After Uluru, more Australian Aboriginal sites could close
Call it the Uluru effect.
With the world-famous Aboriginal site now closed to climbing by tourists, other destinations in Australia are considering similar tourist-reducing measures.
Wollumbin, also known by its English name Mount Warning, is a popular visitor spot in New South Wales about 160 kilometers (102 miles) south of Brisbane within the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforests.
The Bundjalun, among the Aboriginal people who comprise about 2% of the Australian population, are its traditional guardians. Like the Anangu in the Northern Territory did for Uluru, the Bundjalung want to restrict access to Wollumbin, which is a sacred site to them.
“It is equivalent to climbing on top of the Vatican,” a Bundjalung representative tells CNN Travel. “It is equivalent to climbing on top of Muslim mosques.”
According to tourism data, some 100,000 people climb Wollumbin each year.
Though the Bundjalung and Parks Australia, which oversees the country’s national parks, have put up signs asking people to be respectful of the site and re-consider their decision to climb, many ignore the warning and continue on regardless.
“Visitors are asked to respect the wishes of the Bundjalung Elders and avoid climbing this very difficult track,” reads a notice on Wollumbin National Park’s official website.
For the Bundjalung, though, asking politely simply isn’t enough. They say an outright ban, supported by the government, would keep the space sacred.
Even if a fraction of visitors decide to climb, that number can still be significant. For example, 300,000 people visited Uluru in 2015, of whom about 16% opted to climb the rock. That’s still 48,000 people. And that doesn’t factor in other issues caused by tourism, such as littering and erosion.
In addition to the moral issues raised by potential climbers, Wollumbin is also a safety concern.
The hike is challenging and can be treacherous under even the best weather conditions. In 2017, 15 hikers had to be rescued, some by costly helicopter evacuation.
Another Aboriginal site that has been considered for closure is Mount Beerwah, the highest of the 10 peaks that comprise Queensland’s Glass House Mountains.
“Here in Queensland, the government continues to work in partnership with traditional owners. Conversations about how best to protect culturally significant sites are ongoing,” Leeanne Enoch, the state’s minister for environment, told CNN Travel in a statement.
Enoch is the first Aboriginal woman to be elected into Queensland’s Parliament.
“There are no plans at this stage to close Mt Beerwah to climbers,” she added. “Traditional owners would be a partner in any decision made regarding a closure.”