From Small Beginnings
The first tourists travelled to Uluru in 1936 but it wasn't until the 1950s that tourism really started to take off once a track to Uluru was completed in 1948. From the 1960's there was a steady increase in visitor numbers but from 1984 on, the rate of increase was much greater with a doubling of numbers over 5 years in the late 80s to over 200,000 visitors. Today, there are nearly 400,000 visitors to the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park, making it the most popular arid land National Park in Australia.
Uluru and Kata Tjuta were taken out of the Aboriginal Reserve and established as a National Park in 1958. After years of Aboriginal Land Rights activity, it was in 1983 that Aboriginal title to Uluru was acknowledged by the then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke. By 1985 the traditional owners were granted ownership of the National Park under an agreement to lease it back to the Federal Government on a 99 year lease. Today many Anangu work within the Park as well as having a majority on the Park Board of Management. In 2005 the first indigenous Park Manager was appointed which nicely corresponded with 20 year celebrations of ownership for Anangu. The Park became listed as a World Heritage natural property in 1987 and re-listed again in 1994 as a significant cultural landscape.
There were motels and an airstrip built at the base of Uluru in the late 50s but with tourism on the increase and the adjacent areas suffering adverse environmental impact, they were closed down in 1984. This coincided with the opening of Yulara Resort about 20km north of Uluru on the Park boundary.
The Cultural Centre within the Park was established in 1995 and is great place to visit first upon arrival at the Park. Armed with a little knowledge of Anangu culture and the wider environment will make exploring around the Park that much more interesting and enjoyable. You can learn about Tjukurpa (Aboriginal law, religion and knowledge), Anangu art, their way of life, foods they eat, wildlife, etc. There are excellent displays, photo collages, sound panels outlining oral history, videos, artefacts, etc. Explanations are in Pitjantjatjara, English, Italian, German, French and Japanese.
To Climb or Not to Climb
Local Anangu ask that people don't climb Uluru, a request that is slowly getting more traction (excuse the pun) with signs at the base of the Rock and the more culturally aware tour operators informing their customers of Anangu sentiments. This is due to a couple of reasons. One is that the path crosses over an important Tjukurpa site but almost more importantly Anangu, as custodians, feel a sense of responsibility for visitor safety. In the end, the choice belongs with the individual to make up their own mind.
It's actually quite a long and initially very steep walk up that takes about 3 hours to complete. For those deciding to climb, they should take plenty of water and have good walking footwear on. Unless you want first hand experience of life inside a commercial potato peeler, then don't do what some tourists do, climb with leather soled shoes. There have been a steady number of fatalities due to climbing Uluru, some from slipping down the edges (yow!) but most are from heart attacks that often happen a day or two after the victims have actually climbed the Rock. Also be aware of the heat as that rock gets mighty hot in summer and Park Management do close the climb outside certain temperature ranges.