Senior Aboriginal people in Central Australia are praising the actions of a man who cut a climbing chain on Uluru to try and stop tourists going up the rock, with one saying it could be an opportunity to stop the practice for good.
- Activist claims responsibility for cutting climbing chains on Uluru
- Says it was protest against climbing the sacred site
- Protester says he wanted to trigger debate
- Aboriginal elder from Mutijulu praises action
- Call for permanent end to Uluru climbs
A man who wished to be known only as “John” claimed responsibility for cutting climbing chains on Uluru and said he felt a close connection to the sacred site and wanted to set off debate on whether people should walk on it.
The man called up 774 ABC Melbourne and said he visited Uluru to soak up the atmosphere and was there for the 30th anniversary of the handback of the site to the Anangu people, held on the weekend and Monday.
He said he wanted to meet with the Anangu people while he was there but did not seek permission from the traditional owners of Uluru before he went up the rock late on Sunday night and cut the climbing chains.
However, he said, since cutting the chains he had spoken to Anangu elders and they were in full support of his actions.
It was just about raising awareness about it for Aboriginal people, as it [climbing Uluru] breaks many of their laws.Activist “John”
On Wednesday, Central Land Council chairman David Ross praised John’s actions.
“Whoever John is, God knows, but God bless him,” Mr Ross said.
“He has done something to I think bring attention and in order to get people to listen properly.
“I imagine this is something that has got people’s attention and we can start dealing with things I think, well hopefully, much more seriously,” he said.
Mr Ross said it may be a chance for the joint management committee of Anangu people and Parks Australia to have the chain completely removed from Uluru.
“It is an opportunity here and now to remove it completely or whether they put it back together again,” he said.
“I guess that is a decision that they need to deal with and I imagine the board of management, which is a joint board, will deal with these issues and I would hope that they get on with it quickly and bring it to a head sooner rather than later.”
Parks Australia says incident could result in penalties
In a statement to the ABC, Parks Australia, who co-manage the park with traditional owners, said due to safety considerations the climbing track would remain closed for the time being.
Parks Australia also said the damage was being assessed, and options were being reviewed.
“We’ll discuss the way forward with the park’s board of management,” the statement said.
“We’re investigating the incident. There are potential breaches of Commonwealth law and a range of penalties could apply.”
‘He is a hero if you ask me’
Keith Aitken, who is an Aboriginal elder from the Mutijulu community that is located at the base of Uluru, also welcomed the actions of John.
“He is actually a hero if you ask me. He is a hero,” Mr Aitken said.
“I wanted to do it myself but it meant that I would have to climb something that is sacred to Anangu people, and Anangu people are my people,” he said.
John said he took bolt cutters to Uluru intending to cut the chain, and hid in bush for about four hours on Sunday evening after crowds had left.
“Once it hit about 11 o’clock at night I had all my equipment there with me and up I went. I started from the 10th pole and worked my way down.
“I only got four done, but it wasn’t about how many I was trying to cut.
“It was just about raising awareness about it for Aboriginal people, as it [climbing Uluru] breaks many of their laws as well as other United Nations declarations on the rights of Indigenous people as well.”
The ABC revealed on Tuesday that some of the chains were cut on Uluru in what was thought to have been a political statement.
John defended accusations he himself had climbed Uluru, to protest against others doing the same thing.
“I performed my own ceremonies if you want to call them that,” he said.
“I do understand Aboriginal culture, I grew up around it and with it deeply ingrained in my life.
“I was never going to climb to the top.”
Mr Ross agreed that John’s decision to climb Uluru was disrespectful to Anangu people.
“I imagine people would forgive him for doing such a thing,” Mr Ross said.
Aboriginal man and Uluru local Vince Forrester on Tuesday said traditional owners were aware the chains had been cut.
He said any repairs to the safety chain would require approval by Uluru’s Board of Management, who could decide against it, and potentially halt climbing.