Hundreds of people have gathered at Uluru to celebrate the return of ‘the rock’ to its traditional owners.
The ABC reported that around 200 traditional custodians were present, and many of them were also present at the handover in 1985.
For 25 years the traditional owners of Uluru have been hoping to be involved in tourism at the rock.
Many have been disappointed that this largely hasn’t eventuated.
But they are looking forward to the next 25 years, believing their form of indigenous cultural tourism will become the staple diet of the around 300,000 visitors a year that come here.
The 25th anniversary of the handback of Uluru is being celebrated in a cultural festival including traditional dancing, handback of artworks and performances by local bands.
On October 26, 1985, hundreds of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people attended the handover, a move by the then Labor Hawke government to return title for the Uluru and Kata Tjuta National Park to the traditional owners, known as Anangu.
The land was leased back to the Australian Parks and Wildlife Service and run under a system of joint management, with a board of management including a majority of Anangu members.
Looking back, looking forward
On Monday, with a backdrop of the rock covered in waterfalls caused by recent heavy downpours, some of the traditional owners who were at the 1985 ceremony spoke about the past and the future.
Harry Wilson, the present chair of the Uluru Kata Tjuta board of management, was only four at the time.
“A lot has changed in this area regarding infrastructure and tourism as well,” he said.
“It’s good when tourists come here but … we haven’t done much in the last 25 years, so we’re looking forward to sharing and also caring and conserving this place and sharing it with national and international tourists.”
He said the board was working with traditional owners and the tourism industry to start up new businesses.
One plan is to run overnight guided walks, as part of more interaction with the nature of the park.
While young people have worked for the park as rangers, he would like to see further involvement.
The recent sale of Voyages Ayers Rock Resort at Yulara to the Indigenous Land Corporation would help, Mr Wilson said.
“Hopefully, with the buying of the resort it will bring more changes for Anangu in this region with employment and training and job opportunities,” he said.
He said the community had been under the eyes of the media a lot, particularly since the former Howard government’s intervention policies were introduced, but it was working “to try and sort something out with the government” and to look after the elders.
Previously Cassidy Uluru, a traditional owner and co-founder of Anangu Tours, had taken a group of media on a short walk beside the rock, a taste of what their indigenous tours offer tourists.
His older brother, Reggie Uluru, told the media Tuesday’s festival would be celebrating the full recognition that Uluru was his father’s land, and that they had to protect it and look after it.
But there were some things they thought might have happened but still haven’t. For example, the community would like a swimming pool, but they have been denied this and told for a long time there’s no water for one.
“People come here and make reports,” Uluru said. “Then they go away and lose the bits of paper.”
As far as the continuing debate about whether people should climb the rock is concerned, another traditional owner, Barbara Tjikatu, who was a member of the first board of management, said she worried that tourists might have accidents and fall from the rock and they needed to take more care.
“I want them to realise it’s not just a little sand dune they’re on,” Tjikatu said.