Skip to main content

History of the Ayers Rock Summit Marker: a pictorial record.

History of the Ayers Rock Summit Marker: a pictorial record.

Summit marker with Bronze directional plaque, circa 1970? (photo credit)

The stone pedestal that marks the summit of Ayers Rock at 865m[1], with its distinctive bronze directional plaque features in many visitor photos. For most visitors it marks the end of the climb and start of the return trip. The pedestal originally housed a log book where visitors once recorded their names and thoughts. Unfortunately this logbook has been removed by Parks Australia whose on going mission has been to discourage climbing as much as possible, contrary to the concept of what National Parks are about and the wishes of many tourists.
The current poor condition of the bronze plaque with missing map of Australia and missing coat of arms (see below), is testament to Parks Australia’s neglect of this important historical, cultural and scientific artefact. We hope that the plaque may be restored to its original glory so that future climbers; those that climb again when the nonsensical ban is lifted, may experience it as it was intended.
This piece provides a pictorial record of the summit marker from its first incarnation as a crude pile of stones between 1873 and 1958, to a formed stone trigonometric cairn with a pole and vanes between 1958 and 1970, to its current form from 1970 to present.
There is some conflicting information about some of the dates presented and we will update the timeline when and if better data comes to hand.  If anyone objects to photos being used let us know.

1873-1958 A pile of rocks
The original summit marker was a crude pile of stones first arranged by William Gosse in 1873 and added to over the years by various visitors. Alan Breaden reportedly left a match box tin in the cairn when he climbed with David Oliver in 1896[2] (or possibly 1897[3]). This was retrieved by Constable William McKinnon in the early 1930s. McKinnon left a small glass jar at the cairn and until the late 1950s (?) this contained a record of climber’s names. The Mt Olga-Ayers Rock research expedition of August 1950 made a record of the list of names in the glass jar at the cairn at the summit of Ayers Rock.

Constable William McKinnon at the Cairn, probably 1932. Photo credit The Queenslander 10 June 1932
The Cairn at the top of Uluru: Tiger (Talkajyerie standing) and Tamalji seated.  Taken by Arthur Groom, 1947

Mt Olga-Ayers Rock research expedition August 1950. Cairn in background. Expedition members including: Ewen, Kemsley, Moore, Broom, Greenhill, Lofthouse, Clarebrough. Photo Trevor Broom


1952 One from a collection of photographs taken by Kevin Harris, a long time employee of Bond's Bus Tours. Kevin Ray and his assistants at the cairn on the top of Ayers Rock.

1958-1970 Trigonometric station – the cairn.
In 1958 the Division of National Mapping replaced the small stone pile with a large stone cairn and trigonometric survey marker with pole and vanes as part of a National mapping program. The cairn formed the backdrop to a growing number of climbers between 1958 and 1970.

Cairn in 1964 with pole and vanes. From Storm over Uluru by Peter English. Caption errs in assigning first woman climber to Beryl Miles. It was Isabella Foy in 1936.

Cairn in 1970, rocks rearranged to provide a seat. Photo credit Jeff Carter.

The cairn in September 1970. The white strips were used to assist collection of aerial photographs. The vanes and partially deconstructed cairn likely during installation of the current stone pedestal. (Photo credit Laurie McLean)

1970-present: Stone pedestal with Bronze directional plaque.
The survey cairn was replaced by a more formal stone pedestal and bronze plaque featuring a directional compass, map of Australia and an Australian Coat of Arms in November 1970. The pedestal housed a record book for climbers to record their names but his is no longer serviced by Parks Australia. Over time the Map of Australia and Coat of Arms have been stolen. The map of Tasmania disappeared sometime between 1970 and 1977. The rest of Australia vanished in the early 1980s, likely between 1982 and 1984 along with the Commonwealth Star and part of the Emu’s wattle. The rest of the coat of arms vanished between 1998 and 2003.
Sadly Parks Australia do not seem to have any interest in maintaining this important historical, cultural and scientific artefact.
Ayers Rock summit Station Summary showing construction details of pedestal. There is a 5 cent piece under the centre of the survey mark.

Bronze directional marker prior to installation by Division of National Mapping, 1970. Note Map of Australia and Coat of Arms. (photo credit)

See the post Ayers Rock Geodetic Station for photos showing the pedestal being constructed.
Pedestal under construction.
The rocks used to render the pedestal were imported from Mt Conner. Carried up the rock by NT Parks Staff. Left to right George Page-Sharpe, Derek Roff (Head Ranger), Ian Cawood and Darrel Toon. See Ayers Rock Geodetic Station

Summit marker with Bronze directional plaque, circa 1975? (photo credit )

Ayers Rock Directional Plaque, 1977, note Tasmania is missing. Photo Credit

Ayers Rock Summit Pedestal 1977. Photo Credit
Photo for 1977. note pedestal now painted 1970s mission brown. Photo by JSpieker

Outback, Thomas Keneally, 1983. Photo by Gary Hansen prob 1982. Just Tasmania missing.

Directional Plaque, probably 1984. Australia and Commonwealth Star, and part Emu’s Wattle motif missing. Photo Credit

October –November 1998. No change from 1984. Photo credit Marc Hendrickx

Taken on January 19, 2003. Coat of Arms now missing, Bronze discoloured in area of coat of arms suggesting recent removal. Photo Credit.

[1] Height is reported to be 877m ASL according to CR Twidale, 2010. See Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas): Inselbergs of Central Australia in Geomorphological Landscapes of the World edited by Piotr Migon Springer Science & Business Media 2010
[2] Healy, T. (1995) The early ascents of Mount Olga, Burwood, self-published. Reproduced on P16 in Hannah Hueneke 2006 To climb or not to climb? ‘The sacred deed done at Australia’s mighty heart’ ANU Honours Thesis.
[3] The Queenslander Thu 30 Jun 1932 P24


Popular posts from this blog

17th death on the Rock

17th death on the Rock
ABC report that a 76 year old Japanese man collapsed on the steep part of the climb and despite first aid, was not able to be revived. The elderly Japanese man likely died as a result of heart complications, probably brought on by existing (perhaps unknown) medical conditions and over exerting himself. He appears to have died revelling in the opportunity life provides. RIP Brother of the Rock.  Our thoughts with his family and the first attenders who did their best to treat him. It's sad, but life goes on, and so should the climb.

His death marks the 17th death ON the Rock since 26 May 1962 when 16 year old school boy Brian Strieff, on a school excursion with Carey Grammar, wondered off the main path in heavy fog on the way down and fell to his death.

ABC's report indicate it is the 37th death, but these figures from Parks Australia have not been substantiated. It seems that many of the deaths Parks Australia claim to have occurred ON the Rock occurred in…

A pictorial response to arguments against climbing Ayers Rock

A pictorial response to arguments against climbing Ayers RockIt's too dangerous Group of women aged 19-70 climb Ayers Rock as part of the 1957 Petticoat Safari. This was prior to the chains being installed. Since the 1950s over 6,000,000 people of all ages have climbed the rock. In that time there have been a reported 36 deaths mainly heart attacks to older men, not acclimatised to the heat of central Australia. If you are fit and healthy and stick to the marked path climbing Ayers Rock is an exhilarating adventure but a decidedly low risk activity.

Here's Arthur Groom's take on the climbing options: extract from I saw a strange land
Various writers have described Ayers Rock as difficult of ascent, when in reality it is a trained mountaineer's job on the east-south-east corner, a rough and steep scramble up at least two places on its southern side, and nothing else but a strenuous and spectacular uphill walk on its western side It’s a Sacred Site, climbing is disrespect…

Climber's Handbook: A guide to climbing Ayers Rock.

Coming soon... Climber's Handbook: A guide to climbing Ayers Rock. Everything you wanted to know about climbing the rock at the heart of Australia but were too afraid to ask...

Indicative Contents History of discovery and climbing Facts and figures Geology and Geomorphology Route Maps Reasons to climb Climbing stories Chronicles of the fallen  Preparations Best time to climb What to wear How to climb What you can see from the summit Things to do at the summit Climbing Trivia Selected climbs and hikes in central Australia
Hoping to hit the internet book shelves in time for Christmas 2018.  In the meantime wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  I just want one thing in my Christmas stocking: a ban of the ban!