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Pacific News Minute: Crowds Of Tourists Rush To Climb Australia's Uluru Before It Closes In October

Romain Pontida
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Flickr

You may have seen pictures of a long line of climbers on Mount Everest earlier this year; now a similar scene is unfolding at much lower altitude, in Central Australia, where tourists are crowding in to climb Uluru before the iconic monolith closes.

34 years ago, when what used to be known as Ayers Rock was returned to its traditional owners, they placed signs asking visitors not to climb what they regard as sacred territory. When many climbers persisted, they announced a ban two years ago.

Sammy Wilson, senior traditional owner and chairman of the board of the surrounding national park declared, "It's an extremely important place, not a playground or theme park like Disneyland."

With the ban set to go into effect on October 26th, tourists have overwhelmed nearby campgrounds, roadhouses and resorts. Lindy Severin, who owns a station and roadhouse a hundred miles form Uluru told Australia's ABC that visitors are up 20% from last year.

She said, "They would like their children to have the opportunity to climb Uluru." But she also said that she's seen people camping illegally, dumping rubbish, lighting fires, even evacuating their toilet tanks.

A regular visitor described the scene as like processional caterpillars, "caravan after caravan, arriving, arriving, arriving."

Andrew Peters, a senior lecturer in indigenous tourism at Swinburne University, said there shouldnt need to be a rule.

"From my viewpoint as an academic and an Aboriginal person," he told the ABC, "seeing people walk on the rock is really offensive. But it's an indication of the mindset of non-Aboriginal people, that they need a legal motivation."

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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