Will Uluru become off-limits to tourists?

By Lucy Hughes Jones

A remote indigenous community in the red centre has threatened to close Uluru if their people continue to live in poverty. Photo / 123RF
A remote indigenous community in the red centre has threatened to close Uluru if their people continue to live in poverty. Photo / 123RF

A remote indigenous community near Uluru has threatened to "close the rock" if their voices aren't heard and people continue to live in poverty.

The Northern Territory royal commission into juvenile justice has visited Mutitjulu, a small community where the Intervention started and is still felt to this day.

The Anangu people who live by Australia's most iconic landmark told the inquiry the NT and federal governments have neglected their community and children are denied basic housing, plumbing, food and healthcare.

"The oldest living culture in the world has been kicked to the kerb by the government," Ngaanyatjarra Aboriginal Corporation chairman Rameth Thomas said.

"It's disgusting how the government has treated our children. They should be ashamed.

"If they don't start listening to us we will close the rock."

Uluru's land title was handed back to traditional owners 30 years ago but was immediately leased to the federal government to be jointly managed as a national park for the 99 years.

Mr Thomas said seven per cent of royalties from the Ayers Rock Resort goes to three indigenous communities in the region.

"There is a company making money off a UNESCO-listed natural living landscape and 26km away there is a living culture that's dying," Mr Thomas said.

"On one side of the rock we are in poverty and the other side is some sort of dream world. They are exploiting our culture here and making millions."

Commissioners Margaret White and Mick Gooda are touring indigenous communities across the Territory before the inquiry resumes formal hearings in November, and Mr Gooda described Mutitjulu's as the "most energetic."

Women were crying, men were yelling, and government service providers were kicked out of the meeting in the first five minutes.

The Australian Law Reform Commission will be asked to examine the factors leading to the over-representation of indigenous Australians in the country's prison system.

Residents filled a whiteboard with ideas to help the community, and the first suggestion written was "decisions to be made by the people."

"The government has come here time and time again since I was child. I'm 40 years old and nothing has changed," Mr Thomas said.

"(Service providers) are running amok here and kicking us in the guts," he said.
Mr Thomas said the same issues were raised in the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report yet things are now worse for his people.

Indigenous Australians made up 14 per cent of the national prison population 25 years ago — by 2015 it was up to 27 per cent.

That's despite Aboriginals making up only two per cent of the nation's adult population.

Aboriginal suicides are at record levels in remote Australia, and the Territory has the highest youth suicide rates in the world.

On Thursday, federal Attorney-General George Brandis announced an Australia-wide inquiry to examine the "national tragedy" of persistently high indigenous incarceration rates.

Mr Gooda says people still feel powerless almost a decade after the intervention, and the inquiry is likely to recommend returning agency to communities.

But he's worried the NT government won't be held accountable to implement the commission's recommendations.

"We have got to put pressure on the government," Mr Gooda said.

- news.com.au

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