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In her campaign against the impending climbing ban placed on Uluru, last week Pauline Hanson travelled to the Northern Territory. Her sights were set on hiking up the iconic Australian natural landmark. It is a decision which has been criticized as an attention-seeking ploy that clearly disregards Indigenous cultural sensitivities.
As the defiant One Nation leader charged up Uluru – which is higher than the Eiffel Tower – she appeared to have a change of heart half-way through the climb. Recent footage shows a terrified looking Hanson citing inadequate footwear as she refuses to climb further. Overcome by defeat, the Senator opted to scoot back down the sacred rock. While this is undoubtedly comical, Hanson’s fierce crusade against Uluru’s approaching climbing ban has been unamusing.
In defence of tourism and employment opportunities, the Senator dismissed discussions about the Indigenous cultural significance of Uluru, emphasizing that she did not understand it. “I can’t see the cultural sensitivity when people have been climbing the rock for all these years, and all of a sudden they want to shut it down? I don’t get it, I really don’t get it.” Hanson went on to say that she thought “[…]this is a load of BS that’s going on now, sayin’ that it’s ‘sacred land’ that you shouldn’t be climbin’ the rock.”
Amidst the backlash of her inflammatory comments, she posted a photo on the day of the climb with her and several Anangu elders. Hanson claimed that her party had been given special permission by the elders to climb. This was quickly dismissed by MP Linda Burney, who further described Hanson’s action as a “stunt.” Burney – who holds the title as the first Indigenous woman elected into the Australian House of Representatives – asserted that “the climb is open… [and the] traditional owners cannot stop anyone from climbing.” While making it clear that the traditional landowners consider climbing Uluru a sign of extreme disrespect, Burney further reinforced Hanson’s actions as having “no appreciation whatsoever of the cultural significance of Uluru.”
Additionally, Hanson chose to shirk responsibility regarding legitimate safety concerns over the remote location. The climb has seen 37 casualties since the 1950s. There is no guarantee of a safe, regulated climbing experience for the tens of thousands of tourists who visit. It is obvious from Hanson’s own experience that she ignored these safety concerns. Instead, she chose to dog-whistle the climbing ban to closing Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach. Hanson proclaimed that “we’re going to close down Bondi Beach just because there are some people that have drowned. How ridiculous is that?” However, a traditional landowner remarked that Uluru “is not Disneyland” and that the Anangu Aboriginal people are “happy to close that rock.”
It needs to be emphasized that the decision to ban people from climbing Uluru was not made overnight. Nor was it decided recently. The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Board – that is, the eight Indigenous representatives who are nominated by the Anangu landowners of the park, as well as four government officials – unanimously agreed upon the ban in 2017. The Anangu people who act as Uluru’s guardians are the from the oldest civilization known to man. As such, Uluru continues to remain a sacred site for Indigenous peoples; it acts as an integral part that guides unique cultural customs, norms and traditions, which are taught and imparted onto the next generation.
Hanson is no stranger to political and media scrutiny and her recent actions reflect a long history of divisive and inflammatory ‘stunts.’ When delivering her maiden speech to Parliament in 1996, Hanson described Australian as being “swamped” by an “Asian invasion” who form “ethnic ghettos” and “do not assimilate.” She went on to write “The Truth,” a bizarre ‘matter-of-fact’ book that denigrated and dehumanized the lives and histories of Indigenous Australians and ethnic minorities. Once re-elected in 2016, Hanson modified her ‘swamp’ rhetoric and argued that the current domestic invasion was due to Islam’s conflicting presence in Australia. Within the same speech, Hanson invoked a Trumpian sentiment demanding all Muslim signifiers and migration be prohibited. Her staunch anti-Islam views were later amplified by her actions to don a full-face burqa to Parliament, claiming that the cultural garb poses an extreme security risk.
While Hanson regularly claims Indigenous citizenry on the basis that she was born in Australia, she did not visit Uluru to appreciate Indigenous spirituality. It is also clear that the controversial politician did not climb Uluru as a fitness enthusiast. Neither did she go as a tourist capitalizing on the last months of the climb being open. Hanson chose to go to Uluru to exercise her entitlement and privilege in a sacred Indigenous space; a place where she has no respect or ownership of. By positioning her divisive personality in the middle of this conversation, we are distracted. There is a need to appreciate this monumental achievement for the Anangu people who have been advocating the ban for centuries.