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3 February 2009

Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park


The traditional owners of Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park are a combination of the Pitjantjatjara and the Yankunytjatjara people, often referred to as Anangu, which is their word for 'people'.

Tourism really started to come about in about 1948 when the first road was created to come here. People mainly came here to climb Uluru and to camp at the base and just to witness the spectacle of particularly the sunrise and the sunsets.

The park was first created in 1958. It was created as a standard national park you might say, mainly for the reasons of tourism and also to protect the geological formations within the area.

The two main geological features within the national park are obviously Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Uluru has also been known as Ayers Rock and Kata Tjuta has also been known as the Olgas. They are two geological formations which are very spectacular within the national park.

There's also an amazing desert ecology out here as well which needs to be protected and managed.

Another major feature of the national park these days is the cultural heritage of the traditional owners. It's part of a living cultural landscapes.

The arrangements that led to joint management of this national park came about through a successful land claim in 1983 under the Land Rights Act. The land was found to be officially owned by the traditional owners under that legislation. However, it was a national park which was a national tourism icon. So in 1985 they created a joint management arrangement.

The fundamental reason for that arrangement is because this is Aboriginal land which is leased to the Commonwealth government. There needs to be some recognition of the traditional owners in terms of this being a cultural landscape and this being part of their home.

So, the joint management arrangements is actually like a marriage between two peoples that come together to manage one place.

There's a number of challenges that we do have here in the park. Obviously, the first one is the management of tourism. We also have the traditional owners who live a reasonably traditional lifestyle and it's very new - the western concepts of tourism and management. The way that they manage the country is very much in a cultural way, according to cultural traditions. It's seen as being a very strong part of their spirituality.

The desert environment is a very special environment and many Australians don't often get to come to these sorts of areas. It's almost like a visit to Mecca you might say. It's sort of a pilgrimage for most Australians to come and view Uluru and Kata Tjuta. It's part of everyone's heritage within Australia.

I think one of the major constraints that we have is simply the amount of time that people allow themselves to be here. The average stay is 1.6 days. Just like visiting any monument or any special place throughout the world you actually need a bit of time to soak it in, to understand the place and to experience it.

Walking around Uluru will take about three to four hours and you can experience the rock in a really magnificent way. It's also understanding the desert ecology and understanding how this environment is managed.

Each winter we do a burning program where we actually burn the spinifex and that creates a diverse habitat for the wildlife to live within.

Tourism to Central Australians, particularly to Uluru, is a very important part of the regional economy. We have over 400,000 people that visit here each year.

Managing the people on the park is a big program and visitor management is something that the rangers undertake on a daily basis.

We also have people who climb Uluru and that's a very dangerous activity and it's also the preference of the traditional owners that people do not climb Uluru for cultural reasons.

We control where people can go. They can only walk on the walking tracks and park in the designated areas. So we have signage on the park that controls visitor access to individual areas.

There are sacred sites in the park where we have fences and people cannot go beyond those fences but there are walking tracks around those areas that people can walk along.

The best aspects of being here is working with the traditional owners, working with people who have the deep understanding of this country and a deep spirituality, a deep connection to the land.

You don't often get to work with traditional people who have that deep affiliation anywhere throughout the world and where people do have a strong spiritual and physical connection to land it's a very rewarding aspect of looking after country together.