opinion

The final shame in the last climb to ever take place on Uluru.

As the sun set on Saturday, October 26, 10 shadows were cast at the base of Uluru.

Eight of those shadows belonged to the last tourists to ever legally scale one of Australia’s most sacred sites. They held hands and dawdled, prolonging a chapter in our nation’s history that Indigenous Australians have been attempting to close for decades.

The other two belonged to park rangers, whose job it was to usher them down.

Their safety was put at risk by eight climbers competing for the status of ‘last’, proud to have climbed Uluru at the final opportunity, despite knowing – of course they knew – the offence it caused the traditional and rightful owners of the land.

A sign, only metres from where the climbers flung up their arms in triumph, read: “The climb is not prohibited but we ask you to respect our law and culture by not climbing Uluru. We have a responsibility to teach and safeguard visitors to our land. The climb can be dangerous. Too many people have died while attempting to climb Uluru.”

Over the years, the Anangu people have overseen the death of 38 Australians, with dozens more seriously injured.

While tourists come and go, it is the traditional custodians who are left with the scars of death, a source of great sadness.

And it would seem the louder the Indigenous community have asked that people not climb one of their most sacred sites, the more have decided they ought to.

In the final months of the climb being available to the public, swarms visited from all over the country, with others travelling internationally, intent on not missing out on the opportunity.

The Australian called climbing Uluru a “modern-day pilgrimage”, while one visitor who decided to climb told news.com.au, “I feel like one of the problems is that the Indigenous people never actually tell you why they don’t want you to be up there.”

Indigenous people have, of course. There’s a fairly clear reason printed on the sign that you must walk past in order to line up: It’s dangerous.

But it’s also for the same reason you can’t climb St Peter’s Basilica or wear shoes inside a mosque. It’s sacred.

Anangu man, Vince Forrester, told The Guardian that watching the last tourists amble down the climbing route, which is now discoloured and damaged, reminded him that what has been done to Uluru is like a scar that will not go away in his lifetime.

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But it wasn’t just these last eight tourists, one wearing a Superman t-shirt, and another holding a book titled ‘Ayres Rock Conspiracy Theories’, that we reflect on today.

Among those to climb Uluru on Saturday was Liberal MP Andrew Laming.

He reached the top in 21 minutes around mid-morning on Saturday, and walked a five kilometre circuit at the summit, before finally coming down.

One can’t help but wonder what Laming might have done if he needed to go to the toilet during the hours he explored the heights of Uluru.

We know that at the top is the human excrement of those who were asked not to climb it. When it rains, that excrement then travels into the surrounding waterholes, which are also sacred to the Anangu people.

Surely it’s telling that one of the last people to climb Uluru was a man who belongs to Australia’s current government.

But there was also a stunning absence on Saturday.

Nowhere to be seen, on the day that a sign was finally erected forbidding tourists from climbing Uluru, a request first (at least formally) made by the Indigenous Anangu community 39 years ago, was our prime minister.

Listen to Mamamia’s podcast, Tiddas 4 Tiddas, a podcast series where Kamilaroi and Dunghutti woman, Marlee Silva sits down with some of Australia’s deadliest Indigenous sisters. Post continues after podcast.

Scott Morrison, a man who feels passionately about religious freedom, and worships in his own sacred place, could not make it to Uluru.

Ken Wyatt, the Minister for Indigenous Australians, wasn’t there either. Neither was Labor leader Anthony Albanese.

Morrison was in Western Australia, first for a charity event and then to watch the Australian netball team.

“I can’t be in two places at once,” he told reporters on Monday morning.

Indeed he couldn’t. But the choice he made was political.

When asked to comment, Morrison said: “The tourism industry will of course adjust and move on, and I think will go from strength to strength.”

But Saturday was not about tourism.

It was about the Anangu people whose wishes have been ignored since a European first placed his feet on Uluru in 1873.

Labor senator Pat Dodson referred to Morrison’s absence as “an insult”, and told The Guardian Australia, “The Prime Minister of Australia should be here at Uluru to witness the ceremony and to celebrate with people the significance of the event and compliment the Anangu people on their generosity in sharing this place.”

Rather than respect the wishes of the Anangu people in the final days of the Uluru climb being open to the public, tourists flocked.

They dawdled at the top.

They cheered at the bottom.

And our prime minister had somewhere more important to be.

It was the final shame in a shameful chapter of Australian history.

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