Right of Reply – Answers from Parliament

Several weeks ago (March 24 – which seems like an eternity in this story) climbers submitted two petitions to Grampians district local and member of Victorian Parliament Emma Kealy. The paper petition of 557 signatures (as required by Victorian Parliament rules), plus the 19,400 online signatures (now 24,000 signatures) as part of the change.org petition, had three key requests:

  • ensure our continued access to the Grampians/Gariwerd National Park, including firm confirmation of PV’s publicly stated approval to responsibly climb in Special Protection Areas (SPAs) until a new Park Management Plan is implemented;
  • ensure climbers be actively included in the assessment of significant and sensitive sites to achieve intelligent and targeted access outcomes;
  • ensure climbers, as a key responsible user group, be actively included in the development of all future park management plans.

Emma Kealy received a fairly thorough brief from climbers about the issues and asked a question to the floor of Parliament – directed to Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrososio. Unfortunately, despite good intentions, her actual question was a bit of a fizzer, merely asking for “information regarding alternative climbing sites”. After many weeks of wait we have the reply – see below for the full question and answer…

In her reply she targets bouldering and bolting as activities of particular concern – describing them as “modern climbing techniques” which is interesting since both activities have been practiced since the 1960s, and really boomed in the mid 1990s – 25 years ago. Where was the concern back then? At least this is good idea of where the problems lie according to PV.

She also says that these activities have caused “damage to important Aboriginal rock art”. We have yet to see any evidence of this, despite this same line being parroted again and again in various press releases and interviews. “Evidence” supplied by PV has been either totally false (see photo quote below) or only shows a bolt within a few metres of hard to see art at Black Ians Rocks (not in the Grampians National Park – and still open to climbers) – not in the art itself. These bolts were immediately removed when the art was made public and we believe there was no damage to the art itself.

Last week in the ABC 7:30 news story Simon Talbot mentioned the existence of photos as evidence.

“We posted about a hundred impact images, somehow that one got through, it was a 1937 bolt that we blamed on rock climbers and we said that was completely wrong and we are sorry – but there are another 99 photos there”

ABC 7:30

But guess what? There is no hundred photos published by PV anywhere online. So when we requested these multitude of photos for our own review we received only one image back from PV – the one mentioned above and a firm reply that they wouldn’t release the other photos. We would love to publish this photo from Black Ians, and any others, but were told we couldn’t because of cultural sensitivity. Having to take PV “facts” at face value is hard when you have revelations like this…

What we really want to see is clear due process on how these bans were enacted – not just for the 8 Key Sites (Gallery, Millennium etc) but also for the sweeping SPA bans that have eliminated 70% of the bouldering and 50% of sport climbing in the Grampians National Park. Open one day, closed the next.

Yes, there are other areas open to climbing in the Grampians listed by the Minister in her reply (Bundaleer, Stapylton Amphitheater, Watchtower (haha), Wonderland (who climbs there?) and Halls Gap Valley (sorry – I think I just vomited). Not every cliff is the same (or why would climbers travel from overseas to climb in the Grampians?). The really world class routes and boulder problems enjoyed by many for decades prior are in SPA zones now restricted to climbers with little evidence of due process. Comparing Muline to the Watchower is a joke. It’s an old analogy but its like comparing St Kilda Beach to Bells Beach for surfers.

Climbers are willing to discuss and work hard to solve some of the issues that PV has with rock-climbers. Climbers can do better as environmental stewards. But what climbers are most concerned about is the way these bans were enacted – and how this lack of clarity and due process could be applied to any climbing area across Victoria. If we don’t know the rules, evidence, process or location of the problems – how the hell are we supposed to work on fixing them into the future? Closed door meetings, handshake agreements and land managers “looking the other way” need to be a thing of the past when it comes to climbers access.

Below is a letter received from the Minister that is similar in content to the reply in Parliament.

3 thoughts on “Right of Reply – Answers from Parliament”

  1. The only issue mentioned in the letter is “protecting rock art of significant cultural importance”. Surely that should not be difficult to identify and to implement?

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    1. You would think so… But unfortunately large areas have been banned as a “just in case there’s something there”, that a) They don’t know about, or b) They know, but can’t tell us what sites to keep away from. Vegetation damage / erosion could be an issue too – but so far they haven’t used that as a reason for closing any particular site… Anderson’s bouldering for example, is just ‘within an SPA’; and is not being singled out because of erosion issues.

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  2. Don’t see why the photo can’t be published. Seems Parks Vic doesn’t want it shown as it demonstrates there is no damage. Perhaps crop it to exclude the bits that are supposedly sensitive.

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