Tourism pioneer Peter Severin laid the chain up Uluru. He…

Tourism pioneer Peter Severin laid the chain up Uluru. He...

Tourism pioneer Peter Severin laid the chain up Uluru. He…

Updated October 26, 2019 09:49:45

The 91-year-old cattle station pioneer who laid the chain up Uluru predicts it will be back in a few years.

Key points:

  • Peter Severin says removing the chain he laid in the ’60s is a “stupid” idea
  • But he is not expecting visitor numbers to plunge in the wake of the climb closure
  • His family is calling on authorities to respect Uluru’s significance to all Australians

Peter Severin took over Curtin Springs Station on the Lasseter Highway in Central Australia in 1956, a year before tourists started visiting the sacred site, which was yesterday closed to climbers.

“In the early days there was no tourism, when my wife came out here we saw six people in 12 months, and they weren’t tourists,” Mr Severin said.

“They were the stock agents and a couple of friends that I’d been to school with, the friends to see if I was still alive, the stock agents to make sure I paid them money that I owed them.”

He said the first man to run tour buses to the rock, Len Tuit, approached him because he needed a petrol stop for the 500-kilometre drive from Alice Springs to Uluru.

“He said, ‘I want to run my van out to Ayers Rock’, and I said ‘What the hell you want to go there for?'” Mr Severin quipped, referring to Uluru by its name prior to the 1985 handback to traditional owners.

His wife Dawn suggested giving the passengers refreshments while they filled up the petrol tank.

“She said, ‘Why don’t I make them cups of tea and scones?’ and that’s how we got into the tourism industry.”

During peak periods dozens of tour buses and tourists pull up at the working cattle station that provides restaurant meals and accommodation, about 90km east of the Ayers Rock Resort.

“The tourism industry, it’s massive. It’s changed our lives but we still have our cattle,” Mr Severin said.

Laying the chain

In 1963, Colonel Lionel Rose and Tom Hare from the newly established Northern Territory Reserves Board approached Mr Severin about installing a chain on the 1.6km-long, 348-metre-high climb.

He said his memory was rusty, but recalled putting up the chain took four men about four weeks.

“I put in a big long wire rope I had for pulling bores, and so we pulled the wire up over the pulley and on to the chain and then we backed the Toyota and pulled the chain up like that,” Mr Severin said.

He said the chain was there to reassure climbers rather than as a safety measure.

“There was the first part, for the first five metres, then there was a gap, so that if anyone was frightened of heights they could climb the first few metres and then if they didn’t feel safe they could go back,” Mr Severin said.

Even though 37 people have died climbing Uluru since records began, Mr Severin spurned suggestions it was dangerous.

“Crikey no. Sometimes it’d be a bit windy, but we never were frightened. There was no danger in it for God’s sake,” Mr Severin said.

But he said it was not the only influence driving the early surge in visitors.

“It was because the tourism industry cultivated people from interstate and overseas to come to Australia so we could make money,” he said.

After the closure of the climb on Friday afternoon, removal of the chain is due to start in the next week.

“I think it’s a stupid idea personally, and I wouldn’t mind thinking if I live long enough in a couple of years’ time, they’ll reopen it with a little kiosk at the bottom, where they make people pay to climb the rock, and they’ll put another one up. That’s my opinion,” he said.

Despite his reservations, he said he did not expect the climb closure to bring visitor numbers to a halt.

Media spotlight spurs visitors

Mr Severin’s daughter-in-law, Lindy Severin, told ABC Alice Springs tourists driving down the Lasseter Highway had already dropped to a quarter of what they were during the “crazy” peak in the July school holidays.

“Over the last couple of weeks we got up over 40 degrees [Celsius], that makes it a bit hard if you’re camping in a tent with kids,” she said.

“Ayers Rock Resort is quite busy with their fly-in fly-out traffic.

“Of course the numbers are going to be lower than they have been because they’ve been at unprecedented highs.”

The Severins are already taking international bookings for next year, including the summer season when numbers are usually lower.

“Media has put such a big spotlight on Central Australia, that the whole region is back on people’s agendas,” she said

But Ms Severin urged authorities to pay heed to all of the cultural values associated with the rock.

“The message that there are many, many connections to the rock is very important and all of those voices need to be heard,” she said.

“That’s probably a message that everyone needs to heed about making sure that we are protecting the cultural history of the region, not simply the Indigenous culture.

“That’s a really important culture in the region, but it’s not the only one.”

Topics: tourism, rural-tourism, travel-and-tourism, indigenous-protocols, indigenous-culture, indigenous-policy, aboriginal, land-rights, national-parks, alice-springs-0870, yulara-0872, darwin-0800, nt

First posted October 26, 2019 06:56:48

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Tourism pioneer Peter Severin laid the chain up Uluru. He... 2