After a Freedom of Information (FOI) request we have received the internal Parks Victoria’s Engagement and Communications Plan for Rock climbing in Grampians dated February 2019 (before these bans were announced to the public). This is the first of many forthcoming FOI requests that various groups have requested.
What is clear is this is a rock climbing plan and climbers have had no say in it. There is a lot of redacted (blacked out) names and dates which would have been useful to know and it’s slightly mysterious why this is not to be public knowledge. We literally have no idea who PV believes are the key stakeholders in this situation – clearly it wasn’t climbers as we were the last to know. Have a read of the full document here :
This is a very interesting document, as it is a window into the purpose and strategy used by PV to announce the rock climbing bans – and this document predated all correspondence with VCC CliffCare and other climbing industry stakeholders. What it clearly shows is an advanced plan to permanently remove climbers from all Special Protection Areas (SPA) – which contain 3200 routes/problems, 70% of the bouldering, 50% of the sport climbing and the majority of hard climbing in the Grampians. The documents purpose is outlined as such:
“This document outlines the proposed communication and engagement approach to support the implementation of the Special Protection Areas in the Grampians National Park, which under the Grampians National Park Management Plan prohibits rock climbing activity in these areas.
In the coming months, Parks Victoria will be working with partners, stakeholders and park users to phase out the activity in these Areas and support climbers and other park users to find alternate locations in the Grampians to climb.”
The most disturbing thing was they didn’t mention these SPA bans initially – it appears they attempted to soften the blow by only referring to the 8 Key Sites (Gallery, Millennium etc) – when they knew all along they were aiming for near total annihilation of the Grampians rock climbing territory. It took months after the initial 8 Key Sites were announced for PV to actually admit clearly they wanted to ban climbing in all SPA areas. It wasn’t a “fortuitous discovery” that deep in the 2003 Grampians Management Plan they found a clause banning climbing and that they then decided to enact it after the 8 Key Sites were announced. It was their main objective all along! Climbers got played.
There has been much hope placed on negotiations between climbing access groups (CliffCare and ACAV) and PV with the formation of the much touted Grampians Rock Climbing Stakeholder Reference Group. This group is supposed to be a key part of creating the new Grampians NP Management Plan that will take the next 18 months to finalize.
“A stakeholder reference group will be established to involve the community and rock climbers in next steps and the part we can all play in protecting our cultural heritage and environment and to identify where in the Grampians climbing can continue.”
…but hold those horses. It’s clear that this stakeholder group will not have any clout as shown in the following chart in the PV secret communication strategy:
It looks like all this group will get is a one way street of information from PV – they will be preached down to and not be asked for comment or be involved in any actual work to alleviate the issues. This explains the original PV meeting with CliffCare where they were told, without warning, of the immediate closures of the 8 Key Sites. No right of reply, no chance of fixing anything. Climbers will get told what is banned, and if pushed why, and then told there is nothing more to talk about. This is not a negotiation – this is a lecture.
Just one look at the above list of redacted stakeholders shows that rock climbing interest groups and commercial operators are merely “consumers” to be “informed” as a form of engagement – whilst Traditional Owners are “influencers” and “partners”. This is not an even playing field, we don’t get to see the other parties and we don’t get to play by the same rules. Anyone squeamish about taking legal options for trying to resolve this issue should start to pay attention now.
Oddly for such a botched and confusing “launch” of this new communications strategy there is apparently a huge team behind it. Some of the names are familiar to anyone following along, but PV has also chosen to black out five staff names. There has been rumblings and rumors of staff issues, even claims of conflicts of interest, so it is interesting to see that PV is unwilling to reveal even their own staff working on this – especially the ground based rangers who climbers have been interacting with at cliffs. Is there anyone with actual real climbing knowledge working on this media strategy? Considering the mangled terminology and falsehoods in documents released by PV we are highly doubtful.
Further down in the document we see other areas of interest. Considering this is apparently the key talking points and communications strategy document – one thing does stands out – there are none of the wild claims we have seen in the media and in interviews from Simon Talbot. Nothing about a tend fold increase in climbers to 80,000 climbers a year, nothing about bolts damaging rock art. No chainsaws etc. The nearest it gets is the following quote:
“In recent years, rock climbing in the Grampians has significantly increased and contemporary rock climbing activities, such as bolting, have emerged creating significant risk to Aboriginal cultural heritage, rock faces and vegetation and visitor safety.”
This mentions the risk of this potentially happening, not the actual event having already happened. That is a key point. They are banning climbing because damage may happen in the future. Which of course is something that can be controlled and managed – and shouldn’t just involve PV closing the gate to 70 years of climbing history, world class routes and then throwing away the key – permanently.
Right down the bottom of the document are some noteworthy “speaking notes – not for distribution”. Presumably these were notes compiled to be used by Simon Talbot and others for newspaper, radio or TV interviews. Bizarrely some of these responses are much clearer than anything PV has published on their F&Q page. There was also a juicy apology from PV regarding a document they released in 2016 saying that climbing in the SPA areas was re-opened to climbers after being closed due to fires.
“An October 2016 statement released by Parks Victoria titled Rock Climbing and Bouldering Update is to be considered void as it contained incorrect information noting climbing is permitted in certain Special Protection Areas which conflicts with the Grampians National Park Management Plan. We apologise for the confusion this has caused and are preparing a revised update with correct and clear information on climbing in the Grampians National Park.”
There is also some notes about Summer Day Valley and commercial guiding that clearly state this is a prohibited activity. Did PV really think they could shut down this dedicated beginner area that has been used for many decades by thousands of school kids, scouts, military and tourists without a problem? PV constantly refers to finding “other sites” for climbers to replace the banned SPA areas but we don’t think they have really thought this through. In their eyes all climbs are created equal – so banning “only 25%” would not have a large impact – but they didn’t factor in style, popularity, ease of approach or quality into the equation. Big mistake. Where are they now planning on sending all these large commercial groups? The Watchtower is one area they have suggested but it is heavily eroded and currently only gets a tiny fraction of the Summer Day crowds. It also offers no good safe easy trad climbing.
How about recreational climbers looking for wet weather options? All the cave climbing sites in the Victoria Ranges are now closed – which is almost all cave sites in The Grampians. The loss of hard climbing is massive – outside of Taipan Wall there are now no longer any crags open containing routes above grade 28. That is the grade that international visitors flock to the Grampians to climb. They are pushing all boulderers into 30% of the remaining areas but at the same time complaining abut overuse. PV better have a strategy for this mass migration of climbers to alternative sites but this FOI document doesn’t reveal it.
What is odd to most climbers is they talk about 80,000 climbers a year in the Grampians, but have managed this like they think there is only a handful of climbers who won’t kick up a fuss and won’t get organized. We wonder if PV have any idea of the management nightmare they are about to unleash on themselves? Treating climbers as a user group with respect and honesty would surely have been much more effective.
On the weekend there was a fairly positive article about the Grampians bans in The Australian and Daily Telegraph. The headline is a shocker but the article itself is actually well researched and without any PV zingers…
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