From March next year the badly eroded informal trail that ascends Alhekulyele / Mt Gillen from behind Flynn’s Grave will be closed to the public, in response to the wishes of traditional custodians.
The Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security announced the decision today, saying there were also “concerns for public safety on the unmaintained trail.”
Through ongoing consultations with the department and the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA), “Mparntwe custodians have made it clear that their preferred course of action is to close access to the trail permanently,” says a media release from the department.
“The traditional site name is Alhekulyele and it is a major Akngwelye (Dog) sacred site. This is a very dangerous and important site and deeper parts of the story are known only to senior Mparntwe custodians,” says the release.
It quotes Traditional Custodian and spokesperson, Benedict Stevens, on the closure: “This site is central to Ayeye Akngwelye Mpartnwe-arenyethe – Dog Story of Alice Springs.
“The climbing track never should have been there, and the old people have asked for a long time for it to be closed.
“We share this place. We want to keep the people and the sites safe.
“It is important to respect the sacred sites, and we are pleased Parks is now asking people to stop climbing this way.”
Chris Day, of the department’s Parks and Wildlife Operations, says: “We understand the Mt Gillen climb is a popular activity, however the Department respects and supports the wishes of the Traditional Custodians to stop access to protect sacred sites and for cultural sensitivity.
“The trail is not an authorised walking trail and therefore is not maintained, which is also creating issues with erosion, creating safety and environmental concerns.
“The Department has a strong relationship with the Traditional Custodians and after many years working to explore alternative, safe routes, it has been decided that closing access is the only option.
“Out of respect for the Traditional Custodians, signage has been installed requesting that the public no longer use this sacred site for recreational purposes. Access will be closed from 1 March 2021.”
Says Bobby Nunggumarjbarr, board chair of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority: “The sacred site Alhekulyele is very important to custodians in the Alice Springs region.
“The Authority supports the decision by Parks and custodians to restrict access to that site for safety and cultural reasons.”
TOs invest in new walking trail
Meanwhile, Traditional Owners of the Yeperenye/Emily and Jessie Gaps Nature Park are using the rent they get for the park to fund a new public walking and cycling trail between Anthwerrke (Emily Gap) and Atherrke (Jessie Gap) in the East MacDonnell Ranges.
The investment, which will create employment for Aboriginal workers, is the biggest by an Aboriginal group in public infrastructure, according to a media release by the Central Land Council.
“We want to share the place with everyone, and let them know that the community planned and funded it with our rent money,” Traditional Owner Lynette Ellis said.
TOs Andrew, Clem and Theo Alice with MLA Chansey Paech in 2017, launching an App the TOS developed to share the stories of Anthwerrke and Atherrke.
The trail will create employment in trail construction, interpretive signage and repair and maintenance, as well as attract tourists to the sacred site 10 kilometres east of Alice Springs.
“Tourists should experience the East MacDonnell Ranges as well as the West Macs,” Ms Ellis said.
Traditional Owners will spend more than $330,000 of their NT parks rent to construct the 7.2 kilometre dual usage trail.
It will feature wheelchair access sections at both the Emily Gap and Jessie Gap ends, as well as seating at rest points.
“It’s so the old people and those who aren’t mobile can also come to the site,” Ms Ellis said.
The park is home to significant dreamings, the place where the three caterpillar songlines Yeperenye [Yep-ah-RIN-ya], Ntyarlke [N-CHAYL-ka] and Utnerrengatye [OOT-ner-ung-utch] intersect.
“The trail is an act of generosity by the traditional owners that will provide a welcome boost to the tourism industry at a time it needs it most,” Central Land Council chief executive Joe Martin-Jard said.
The CLC has engaged Alice Springs company Tricky Tracks to manage the construction.
The company plans to hire four workers from the community to build the trail by following the natural contours of the landscape and causing minimal disturbance to the environment.
They will train them in trail alignment and gradient selection, use of hand tools, erosion management and construction techniques.
“I’m looking forward to learning new skills for my future, so I can work in construction,” said Grant Alice from Amoonguna.
Image: Documentation of a carved wooden sign made by an anonymous artist in 2017 after taking a sacred sites tour with Mparntwe Apmereke Artweye (Custodian) Doris Kngwarraye Stuart. The image was part of an exhibition responding to the tours at Watch This Space.
Last updated 2 December 2020, 2.53pm