After the flurry of mainstream media activity earlier in the week, the latter half has been no less busy. The big news comes from a series of Melbourne meetings between Parks Victoria’s Simon Talbot, GAWG/CliffCare/VCC and the newly formed ACAV. This was the first sit down meetings since the unilateral climbing bans were announced 9 weeks ago. There are individual reports issued from the two climbing organizations and we will analyze some of the more scandalous claims below. But first, have a read of ACAV’s take on their first meeting here then digest CliffCare’s report here.
We applaud both organizations for being open in publishing some of their discussions with PV. Much of the climbing community’s frustration in the past has been through a lack of information (which was the reason this website was created).
Simon Talbot stated that the present climbing restrictions will not be lifted during the interim period while the new Grampians Management Plan is negotiated, completed and gazetted over the next 15 months. (boo hiss).
Official Banned Crag List? Not Yet.
It appears we are inching closer to finally having an official list of banned climbing crags listed by Parks Victoria. This has been one of the more bizarre aspects of the closures – the lack of Parks Vic preparation for what would happen when they announced these wide ranging bans. Everyone’s first question was – what areas are closed? The fact that PV didn’t have an immediate answer has been very annoying and quite unprofessional! It is more complex than some people may be aware, as climbers have names for geographic locations that are not official names – what we call a certain rock may conflict entirely with what a proper map calls it (and of course there are also aboriginal names for areas – so we can have 3 names for the same place!). What defines a certain crag is actually fairly arbitrary – especially around complex locations such as Hollow Mountain – somewhere like Andersens is scattered around the base of several roped climbing areas for example. Our website has informally listed closed area names for the last few months by lining up PV supplied SPA maps with maps on TheCrag.com. We believe our lists are probably 99% accurate but the finer details are still to be clarified and it sounds like they will be released really soon.
Media Watch – for Climbers
In an interesting turn of events considering this past weeks media attention was “PV plans to disengage with the mainstream media to prevent further confusion and misrepresentation.” We can well imagine that they have probably grown weary of phone-calls, letters and emails from concerned citizens and journalists. Many forget that Simon Talbot is not just in charge of The Grampians National Park – but all of Victoria’s other parks! Although we don’t believe climbers have much chance of “winning” a media war with PV we do hope we can hold them to account to some degree. Sometimes this blog feels like it’s only purpose is to neutralize the most scandalous claims from Parks Victoria. And on that subject there are a few tasty tidbits thrown our way from the two meetings.
“PV also shared an update on its activities including the three compliance weekends in the Grampians where rangers were brought in from across the state to undertake compliance activities in the park. PV indicated it spoke with more than 700 individuals and identified 67 offences, only a handful of which were attributed to climbers”
This kind of proves a point we have been trying to make for some time. Climbers shouldn’t be targeted as having the low moral ground on bad behavior – the general public (as tourists) are certainty capable of damage to the environment and cultural sites, yet they are increasingly being targeted for high growth by the Victorian Government (see this report for a snapshot). Or go watch some of the recent tourism campaigns trying to attract more people on top of the 1 million that visited the Grampians last year.
If they had allocated just a tiny amount of money from what they spent attracting new people to the area on managing what they have already (climbers), maybe a lot of the problems we have today wouldn’t exist. Anyway we digress..
“three individuals were found climbing in one of the eight key focus sites which can attract a fine. PV indicated that as yet they have not issued any fines however they are still considering how best to deal with the specific infringement related to the focus sites.”
As far as we can ascertain this is not true. In early March three Melbourne climbers were cautioned about climbing at Clean Cuts Wall, this was well before there was any certainty about if you could or could not climb in SPA zones (and possibly before the signs went up). Clean Cuts is aprox 400m away from Gondwanaland, one of the 8 Key Focus Sites, and is approached from an entirely different walking track. If 400m is the distance that people have to stay clear then that would be very problematic for areas around Hollow Mountain and Stapylton – where the SPA borders edge the best climbing in the country. We have been told you are allowed to “bushwalk” to any of the banned sites, including The Gallery – it’s just the act of climbing/bouldering itself that is prohibited. We have requested clarity on this claim of climbers being in a Key Site from PV. If you know any more please get in touch with us!
Stay Out of SPAs
Our advice today is to stay away from SPA zones altogether until the next management plan is finished (15 months from now). Climbers managed to stay out of fire damaged areas in 2015 so we can surely maintain some restraint this time as well. Please make sure you tell others that may not have the chance to read online articles such as this one – especially visiting climbers you see in the Grampians.
CliffCare “also communicated the negative impact the SPA restrictions are having on visitation to the Grampians and crowding at open crags. We particularly highlighted that the loss of many more moderate grade climbing areas is particularly difficult.”. This is important – as climbers over Easter would have seen increased usage at crags outside the SPA areas – up to 50 boulderers were reported at Trackside because all of the Hollow Mountain side has been banned (70% of bouldering has been banned in the Grampians – that will be huge pressure on the little that remains).
The Genesis of the Bans – Revealed?
The ACAV meeting revealed quite a few interesting bits of information about the origins of these bans that had not been made public previously. “Simon Talbot stated that Traditional Owner groups directly initiated the February 2019 climbing restrictions by threatening financial penalties towards Parks Victoria over failure to protect Cultural Heritage. On ACAV querying this, Parks Victoria acknowledged there may be potential conflicts of interest regarding some key Parks Victoria staff members. “ It is well known that there are staff working inside Parks Victoria that don’t have the best impression of climbers, and this does appear to be the genesis of these bans. Both ACAV and CliffCare have requested the legal basis for the bans – a paper trail of due process that shows that bans have been put in place following the letter of the law. As a government department this should be available to all the public. We await the results.
While this had never been conveyed to the climbing community until April 2019, Simon Talbot confirmed that the Gallery is a registered Cultural Heritage quarry site and this had been known by Parks Victoria for many years. Why this information was withheld from the climbing community for over two decades is still not clear – despite six print guidebooks being published to the area. We can’t stress enough that communication between groups is key to solving this access problem – rather than letting key information fester internally until it is to late. Climbers do not want to harm cultural sites.
Simon Talbot also stated to the ACAV that there are two active liability cases concerning safety bolt incidents in the region. Simon Talbot expressed concerns over Parks Victoria liabilities in this regard. We have no knowledge about these cases – if you know more please get in touch! Most climbers would strongly believe that climbers assume their own risk when climbing and safety bolts are not the responsibility of Parks Victoria. Safety bolts are generally over engineered to many times their requirements – accidents from safety bolts usual happen from human error not bolt failure (using wiregates on carrots is a classic example of human error).
Help Support the Cause
ACAV has announced they have already amassed $10,000 towards their fighting fund, well on the way to their aim of $50,000 this year. The majority of this comes from a small $15 membership fee. For the price of a couple of coffees this is a bargain to help secure Grampians climbing into the future . We suggest you sign up to ACAV – but also support CliffCare via donations. We cannot thank both groups enough for the work they are doing to try and unravel this access mess. It’s a really stressful time for everyone involved – so If you know someone working on the coalface please offer to help in anyway – even a belay wouldn’t go astray. (hint hint)
Politician David Limbrick Offers Support to Climbers
Unfortunately for PV the mainstream attention hasn’t entirely gone away – with Victorian MP David Limbrick (Liberal Democrats) asking a well researched question to the Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio about the Grampians climbing bans on May 1st. The minister has 30 days to respond. David has expressed his support for rock-climbing in the Grampians after a meeting with ACAV.
New Posters From CliffCare
CliffCare today previewed some awesome new educational posters they plan to have printed at gyms, shops and climbing campsites that are designed to educate new (and old) climbers about minimal impact climbing. This has been a long time coming but they look great. Well done to all involved…
As we go to press there has been some unconfirmed reports about Licensed Tour Operators (climbing guides) being told that Summerday Valley is now also closed to them. It could just be miscommunication from PV – stay tuned… this could be big.