Shawn Bartley and Richard Jarrett, who claim to be "sovereign citizens", did not appear in the Alice Springs Local Court on Thursday as they were found guilty of a string of offences relating to the incident. Those offences included damaging and defacing a Commonwealth reserve, entering a prohibited area, and lighting a fire on and taking animals onto a Commonwealth reserve.
As the co-accused were not present and did not enter any pleas, the matter proceeded ex parte. The court heard that on August 11 last year, the two men had driven into Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park after 10am, parked in a no-stopping zone and climbed through a fence with their two dogs.
They then entered a prohibited cave site, Warayuki, where they used an oily substance to make two handprints on sacred rock art. The court heard the men also lit a fire in the cave and moved sand to make a drawing on the cave floor. Commonwealth prosecutor Ryan Bocock told the court the cave was a sacred Aṉangu men's site which was placed "in the highest order of significant sites" inside Uluru. He also said there were a number of signs prohibiting entry along the fence line.
"The rangers could hear the sound of clapsticks, and it was considered that something similar to ceremony was taking place," Mr Bocock said.
"The rangers waited for the Aṉangu traditional owners to arrive at the site and then intercepted Jarrett and Bartley who emerged … with two dogs."
Mr Bocock said Bartley appeared to be Caucasian, while Jarrett was "Aboriginal in appearance" and had been carrying a jar filled with an unidentified liquid.
"A conversation ensued between Jarrett and Bartley and the traditional owners where Jarrett stated that he came to make treaty … with 'my people'," Mr Bocock said.
"In response, [a traditional owner] said: 'No, I know this place. What's wrong with you? You have no shame coming to our place, you have no culture, you have no language'."
The court heard traditional owners claimed both Jarrett and Bartley had "no connection" to Aṉangu men and had entered the cave without permission. Mr Bocock said following the conversation, the co-accused had exited the park, while rangers inspected the cave.
"There was a large sand drawing in the cave floor … in the middle of a big circle was burnt leaves, tree nuts and coals from a fire," he told the court.
The court heard the rangers had also found two handprints in an "oil-like substance" on the cave walls, including one over a faded section of Aṉangu rock art.
The co-accused were subsequently offered interviews — with Bartley replying in an email that he "personally accepted responsibility" for his part in the vandalism, but had been "coerced and misled" by Jarrett. Both men also claimed to be sovereign citizens.
Mr Bocock rejected any "mistaken belief" that the co-accused had permission to enter the area, and told the court Jarrett's claims he had been there to make treaty "lacked credibility".
"We submit the circumstances of the offending by both accused reveals a very serious example of this type of offending," he said.
"This is not merely an example of tourists wanting the experience of climbing Uluru to take some photos."
The court heard both men had criminal histories. Bartley's record was described as "old and minor", while Jarrett's was said to be "substantial" and showing a "repeated disrespect for the law".
However, Judge David Bamber noted this was the first time the men had been charged with offences of this nature, and said the damage to rock art was the most serious of their offences.
"This is a case where we have two persons who have these wrong-headed notions of sovereign citizenship, whatever that means," he said.
"Clearly this was quite a blatant attempt to thumb their noses both at the general law and show really a contempt to the culture of the traditional owners."
The co-accused were convicted and fined $8,600 each.