Uluru handback 1985
The Hawke Labor Government was embarrassed by the charge that it was betraying its commitment to land rights. The hand-back of Uluru (Ayre's Rock) became a political substitute for a steadfast pursuit of its policy promise.
In 1979, the traditional owners of Uluru and Kata Tjuta were told by the Aboriginal Land Commissioner that they could not claim the land within the Uluru National Park, nor the land just north of the park gazetted as the site for Yulara tourist complex. Through their political representatives, the Central Land Council and the Pitjanjtatjara Land Council, they proposed that they be granted ownership of the Park on the understanding that they then lease the Park back to the Commonwealth, so that it could continue to be a site of managed tourism. The Hawke Government proved sympathetic to that scheme, and a 'hand-back' and 'lease-back' ceremony was scheduled for October 1985, following special amendment of the Land Rights Act.
In the twelve months leading up to that ceremony, the Hawke Government made its decision not to fund a publicity campaign in favour of land rights. Instead, the Hawke Government agreed to devote a smaller amount of advertising money to publicising the October ceremony at Uluru. There were hundreds of guests and the media were lavishly provided for. A place which was also a national symbol was now to be shared between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
The hand-back ceremony, a genuinely joyous occasion for the Aboriginal owners and those who had worked with them, was also an expensive gesture of self-congratulation by a government lacking the resolve to honour its own land rights program.
Keywords: Australian Labor Party, Central Australia, Hawke, Bob, land ownership, Northern Territory, Pitjantjatjara, Uluru, 1985
Author: Rowse, Tim and Graham, Trevor