By ERWIN CHLANDA
All of the iconic Mount Gillen (Alhekulyele), against which Alice Springs nestles to the south-west, will be in its entirety subject to “restrictions, entry and use”.
It began as the closure of an eroded walking track from Flynn’s Grave to near the “nose of stone,” the peak of the mountain which has great significance for Arrernte Traditional Owners.
The Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority has now released an image of the sacred site occupying all of the mountain, as we reported yesterday, stretching from Heavitree Gap (Ntaripe) to Honeymoon Gap.
Details are still unclear but it is believed Arrernte Custodians Benedict Stevens and Peter Renehan were the key people involved in a process lasting several years.
Mr Stevens told the Alice Springs News he and Mr Renehan follow strict traditional protocol in their decision making.
It is also understood that the sacred site (main photo) may provide rights for certain land owners (see notes below).
Is that so, we asked the authority.
“Who are they and what are their rights?
“What public consultation has taken place with local people, tourism representatives, governments and others” prior to the decision?
The restrictions are due to start in March next year.
Meanwhile police have asked recreational climbers of Mount Gillen to consider alternative walking tracks with the announcement this week of the closure of the walk.
Northern Territory Emergency Service are undertaking a risk assessment of the Mount Gillen track “as conditions are considered hazardous given the extreme heat at this time of year and the eroded path” and there is the possibility of an increase in rescues.
Local historian David Hewitt found this photo (top right) taken in 1926 when working with Adelaide House volunteers a couple of weeks ago.
The caption says: “Black Tracker, Colin Kramer, Mrs Herbert, Sister Nell Small, Mr Herbert, Mavis Stott” (Colin’s father was Swiss missionary Ernie Kramer and Mrs Stott is wife of Sgt Stott).”
We don’t know who Mr and Mrs Herbert were, but Sister Small was one of the first two nurses at Adelaide House. Sister Pope probably took the photo.
“The interesting part is that the ‘Black Tracker’ was Charlie Cooper who worked with Sgt Stott,” says Mr Hewitt.
“He was the senior Traditional Owner of Mt Gillen and he guided the party to the top.”
The authority provided the following background notes:-
Sacred sites are recognised and protected under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act.
The Mparntwe custodians and the Tjoritja West McDonnell National Park joint management group have asked for many years for the [Mt Gillen] climb to be closed, and for restricted entry to the site.
Discussions have been ongoing since 2013 and have involved many meetings between custodians, Parks, and the Land Trust.
The Sacred Sites Act also takes into account the proprietary rights of the owners of land. This means that a landowner may enter a sacred site on their land, and remain on it.
Under the Sacred Sites Act, should a developer wish to undertake work near a sacred site they can seek an authority certificate from the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority.
Certificates are based on consultations with custodians and provide clear instructions on what can and cannot be done in and around sacred sites.
UPDATED December 8, 2020