Series of posts celebrating climbers of Ayers Rock.
#12 Traditional Owners
Since 1991 Parks Australia and the Park Board have pushed the message that the Traditional Owners don't climb Ayers Rock. As we have shown this message is demonstrably false. Below is a short list of Traditional Owners who have climbed the Rock. This is only a small fraction of what would include a cast of thousands stretching back into the Upper Pleistocene, when humans first arrived in the region. The list is derived from references by prospectors, anthropologists, rangers and tourists. Many non-Anangu Aboriginal people have also climbed as tourists over the years.
The current group of Traditional Owners (Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and Ngaanyatjarra language speakers - collectively known as the Anangu) likely arrived at our arkosic inselberg some 4000 years ago. This is based on the inclusion of the Dingo in Anangu creation mythology. Dingoes arrived with seafarers to Australia around 4,000 years ago constraining the development of Anangu mythology to after the Dingo's arrival. The summit of Ayers Rock includes a number of Anangu myths and stories that probably arose out of early explorations of the Rock (eg. Hare Wallaby Men, Murdered Kunia Women, Uluru waterhole Wonambi - see Mountford Ayers Rock Its People, their Beliefs and their Art).
The earliest evidence for human habitation in central Australia dates from about 35000 years ago in the West MacDonnell Ranges, some 160km NNW of Ayers Rock. It is highly likely that human habitation extended into the Ayers Rock region at around this time despite the climate being much drier. The pre-Anangu peoples likely took advantage of the intermittent water holes at the base and also probably climbed the Rock to look for game or keep an eye on rivals. They left their mark in the form, of petroglyphs and rock arrangements around the Park that are interpreted by the Anangu as being done by creation beings. There has been little attempt to look for evidence of pre-Anangu climbers on the summit plateau, and the likelihood of such a study receiving support and funding from Parks Australia and the Board in the current political climate is near zero.
Summit stories and Inma ceremonies appear to have been neglected or disowned by Traditional Owners since Paddy Uluru died in 1979, after which indifference and good-natured amusement at tourists climbing was replaced by the humourless and sanctimonious "We Never Climb", message in 1991. A map showing the main sacred sites drawn by Tony Tjamiwa in 1985 omits any locations at the summit, instead indicating it is the realm of the "Minga"- the tourists. It seems possible that Owners after Paddy Uluru hold little knowledge of the summit myths and legends that were revealed to Charles Mountford in the 1940s and 1950s, and Bill Harney in the early 1960s.
List of Traditional Owners who have climbed
4/11/1939 Billy and Mick (With Frank Clune, Victor Dumas and F Bails)
August 1940 Moanya, Matinya, Tjundaga (Mountford 1948 Brown Men Red Sand)
30/6/1946 Tiger Tjalkalyirri, Mitjenkeri Mick (Tourist guides to Lou Borgelt and Cliff Thompson)
4/9/1947 Tiger Tjalkalyirri, Tamalji and Njunowa (Arthur Groom 1950 - I saw a Strange Land)
September 1950 Old Bob, Chulki, Barney and Anonymous (Latham 1951 Knox Expedition to Ayers Rock) According to Derek Roff this group probably included Lively Pakalinga: 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..
1958 Kadakadeka and Imalung (Harney 1963 To Ayers Rock and Beyond)
1970s Paddy Uluru Principal Traditional Owner. According to Derek Roff: "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."