By ERWIN CHLANDA
It was made out to be some minor administrative response to the erosion of a relatively little used mountain trail.
In fact, according to Chris Day, of the Environment Department’s of the department’s Parks and Wildlife Operations, the very mountain that is the heart of Alice Springs, the iconic Mt Gillen (Alhekulyele) in the middle of every photograph of the town, is being declared a no-go area in compliance with demands from Arrernte traditional custodians.
That area starts at Heavitree Gap (Ntaripe) in the east, the rail and road thoroughfare into the town, and stretches all the way to Honeymoon Gap, 13 kilometres to the west.
It includes all that is between the foot of the range, along Bradshaw and Larapinta Drives in the north; right up to the top of the mountain and down its southern flank, to the back yards of the Ilparpa rural area.
It is the very centre of the local government area of Alice Springs, its most spectacular natural asset – incomprehensibly all but ignored by successive town councils except for use as a rubbish dump at its south-eastern corner.
The lock-up of the area follows secret meetings over several years by a handful of men who handed down the decision via the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA).
Its instructions – it appears – have to be complied with by the NT Government whose national parks service manages the area.
Mr Day said Parks and Wildlife had no part in the deliberations by custodians.
The area is used by trekkers and walkers and has been flagged as a key tourist attraction, potentially extending the stay by visitors for several days, enjoying a string of gullies and ravines as close as five minutes’ drive from the CBD, or five minutes’ walk from the tourism precinct.
Mr Day says the track from Flynn’s Grave to the top is being used by about 300 walkers a week. Figures for other climbs and walks are not available.
The climb to the top from the south takes about two hours, in shaded gullies, past waterholes, callitris pines, spearwood, wildflowers like Isotomas, up the rocky slopes, rivalling King’s Canyon in beauty (but that’s a 900 km round-trip) .
Looking west from the summit takes one’s breath away – a vista into the West MacDonnell Ranges on one side, and the town on the other.
There have been countless proposals for the picturesque area, including restaurants to the top and a cable car from the Desert Park.
The shock announcement of the trail closure, with no mention of the entire area closure – planned for March next year – coincides with government efforts to revive the economy post Covid-19.
The News has left a message for AAPA but we haven’t heard from them. We are also seeking a map with the exact boundaries of the park.
Senior elder Benedict Stevens (pictured, ABC photo) says he and Peter Rehehan were the applicants for the declaration of the sacred site. Mr Stevens says he is the most senior member of his family, and hence the proper person, in consultation with Mr Renehan, to make and be granted the application:”It was on behalf of the Mparntwe elders, custodians who have passed on. The application has gone on for generations.”
Last updated 3 December 2020, 4.09pm.