by Margaret Mackay
Each year, more than 300,000 people visit Uluru, but the Uluru climb will close for good on 26 October 2019. See: https://www.ayersrockresort.com.au/uluru-and-kata-tjuta/uluru-and-kata-tjuta-national-park/can-i-climb-uluru
Towns along the way such as the Opal Capital, Coober Pedy, are a handy stopover for those visiting such attractions in the Northern Territory as ULURU.
At the Tuesday night council meeting at Coober Pedy the town sewerage made it to the agenda where administrative officers related that the town system was at capacity due to the influx of tourists.
Former water manager Les Hoad said the system was designed in 1993/94 for 250 cubic metres and suggested that it was being exceeded by 100 cubic metres with the current tourist numbers.
Acting CEO Mr. Pitman said, that excess was being discharged onto the landscape around the plant, and that there is a smell around town from aerated digestion in the pipes.
One of the busiest venues for travellers at Coober Pedy is the Opal Inn Hotel, Motel and Caravan Park.
Opal Inn Manager Tony Pallotta said that the majority of their bookings in the current season were definitely heading for ULURU.
“2019 is an exceptional year for bookings, and the other parks are full most days at present. Travellers are staying around one or two nights. This is indicative of them using us as a stopover. Obviously people are wanting to climb the rock now before the closure of the climb if it has been on their bucket list.” said Mr. Pallotta.
In November 2017 the land-mark decision was made by the Traditional Owners of this land and the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Board to close the climb for good. Effective 26 October 2019, marking the 34th anniversary of the Uluru hand-back, the climb will be closed.
There have long been plenty of reasons not to climb Uluru. There is the erosion caused by the passage of thousands of feet, which has left permanent scars. Climbers leave behind other impacts, too. With no toilet facilities on top of Uluru and no soil to dig a hole, tourists caught short while climbing have only one option. When it rains, the evaporated waste is washed off the rock and pollutes surrounding waterholes, which the area’s birds and native animals depend upon for survival.
Climbers also endanger one of the area’s rarest species, shield or tadpole shrimp which – incredibly – live on Uluru itself. Their eggs are adapted to survive long periods of drought and are hatched by rainfall. The fast-growing shrimp quickly lay more eggs; when the water dries up, these lie dormant until the next rain. However, with climbers unwittingly crushing the tiny eggs underfoot, the shrimp are now on the verge of extinction.
The date chosen for the event, October 26, is a significant one for the Anangu: it is the anniversary of the day in in 1985 when, during a ceremony at the base of Uluru, the Governor-General, Sir Ninian Stephen, handed the title deeds to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to the Traditional Owners. Truly a day worth celebrating.
Local tour operator Jason Wright was a tour guide at Uluru from 2007 to 2014. Jason and his wife Ariane operate “Followme Tours” at Coober Pedy these days.
Jason said, “ I have never climbed Uluru for cultural reasons. Having known local traditional owners it was just not something I thought was appropriate.
“That said, I have never judged anyone else for choosing to climb as I understand everyone has different thoughts and attitudes on cultural and religious opinions,” said Jason.
“Whilst the closure of the climb may disappoint many, it was really quite necessary for a reason totally removed from cultural issues.”
“The water holes around the rock have become heavily polluted and contain e-coli. This is a direct result of the climb as tourists have consistently gone to the toilet at the top of the climb.”
“All of that effluent has ended up in the water holes. I have even seen nappies wash down into the pools.”
“Hopefully the ecosystem can recover quickly with the closure of the climb.’
In the meantime Coober Pedy will have to deal with their own effluent problem, as those who have had ULURU on their “to-do” list make use of the town as a stopover.