30 years on, Aborigines yet to reap gains of Uluru

About 300,000 visitors a year visit Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, in the Northern Territory, Australia, but living standards have changed little for the Anangu people, the area's original inhabitants, since its return to them.
About 300,000 visitors a year visit Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, in the Northern Territory, Australia, but living standards have changed little for the Anangu people, the area's original inhabitants, since its return to them.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Mr Reggie Uluru displays a photograph of himself at the original handover in 1985
Mr Reggie Uluru displays a photograph of himself at the original handover in 1985PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

SYDNEY • Australia has marked 30 years since the world's largest monolith, Uluru, was returned to its traditional Aboriginal owners, with the government admitting that it has not lived up to commitments made back then.

The iconic symbol of the Outback, also known as Ayers Rock, was handed back to the Anangu people, the area's original inhabitants who have lived in the area for thousands of years, on Oct 26, 1985.

The government signed a 99-year lease to jointly manage Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park with the traditional custodians.

More jobs and better living standards were expected to flow to the Anangu. But Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said it had not always gone as planned.

"The implicit part of the agreement is that Anangu people do better because of the things that would come here; they would have jobs, they would have a better life, they would have more choices," he said.

FUNDS GOING OTHER WAY

It seems like a big vacuum cleaner is sucking everything away. This place (Uluru) is our culture here, but it (the funding) is ending up over there (at the resort).

MR SAMMY WILSON, chairman of the board of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, criticising the government for channelling much of the funding to the Ayers Rock Resort instead of to the local people

"The deal isn't complete, those opportunities have never been provided in the way they should have been. We need to make that change and we need to make that now."

He said 254 of the 450 Anangu community members in the area were out of work, despite Ayers Rock Resort, 20 minutes away, welcoming 300,000 visitors a year.

"We can't accept that there are 254 people in Mutitjulu on the dole," Mr Scullion said.

"We can't just accept glibly pretty low inter-generational levels of literacy and numeracy. We can't simply look at that and say it is okay.

"This should be a reminder to us all to refocus our efforts (across Australia)."

Uluru, a giant red rock that rises 348m above the desert, is surrounded by thousands of square kilometres of desolate Outback, and forms a key part of Aboriginal creation mythology. It is also a World Heritage site.

While artist Malya Teamay told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he was pleased with

the way tourists were learning about Aboriginal culture, others said the Anangu people seemed to be missing out on much of the economic activity.

Mr Sammy Wilson, chairman of the board of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, criticised the government for directing much of its funding to the Ayers Rock Resort, which he said had become the focus of tourism and not the local people.

"It seems like a big vacuum cleaner is sucking everything away. This place (Uluru) is our culture here, but it (the funding) is ending up over there (at the resort); it should be here," Mr Wilson said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2015, with the headline '30 years on, Aborigines yet to reap gains of Uluru'. Print Edition | Subscribe