is for both Anangu and non-Anangu together to feel proud about; to realise, of course it's the right thing to close it," he said in a statement.

"The land has law and culture. We welcome tourists here. Closing the climb is not something to feel upset about but a cause for celebration. Let's come together; let's close it together."

The number of visitors climbing the sacred site have dwindled in recent years, with the latest figures showing only 16 percent of visitors made the climb during its opening times between 2011 and 2015.

Signs erected around the entrance to the climbing path request visitors not to climb the sacred site.

TORSTEN BLACKWOOD via Getty Images
In the 1990s, 74 percent of visitors to Uluru made the ascent. Now, only 16 percent complete the climb.

Under the park's management plan drawn up in 2010, climbing Uluru can be stopped if the proportion of climbers falls below 20 percent or if the board believes people will continue to visit the sacred site without being able to climb.

According to an agreement with the tourism industry, at least 18 months' notice had to be given to close the climb.

Senior traditional owner and park chairman Sammy Wilson told Wednesday's board meeting that the rock was "not a theme park like Disneyland" and it was time for climbing to be banned.

The Anangu people had long felt that they had "a gun put to their heads" to keep Uluru open, Wilson told the board.

"Please don't hold us to ransom," he said, according to Fairfax Media.

"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.

"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.

Fairfax Media via Getty Images
Hundreds of people continue to climb Uluru, despite signs asking people not to climb out of respect for the traditional owners of the land.

"After much discussion, we've decided it's time," he said.

In the 1990s, three quarters of visitors to the park completed the climb. By 2010, it had dropped to 38 percent. Now, an independent analysis by statisticians from Griffith University has found only 16 percent climb, paving the way for Wednesday's meeting to go ahead.

To Uluru's traditional owners, the Anangu people, the site is more than simply a rock: it is a sacred, living cultural landscape where the spirits of ancestral beings continue to reside.

Moreover, according to Anangu teachings the pathway currently used by climbers is the same route that was taken by the ancestral Mala men during the creation time, giving it special significance.

Climbing Uluru is also dangerous. Thirty-six people have died making the climb since the 1950s, most recently in 2010 when a 54-year-old Victorian man collapsed and died after completing the strenuous 340 metre ascent.

Last year, three 23-year-old men had to be rescued in an intensive 11-hour operation by NT police and specialist vertical rescue teams after wandering off the main climbing trail and becoming stuck in a crevice.

A ban on climbing Uluru has been floated several times in recent years but have been stalled by political opposition and the fears of tourist operators that it would discourage people from visiting.

Most recently, in April 2016 the Turnbull Government decided against banning the climb after approving a privately-run 100 kilometre trek to the cultural landmark.

When the draft management plan for Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park was being drawn up in 2009, then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said it would be "very sad" if Australians "weren't able to enjoy" climbing the rock.

Despite this, requests not to climb by the Anangu people, Parks Australia and a number of travel websites have resulted in falling numbers of climbers, paving the way for the total ban.

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