In 1997 Derek Roff, former Head Ranger of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park from 1968 to 1985, recorded a detailed (7.5 hr) interview with the Northern Territory Archives Oral History Unit. Topics covered Derek's time as a policeman in Kenya, emigration to Australia in the mid 1960s, and his experience and insights as Chief Ranger of the Park. The interview provides a fascinating insight into the development of the Park from 1968 through to the 1985 handover and beyond. Roff explodes many myths including the "We never climb" message and problems with photography.
Derek was asked a number of questions about Aboriginal attitudes to the climb while he served as head Ranger for 17 years. His response indicates that the climb held no concerns to senior Aboriginal Elders, leaving one wondering what caused the "unchanging" Tjukurpa to alter so significantly after the Federal Government took over administration of the park in 1985.
In it's statement about the ban on climbing the Park Board, indicated that "Anangu have felt a sense of intimidation, as if someone is holding a gun to our heads to keep it open". Reading Derek's Roff recollection of Principal Owner of the Rock, Paddy Uluru and his great sense of humour, it seems it would be a great insult to Paddy's memory to suggest he was intimidated by anyone.
Short extract from Derek Roff's interview:
Did the Aboriginal people ever talk to you about either regulating the use of, or even closing the climb?
No. No, they never did. That never came up. There's often a statement I've read recently, and what-have-you, that the Aboriginal people never climbed it. Now, that, to me, doesn't quite ring true, (a) because there a number of sites on the top of course, that have got stories and names and what-have-you.
Paddy Uluru used to tell me about climbing the Rock. It seemed to me that it was mainly the senior, traditional people who climbed, rather than everybody. But there was no doubt about it, that ceremonies were carried out in certain areas up there, that people did climb it.
I'm just trying to think of the name of the Aboriginal people who went up with Mountford — Lively — Lively Pakalinga, Nipper's brother, older brother. He climbed it with Mountford, and explained some of the stories up there and what-have-you.
So, I must say, certainly it was climbed — not maybe by everybody, but certainly the traditional people. And they never _ _ you know, Paddy Uluru never mentioned the possibility of that to me. And I think, if he had had a concern about it, he would have, as he did with the cave.
But I don't know, I must say, there it is. It's a thing that's come up now, by a different group of people. Well, fair enough. They've got their interpretation.
Not to me. No, they didn't. I must say, in actual fact, that was where the name for the tourists came up — 'minga' — it was watching them climb the Rock. And it was more a sense of fun than anything else.
I remember old Paddy Uluru being at the bottom of the climb one day, with him, and we were just talking about this and that. Alongside the climb is a sacred path. And we were just talking about this and that, and one of the American blue rinse set came up to him (and rather effusive, as they used to get) and she said: 'Oh, you going to the climb the Rock?'
And he said: 'No, missus. If I go up there, I might fall on me f-ing arse!' [Laughs] Well, that brought the conversation to a fairly rapid close. [Laughter] Paddy was a man of many words.