October 16, 2009—Australia's iconic, island-like Uluru, or Ayers Rock, may soon be off limits to climbers, mainly because Aborigines see the desert sandstone formation as sacred.
© 2009 National Geographic (AP)
Visitors are flocking to Australia's most famous natural landmark so they can climb it while they're still allowed to.
Some consider this giant sunburned rock the very heart and soul of Australia.
Europeans called it Ayers Rock. To indigenous Australians, its Uluru, and its sacred ground.
Proposals are being considered to ban people from going up it.
This Aboriginal ceremony by the Anangu people is to mark the opening of a new viewing platform for visitors. But tourists are frequently guilty of ignoring Aboriginal sensitivities.
Despite requests not to take photographs or climb the rock, many people do.
SOUNDBITE: (English) Voxpop: "It's just one of the best things in Australia, there's no doubt about it so, even though you've got to respect what the Aboriginals say, my thoughts are you should be allowed to climb it."
Tour guide talking to tourists UPSOUND: (English) "Whatever you do, never let go of that chain. It's the only thing stopping you hitting the bottom."
Climbing the rock is dangerous as well as disrespectful.
More than 30 people have died climbing Uluru.
Now the national park management is planning to ban climbers.
Though only about a third of the visitors who come to Uluru actually attempt the climb, there has been an outcry surrounding the proposed ban.
Reporter: "Did you know that they were thinking of banning people altogether to climb?" Tourist: "Yeah we did, that's why we're here."
The Anangu say people should understand why they don't want people clambering over the site.
SOUNDBITE: (English) Harry Wilson, Chairman, Uluru National Park: "It's out of respect and disrespectful towards Anangu . If they read the sign and they know they shouldn't climb and they still climb it's disrespectful for Anangu."
SOUNDBITE: (English) Mick Starkey, Park Ranger: "This one here is like a church. It's got a lot of stories. Like a Bible. And we're trying to protect this as best as we can."
And it's not just about climbing Uluru.
SOUNDBITE: (English) Andrew Simpson, Tour Guide: "In its present form it doesn't have any facilities on top of the rock itself, so there's no rubbish bins or toilets, so people naturally do what they have to do up there, that's something that has been an environmental issue for many, many years."
Ultimately the Australian federal government will decide what to do and whose preferences should take precedence those who see Uluru as a sacred site, or those who value it as a tourist climbing destination.
Until then the decision whether or not to climb rests with the conscience of individuals.