Would anybody entering the home of a stranger, however gracious, climb over their prized sofa; especially if they provided logical reasons why we shouldn’t? Witnessing people climbing up Uluru, walking past, and completely ignoring the information point which provides ample reasons why not to do so, this seems a suitable analogy.
I have to admit, I believed that climbing of Uluru was already banned. However the local Anangu people who are the traditional owners and custodians of the site believe in respect and freedom of choice. They seem to prefer education over prohibition, providing common sense reasons not to climb, hoping we will decide not to climb.
We usually believe that the reason they don’t want us to climb is a matter of respect for one of their most sacred sites. However their main motive is safety, they want us to enjoy Uluru, be able to walk round it and then return home to our families and friends. There is good reason for their concern; 35 people have lost their lives climbing the red rock, and many more injured.
As they succinctly put it, why? There isn’t anything to see on top, the only thing there is a strong wind!
The indigenous people have a strong belief system, guided by the wisdom of their creation time stories; known as Tjukurpa. These stories are the guidebook, which the aboriginal people live by, passed down through the generations, guiding them and becoming the sacred laws.
Their spirit ancestors are the subject of the Tjukurpa; from the time when they travelled the earth, creating mountains, rivers, doing battle with each other, hunting native species and generally sculpting the landscape. Their ancestors fill the night skies, all eventually take their place among the celestial bodies.
There is a Tjukurpa which directly relates to the dangers of climbing Uluru. Lungkata was the lonely blue-tongued lizard man who travelled to from the north, stopping at Kata Tjuta looking for friends. Not finding anybody to befriend he eventually arrived at Uluru, still searching he came across the camp of Panpanpalala; the crested bellbird man. Panpanpalala had been hunting and killed an emu, but when Lungkata arrived he was fast asleep.
Lungkata tried unsuccessfully to awaken him, but soon realised how hungry he had become and spying the emu meat, he stole the huge legs of the bird. He made a number of false trails and retreated to a cave high on Uluru. When Panpanpalala eventually awoke he found half of his kill missing and retraced the many tracks until he came upon the camp of Lungkata. However when asked about the missing emu meat the blue-tongued lizard man denied any knowledge of being at the camp and the missing meat.
Initially Panpanpalala believed Lungkata and returned to recheck the various trails, but once again the only complete one led to the camp of the thief, leaving him in no possible doubt who the culprit was. When Lungkata again denied stealing the kill, Panpanpalala set a great bush fire at the base of Uluru, the smoke of which overcame Lungkata causing him to fall to his death.
Although there are obvious lessons to be taken from the story, about the dishonesty of Lungkata; the theft of the meat and the later denial of the crime. However to the Anangu people, of equal importance is the danger of climbing on Uluru. For them it is the act of a foolish person, taking great risk without good reason.
To the aboriginal people, Tjukurpa are not merely fables or stories with meanings, in fact there isn’t any English equivalent. They are the ‘history’ of creation, every feature of the landscape explained. Rocks and markings, do not merely represent a totemic creator spirit, they are the remains of these ancestors.
The Anangu people would prefer that nobody climbed Uluru, but they also believe that we all have a right to decide. They are the traditional owners of the region, and feel responsibility for those that visit. They will continue to provide the necessary information to allow us to make an informed decision, to choose whether to climb over the furniture of the landscape. A place sacred to the indigenous people long before we even knew the continent of Australia existed.
Uluru is beautiful from the ground, and apart from an aerial view, the best way to see it, a walk around the red rock, viewing it at sunrise and sunset is an amazing experience. It is stunning in the soft light of early morning or evening, it seems to glow an ochre red, the hues changing as the light hits different aspects of the rock. Lighting up the dark crevasses, caves and clefts, the deep scars which gouge the many faces of the sacred rock, adding character, and beauty to an Australian icon.
It’s easy to understand why it is a place of great spiritual significance to the traditional owners, and it is from the ground that I will choose to remember it.