Topic 2: Indigenous rights and the national interest – Uluru

Focus question

How would the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples protect the cultural rights of Indigenous peoples in Australia?

Overall aim: Contested rights of Indigenous Australians

In the investigations that follow you will discover, through research, that the cultural rights of Indigenous peoples in Australia are still contested, generally within Australian society and specifically in Australian judicial and political systems.

Previously, you explored the centrality of land and place to notions of identity, and also became acquainted with an Indigenous geography of the Australian landmass and its cultural connotations. In these investigations, the contestation about identity and culture will be extended to include debates about how land is used, and who has rights to it, and what influence the UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples could have on those disputes if it came into effect.


The case study selected for investigation is the issue of Uluru and its status as a sacred site for the Anangu people of Central Australia as well as a tourist attraction. Your investigation will trace the history of events surrounding the handing back of Uluru to the traditional owners in 1985 and will examine the competing claims made by various groups, including the traditional owners, with regards to its use. You will then be asked to assess the impact that applying the Articles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples would have on the debate.

Uluru, previously known as Ayers Rock (named after the late nineteenth-century South Australian Chief Secretary,  Henry Ayers) was handed back to its traditional owners, the Anangu of Central Australia, by the Hawke Government in 1985. The return of the site to the custodianship of the traditional owners was done with the understanding that it be leased back to the Commonwealth Government for 99 years. This lease would allow it to be retained as a tourist attraction and would impose some limitations on the Anangu’s control of the site, particularly constraining their desire to prohibit tourists from climbing the rock. The negotiations were not subject to the provisions of the Northern Territory Land Rights Act (1976), and occurred almost eight years before the passage of the Native Title Act in 1993.

As you will realise after reading the articles in the Topic 2 Investigation, Uluru is an iconic Australian natural feature and a site of great significance to both non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples. There are, however, different perspectives about its usage. It will be your task to investigate how these perspectives can be reconciled, and if the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples can affect the situation.


Introduction | Topic 1 | Topic 1 Investigation 1 | Topic 1 Investigation 2 | Topic 2 | Topic 2 Investigation 1 | Topic 2 Investigation 2 | Topic 2 Investigation 3 | Resources