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HomeIssue 48Alhekulyele / Mt Gillen to be closed to public

Alhekulyele / Mt Gillen to be closed to public

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


  1. Better take the Trig Point down before they close the climb.
    Keep closing the tourist attractions, the white man will go and so will the money.

  2. Ha ha ha, that’s so true, Surprised. Its a pity the “TOs”can’t close the town to the idiots who are destroying the Alice.
    Another thing ..isn’t it a man’s story. If that’s so, why do the women keep talking about the dog story?

  3. What will be next! That old man Mr Rubuntja would be turning in his grave now. Yes we all grew up dancing! And we’re all little Yeperenye as we were always being reminded.
    Perhaps the public purse should also be closed to all so called “Public Parks” as well?
    RIP Alice Springs, Mbantua, or whatever name you want to call this place.

  4. It is a women’s site.
    I was very surprised when I returned to town 10 years ago, that the trail was still open. I think Parks wanted to create a maintained track, but since that looks to have fallen through, it is not unreasonable to join the fence back up at the base.

  5. @ S Taylor: Although I think you are being sarcastic, “public parks” will never get closed.
    Basically Aboriginal people (the real ones, not the ones that sit around town throwing litter into the curb) don’t like people of any race climbing on top of hills because they believe hills and mountains are sacred places.
    This doesn’t just apply to places in Central Australia but includes hills and mountains interstate. I am aware of such places near Hobart and Canberra.
    That Mount Gillen climb was never officially gazetted as a walk by any government.
    It doesn’t get maintained like Trigg Hill does. Since I have been alive I am aware Trigg Hill trail has been realigned at least twice due to vegetation and erosion.
    However, how I read the eighth paragraph quote:
    “It is important to respect the sacred sites, and we are pleased Parks is now asking people to stop climbing this way.”
    I refer specifically to “this way.”
    Although the whole mountain is a sacred place, “this way” refers to that particular unofficially not gazetted walk.
    Therefore other ways are not subjective to being totally closed off.
    Anyway, from memory there are certain parts of the southern flanks that are safer to walk on.
    The southern section to me is more beautiful and less subjected to large numbers of people purely due to it being accessible to the base by 4WDs only.
    My bet is then there will be people also don’t really want to get their 4WD all scratched up, hahaha so that’s already lessening the amount of people regularly wanting to go up.
    The walk from the south also can be either more time consuming via the safer way or more challenging for the quicker way up.
    These factors may put most people off wanting to go up.
    There is then the question of how to stop people from going up the southern flanks. Time and signs will stop some people, fences to others.
    However, in the end there is a lot more vegetation on the southern flanks. It will be very difficult to police the area and it is easier to be not seen in the crevices and valleys than the other side which has more vehicle and foot traffic below.
    Personally, I have lived here for 20 years and only climbed that ungazetted trail from Flynn’s Grave to the top just five times.
    Two of those times were in one week.
    Why did I climb it? Not for exercise but for the view and for photography. I personally don’t see a problem with the closure.
    I don’t have a desire to go back up there again anyway. There are many other great places to visit than that mountain.
    Sure it may be good for tourism and some locals, but the reality is part of the track is getting eroded and part of that track is considered “unsafe” or “dangerous” to certain people, i.e. inexperienced climbers or the truly unfit.
    Maybe we should listen to the voices who want it closed. At least this way nature can rehabilitate itself.

  6. 1972. Ran down to The Gap. Climbed up the side. Walked along the top to Mt Gillen. Saw old campfire sites along the way. Climbed down. Got stuck in a crevice half way down and swooped by a Wedgie. Had to take serious evasive action.
    At the bottom stumbled through the scrub to the Jay Creek Road and hitched a ride back to town. Legs and arms scratched to buggery.
    Slept the sleep of the dead back at Melanka.
    So glad I got to do it, but.
    Magic view from the top. Never heard of anyone objecting to climbing it all those years.
    A bit surprised, I must admit.

  7. @ Eastsider: S. Taylor speaks the truth, mate. Sandy has always been a fair-minded voice of reality with a compassionate big heart. And you are a bit harsh with your narrow characterisation of what constitutes a good racial trait. I knew a few grubs who littered the streets of Alice who were Anglo Celtic in origin.
    I understand that when Paddy Uluru was asked back in the 1980s his view on climbing the Rock he replied that it is the story around the Rock that is sacred, not the Rock itself. And he said the Rock was only a big rock.
    Paddy’s opinion was that if anyone was silly enough to want to risk climbing it, then best of British luck to them.
    I would imagine he would have had a similar opinion about the story around the big long rocky range south of town down Heavitree Gap way, wouldn’t you reckon?

  8. In the text of the sidebar it reads “… an App the TOS developed …”
    Do you get decent mobile reception out there?

  9. Just got to love the gutless wonders who can’t even put their own name to what they write!
    I have never climbed Alhekulyele, but know plenty of people who enjoy climbing it.
    As an Aboriginal person I respect the wishes of TOs but firmly believe if we looked deeper, there is a solution for all.
    Alice Springs economy is failing; you only have to look at the number of vacant shops, broken windows, roll down shutters, and businesses that are absolutely struggling because of a downturn in tourism caused by COVID this year, but still otherwise being affected by social disorder which is rife in this town.
    Where are the TOs and NT Government on this? AAPA has them in their pocket.
    Perhaps the millions of dollars of funding spent by NT Government on the Parrtjima Light Festival every year could be better spent on upgrading parks and let Parrtjima stand on its own two legs, with support from TOs, and their royalties?
    Have a look at Hansard; what have the Ministers and the NT Government been doing?
    Don’t bother rubbing me either, unless you want to put your name where your finger is!

  10. AAPA is an NT Government body. We the people elect NT Ministers to represent the constituents.
    If you are unhappy with this decision, remember – this solely falls at the feet of Chief Minister Gunner and Parks Minister Uibo. Of course, neither of these two ministers gives a rats about Alice Springs.
    Any suggestion that these NTG ministers do not have the power to keep this track open for all people to exercise their freedom to take a walk is a simply, politically convenient lie.
    S Taylor: I support your comment. Here is a safe prediction.
    Parrtjima will be the next to fall.
    Alice Springs will continue to be socially divided further by NT Government and bureaucratic over reach in driving the racial wedge deeper in our community. Death by a thousand cuts.

  11. Eastsider: “Mount Gillen climb was never officially gazetted as a walk by any government.”
    Do you really cede your personal freedoms and exploration of our country to a bureaucratic process by the unfathomably pathetic NT Government to make a walk “official” through a gazette process?
    If so, I pity your outlook. You are not your own person making their way through this life, you are a servant to the Government who is meant to be subservient to us, We The People.
    Do not let the Government become your master.

  12. @ Interested Darwin Observer: Well said! Yes the NT Government is a particularly hopeless administration run by a bunch of self-serving imported mediocrats who couldn’t care less about Alice Springs.
    Pretty soon the town will be held to ransom by a few people with a lot of power and sketchy traditional owner credentials. Oh wait – it already is!

  13. Eastsider : “That Mount Gillen climb was never officially gazetted as a walk by any government” The way to Australia from Great Britain had never been gazetted either, but this did not stopped the European settlers.
    I respect Sacred Sites , but you can reach and walk on them unknowingly. For exemple: Serpentine Gorge is a sacred site to Western Arrernte Aboriginal people. It’s name in Western Arrernte is Ulpma (uhlp-Mah).
    In the early 70s with my children we climbed it right left and center, making our own tracks, with caution, respecting nature (plants and animals) walking in line stepping in the steps of the first.
    Silly, some will said, how ever it was the way I grew up in Africa: “Explore, wisely, safely.”

  14. @John Bell. If Paddy Uluru had seen what had become of Uluru with thousands climbing it daily and many dozens of them taking a crap up there too! Then he certainly wouldn’t want the climb open either. People visiting for nothing more than to “conquer” Uluru, not wanting any Indigenous culture at all.
    Might as well open oldest church in Australia for walking on its roof and have people defecate there too?
    As for Mount Gillen, well he didn’t speak for it, I believe, as it’s not part of his country. But if he had and saw the erosion and graffiti up top, I’m pretty certain he would want it closed too.
    I myself have been in Alice on and off 45 years and permanently 15 years. Have probably climbed it around 20 times or more and from various directions. But definitely the erosion is bad. And yet unlike Crown land, this is part of Parks, and they are responsible to keep environment protected. Also to help prevent visitors getting hurt. And listen to traditional elders in regards to cultural issues.
    Parks can not find a way to properly manage that trail. It would require way way too much works and infrastructure. And then if they don’t do it right, could be responsible for someone getting injured or dying.
    I am actually surprised that nobody hasn’t already died from being up there [ED – A man died on the climb in March 2017.] Seen people drinking and smoking weed and can’t bear to look at them so close to the edge of the cliff.
    However, I do hope another option is put forth for walkers. Whether it be there or another hill.
    It’s a pity the road going up to the TV towers doesn’t have a path going off to the side. But again there could be lots of other issues.
    People like the exercise and view.
    Same as they do climbing ANZAC hill. But that has a sealed road. Or formed walking track without erosion issues.
    Anyway, there are still many parts of the Larapinta trail to climb if people want find new tracks.

  15. @Scott: I put it to you Scott, that the mental giants who are defecating and vandalising the various sites will not be deterred by the fact that the TO’s would like the climb closed.
    In fact it’s the animals who have no respect for anything that may have contributed to decision to close the climb.
    @Evelyne Roullet: Well said Evelyne.

  16. I’m so disappointed that a decision has been made to close this climb.
    The people who go up Mt. Gillen are there to get some exercise, reconnect with nature and show their children the wonders of a good hike. I for one believe these closures are going too far, Australia and its surroundings are for all to enjoy.

  17. I lived in Alice for many years and have climbed the mountain more times than I could count. I have made a point of climbing it each time I return.
    The discussion about it being an informal track is irrelevant.
    There must be thousands of informal tracks around Australia, most of which are not contentious.
    The distinction is that formal tracks are marked by an authority (mostly Parks and Wildlife), and maintained to some degree.
    Informal tracks are mostly unmarked and the responsibility is entirely with the user to judge whether it is safe. Many (probably most) formal tracks began as informal tracks. This track would have existed long before Parks took over the land.
    The eroded path is not a reason for closure. With the exception of the gully up through the cliff there is not a track but a number of tracks in various condition.
    Certainly a section of a track has been badly eroded since the mid 1990s.
    For over 20 years those in the know have used an alternative route that so far shows no sign of eroding. I considered putting up a sign to divert climbers to the better route, but feared that it too might become eroded with use.
    This has not happened and this route appears to be stable.
    The Mount Gillen climb has long been a favourite place of mine, far beyond the undoubted benefits of the exercise.
    I love seeing the rock wallabies sitting on their ledges on summer mornings, the Dusky Grasswrens that live on the summit and the upper slopes, hanging on despite droughts and fires.
    The Little Woodswallows, never seen in the lower country that soar along the ridgelines and sometimes nest on the cliffs, and the eagles that use the up-drafts for patrolling.
    Yes it is possible to climb the mountain’s southern slope, but this is a much less dramatic than the northern route.
    It would be possible to do an actuarial calculation on how much climbing the mountain has improved my life expectancy and health.
    I wonder if the traditional owners will have measurable benefits from the closure that would justify the loss to a far greater number.
    Some of the comments in favour of closing the climb seem to show vindictiveness rather than any positive outcome.
    The old philosophy of “the greatest good for the greatest number” clearly has not been applied.
    Try turning this one around to the South Africa of 40 years ago and imagine that minority had decided to bar the majority from a place they had previously enjoyed, and the criticism that would be directed at the said minority.


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