It is a holy spot for the indigenous Anangu, where their ancestors rest and outsiders are cursed for disturbing the red-colored Uluru monolith reaching for the sky.
The problem, however, is that Uluru has become sacred to another group: Instagramming tourists drawn to hike and climb the 1,100-foot formation in central Australia, capturing photos of sunlight glinting off sandstone.
But with a ban on hiking the formation set for October, tourists are making a last-ditch pilgrimage to set foot on the rock before it’s illegal, creating human traffic jams reminiscent of deadly congestion on Mount Everest.
Local reporter Glenn Minett captured images of people on their way up Uluru in an antlike formation, leaving the surrounding area filled with trash, overflowing septic waste and illegal camping sites, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
Outsider pilgrimages to Uluru have long angered the Anangu people. Large signs adorn the entrance of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, where in several languages people are asked to not climb on the formation. In 2017, the Anangu successfully lobbied the government to ban climbing on the rock in a region where their ancestors arrived thousands of years ago.
As The Washington Post wrote then, the Uluru is blessed territory fiercely protected by Aboriginals there:
“The first Aborigines may have moved into the area that includes Uluru’s rock as early as 20,000 years ago, according to a travel website that focuses on the formation. The indigenous people believe the world was unformed and featureless before ancestral beings emerged and shaped species and landscapes. For millennia, Uluru was a holy place, the land where Aborigines believed the shapers of the world walked.”
Europeans exploring the center of Australia “discovered” the rock in the 1870s. They slapped their own names on Uluru and other features they found. Uluru was named Ayers Rock, after Sir Henry Ayers, the chief secretary of South Australia.
The struggle over Uluru went on for decades, until 1985, when the federal government surrendered the title deeds back to the Anangu traditional landowners, according to the park’s blog. The Anangu people signed an agreement that leased the land to the Australian Parks and Wildlife Service.
That agreement was a huge win for the Anangu. In a symbolic move, the hiking ban will go into effect Oct. 26 — the 34th anniversary of the handover.
Before then, the Anangu installed a sign near the base of the climb, News.com.au reported, in a last-ditch effort to ward off hikers — and stunt-seeking tourists such as Alizee Sery, a French woman who ascended the rock and stripped to her bikini in 2010.
“We, the traditional Anangu owners have this to say,” the sign reads. “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.”
At least 35 people have died after facing the steep ascent, blistering sun and decades-old safety chains, News.com.au reported.
Those deaths come as awareness of cultural heritage and other tourist activities led to a climbing decline. The number of people who climbed Uluru has dipped for years, with fewer than 20 percent of park visitors braving the ascent, News.com.au reported — down from 70 percent in previous years.
In 2017, that amounted to about 140 people climbing it every day. But the ban has spurred as many as 500 people each day in a number that will probably swell as October grows near.
The congestion in the region has spilled out into surrounding areas.
“On Sunday I went to the Ayers Rock campground to meet a marrying couple and at the reception there,” Meredith Campell told ABC, “they were just like processional caterpillars; caravan after caravan, arriving, arriving, arriving.”
Those strains are undoubtedly from droves of tourists and Instagram husbands eager to snap staged-but-not-staged-looking photos in front of Uluru. Visitors have flooded social media with posed photos of couples kissing and holding wineglasses in front of the formation. Some strike yoga poses. Others treat it as a fashion shoot backdrop.
Amid the meticulous photos geotagged at the park, one stands out. It’s a set of brown-skinned hands set against a pink background, bearing a message: “Don’t climb Uluru.”