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From the centre of Australia

Uluru — the giant sandstone monolith in Central Australia — has a timeless quality, yet it only became a powerful symbol of Australia for Australians and international visitors from the 1980s.

Landscape image showing a large, purple-red monolith rising above grasses.
China plate with a gold rim and a painted image of Uluru in the centre.  - click to view larger image
Bone china saucer

Aboriginal Dreaming and a tourism icon

For Indigenous Australians, Uluru forms a part of Dreaming stories. The centre of Australia represented a challenge for colonial explorers, who named the monolith Ayers Rock, after an early colonial official.

From the 1930s artists such as Hans Heysen, Albert Namatjira and Sidney Nolan helped to transform the ‘dead heart’ to the ‘Red Centre’.

Tourists, drawn to see the beauty of Central Australia, increased in numbers as access improved. This included a chain to assist visitors climb Uluru, with the first section installed in 1964.

While many saw climbing the rock as an integral part of their visit, it was discouraged by the traditional owners, the Anangu. Signs were erected at the base of Uluru, urging visitors not to climb. For the Anangu, Uluru is a sacred site of great spiritual significance.

Uluru today is one of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations, and is visited by about half a million people from around the world each year.

Poster presented to Governor General Sir Ninian Stephen at Uluru during the hand back ceremony at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in 1985.
Traditional owners of Uluru presented this poster by Chips Mackinolty to Governor General Sir Ninian Stephen during the hand-back ceremony at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in 1985
Colour poster featuring the front cover of 'Matilda' magazine. A caricature of a man wearing a Ned-Kelly style iron helmet, and riding a kangaroo, leaps over an image of a red Uluru.  - click to view larger image
Matilda magazine poster

Return to traditional owners

In 1985, after lengthy negotiations, the Australian Government handed joint management and the land title of Uluru back to the Anangu people on condition that they lease it to the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service.

This was an effort to balance tourism interests with cultural needs. It was a controversial decision and did not pass without protest from the Northern Territory Government and tourism interests.

Closing the climb

In November 2017 the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Management Board announced that Uluru would be permanently closed for climbing, giving visitors two years notice. Again the decision was controversial.

On Saturday 26 October 2019 Uluru was closed for climbing, commemorating 34 years since Uluru was handed back to the Anangu.

Uluru is considered a natural wonder of the world and, for many, a source of spiritual connectedness with the Australian continent.

In many ways, Uluru has come to symbolise the struggle for Indigenous land rights.

References

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