News State NSW News NSW man Otonye Lawson pleads guilty to illegally crossing NT border to take photos of Uluru

NSW man Otonye Lawson pleads guilty to illegally crossing NT border to take photos of Uluru

Lawson was arrested at Yulara, the resort town next to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Photo: Eleni Curry
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A New South Wales man has pleaded guilty to illegally crossing the Northern Territory border so he could take photos of Uluru.

Alice Springs Local Court heard Otonye Lawson arrived at the South Australia-NT border on September 13 and turned around when he learned that he would have to enter quarantine if he wanted to cross.

Anyone seeking to enter the Territory from a hotspot is required to undertake 14 days’ mandatory hotel quarantine at a cost of $2,500.

After encountering police at the border, the court heard that Lawson drove his car two kilometres south of the checkpoint and parked it out of sight in a drain on the side of the Stuart Highway.

The 23-year-old was found 10 kilometres north of the border later that afternoon by NT police.

He told officers that his car had broken down and that he needed a lift to the nearest service station.

After he spent the night at the Erldunda Roadhouse, police said they believed Lawson hitchhiked to Yulara — the resort town next to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

He was arrested that evening at the Sails of Desert Hotel at Yulara and taken to mandatory hotel quarantine in Alice Springs where he spent two weeks at his own cost.

Police said Lawson returned a negative COVID-19 result when tested at the time of his arrest.

Wrong address provided

Representing himself by phone link, Lawson told Judge John Birch that he had travelled to the NT to take pictures of Uluru.

“I’m a photographer. I acted out of character and admit I am in the wrong,” he said.

“The first mistake I made was not researching … because if I did that, I would have known there were restrictions in the Northern Territory.”

He also told the court that he included inaccurate information on his border control checkpoint form.

The 23-year-old had used his parents’ address in the Sydney hotspot suburb of Greenacre when in fact he had not been to Sydney for some time and was living in Newcastle, which was not a hotspot at the time of his arrest.

“[I] wasn’t in Sydney for the two weeks prior … but it doesn’t really make a difference,” Lawson said.

Judge Birch fined Lawson $1,600 and did not record a conviction.

“Obviously COVID-19 is in the mind of everyone and general deterrence is a very relevant sentencing factor,” the judge said.

“I take into account that you pleaded guilty and are a young man of prior good character and this sort of selfish behaviour is out of character for you.”