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Unchained: challenges ahead for the dismantled Uluru climb

To climb or not to climb? Visitors to Uluru will no longer face the decision after the walking track is closed on October 26, and arrangements have begun to remove the steel, paint and concrete from its surface.

Today, the Commonwealth director of national parks put out the call for a contractor to remove the safety chain, 138 steel posts, painted guidelines and a cairn on top of the sacred site, in what must be one of the more sensitive demolition jobs going.

It might sound simple but it’s actually quite a complex operation, involving the use of four designated helicopter landing pads on Uluru and strict instructions to restore the surface as much as possible to something resembling its natural appearance.

Getting rid of the painted helicopter pads and restoring the line worn into the surface by millions of feet are not part of the requirements, and the white-painted guidelines only need be removed “as far as is possible … using a method that minimises damage to the rock surface and doesn’t use toxic chemicals”.

“This does not include removing minor/small areas of paint for lines that have faded or been worn out.”

The steel posts are sunk about 30cm into the conglomerate rock and secured with epoxy resin and concrete, and the contractor will have to remove them “in a manner that does not leave any visible evidence of the posts above the natural rock surface of Uluru and avoids or minimises any damage to the rock surface of Uluru”.

The octagonal cairn must be removed in one piece and undamaged, or taken apart carefully so it can be put back together in its original condition. If the chain is to be cut into pieces, their length is subject to the director’s approval.

The historic materials, mostly installed in the 1960s and 1907s, won’t just be discarded or souvenired. All of the chain and the cairn will be retained for an educational display, according to contract information published on AusTender, but building that is not part of the contract.

The plan is to make a deal in May and spend a few months discussing the method of removal before getting to work in late October, with a view to having the iconic monolith chain-free a year from now.

The Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park management board, which has a majority of Anangu traditional owners, voted unanimously to close the climb over a year ago, but wanted to give tourists plenty of warning. The specific closure date was chosen as it is the anniversary of the area being returned to Indigenous control.

The park is jointly managed by the traditional owners and the Director of National Parks in the federal Department of the Environment and Energy, to whom they leased it for 99 years shortly after it was handed back in 1985. Uluru Kata-Tjuta also has World Heritage Status.

Tjukurpa (Anangu law) is the foundation of Anangu life and for managing country,” the documents advise prospective tenderers. “Consequently, the park is jointly managed by the traditional owners and the Director consistent with both Anangu traditions governed by Tjukurpa and western management practices and laws.”

Very few visitors are not aware that traditional owners would prefer them not to climb. Nowadays, only a minority choose to go up anyway, according to various surveys, and most of them are Australian.

There is some opposition to the closure, and a surprising amount of news coverage of one man’s attempts to fight it based on claims that the cairn and the chain have heritage value themselves, and that the ability to experience sweeping views of the surrounding landscape from the top are integral to Uluru’s World Heritage status.

Author Bio

Stephen Easton

Stephen Easton is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's previously reported for Canberra CityNews and worked on industry titles for The Intermedia Group.