Tourists racing to climb Uluru before a ban starts in October are risking their lives to tick a dangerous item off their bucket list, as a man has a cardiac arrest on the rock.
- A 64-year-old Australian tourist went into cardiac arrest while climbing Uluru
- There’s been an influx of tourists to Central Australia ahead of the climbing ban being enforced from October
- A local business says it’s not yet clear whether there will be a big economic impact following the climb closure
The man, a 64-year-old Australian, was climbing Uluru with his tour group and went into cardiac arrest about halfway up on Tuesday, said Adele Goody, a flight nurse with the Royal Flying Doctors Service.
Two off-duty police officers immediately performed CPR, and shocked the man’s heart back into a “survivable rhythm” within five minutes with the tour company’s defibrillator, she said.
“It’s the people around him at the time that saved his life,” she said.
Tasmanian-based paramedics Aimee and Chris O’Shea, who are travelling around Australia, were also quick to lend a hand after spotting the commotion near the top of the rock.
The couple scrambled up the steep rock face to give the man medication, organise medical assistance, and help transfer him safely back down.
Ms O’Shea said the man was almost unconscious when they arrived, so they “helped stabilise him”.
“It was this man’s lucky day, the two off-duty police officers — who happened to be on holiday and had commenced CPR — were trained in vertical rescue,” she said.
The group moved the man onto a stretcher, transferring him down by a series of ropes and pulleys over two-and-a-half hours.
“He was coherent by the time we got to the bottom of the rock, so I was chatting to him for most of the way down,” Ms O’Shea said.
“He was in a relatively good condition, all things considered, which is fantastic. He is a very lucky man.”
“If it wasn’t for the two police at the top, I think it would be a very different story,” Ms O’Shea said.
The man, now in a stable condition, was taken to Alice Springs for treatment and will be flown to Adelaide later today.
“The park’s traditional owners, Anangu, feel a responsibility to look after all visitors whilst they’re on their land so when someone is injured or becomes unwell on the climb they are greatly saddened, as are all Park staff,” Parks Australia said in a statement, noting that current climb conditions would remain in place until the full ban comes into effect on October 26.
Low Aussie dollar appealing for international visitors
The latest incident on the rock comes as tourists have flocked to the Red Centre before the climbing ban is enforced, said Steven Schwer, CEO of Tourism Central Australia.
The majority of visitors are Australian domestic travellers on self-drive holidays, and Japanese tourists.
Accommodation in the tourist hub of Yulara near Uluru has been very tight since the ban was announced, and the impending closure along with the recent water filling Lake Eyre has driven the increase in visitors, Mr Schwer said.
“One of the great things for international tourism to Australia is that the Australian dollar is a lot lower than what it has been in a long time,” Mr Schwer said.
“As soon as you start to see the dollar hitting 72 cents [US] and lower, we get a good increase in international tourism.”
But he said local businesses were not capitalising on the climb closing.
“In fact the absolute opposite, a lot of the businesses do encourage their travellers not to climb,” Mr Schwer said.
“There are a number of reasons why we encourage people not to climb; one of those is safety, another is environmental, and also the cultural significance of the rock to the Anangu people, so we would prefer it that people don’t climb,” he said.
Parks Australia said visitor numbers to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park have been steadily increasing for the past six years, with a 22 per cent increase in 2018.
“According to our 2018 visitor survey, 87 per cent of visitors said they did not climb Uluru and 80 per cent of visitors support the Board’s decision to close the climb permanently,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.
‘It’s not a playground’
Curtin Springs roadhouse is 100km east of Uluru, and owner Lindy Severin said they fielded hundreds of calls a day from tourists planning a last-minute visit.
“The official terminology we’re using at home is ‘it’s just going to be batshit crazy’,” she said.
“At this point we’re fitting people into the campgrounds and into accommodation, but it’s getting very close to the point that we don’t have anything left from the middle of June onwards.
Chansey Paech Uluru Tweet
“We’re fielding hundreds of phone calls a day from people going, ‘we’re just beginning to think about it and this is what we need,’ and we’re going, ‘we’re sorry, but that’s been booked for 12 months’.”
She said everyone calling the roadhouse was coming to climb Uluru.
“That’s the only reason they’re coming at this point, to give their children an opportunity to do things they believe they should be able to do, and as the parents of the family maybe did when they were younger.”
During the Camel Cup at Yulara over the weekend, the ABC spoke to numerous people who said the climb was their main motivator to visit.
Here’s what a few of them had to say:
“We wanted to get here before October to make sure we could get up it but, after walking around it and understanding more of the culture of the Anangu people, we decided against climbing it. And on top of the fact that it doesn’t look that safe.”
“I think it’s going to decimate this area, its why a lot of people come, to climb the rock. Time will only tell.”
“We’re a bit over-governed in Australia; let them do it … it brings a lot of tourists to the area because they want to climb it, so I don’t know what they’re going to do now, because there’s not a great deal to do at Ayers Rock.”
“I read it’s disrespectful for the Indigenous people here, so I never really considered doing it. I know apparently it’s a big thing for Australians to do it, but for me it’s not, maybe because I’m not Australian.”
‘It’s not Disneyland’: traditional owner
To climb or not to climb Uluru has long been a controversial issue for the cultural and environmental concerns, but also for safety reasons.
Last year a 76-year-old Japanese tourist died atop the rock, making him the 37th fatality at the site since record-keeping began.
Traditional owner from Uluru, Sammy Wilson, said the local Anangu people were happy the climb would be closed.
“The rock is a very important place. People think it’s like Disneyland, no, no, no, no,” he said.
“We all happy, we want to close that rock. Not that big rock, the climb. So people come and respect the place, please.
“Some people will come, like ‘what, why they close [it]?’
“Enough is enough.”
Closing climb ‘form of reconciliation’
Local Member for Namatjira, Chansey Paech, said that closing the climb would not decrease visitation rates, pointing out that local businesses had diversified.
He said that the climb was closed more often than not anyway due to weather and other cultural reasons.
“There’s so much more to see and experience at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park than climbing our national treasure,” he said.
“Uluru is an extremely important place of great cultural and spiritual significance for the local Anangu people, it’s not a playground, and it’s time we respect the traditional owners of Uluru and accept that this is the right thing to do.
“We need to treat Uluru in the same respect that we treat other spiritual places and sacred sites in this country.”
Closing the climb would be a “true form of reconciliation”, he said.
“We’re at a time in Indigenous affairs where we’re pushing … for constitutional recognition of Indigenous people, and then on the other side of the pendulum we have a large cohort of non-Indigenous people who are getting very offended that they will no longer be able to climb the rock,” Mr Paech said.
“I think that identifies just how big the gap is in this country at the moment.”