This week represents an historic day for the traditional owners of the land that we known as Uluru, including all of Kata-Tjuta National Park and beyond. The Anangu people of Australia’s Central Australian Desert have won their case to have tourists banned from climbing Uluru. The decision returns the sacred tradition of the Mala walk up the rock to the first people.
The reasons supporting the decision to close the walk to non-indigenous visitors are cultural, spiritual and environmental.
While most people have been supportive of the decision – there is still an alarming number of folk who see this decision as one of ‘ownership’ and ‘denial’. Yet the indigenous concept of land ownership has nothing to do with proprietary rights – not in the way that we conceive them in western culture. Indigenous Australians never own the land, they are guardians – caretakers.
The cultural duty to care for Uluru was taken from the Anangu when the walk was popularised. There are no bathrooms on the rock or rubbish disposal facilities and so the climbers were leaving waste on the rock which would trickle down and contaminate waterholes.
The life-giving quality of the rock comes from the precious waterholes that it feeds. The rock acts like a natural filtration system and both animals and traditional communities rely, even today, on the waterholes that can be found at its base.
Contaminated water in the most water-scarce environment on the planet has significant ramifications in that ecosystem.
The walk was traditionally made by Mala men – Anangu men of the desert who would walk up the ‘spine’ of the rock – which resembles the wallaby, or Mala in the Anangu language. The Anangu are spiritually responsible for anyone who participates in the Mala walk and traditionally great guidance and care was taken.
Tourists completing the walk are self-guided and although they do this at their own ‘risk’ in Western culture – the spiritual responsibility for their safety isn’t waived and still rests with the traditional custodians. The deep spiritual pain felt by these people where someone is hurt, or fatally injured in the walk is difficult to translate to a western culture, but if you take the legal concept of duty of care and amplify that through the universe and beyond generations – you have something like the gravity of this responsibility. There are still plenty of ways to enjoy the majesty of Uluru without walking on it and here is a link to the top 10 of those: https://northernterritory.com/articles/how-to-experience-uluru-without-walking-on-it