An indigenous company with strong links to cultural tourism wants to buy a share of Ayers Rock Resort and run it for the benefit of communities in central Australia.
Wana Ungkunytja (WU), set up in 1993 as the business arm of a regional Aboriginal social development organisation, runs Uluru Camel Tours, Uluru Autos and Anangu Tours, which employs Aboriginal guides to give the Anangu perspective on Uluru and local landmarks, and explain cultural practices such as dot painting. It is part of a consortium seeking to buy the Ayers Rock Resort from the owners, GPT.
WU chief executive Matthew Ellem said it was time Aboriginal people, who had lived in the area for 50,000 years, owned some of the Uluru resort where 400,000 national and international tourists each year stay in accommodation ranging from five star luxury to a camping ground. He said greater Aboriginal involvement would strengthen the authenticity of the Uluru experience.
“Uluru is an icon of Aboriginal Australia and people come here from all around the world wanting to be part of the indigenous experience,” said Mr Ellem who is based in Alice Springs. “Many of them leave disappointed because the Ayers Rock Resort has been run as just another group of hotels staffed by short-term back-packers. Wana Ungkunytja is well-placed to provide a richer cultural experience to tourists who have come a long way to experience life at the centre.”
WU is putting together a consortium that includes Wayne Kirkpatrick, a former managing director of the resort, and has instructed Grant Samuel Corporate Finance to facilitate the purchase and manage the financial side. The size of WU’s stake has not been determined.
Mr Ellem said the profits from the ARR would flow to the Pitjantajatjara and Yankunytjatajara communities of Mutitjulu, Imanpa and Kaltukatjara.
Margaret Smith who chairs the all-Aboriginal board of directors of Wana Ungkunytja, said one of the main reasons Anangu were not employed at the Resort was because there was nowhere for them to stay.
“If Anangu can live at the Resort, then they will work at the Resort. This has been a big problem for us in the past,” Ms Smith said.
“There will be big business opportunities for us, in the shops, selling art and craft and doing contract work like maintenance and landscaping. It will be good for everyone.”
Ms Smith said Nyangatjatjara Aboriginal College at Yulara would focus on job opportunities at the Resort by offering apprenticeships in hospitality, entertainment and trades. Those who succeeded in employment would become role models for the next generation of Aboriginals.
“We can fulfill out dreams and make a good future for our children and our grandchildren,” said Ms Smith, from Imanpa.
Part of the expanded Aboriginal experience could include nighttime cultural entertainment by Anangu Productions, which is owned by Wana Ungkunytja.
WU has a series of successful Anangu businesses whose profits are ploughed back through a trust into the local communities to raise living standards by fostering ‘the three Es’of education, economic development and employment.
Mr Ellem said Aboriginal employment at Uluru had been a problem and the current owner appeared to use backpackers in preference to local people. He said Wana Ungkunytja wanted to change that and would implement an indigenous employment policy and work with local institutions to set up employment pathways.
The former Yulara Resort in which the Northern Territory had a majority interest was sold to GPT in 1997. GPT has announced it will sell some of its assets which include the Ayers Rock Resort and the exclusive Bedarra, Lizard and Heron islands in Queensland.