Fear, Smear and No Idea – Tabloids Take on the Bans

Demonstrating that mainstream media and Parks Victoria are clueless on how rock-climbing works, our community was aghast to see a fear mongering article appear from The Age this morning about these Grampians climbing bans. It was full of factual inaccuracies galore.

This article proves once again that Simon Talbot (CCO of Parks Victoria) is not our friend, despite assurances to the contrary to some climbers off-the-record, and that playing in the mainstream media landscape is a dangerous game for climbers. In addition to wild accusations from Simon Talbot (in his usual style), The Age also interviewed several key figures involved in the debate including Mark Gould from the VCC, Mike Tomkins from ACAV and Dylan Clarke, chairman of the Barengi Gadjin Land Council. To an outsider it appears that Parks Vic’s media strategy and The Age’s want for clicks strategy is to publish an avalanche of bullshit and hope some of it sticks.

Have a read of the article and don’t be afraid to send an email to the journalist Liam Mannix at liam.mannix@theage.com.au

Simon Carter has written a fantastic, and lengthy article about these bans and it is well worth reading to get an overview.

The following is a reply sent to The Age from Neil Monteith correcting many of their most egregious errors.

In this article there are considerable falsehoods and exaggerations that are highly damaging to the climbing community, and to certain individuals. As you are probably well aware, Parks Victoria has been campaigning heavily over the last few months to remove climbers from large sections of the Grampians National Park (33% to be exact). This is despite climbers being active in the area for over 70 years (not 40 as your article states).

There has not been a huge increase in climbers, it is just that Parks Victoria has not been doing their job of managing the area – and have now suddenly noticed climbers in areas that they have been using “under the radar” for many decades. This mismanagement possibly stems from cost cutting has dealing with the aftermath of fires and floods that caused considerable (real) damage to the Grampians in the last decade – and Parks Victoria being tied up attempting to fix this. It is only now that they have started to pay attention to the rock-climbers. Very little new climbing areas have been developed over the last 15 years. The places climbers go to now are usually the same places they have going for generations.

Describing climbers as “smashing” the bush and peppering the place with human waste is tabloid sensationalism at its best (Herald Sun would be proud of your opening salvo).

I have climbed all around at the world at genuine “top 5 climbing destinations” such as Yosemite in California and Kaylmnos in Greece. These places are so popular you have queue for climbing routes, sometimes days in advance. The Grampians isn’t even close to having those problems. The beauty of the Grampians as a climbing destination is the near total isolation you experience. 99% of the climbing areas you will have all to yourself all year round. I live in the Blue Mountains, which is the most popular climbing destination in Australia, and we have 10x as many climbers here as in the Grampians. We go on holidays to the Grampians to get away from the people in the Blue Mountains!

I have no idea where they got the 80,000 people a year figure from – it has never been substantiated and any climber will tell you that 220 climbers a day, all year round isn’t even close to the real figure. The Grampians is a place with persistent heat waves over summer (days over 40’c) and freezing over winter. Climbers can’t operate in those conditions and now Parks Vic is trying to say there are hundreds out in these conditions? As I wrote earlier I publish the current climbing guide to the area – it is the Bible/Lonely Plant equivalent for visiting climbers. I only sell 500 copies a year. How does that fit into 80,000 people as Parks Victoria proposes?

There is no such thing as “virgin bush” in Australia. There have been fires and floods every decade that destroys the environment in totality and with regular monotony. Every tree will be killed over huge areas – many as part of “Hazard Reduction Burns” lit deliberately by Parks Victoria. The Aboriginal people themselves lived and worked these areas over tens of thousands of years. The environment of the Grampians has been formed by human impact for eons. Climbers impact is tiny compared to such things as the Peaks Trail – currently being bulldozed over hundreds of kilometres of the Grampians at great tax payer expense. I calculated the total area removed by climbers to install safety bolts as one square meter of rock – in an area of 1,672 km². How many square meters have Parks Victoria removed to build their roads and carparks for mainstream tourists?

Fire damage to the Victoria Range – including heavy damage from Parks Victoria vehicles.

I would love to see evidence of climber’s human waste creating weed problems. That is a bow stretched to ridiculous levels by Parks Victoria. How about all the kangaroos, possums and wallabies defecating in the bush? And how about the literal million tourist that visit the Grampians and also go to the toilet in the bush? Any tourist lookout or carpark is a minefield of human waste – and it’s not climbers. I presume they will ban tourists then?

Speed climbing, and with drills, is not an activity that climbers have ever partaken in. Speed is actually very rarely something climbers are aiming for. We have to move slowly and steadily to analyze what comes ahead. Safety bolts are installed once, and then reused for decades afterwards. The same safety bolts are used by everyone who comes after the first person who placed them. There are safety bolts over 50 years old in the Grampians still serving their original purpose. It is actually highly unethical in climbing circles to add further bolts to established climbing areas. These safety bolts stop climbers from injury or death. They are much less visible than handrails, steps and signs that Parks Victoria has no issue installing en masse all over the park.

Dylan Clarke comments about “graffiti and racist drawings on sacred colours” are certainly not done by climbers. The same caves are used by hundreds of thousands of tourists – many are only visiting for one day with little understanding of the area, whilst climbers will return year after year – I myself have spent thousands of days in the Grampians with my family. Climbers have great respect for the environment and indigenous heritage. Many climbers have actually reported discoveries of these cultural sites to authorities. It’s worth noting that many Parks Victoria rangers and other staff are rock climbers themselves. Caring for the environment and climbing has co-existed since the formation of the National Park in 80s. There are climbers in very senior levels of environmental governance that are shocked by these actions from Parks Victoria management.

Tourist graffiti damage NOT done by climbers. Read the article about this incident here.

Climbers do not want to damage cultural heritage sites or the environment. We have worked hard over many years to have a limited impact on the greater Grampians region. If Parks Victoria stepped up to the plate and actually funded tracks, signs and patrolled their domain over the last few decades they may have been able to contain a few very very minor instances of climbers taking it a step to far. Parks Victoria has mismanaged this in the past and appears to be continuing to do so into the future.

6 thoughts on “Fear, Smear and No Idea – Tabloids Take on the Bans”

  1. Fantastic response Neil. Thanks for taking the time to put this together. That Age article was appalling.


  2. Publicly creating division between climbers and decision makers isn’t constructive. Maybe someone needs to get an accurate media release to media so they get climbers views. Demonizing parks Vic won’t help your cause.


  3. Climbers have done and do harm to our cultural heritage places. This is demonstrable. We are disgusted with not only the fact that these places have been totally destroyed by the activities carried out within them by climbers; but, also by the continuing denials being published in blogs written by the very demographic that has and is causing our community so much pain. Why did anyone think it ok to do this to us!? What did we do to you?
    If climbers had respect for any of our heritage, climbers simply would not had done the damage. To claim now that climbers are good citizens in this space can only be received by my community with complete distrust, scepticism and certainly not with one ounce of confidence.
    Want to treat us with respect and want to engage with us? Then speak truth. If any reader or even the blogger have climbed at our cultural places, you need to turn this conversation on its head and speak about that first. Then we will speak about what happens next. Until that time…


    1. Dear John…
      Thankyou for your constructive comment.
      The vast majority of climbers state in public repeatably that respecting cultural sites is of paramount importance to them; but much of the ‘dirt’ being thrown at climbers is completely untrue – and that is what this post tries to explain… most importantly – that actual graffiti and rubbish is not climbers… Climbers pack-out rubbish routinely from areas, regardless of who it was left by.

      We don’t deny the use of safety bolts or chalk, but that in most areas of Gariwerd, climbing doesn’t impact on cultural sites, and can be respectfully managed rather than banned.

      Climbers have been told to stay out of 8 sites, and despite a bit of complaining, will absolutely respect that, especially if it is at the request of Traditional Owners, rather than a PV attempt at ‘managing’.

      I have climbed at Millennium and the Gallery (the two main examples from the Age/730), I first went there about 20 years ago (before the 2003 management plan, and when we had far lesser understanding of cultural heritage). They are very special places even for us (the feel of the places, not just the climbing), so I can only wonder at the connection that Traditional Owners have. If climbing at these sites has offended TO’s, then I am truly sorry, and we need your help to understand the significance of these and other places.


  4. Climbers too truly understand why they climb need to ask them self, where am I? Why am I here and how significant is this place to the Original people


  5. Great response Neil. A few years ago I was at a mates 50th and got chatting with a parkie who had recently transferred out of the Grampians cos she couldn’t stand the burning regime. DWELP/Parks set this regime to appease the Grampians Assets Group, even though it flies in the face of the ecological goals of the park.

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