By Catriona Inglis
It is no secret that there are still great tensions between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians – or is it? This is a topic that is not favoured by our British media, and even the Australian media seem to view it as taboo. Colonialism and its continued effects is not a comfortable topic and it is often restricted to ‘scholarly’ research, rather than being brought into more public discussion. However, the situation has since improved and the tourism industry is a good indicator of this progression. Many tourist sites have been handed back to their indigenous owners, who now play an active role in the running of these destinations.
Great steps have been taken to ensure indigenous Australian involvement in the site
One of the best examples of this is Uluru and Kata-Tjuta national park. It was handed back in 1985 to the Anangu people, the Aboriginal community who are the owners of the land. Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is a national landmark that can be seen as the embodiment of what it means to be Australian, with it seeing 400,000 visitors per year. This handing-back was seen as a symbol of reconciliation between non-indigenous and indigenous Australians. Here, great steps have been taken to ensure indigenous involvement in the site; the joint-management scheme means that half of the members of the board of management of the national park are aboriginal.
However, this arrangement is far from perfect. There is much debate as to whether the climbing of Uluru should be banned. Many tourists still climb Uluru every year and for many, the climb is seen as a rite of passage. However, the monolith is sacred to the Anangu nation and they have spent years campaigning to get the climbing of Uluru banned. For them, it is a desecration akin to destroying an altar. Since the introduction of education programmes, the percentage of visitors climbing Uluru has reduced from 74% in 1990 to 38%, yet a proposal to ban all climbing of Uluru in 2009 was rejecteddue to strong opposition. The park themselves say that they will not consider banning the climb until the percentage of tourists climbing Uluru drops below 20%, despite the fact that there have been 35 deaths relating to the recreational climbing of Uluru. We, as tourists, have a responsibility to respect the wishes of the community, and simply be content to explore the stunning beauty of the area from the ground.
It is a desecration akin to destroying an altar
In many ways, the handover of the site back to them has not greatly improved the lives of the local Aboriginal Australians. At the Ayers Rock Resort, there is just one Aboriginal employee out of a staff of 670. The handback deal made in 1985 means that the indigenous owners receive just 25% of gate fees paid by visitors to the national park. Last year, the cut given to the indigenous landowners was only $1.6 million out of the $1 billion made a year – a major hint that this inequality still exists.
So, is the tourist industry bad for Aboriginal Australia? The answer is a mixture of both yes and no.
Tourists have a responsibility to respect the wishes of the community, and simply be content to explore the stunning beauty of the area from the ground
My visit to Uluru in 2016 left me enchanted by the almost impossible magicalness of the area. But, as a tourist, I was also left acutely aware of the complex social issues playing out around me. I certainly think that indigenous Australians are pushed to the sidelines in the constant struggle for racial equality across the globe.
Illustration by Faye Chua
Photograph by Catriona Inglis