Why the fascination with Australia’s sacred rock?
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Uluru, Australia - The urge to scramble up Uluru, the great red rock rising out of Australia's desert heart, is difficult to resist for many tourists, despite the risk of upsetting the local Aboriginal people.
A modest link-chain rail guides visitors up the steepest slopes of the formation once known as Ayers Rock, but the traditional Aboriginal owners, whose connections to the site date back tens of thousands of years, do not welcome climbers.
The locals consider it sacred but more than 35 people have died attempting to scale the monolith since the late 1950s.
“Uluru is sacred in our culture. It is a place of great knowledge,” reads a sign from the traditional Anangu owners at the bottom of Uluru.
“Under our traditional law climbing is not permitted.
“As custodians, we are responsible for your safety and behaviour. Too many people have died or been hurt causing great sadness.”
The park authorities have long looked to close the climb permanently, although it is currently left up to visitors to decide whether to tackle the sandstone monolith which soars 348 metres.
A photo posted by Joshua Tombs (@tombsy2) on Oct 5, 2016 at 7:17pm PDT
About 300 000 people visit each year and, while there are no official figures on how many climb, their numbers are reported to have declined significantly.
Situated in the remote Outback, Uluru began to be promoted as a place for tourists in the 1940s.
In the years since, attitudes have radically changed and in 1985 the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, was officially handed back to the traditional owners.
The park's majority Anangu board want to be satisfied on three measures before shutting the climbing route down - that the proportion of visitors climbing has fallen below 20 percent, that adequate new visitor experiences are in place, and that the natural and cultural experiences offered are the critical factor for people visiting the park.
Tour operators say overseas visitors often respect the spiritual significance of the site, but it's not unusual for Australians such as tourist Katie Lucas to take the opposite attitude.
“No, I really think you should have the option,” she said.
“If you want to do it, you should be able to do it. I know it’s aboriginal land but there’s aboriginal land all over Australia and we are doing all sorts of things on their land.
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“If you’re going to start restricting us from doing everything on their land, well, don’t even come into the park.”
Safety is a major concern at Uluru - where summer temperatures can hit 45 degrees Celsius - and the climb and parts of the base walk are closed in extreme heat.
As if to demonstrate the dangers, three young men got stuck in a crevasse on Uluru on September 19 and had to be lowered to safety in a difficult, all-night rescue operation.
Rescuers battled strong winds and abseiled 320 metres to save the stranded Australians, all aged 22.