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Should there be a ban on hiking up Australia's giant red landmark? The number of people scaling Uluru has dropped – so should there be a ban?

To the Anangu people, it’s a sacred rock which shouldn’t be climbed. To others, Uluru is a giant red landmark calling out for exploration.

But figures this week show a decline in the number of people scaling the structure – fuelling the debate about whether it’s time for a total ban.

While visitors aren’t prohibited from climbing the 348m-high rock, they are asked not to out of respect for the Aborigines – who jointly run the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park with the government.

Findings released last week from a survey carried out in June show the number of tourists climbing Uluru has dropped to 20 per cent from 38 per cent in 2010 – a dramatic fall from the 74 per cent who admitted to scaling it in 1990.

Uluru’s traditional owners ask visitors not to climb for cultural, environmental and safety reasons – 36 people have died attempting the feat since 1958.

Anangu elder Barbara Tijkadu explained: “That’s a really sacred thing that you are climbing. You shouldn’t climb. It’s not the real thing about this place.

"All the tourists will brighten up and say, ‘Oh I see. This is the right way. This is the thing that’s right. This is the proper way: no climbing’.”

Margot Marshall, from Parks Australia, said they would consider a ban once they have more robust numbers, adding there would be a consultation with the tourism industry, which would be given at least 18 months’ notice.

Here, we get the views of an Aussie journalist who’s scaled Uluru, and a tour operator, who says it shouldn’t be climbed.

Dominic Hughes: I’ve no regrets about climbing it

I had the “to climb or not to climb” debate with my mate when we arrived at Uluru back in 1998. We had visited the cultural centre and heard all the Dreamtime stories about the rock and why it was sacred to the Aboriginal people.

My mate, an atheist, suddenly came over uncharacteristically spiritual, and suggested perhaps we shouldn’t climb it. It is a pattern I have come to see over and over again.

Perfectly rational people who have no time for traditional religious beliefs – of any kind – can become oddly respectful when it comes to the tribal beliefs of an ancient culture or other.

Here was a bloke who would be happy to relieve himself on the steps of any church, suggesting we should not climb a monolithic lump of rock because of a story that had about as much basis in reality as that of the tooth fairy.

I mean, lovely story and all – but I’m not really buying it any more than I am Noah and his ark.

But we have to respect the beliefs of others, you say. No, we don’t. We have to respect the rights of others to believe whatever they want. And they have to respect our right to regard their beliefs as made-up stories. 

I have no problem with people who say “this is sacred to me, so I choose not to do this”.

I do have a problem with people who say “this is sacred to me, so you can’t do this”. That, my friends, is a very slippery slope.

Right now, you’re probably doing things that don’t comply with other’s beliefs; eating meat, working on the Sabbath, driving a car, having sex out of wedlock, drinking alcohol... the list is long.

I like that I live in a country where I’m free to choose to believe in whichever of these things I want, and free to ignore them all, too.

I don’t see how Uluru and the mythology that surrounds it are any different. Trying to abide by the beliefs of everybody is a recipe for a dull life.

My mate agreed, and up we went. Climb it, or don’t climb it. It’s your choice, and I like having choices. I’ve no regrets about this one.


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To climb Uluru or not to climb?
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