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Issue #1710      November 11, 2015

Struggle at Uluru

The small community of Mutitjulu, on the eastern side of Uluru, is still struggling 30 years after the rock was officially handed back. It was expected that jobs and development opportunities would follow, but that hasn’t been the case, even as tourist dollars have poured into Yulara, on the other side of Uluru.

Mutitjulu women and children. (Photo: Kia Mistilis)

The small tourism township has reaped most of the benefits of 300,000 people flocking annually to see the spiritual heart of the country.

But of 250 Aboriginal people employed at the Ayers Rock Resort, only five are Anangu people from Mutitjulu, and, of the town’s 400-odd population, 254 are on the dole and struggling to make a living.

At the 30th anniversary of the handback of Uluru and Kata Tjuta in Mutitjulu on October 26, locals were keenly aware of the disparity, as executive member of the Central Land Council (CLC) Vincent Forrester explained.

“It’s a good thing that happened that day 30 years ago, but I tell you what, we have a long way to go as a nation of people,” he said. “We had visions of developing our own economic base, using industry. But I’m afraid those sorts of things have been a bit short-changed.”

Mr Forrester said ‘”the mistakes of successive Labor and Liberal federal and territory governments were on display in Mutitjulu”.

“Still living in third-world conditions here,” he said. “You people from the city, your eye will tell you no lie; it’s there for all the world to see.” Mr Forrester called on governments to empower the locals, and to fulfil the hope he saw on the faces of those families who received the title deeds from then Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen three decades ago.

Barbara Tjikatu, whose husband received the title deeds, said she was happy to celebrate the long, difficult fight that Elders faced in the years leading up to the handback.

“We want government and Anangu to work together,” she said. Northern Territory Labor senator Nova Peris said it was the role of politicians to ensure the Anangu culture could sustain what was inherited.

“We have gathered here at Mutitjulu, a community of 400 people struggling to make a living in the shadow of this international tourism icon, the spiritual heart of Australia,” she said.

“And Yulara is down the road, glittering in prosperity from the tourism developments over the last 30 years; the differences between the two places are stark.”

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said governments and communities needed to work together-to-continue-to advance the interests of local Aboriginal people. Locals will be employed in the redevelopment of an adult education centre, he said, and more ranger jobs would be available to work on a neighbouring, newly-declared Indigenous protected area of five million hectares.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park board chair Sammy Wilson said there was a lot of interest in the park, but the Anangu people seemed to be missing out.

The park employs 14 rangers. Of these, five are Aboriginal-identified positions, three are filled by Anangu, with two vacant.

Parks Australia staff said barriers to employing Anangu were lack of literacy, numeracy and English speaking skills, and access to training opportunities.

Mr Wilson criticised the federal government for directing most of its funding to the Ayers Rock Resort.

“It seems like a big vacuum cleaner is sucking everything away,” he said.

“This place (Uluru) is our culture here, but it’s ending up over there (at the resort); it should be here.”

Mr Wilson said Anangu wanted to be treated as equals by the government, saying that when promises by prime ministers are made, they are in “two tongues”.

“He’ll promise me and then there’s the other one, where he’s got two tongues,” Mr Wilson said. He said he wanted to see young people take over leadership of the tour company owned and run by residents from Mutitjulu.

AAP, with Jillian Mundy

Koori Mail

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