ABC | Hindsight podcasts
Red Dust Travellers presents an interesting historical podcast series describing the birth of tourism at
Uluru. Listen to the podcast series
The first tourists visited the Uluru area in 1936. From the 1940s the two main reasons for permanent and substantial European settlement in the area were Aboriginal welfare policy and the promotion of tourism at Uluru. These two endeavours, sometimes in harmony, sometimes in conflict, have determined the relationships between Europeans and Anangu.
In 1948 the first vehicular track to Uluru was constructed, responding to increasing tourism interest in the region. Tour bus services began in the early 1950s. In 1958, in response to pressures to support tourism enterprises, the area that is now the park was excised from the Petermann Aboriginal Reserve to be managed by the Northern Territory Reserves Board as the Ayers Rock - Mt Olga National Park. The first ranger was the legendary central Australian figure, Bill Harney. By 1959 the first motel leases had been granted and Eddie Connellan had constructed an airstrip close to the northern side of Uluru.
Post-war assimilation policies assumed that Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people had begun a rapid and irreversible transition into mainstream Australian society and would give up their nomadic lifestyle, moving to specific Aboriginal settlements developed by welfare authorities for this purpose. Further, with increasing tourism development in the area from the late 1950s, Anangu were discouraged from visiting the park. However, Anangu continued to travel widely over their homelands, pursuing ceremonial life, visiting kin and hunting and collecting food. The semi-permanent water available at Uluru made it a particularly important stopping point on the western route of these journeys.
In 1964 pastoral subsidies were revoked, forcing large numbers of Anangu off pastoral leases and increasing the numbers of Anangu residing at Uluru. Up to this time interaction between Anangu and the steadily rising number of tourists was relatively peaceful. As the number of tourists increased, however, conflicts between tourists and Anangu occurred, and tour operators applied pressure to the Native Welfare Branch to move Aboriginal people on. Despite this some Anangu remained at Uluru but by the end of the 1960s many traditional owners of places in the park were scattered throughout Central Australia. Anangu had become more mobile, having acquired camels, donkeys and their own motor vehicles. They were returning more often to Uluru to sell artifacts to tourists, as they had been doing at Angas Downs and Curtin Springs.
By the early 1970s Anangu found their traditional country accessible with roads, motor cars, radio communications and an extended network of settlements. At a time of major change in Government policies, new approaches to welfare policies promoting economic self-sufficiency for Aboriginal people began to conflict with the then prevailing Park management policies. The establishment in 1972 of the Ininti Store as an Aboriginal enterprise on a lease within the park offering supplies and services to tourists, became the nucleus of a permanent Anangu community at Uluru.