Is It Legal To Climb Uluru?

Simon Bradfield/iStock

Uluru is one of the most iconic Australian landmarks. Located in the Northern Territory, hundreds of thousands of people visit the giant red rock each year to admire its beauty. For the indigenous community and traditional custodians of the area, Uluru is sacred and has great spiritual meaning. While climbing Uluru had previously been a normal tourist activity, doing so is now considered controversial, particularly since high profile incidents involving tourists doing disrespectful things atop the rock. But is any of this illegal? Let's find out.

In the early 80s, nobody would bat an eyelid at climbing Uluru, then known more commonly as Ayers Rock. It's just what you did when you visit the Northern Territory and surely something that was on the bucket list of many people. But since the site was handed back to the Anangu people in the late 80s, attitudes towards climbing Uluru have changed.

To the Anangu, Uluru is a sacred site with spiritual significance. They're also concerned about the safety of the climb — nearly 40 people have died while climbing it — as well as the health of Ayers Rock itself. You can't have dozens of people climbing it on a daily basis without the rock sustaining wear and tear.

The short answer to whether it's illegal to climb Uluru is "no". But the activity is highly discouraged by the Anangu people as well as those who want to preserve the site both physically and spiritually. There are signs in different languages at the base of Uluru that pretty much say "Please don't climb it".

There have been many incidents of when tourists disrespected the site, including the infamous striptease done on top of Uluru, which have renewed calls for a ban on climbing it. But the Australian Government has recently declined to issue an outright ban on Uluru climbs, much to the disappointment of the local indigenous caretakers.

So the choice is yours whether you want to climb Uluru if you do end up in the Northern Territory. It's not encouraged, but it's your prerogative to scale the rock if you really want to.

Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.


Comments

    You say no its not legal.
    But then say a ban was declined.

      It's not illegal, the article says.

      It's a sticky issue. Personally I will climb if it's still legal when I get there - I don't have any desire to upset anyone but I also don't think that I'm obliged to act in every way that someone approves of. There are too many conflicting points of view for me to make everyone happy.

        The short answer to whether it’s legal to climb Uluru is “no”. But the activity is highly discouraged by the Anangu people as well as those who want to preserve the site both physically and spiritually. There are signs in different languages at the base of Uluru that pretty much say “Please don’t climb it”.

        Looks like a typo or confusion. I think they meant to say either 'yes' it's legal, or 'no, it's not illegal'.

          I bow before your superior eye. I read the intent and not the words.

        You're right not obliged at all, but think about how you'd want tourists climbing over one of your most sacred and significant sites before you make that decision. There are entire sections of the rock that indigenous women aren't even allow to look at or visit. Once you're there its really easy to see that it shouldn't be climbed. That is is you see at more than just a giant rock.

          No, what I see is a giant rock, same as when I went to St Paul's and saw an impressive building (and climbed it) and not a supernatural magic place because I don't accept that there is such a thing. My background interests lie in geography and geology, and I don't see that a natural geological feature of our country should be denied to those who'd appreciate it for what it is, not for some stories made up about it.

            Interesting, most Geographers and Geologists use cultural information in the interpretation of "rocks". Separating the two creates a very isolated science that limits is usefulness and application to society as a whole. Oh, and is very insensitive.

              No they don't, that's just a sweeping generalisation you made up. Of course paleontologists, anthropologists and archaeologists and a host of subdisciplines are interested in cultural matters, but there is no "most" in operation here.

              The rock was here for hundreds of millions of years before the aborigines and it'll certainly outlast us all. Why should one group dictate access to another in those circumstances, and on those timelines?

        You're right not obliged at all, but think about how you'd want tourists climbing over one of your most sacred and significant sites before you make that decision. There are entire sections of the rock that indigenous women aren't even allow to look at or visit. Once you're there its really easy to see that it shouldn't be climbed. That is is you see at more than just a giant rock.

      Hi there!

      Sorry, I had meant to write ILLEGAL. Yes, that was a typo on my part and apologies for the confusion! Hopefully the rest of the article clarified the matter...

      Apologies again!

      Spandas

    "The short answer to whether it’s legal to climb Uluru is “no”"
    "So the choice is yours whether you want to climb Uluru if you do end up in the Northern Territory."
    uhhh feels like it's not

    Sorry about this! As mentioned above, it was my mistake! I had meant to write "illegal". Sorry again about the confusion.

    I remember when the Chasers weighed in on the issue.
    They attempted to climb the church that Rudd attended and were asked to stop by police.

    Personally I can happily adhere to the cultural significance of the site and don't see why it has been a problem for so long.

      Not really the same thing though. Unless someone asked them to not go into the church and pray at the altar...

        They quizzed the police and confirmed that the reason they weren't allowed to climb it, was because the owners didn't want them to.
        While the situation might not have been exactly the same, it did pose a very valid question through the context of the prank.

        Last edited 19/07/16 11:32 am

          Yes but the outside of the church is not sacred ground, and the owners you refer to aren't a cultural group who have custodial ownership of the church. Churches are owned (as in land title and deed) by the religious groups which use them.

          Like I said, if they'd gone inside the church (where the sacred ground is) and started jumping up and down on the altar and making rock piles, then that would be a valid comparison.

          And like you said, the reason that they were asked not to climb obviously had nothing to do with the religious rites, beliefs and custom of the people who attend the church.

            You seem to be missing the point entirely.

            It has nothing to do with creating an exact replica of the situation for use as a valid argument or accusation.
            It's about entertainment and creating discussion through satire.

            This story reminded me of that prank.

            Last edited 20/07/16 9:30 pm

              Well the point is that there's sacred rites surrounding the specific path that tourists take up the rock and they are an important part of the local rites and beliefs. Walking up that path is a very specific action which violates those beliefs and practices.

              So no. The prank hasn't brought attention to that argument, nor has it generated discussion. I mean you're talking about climbing up the side of a church (a joke), I'm talking about the rites and customs of a group of people (the actual issue).

              Which of the two do you think will be more meaningful to a foreigner who thinks it's just a big rock?

    Although legal, once you get there and read the signs and see just how significant Uluru is to the indigenous people the choice is pretty easy. It's also off putting to see bus loads of people exit the bus walk right by the signs and stand there taking selfies and or climb it. Talk about lack of respect.

    There is a no climb register in the cultural centre opposite the tourist centre which is worth reading.

    I think it would be nice to hear the story about why the Anangu people consider this spiritual. Is that something that you can share?

    In my opinion, it's more about respecting the thoughts of the people who consider this a sacred place. If you respect something or someone or someone's thoughts then you don't need a law to stop you from climbing it. For the others, I think the government should impose a ban. When you can ban climbing the harbour bridge, why can't you ban this?

    A few years ago, people were abseiling from the 3 sisters in the blue mountains!! Who would even think of / allow that to happen? Thankfully, they have banned it now.

      I remember when I was a kid there was a tonne of the Dreaming stories on TV and books in school... Still got a bunch of the books and revisited them when cleaning out the house for a move. Are they still teaching kids Dreamtime stories in school? I don't watch so much live TV anymore, so I'm not sure if they're still doing all that, but it seems like it'd be a pretty worthwhile use of funds to increase the casual, incidental exposure rate of Dreaming stories to foster some curiosity and appreciation.

        From my understanding, no, it's not as openly taught as it once was.

        I often wonder if the same has happened in New Zealand. When i was young, Maori was added to education through song and story. It was about giving all children access to the identity of NZ as opposed to excluding them or our native history.

        There's also a lot more in fighting these days. The stories may be interpretations from one or several tribes that another tribe says is wrong or insensitive. As an ex canberran I know all to well the fighting between the nugunawal people and others about who is the native holder of the land in Canberra. A lot of the time it is a loose loose situation to try promote some aboriginal pre-colonosation history.

    I lived in Mutitjulu, the Anangu community next to Uluru. Whilst there were some sacred sites around Uluru, the locals didn't seem to worried about tourists climbing. Kata Tjuta (the Olga's) was another story. They are very sacred to the Anangu and tourists only have limited access to a small area.

    They seemed to struggle when people died on the climb. Someone told me once that it had to do with their beliefs of being custodians of the land and the spirits that dwell there.

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