Aborigines try to ban tale of the teddy bear on Ayers Rock

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The Independent Online

A children's book about a teddy bear that visits Uluru, the spectacular monolith formerly known as Ayers Rock, has incurred the wrath of the local Aboriginal community, which wants it banned.

The Anangu people, who have lived in the shadow of the rock for 40,000 years, say that Bromley Climbs Uluru is offensive and undermines indigenous culture. National park managers, who administer the area on their behalf, have threatened to prosecute the authors, Alan and Patricia Campbell.

The dispute reflects wider tensions surrounding the rock. Almost 500,000 people visit every year and many climb Uluru, despite prominent signs explaining that they are trampling on ancient Aboriginal "dreaming" tracks. The Anangu also dislike photographs being taken at the summit.

The book is one of a series written by the Campbells about the adventures of Bromley, an 18-inch bear they photographed at various locations during a trip around Australia.

National park officials say the Uluru book, which depicts the bear at the summit of the rock, sends the wrong message to impressionable children. They also claim it contravenes strict laws governing photography at sacred sites. They have warned the Campbells that they face a £20,000 fine unless they pulp a new edition or write a more culturally sensitive version. Brooke Watson, manager of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta national park, said: "This is a special place, with its traditional indigenous culture alive in it. We are charged with protecting that culture, and if we have to put a plastic bubble over it to preserve it we are prepared to do that."

The authors are exasperated. "It's just a bear, for heaven's sake," said Mrs Campbell. Her husband said: "Uluru is a geological feature in the middle of Australia. I don't see why continuing occupancy gives Aborigines the right to dictate to people what they can and can't do."

In the past, Uluru has appeared in countless books, postcards and calendars. It has been used as a backdrop for fashion shoots, and to promote products as varied as beer and insurance. But the rock – which was handed back to the Anangu, its traditional owners, in 1985 – is now subject to stringent photographic restrictions designed to shield it from crass commercial exploitation. Since 2000, photographers have been required to seek permits for out commercial work. Permits are only granted if administrators believe the images will enhance the cultural values of the park. Nearly half of the rock, including the summit, is completely off limits.

Park authorities have appointed two full-time staff to look out for inappropriate images of Uluru. Thanks to their diligent work, Bromley found himself in hot water.

Bromley is "the Indiana Jones of the bear world", according to the Campbells. His adventures have taken him to Tasmania, Queensland and Alice Springs. Mr Campbell said the Uluru pictures were shot before photography was banned at the summit. He added that the book, which has sold 40,000 copies, had been on sale at a bookshop near Uluru for nine years. "It's been under their nose all that time," he said. "How come they're suddenly offended by it?"

Many photographers are unhappy at the regime controlling Uluru. Ken Duncan, a leading landscape photographer, said: "I have a great respect for Aboriginal people, and I understand their need for contact with the land. But no one owns copyright on creation, and I think if we go down this road it's going to be very scary."