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Cultural Vandals rip out the Heart of OZ

The Hon. Melissa Price MP
Minister for the Environment and Energy
Parliament House
CANBERRA ACT 2600.

Dear Minister
Cultural Vandals rip out the Heart of OZ
I have been informed that the Board of the Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park in collaboration with Parks Australia intend to effectively destroy four internationally significant cultural monuments at Ayers Rock once they ban visitors climbing it in October 2019. These include:
  • the summit monument, 
  • five metal plates placed in memory of people who have died climbing the rock, 
  • the chain, 
  • and of course banning The Climb itself. 
It seems all trace of non-Anangu history and culture is to be wiped from the Rock, and the Federal Government are standing by and letting it happen. 

The bronze directional plaque and summit monument celebrate the work of the Division of National Mapping and the Reserves Board of the Northern Territory. The bronze plaque was cast in Melbourne and erected in December 1970 by Northern Territory parks staff including long serving and well respected head ranger Derek Roff under supervision of a surveyor from National Mapping. The formal monument replaced a stone survey cairn constructed in 1958 that in turn replaced the small pile of stones erected by William Gosse when he first climbed in 1873. The stones used to construct the 1970s pedestal were imported from Mt Conner due to concerns about the durability of the Ayers Rock arkose. The bronze inscription contains a small spelling error (Territories should be Territory) that has largely gone unnoticed. Parks Australia have neglected to maintain the plaque: the map of Australia and the Australian coat of arms that were a feature have been missing since the early 2000s. The pedestal included space for a logbook, but this has been clumsily sealed over. 171 logbooks containing the names of about 1 million climbers survive at the NT archives in Alice Springs. When the federal government took over management of the Park in the late 1980s the practice of maintaining the logbook was discontinued without any consultation.

 Summit monument July 2018. It turns 50 in 2020.

Summit Directional plaque  prior to being installed (Dec. 1970)

The five memorial plaques at the base of the climb, placed in memory of the first five tourists to die climbing Ayers Rock, are also on the hit list to be removed from the Rock. These remind climbers of the price some people have paid in making the decision to climb. The names include Brian Streiff, a 16 year old school boy from Melbourne and Marcia Buniston a 25 year old English tourist, whose deaths prompted the construction of the climbing chain in 1964. We are unaware if Parks Australia have contacted the families of the deceased about their intention to remove the plaques.

Memorial plaques at base of the Climb, July 2018.

The climbing chain has assisted millions attain the summit and is embedded in the memory of those who have climbed. Prior to the chain being installed about 20% of visitors climbed, the rate increased to close to 80% after the chain was installed. It remained at those high levels until the early 2000s when Parks Australia instituted a system of draconian closure protocols that keep the climb officially closed 80% of the time. Despite almost 30 years of anti-climb propaganda, climbing rates still regularly exceed 80%, especially on those rare days (just 10%) the climb is open from sunrise to sunset.

Climbing Chain, opened up the Climb to the majority of visitors. 

Banning climbing is another act of cultural vandalism. Since records starting being kept in 1958 at least 7 million visitors have climbed the rock. When my family and I visited this July hundreds of visitors including young couples, families, and international tourists of all ages were climbing each day. A log book we left at the summit recorded the names of over 2400 climbers from 33 countries over 35 days. If people are able to climb it remains the highlight of their visit. Banning the climb will prevent millions from celebrating their cultural heritage.

The Board and Parks Australia are undertaking these acts of cultural vandalism in direct contravention to the lease agreement between Parks Australia and the land owners. Section 17(2) of the agreement states: The Leasee covenants that the flora, fauna, cultural heritage and natural environment of the park shall be preserved, managed and maintained according to the best comparable management practices established for National Parks anywhere in the world or where no comparable practices exist, to the highest standards practicable. 

The lease agreement rightly places Australian (European) Heritage on the same level as that of the land owners. In a rare act of bipartisanship both then Prime Minister Rudd and opposition leader Turnbull criticised moves to ban the climb in 2009, yet somehow against their wishes and the opinion of the majority of Australians, scope for the ban was incorporated into the current management plan.

Is the Minister aware of the impending destruction of these important cultural artefacts? If the Minister is aware, perhaps she can explain to the Australian public why her government has not intervened to prevent it from happening.

Can the Minister provide assurances these significant Australian cultural artefacts and the act of Climbing Ayers Rock will remain in place in accordance with the current Lease arrangements?

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17th death on the Rock

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