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HomeIssue 48Alice Springs to lose not just a trail, but the whole mountain

Alice Springs to lose not just a trail, but the whole mountain


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.


UPDATE 11am:

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.


  1. It was made out to be a response to erosion, concern for hikers, and in respect to the traditional owners wishes.
    I think it’s a wonderful initiative for the NTG to show respect to the custodians and in all honesty a complete surprise.
    There is a plethora of walks and trails in Alice and surrounds.
    I know many locals (including myself) who stopped walking up Alhekulyele as soon as they’d heard it was in fact a sacred site. When I first found out I was ashamed I didn’t know sooner.
    Yes, the meetings were private but the other option of including non-Aboriginal locals in the decision making process would have turned into a mess similar the the National Art Gallery. The decision was made involving those who were concerned and had a right to discuss it in the first place.
    There is already of course the (at times, racist) dissonance on social media.
    I understand how people can have opposing world views and values, but when they become mean and racist I think it says more about the person making the comments as opposed whatever it is they are complaining about.

  2. From what I’ve seen on the news and on FB, there are bigger problems in Alice to worry about – and take responsibility for.

  3. Is this a joke?
    There are photos online of Charlie Cooper the senior traditional owner of Mt Gillen guiding a family group to the top of Mt Gillen in the 1920s.
    It seems as with Ayers Rock the views and actions of the old men who arguably knew better about the “rules” and who they apply to are once again being ignored to the detriment of the entire community. Big loss for Alice residents and visitors – do they want a wasteland?

  4. 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.

  5. Chris Day from Parks and Wildlife told ABC Radio on Wednesday it was the climb that would be closed. That is bad enough and the lack of consultation is appalling.
    To be fair he did not describe it as a minor administrative response, but a decision that came after seven years of discussion, following Parks’ unsuccessful application to AAPA to work on the trail.
    I contacted the Parks and Wildlife Office in Alice Springs this afternoon and they verified that only the climb was to be closed, and definitely not the whole hill itself.
    Can you please source and clarify your claim, Mr Chlanda? Perhaps it is AAPA itself that is closing the hill.
    [ED –I’ve just left a message for Mr Day. My report reflected yesterday’s conversation with Mr Day.]

  6. The question is what will be next. Give them an inch and they will take a mile. Change one street name and then it will be 10, 15, 20, street names.

  7. The walking trail is the closure, the rest of the mountain is a sacred site already. So permission is required or you could get fined, such as needing a rescue off it.

  8. I recently heard an AAPA spokesperson liken sacred site protection to the veneration Christians feel for their Holy sites.
    It’s a poor comparison.
    I’ve seen a few and I was respectful, but sacred to a Christian does not mean taboo – the Ark of the Covenant is no more. Now it’s “God with us” as we sing every Christmas. Stomp around in ya thongs and a T shirt, God doesn’t care what you think of the buildings or places. He is worshipped in.
    I respect the belief systems of others, but I won’t fear what they fear or fumble through the relativism of validating an animist world view of Mt Gillen (it’s a caterpillar, mate) while personally believing the science that’s just a big rock.
    But … appeasement and national guilt is driving these illogical decisions and, once you’ve started down this path you just have to suck it up.

  9. Finally! This is not a secret. People have known for years that the custodians are distressed about people climbing. The only shock is that the NTG has listened.

  10. Well, yes, Matthew Davis, it is a big rock, but hardly “just” a big rock. Reductionism is only possible when you focus on one aspect of science and ignore the other stuff. How we see something is determined entirely by a combination of our physical senses and our subjective perceptions, which vary from species to species and individuals within those species. If we are all equal, as we are reminded so regularly that we are, then all those perceptions are equally valid.
    It would be a sad soul who looks at Mount Gillen or other natural monuments and see only vast collections of sub-atomic particles appearing as random shapes. Secularists need to stand up and say he or she have their own concepts of what is sacred and they also deserve respect.
    Just because somebody wants to climb something doesn’t mean they don’t respect it or even preclude the possibility they think of it as “sacred”. This is the lie that guilt-ridden whitefellas are trying to project as they uncritically defend indigenous culture and indigenous people.
    Surely reconciliation does not mean going down on your knees, giving everything back to blackfellas and trying to turn back the clock. It means assessing where we all are now while acknowledging the mistakes of the past and moving forward to find common ground. It also involves accepting that it is natural for all human beings to want to connect with the country in which they live and look for ways to accomodate the different ways of doing that. Otherwise we will build new resentment.

  11. Why can’t we climb a hill? This is getting out of control.
    I think the hill was there way before any blackfellas so why should they choose who can and can’t go up there?
    It’s not their earth – it’s everyone’s.
    Pissin me off!

  12. Sacred! Nothing is sacred to these people, just look at the filth and trash they leave behind in public places.
    Not to mention using a public park to urinate and shit, no respect or care for what should be sacred or precious!
    Making Alice Springs an very unattractive place to be! 😞

  13. Back in the 80s and early 90s, while I was teaching at Alice Springs Highschool, then Anzac Hill High, I organised several Year 8 hikes up to the summit of Mt Gillen from Flynn’s Grave and along the top, descending via the scree slope above Bradshaw.
    Each hike involved a whole class, including the class teacher.
    There were no signs indicating sacred sites, and no parents ever objected.
    It is a magnificent walk, lots of learning opportunities.
    But things change, there is greater knowledge and respect now. And there are alternative ridge walks possible – along Euro Ridge (part of the Larapinta trail) and from Mt Johns to Jessie Gap. And the most spectacular of all is the Ormiston Rim walk, from above the waterhole along the ridge top to Bowman’s Gap, a perennial at Yr 10 camp for those up to the challenge.
    Great views of Mt Sonder, the gorge, the pound and Mt Giles.

  14. @ Lois Scheidegger, @ Simon Kelly: Well said and unfortunately so true. Perhaps if the Aboriginals led by example it would be a good start.

  15. The Parks Commission have been aware of traditional owner dissent regarding the climb since the early 90s.
    They had been instructed several times over the decades that the people from this area wanted the climb closed as the “unofficial track” encroached on sites and presented a significant liability issue for Parks. Parks had not taken action on the direction from traditional owners.


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