Commercial Clash and Cancellations

Grampians Festival Canned

It was not totally unexpected, but it sure was disappointing to read this week of the cancellation of the Grampians Bouldering Festival for 2019. This was one of the only outdoor festivals for Australian climbers, and was a great opportunity to demonstrate and educate the next generation of boulderers best practice environmental principles. The goodwill between PV and boulderers seems to have all but evaporated. In a heart felt editorial the team behind the two previously successful festivals explained the reasons why this years was not to be:

“The current situation is the Grampians/Gariwerd is a shit-show of uncertainty and mistrust. Unfortunately, many of the areas that we’ve used in previous years now fall within designated and enforced Special Protection Areas (SPAs) created by Parks Victoria (PV). Not only are the areas where we could hold the festival severely restricted as a result but there is just a lot of bad juju around.”

Makes sense considering the shitstorm of problems in the last year. In previous years the organisers were required to gain a permit for the festival. This permit was for 300 boulderers for locations around the Northern Grampians including Andersens, Hollow Mountain Cave, Loopeys and the Kindergarten. It was such a rigorous permit that one of the conditions was they had to “ascertain how many people each boulder could sustain”. So PV wasn’t messing around with the paperwork and this included:

“As part of the process PV conducted an evaluation of cultural and environmental values, not only in the areas for which we applied for a permit but for some considerable distance around them. The results that were conveyed to us stated there were no cultural heritage sites found during this evaluation.”

So there was no cultural heritage issues in 2018, and now suddenly the issue is so bad that it requires the immediate closure of the entire area without consultation. As far as we know there has been no damage to any cultural heritage sites in the Hollow Mountain area by climbers.

What is remarkable, in retrospect, is that this festival was approved in previous years considering it was held in a Special Protected Area (SPA) that appears to date from the 2003 Management Plan. This is the very same zoning that Parks Victoria now claims has always prohibited all forms of climbing/bouldering (including commercial guiding). How this major zoning issue wasn’t noticed in previous permit applications is a mystery. The fact it has reared its ugly head now feels like a desperate legal loophole, used for nefarious purposes by PV, to try and divorce themselves of the responsibility of rock-climbing.

Even crazier, PV themselves installed signage to the Andersens boulder field after the 2016 bushfires directing recreational climbers off the main tourist track to the climbing. PV weren’t putting their head in the sand regarding climbers and pretending they didn’t exist – they were sticking their neck right out and helping promote it! Odder still these signs remain in place.

PV informative sign showing climbers track to Andersens and Amnesty climbing areas. Installed in 2016. Now banned because they are in 2003 SPA according to PV.
Signage directing climbers to SPA areas around Hollow Mountain. Installed in 2016.

SportsBet TV Commercial Features SDV

In a related story, keen observers of commercial television sports may have seen a recent commercial for insidious gambling company SportsBet that showed imagery of climbing in Summer Day Valley. How is this legal? Follow up research has revealed this was shot on February 13th, literally a day after the infamous “climbing is banned in 33% of the Park” revelation from PV. SportsBet is part of an international gambling company headquartered in Ireland with income in excess of $600 million last year. Sources close to the project revealed the production company were told to “add lots of CGI so that it couldn’t be recognised as the Grampians”. This was because Parks Vic did not want to be affiliated with gambling.

Any Grampians climber worth their chalk would recognize Summer Day Valley easily – despite poor attempts to composite a limestone gorge into the background and foreign plants into the foreground. So how did this gambling company get a permit to film at the very same time that PV was announcing sweeping bans to climbing across 33% of the park? It’s especially galling that it was shot at Summer Day Valley – one of the banned crags supposedly closed for cultural reasons (gambling is part of Aussie culture – right?). Money talks – morals walk we presume. Surely the same people at PV were responsible for both approving this, and drawing up the climbing ban documents. Have a watch below…

The “climbing” starts at 23 seconds
Climbing on Back Wall at Summer Day Valley – with fake vegetation added in post production.
A composited shot created in post production mixing Summer Day Valley with a fake background to mask the fact a gambling commercial was shot in the Grampians
Running through the fire damaged SPA zones – Flying Blind Buttress visible in the background..

Don’t forget that in 2014 the hit reality TV show and commercial juggernaut The Biggest Loser filmed in Summer Day Valley as part of a contestant challenge. Presumably they too passed rigorous cultural and environmental controls to gain a permit.

Biggest Loser 2014 took contestants on a roped adventure in Summer Day Valley

More VCC Mediation Information

As we go to press the VCC have released further information about the mediation process they are beginning with PV. Have a read of that here. More analysis to come in the coming week…

Save Grampians Climbing bumper stickers!

That’s right! We have a thousand free stickers ready for distribution across retail shop and gyms in Victoria in the following week. Keep an eye out for them on a counter near you. Stick ’em wherever you feel our message needs hearing…