Tourists face ban at iconic attraction in Aussie outback over 'sacred' nature

The Arabana people, who co-manage the Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park, say tourist behaviour is offending the elders.

Tourists could be banned from setting foot on an iconic outback attraction under a proposed plan created to help preserve its “cultural significance” for traditional land owners.

Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, Australia’s largest salt lake, is a primarily dry bed in northern South Australia that dramatically comes to life with wildlife when it spectacularly floods roughly every 10 years, only filling to the brim on average four times over a century. But with the heavy rain comes crowds of thousands of visitors to the National Park, all eager to get a glimpse of the animals flocking to the 77km wide lake.

The miles of salt that characterise Lake Eyre in central Australia during the region's long dry spells.
A new proposal could ban tourists from setting foot on Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, Australia’s largest salt lake. Source: AAP

While swimming, driving, and boating are already prohibited, the proposed Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park management plan — released by the state’s department for environment and water on Friday — hopes to restrict any recreational access to the lake bed.

If approved, visitors will not be allowed to enter it on foot without permission from the Arabana Aboriginal Corporation, which co-manages the national park.

Four-wheel vehicle drivers venture onto the salt crust of a dry Lake Eyre.
While swimming, driving, and boating are already prohibited, the proposed Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park management plan would also ban visitors from stepping foot on Lake Eyre. Source: Getty

Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre 'sacred' for traditional land owners

For the Arabana people, the lake is considered to be “sacred” and “dangerous to visit without the guidance of cultural authority”, according to the government body.

“People are still encouraged to enjoy the park and view the spectacular lake bed from designated visitor areas or from the air,” Director of the National Parks Programs with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Jason Irving, said. “The request for visitors not to enter a sacred cultural site is made in recognition and respect for Arabana culture, and to ensure the safety of visitors.”

Pink water that emerges when salt and fresh water interact in Lake Eyre in Central Australia.
Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre spectacularly floods roughly once every decade. Source: AAP

Chairwoman of the Arabana Aboriginal Corporation Bronwyn Dodd said preservation of the lake “is also the preservation of our culture”.

“We are proud to share this part of our Country but we urge you to respect our Ularaka (stories), lore and culture and not enter the lake,” she said. “We have a responsibility to look after the lake and in turn it looks after us.”

Proposed ban sparks some backlash

The new plan has sparked some backlash from those who frequent the remote area, with Lake Eyre Yacht Club commodore Bob Backway telling the ABC restricting recreational activity on Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre was “effectively privatising the national park”.

“We respect physical evidence of Arabana culture and we have strict rules in our club that we only look, examine, study and photograph, but put back any relics that we find out there,” the local said.

The South Australian desert around Lake Eyre after flooding rains have transformed the arid desert into an oasis.
A local man claims the move would 'effectively privatise the national park'. Source: AAP

According to the Department for Environment and Water, the proposal would allow for some exemptions for “commercial filming or photography, or commercial tour permits” on a case by case basis.

Bronwyn Dodd told the publication tourists who drive or go boating on the lake not only damage it but also it “deeply hurts” the elders.

“It hurts them to see our country hurt like that, when it’s being disrespected in such a way,” she said. “They have tried to engage over the years and to help protect and preserve that, but it’s certainly a deep hurt when we see people disrespecting such a culturally significant site to us.”

The public can provide feedback on the proposed Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park management plan until July 19.

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