Sacred Site Uluru and Ecotourism

Table of Content

1.                  Introduction:

Uluru is thought to be the largest monolith (solid rock) in the world. Geologists disagree about the origins of Uluru but the most hold that it is a remnant of a vast sedimentary bed laid down some 600 million years ago.  It is a sandstone gray rock but it is covered with a distinctive red oxide coating.  Archeologists approximate that aboriginal settlements in Uluru began more than 10,000 years ago; some scholars estimate human settlement in the area began about 22,000 years ago. On July 1873, William Goose named Uluru Ayers Rock in honor of the Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers. (Hayes, 2009).

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Foremost, Uluru is a religious site sacred to the Anangu, its traditional owners.  It is their Tjukurpa (Dreaming, Dreamtime, the Creation) or the Aboriginal people’s religious heritage.  To the Anangu, Tjukurpa is real.  In fact, it is all of reality. (Tok’ra, 2003).

 The Uluru is part of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park declared in 1987 as a World Heritage Area for its geological and cultural values.  It is a priceless geologic and historic world treasure with a fragile ecology.  The Anangu welcome visitors to the park so these visitors may learn of the aborigines’ land, beliefs and culture. (Australian Government, 2010).

Uluru or Ayers Rock is 348 high, 3.6 km long, and 9.4 km in circumference.  In the 1920s, Uluru and the giant domes of Kata Tjuta became part of the Great Central Aboriginal Reserve to minimize conflict between Anangu (aborigines) and white settlers.  The national park was founded in 1958. In 1985 the Anangu, as traditional owners, reclaimed it through a freehold title granted by government on condition that the park be leased to Parks Australia (a government entity) for 99 years.  The Anangu are paid an annual rent of $150,000 and 25 percent of park entrance fees. (Tok’ra, 2003).

By aboriginal tradition only certain elderly males may climb the rock.  Also, the Anangu tribe requests visitors not to photograph certain sections of Ayers Rock due to their traditional beliefs.  Despite these aboriginal beliefs, the Australian government allows tourists to climb Ayers Rock using metal chains installed in 1964. In the 1970s, Ayers Rock had become one of two most famous stops in outback Australia.  In 1976 the Commonwealth Government leased Yulara, a resort complex, 20 km from the base of Ayers Rock.  The park is managed by a Board of Management with a majority of Anangu traditional owners as members. (Gray, 2009).

Ayers Rock is very steep and can be slippery.  Climbing it is physically challenging and could be dangerous.  Thirty-five climbers of Ayers Rock have died as of 2009; many have been rescued with broken bones, heat exhaustion and extreme dehydration.  As a sacred place and for climbers’ safety, climbing Ayers Rock is increasingly seen as inappropriate, culturally insensitive, and socially unacceptable.  (Rehage, 2009).

 2.        Ayers Rock and Tourism:

            Australia ranks 23rd in the world in terms of gross domestic product per capita at $38,800. (CIA Factbook, 2010). Its share of  the 880 million global international tourist arrivals was 0.6 percent in 2009 from a high of 0.7 percent in the 1990s. (Australian Government, 2010).  For the year ended March 2010, there were 5.7 million visitors, an increase of 3 per cent relative to the previous year. (Tourism Australia, 2010). Of these tourists, about 100,000 visit Ayers Rock annually.  In 2003, Australia had 60,054 tourism industries and 308,739 tourism related industries which accounted for 5.7% of total national employment and a net tourism services trade balance $75 million.

The Australian Government implements a National Long-Term Tourism Strategy  (NLTTS) using eight key areas which include:  (a) Identify strategies to help industry adapt to a carbon constrained future, (b) Improve access to Australia’s natural and cultural attractions while at the same time improving environmental outcomes; and (c) Improve Indigenous tourism development. (Jackson, 2010). The NLTTS targets the tourists and ecotourists market niche, hence, both tourists and ecotourists visit Ayers Rock. Ecotourism in Australia is an organized industry. Ecotourism Australia, formed in 1991, is an incorporated non-profit organization and is the lead national body for the ecotourism industry.  Its vision is: “To be leaders in assisting ecotourism and other committed tourism operations to become environmentally sustainable, economically viable, and socially and culturally responsible.” (Ecotourism Australia, 2010).

3.         Aborigines and Ayers Rock:

With a well-managed ecotourism, the aborigines, particularly the Anangu, will benefit through: their 25 percent share in park entrance; improved world understanding of their land, beliefs, and culture; and enhanced mutual respect of the visitors’ culture and those of the aborigines. Ayers Rock, as a World Heritage Area, must be available to all peoples as both a geologic and historic treasure towards mutual and responsible appreciation and preservation of such heritage by Australians and all peoples of the world.

Disadvantages of ecotourism in Ayers Rock include:  (a) the unresolved protocols for socially appropriate use of the place by the aborigines, the Australian government, business operators, tourists and ecotourists; (b) the geologic pressures on the mountain due to great convergence of too many eco/tourists at a time; (c) the pressure on the fragile ecology of the place by visitors who are not socially perceptive and culturally sensitive to its ecologic-geologic-cultural preservation.

Ayers Rock is currently managed by a Board of Management with a majority of Anangu traditional owners as members. (Gray, 2009).  With the National Long-Term Tourism Strategy implemented by the Tourism Ministers’ Council as lead implementers, there will be a need to delineate roles and responsibilities in Ayers Rock management with those of the Anangu as traditional owners.  As the Australian Government seeks to continually improve a globally competitive and culturally sensitive ecotourism strategy, there is extensive hope that Ayers Rock, as an ecotourist destination, can be a well managed World Heritage.

            Persistent problems faced by ecotourism managers will continue to challenge the Australian Government in general, and the Anangu tribe and the Ayers Rock/Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park management in particular.  Some persistent Ayers Rock ecotourism problems are:  (a) insistence of eco/tourists to climb or photograph the sacred mountain, (b) use of the Ayers Rock as a mountaineer’s prized conquest regardless of the norms of its traditional owners, (c) the contested strategy of use of the 99-year Australian Government’s lease of Ayers Rock, (d) global opinion on the use of and global claim to Ayers Rock as an outback World Heritage treasure versus the aborigines cultural stipulations; (e) the commercial complex at the base of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is bound to generate some regular tourism activities detrimental to the Park’s ecological balance; and (f) sustaining Ecotourism Australia’s vision in the context of future competitive global tourism protocols.

4.         Conclusion

            Considering the foregoing facts and arguments, Ayers Rock as part of the Kata Tjuta National Park is primarily the property of its traditional owners, the Anangu. Secondarily, it is the property of Australia. Thirdly, it is the property of the world.  Transcending these ownership claims is the principle of ecosystem stewardship – that we, as people of the world, are simply entrusted to care for what is God-given to all who will inherit this earth.  Indeed, “The goal of ecosystem stewardship is to respond to and shape changes in social-ecological systems in order to sustain the supply and availability of ecosystem services by society.” (Stuart,  Kofinas & Folke, 2009). Thus, to sustain Ayers Rock as a World Heritage  hierarchical responsible use of it, for all mutually acceptable purposes, must have for its common core goal the preservation of its intrinsic value as a geologic and cultural treasure.  Ayers Rock can be responsibly used by the Anangu as sacred place and by ecotourists through a well-balanced management of all aspects of tourism and indigenous peoples’ ancestral claims.  Ayers Rock ecotourism is a challenging program but it is an ecologically and culturally sustainable restorative health/ecotour option for Australians and the world.

Reference List

Australian Government, 2010.  Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park.  Available at: http:// [Accessed 29 May 2010].

Australian Government, Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, 2010.  Tourism Industry Facts and Figures at a Glance.[pdf]. Available at: tourism/Documents/Tourism%20Statistics/tourism_facts_figures_may_2010_screen.pdf [Accessed 29 May 2010].

CIA, Central Intelligence Agency, 2010.  Australia, The World Factbook.  Available at: [Accessed 31 May 2010].

Ecotourism Australia, 2010. About Ecotourism Australia. [pdf]. Available at: [Acessed 1 June 2010].

Gray, M., 2009.  Uluru (Ayers Rock) & Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). Places of Peace and Power.  Available at: [Accessed 30 May 2010].

Hayes, Holly., 2009. Uluru (Ayers Rock).  Available at: [Accessed 31 May 2010].

Margaret Jackson AC, Chair. (2010).  National Long-Term Tourism Strategy, Enhancing Australia’s Economic Prosperity.  The Jackson Report Available at: http://www. /policy/national_long_term_tourism_strategy/Pages/National LongTermTourismStrategy.aspx [Accessed 31 May 2010].

Rehage, J., 2009. Climbing famous Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia: Conflicting perspectives amongst stakeholders at its peak.  Retrieved from [Accessed 31 May 2010].

Stuart, F., Kofinas, G. P., Folke, C., eds., 2009.  Principles of Ecosystem Stewardship: Resilience-Based Natural Resource Management in a Changing World. [e-book].   Available at: book/978-0-387-73032-5 [Accessed 1 June 2010].

Tok’ra, Atari, ed., 2003. Uluru (aka Ayers Rock) – Norther Territory, Australia.

 Available at: [Accessed 30 May 2010].

Tourism Australia, 2010. Visitor Arrivals Data:  Latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Available at: [Accessed 29 May 2010].

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