Taipan Trouble Brewing

Taipan Wall is now in PV sights, million $ cultural management plans proposed and despite two high level meetings there is still no reversal of bans – even for commercial guides. It’s been a big week for Grampians rockclimbing so let’s get straight into it!

LTO Stakeholder Meeting – 4th June

The big bombshells have mainly come from a Halls Gap public meeting held between the government stakeholders (Parks Victoria, Aboriginal Victoria etc) and Licensed Tour Operators (LTOs). This was an important meeting as these LTOs are issued permits from PV at the beginning of each financial year for specific activities and, most importantly, the locations they are allowed to work in. The new financial year ticks over in three weeks time, so you can imagine the very first question that all LTOs were asking at the meeting was “Will Summer Day Valley be reopened?”. In an unbelievable turn of events there was no answer given to this key question either way. Chaos continues.

Simon Talbot, the COO of PV, said that cultural heritage and environmental assessments are currently being carried out (are they?), and once suggestions have been made in relation to these assessments they need to be presented to Aboriginal Victoria – the government dept responsible . Then PV needs to wait for AV to respond with their directives and then action those. This two ringed circus is not quick. It was not clear if he was referring only to SDV or the entire Grampians. This seems all arse about though – surely you don’t ban something first – then do the assessment on if it should be banned second? That is not how due process works (is it even legal?).

Even more alarming Simon Talbot then suggested a comprehensive cultural management plan just for Summer Day Valley would cost anywhere between $800,000 and $1.2 million. Whoa! These cultural management plans are clearly a big business – and quite obviously impossible to apply across the hundreds of climbing areas in the Grampians. To say it would be financially crippling for PV or climbers is an understatement. But what is confusing is that PV say they are doing these assessments right now, but then say they can’t afford them. Which is it?

History shows that PV shut Summer Day’s Main Wall to climbing in 2015 and stated they were awaiting cultural heritage reports to be completed – surely it hasn’t dragged on for 4 years? And if they ban climbing areas in advance of these management plans being completed – are they doing the same thing fairly across all of the Grampians tourist sites as well? Are car-parks and walking tracks being closed with no warning? They wouldn’t dare shut an established lookout for several years whilst awaiting a cultural heritage management plan – so why are climbers getting this kind of treatment? If it costs $1.2 million for a comprehensive survey of SDV before we are allowed back in, what is the cultural heritage bill for the 160km Grampians Peak Trail that they are currently hacking across the park through untouched wilderness? Someone is making huge money off this! It’s a business and no one should forget that. Just like any business the more work you can generate into the future the longer the contract and the more people you can employ. The more significant a site is claimed to be, the bigger the management plan will be. Bureaucrats and consultants looking for job security must be loving all this extra work.

What are PV paying to be able to rip a dirty big track across the whole spine of the Grampians for the Peaks Trail?

Summer Day Valley is the albatross around the necks of PV right now, a site they claim is closed as it’s in a Special Protected Area (as shown in the 2003 Management Plan), despite the very same management plan also saying this:

“There are only a few sites in the park suitable for instructional use, so these sites are heavily used, particularly Summerday Valley in the Hollow Mountain area. High usage areas such as the Summerday Valley area are inadequate for the number of different user groups accessing the area. Parks Victoria will work with the Victorian Rock Climbing Association and rock climbing community to undertake stabilisation work in these areas.”

In conjunction with the rock climbing community, consider, and as appropriate: further stabilise access to the base of climbs at Summerday Valley

Parks Victoria 2003 Grampians Management Plan

So, much like the Bible, it appears some “scholars” at PV are picking and choosing the chapters that best suit their agenda whilst ignoring ones that totally contradict their world view. Or most likely PV are now cowtowing to Aboriginal Victoria’s threats of legal action and throwing the baby out with the bath water in a desperate attempt to look like they are “managing” the problem of climbers and cultural heritage sites.

It’s worth explaining who Aboriginal Victoria (AV) actually are. They are a department of the Victorian State Government tasked with “ensuring a whole-of-government, coordinated and focused approach for Aboriginal affairs in Victoria.” How does this fit into the Grampians climbing issues? AV are the legally enshrined department responsible for managing aboriginal Cultural Heritage areas and objects. They actually outrank Parks Victoria and this is the clash we are seeing unravel. PV are beholden to AV directives, and PV are legally responsible for policing aboriginal cultural sites in the Grampians on behalf of AV. It is no coincidence that earlier this year (just before the bans were introduced) AV threatened a $1.6 million fine upon PV for mismanagement of AV assets that included climbing sites. Simon Talbot has said on multiple occasions that this legal threat was the basis for the bans. The fear of financial damage put the fear in PV.

It’s now quite clear that Aboriginal Victoria are the kingmakers in these climbing bans. Not only do they deal directly with the 4 or so traditional owner groups that have claims on parts of the Grampians, they also know the locations of the sites and the laws around managing them. Climbing access groups need to be immediately meeting with AV representatives about climbing issues, and bypassing PV, to get to the heart of the problems. At the Halls Gap meeting this appeared to be happening (unofficially) with several LTOs chatting to AV reps.

Bans Causing Real Economic Damage

In the Halls Gap meeting many of the LTOs voiced considerable concern about where tens of thousands of school groups would now be sent with the closure of SDV, as there are no other suitable beginner (and disable) friendly climbing sites in the Grampians. These guiding businesses rely on booking groups months in advance, so any sort of confusion is highly damaging to their businesses and rock-climbing in general. Some of the guiding companies mentioned they have received phone calls from prospective customers who were worried about rock-climbing being illegal, and damaging to cultural heritage sites. It appears PVs attack on climbers through the mainstream media has had a genuine negative impact on our standing in the eyes of the general community. There are over 40 climbing guides working in the area whose livelihoods depend on an open SDV.

Summer Day Valley guiding – © RyeBeers (TripAdviser)

Why does the government and PV seem not to care about these businesses? Oddly “climbing tourism” is not on the radar of the tourism groups and business bodies responsible for planning the future of the area. A quick search of the most recent 2016-20 Grampians Tourism Strategic Plan shows zero mention of climbing – despite PV claiming 80,000 climbers visit the park every year (that is 1 in 10 visitors). The complete ignorance of the climbing economy to the higher powers is mind blowing and just goes to show if you don’t kick up a fuss you will never get a seat at the table.

Messy Map Management

Following on from that, Summer Day Valley is so contentious that it seems to have been “forgotten” in PV’s most recent climbing ban maps published on their website as a PDF.

Map dated 14th March 2019 but only published recently
Where is Summer Day Valley on this map showing “no climbing permitted” areas?

The latest map now marks individual crags (with names) as “climbing permitted” or “climbing not permitted” (green and red dots). The oddest thing is that Summer Day Valley is not marked on the map at all despite being slap bang in the middle. It is almost like they didn’t dare put it in? Or is it just extreme incompetence not to mark the most popular crag in the Grampians? Also missing are super popular areas such as Amnesty and Van Diemen’s Land. By not putting SDV on the map, but including it in the “Protected Area – restriction apply” SPA zone section they are hedging their bets we suspect. Simon Talbot has admitted that they had incomplete files and information of the SPAs and their creation for the 2003 MP.

On a side note – the way PV updates this PDF and it’s own website regarding these rock climbing bans has been quite underhanded. The PDF is titled February Update – but contains maps labeled as being added in the middle of April. The particular map of Hollow Mn above is dated 14/3/2019, the document filename is dated 15/3/2019, the document name is February 2019 (v2 no less!) and one of the other maps is dated 18/4/2019. Confused? We should be! They are updating this in a piecemeal fashion behind the scenes and pretending they had it all sorted back in Feb (which they clearly did not). This isn’t a Febuaray Update – this is a May Mess!

If you want a short (and much needed) laugh take a look at the map label next to Mt Zero Picnic Area – it is now called Western Region Management Office! Please send all complaints about PV to the toilet block.

Taipan Wall Quarry Site

Had your laugh? Good – now get a stiff drink and read this. One thing that took the breath away from everyone at the LTO meeting was Simon Talbot mentioning the discovery of quarry sites at Taipan Wall. Up until now, climbers have been under the (de)illusion that Taipan Wall was safe from this mess as it was outside any SPA, and it’s Taipan for Gods sake! The best crag in the world, iconic, famous, unique, home of the best route in Australia Serpentine etc. We have even had people refer to it as the “unmentionable”. Don’t talk about it and maybe PV will ignore it. This head in the sand approach is why we are where we are. The location of these quarry sites are unknown, but it is an alarming development as quarry sites are allegedly what got The Gallery and Summer Day Valley Main Wall shut.

Taipan Wall in all its glory. Photo Simon Carter

Was this mention of Taipan casually inserted into the conversation with LTOs by accident – or was it a deliberate tease of things to come to put the fear into the hearts of climbers worldwide? If PV thinks this is painful for them now – imagine the furor if Taipan Wall goes under the claws of climbing bans? It is the single best cliff in all of Australia without a doubt. If you are reading this Parks Victoria (we know you are) – Taipan is the final straw. We need to make sure you don’t overreact and ban this area without consultation with climbers. This is the true heart of climbing in Australia and the reason most interstate and international climbing tourists visit the Grampians. We love Taipan.

Meeting with Government Representatives – 5th June

Following the June 4 meeting with Licensed Tour Operators in Halls Gap, representatives from ACAV (Interim Committee Members, Mike Tomkins and Mark Wood) and VCC (President, Paula Toal) met with government representatives in Melbourne. You can read ACAV’s tale on the meeting here.

This Week in Mainstream Media

There has been several mainstream media articles and radio interviews in the last week. Here is a selection.

The Age – Between a rock and a hard place: peace talks begin over Grampians rock climbing ban

The Australian – Indigenous owners ‘used to kick out climbers’ in Grampians

ABC Wimmera – radio Interview with LTO Tori Dunn (from 02:03:00)

Daniel Earl & Mike Tomkins were featured on ABC Victoria Drive Time with Warwick Long

Help Support Save Grampians Climbing!

We are now accepting donations to this website (and to offset the printing of free bumper stickers distributed this week to climbing shops and gyms). For more info go here:

https://savegrampiansclimbing.org/donate

2 thoughts on “Taipan Trouble Brewing”

  1. This is great and all…but where are these funds going? Do they got to ACAV? VCC (probably not as you don’t seem too keen on them)? Or are you just hoping for a bit of a hand out for the writing of this biased content?

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    1. The stickers cost $372 to print, plus we have also paid for them to be posted across Australia. To retail stores and gyms. This website also gets a lot of views and thus we need to pay for hosting. No funds are going to either ACAV or VCC. Right now the members of SGC have donated thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to help save Grampians climbing. What have you done to help?

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