Bringing a conclusion to a vote taken two years ago, Australia’s famed Uluru is now officially closed to hikers, Travel Pulse reported.
The end of hiking at the sacred site, formerly known as Ayers Rock, has been a controversial move, causing division among both indigenous Australians and people around the world, according to the report by Mia Taylor.
The ban is the result of a unanimous decision from the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Board of Management, but it stems from the wishes of the Anangu tribe who are Uluru’s traditional owners.
Indigenous academic Marcia Langton has said that climbing the mountain defiles a sacred place and shows contempt for Aboriginal culture.
In the days leading up to Uluru’s closure this week, however, hikers from around the world rushed to squeeze in one last opportunity to make the ascent.
One hiker, Janet Ishikawa, came all the way from Hawaii and expressed criticism of the looming closure.
“It’s a total overreaction. All of a sudden they want to take ownership of all this stuff,” Ishikawa told CBS News. “They say you shouldn’t climb because of all this sacred stuff. I can still respect it and climb it.”
Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt expressed disappointment and dismay over the frenzy to climb Uluru one last time.
“It would be equivalent to having a rush of people climbing over the Australian War Memorial if I can be so brazen in that regard, because sacred objects, community by community, are absolutely important in the story of that nation of people,” Wyatt, who is indigenous, told CBS News.
Climbing the rock is now punishable with a AUS$4,300 fine.
Tjiangu Thomas, a 28-year-old Uluru-Kata Tjuta national park ranger, said it had been easy to wake up on Friday knowing the climb was closing for good, The Guardian reported.
“This is really important for me and for Anangu and for the region,” he said. “It’s a strong example of Anangu making decisions for their land.
“At the end of the day, respect is a choice. Obviously it’s disappointing [to see people wanting to climb] but compared to the school holidays this [crowd] isn’t too much.”
The first non-Aboriginal person to see the rock was the explorer William Gosse in 1873, who, after traversing “wretched country” saw “one immense rock rising abruptly from the plain.”
The rock is higher than the Eiffel Tower and extends several kilometres below the ground, The Guardian reported.
Gosse named it Ayers Rock after Sir Henry Ayers, the chief secretary of South Australia at the time. In 1993 the rock was formally given its traditional name, Uluru.