It’s taken 5 months to happen, but the first Cultural Heritage Inductions have finally taken place in Summer Day Valley. The reason for the huge delay, which totally contradicted the Licensed Tour Operators permit conditions, has never been fully explained. Back in August this year Parks Victoria sent this letter to all the LTOs:
PV listed the “strict conditions” that “remained in place” that LTOs had to adhere to that included…
a limit on operating locations; compulsory completion of an Aboriginal cultural heritage induction program; ongoing education for operators and their tour groups; clear identification for tour guides and their customers; use of a booking system to manage and monitor access; and reporting of visitor data to help with planning and review
But then, in the same document they wrote this:
Work to develop cultural heritage inductions with Traditional Owners is progressing well. It is anticipated that induction sessions for licensed tour operators will be scheduled to begin in September.
Bit hard to have completed an induction as part of their permit if they aren’t running them yet isn’t it? Imagine if drivers licenses or gun licenses were issued like this. Just buy a car or a gun and use it for 6 months then come in and do the exam. Even PV’s proposed September timeline proved to be wildly optimistic with another two months passing before the first induction took place. Perhaps PV should really try and get it’s ducks in order BEFORE issuing statements to the media and tour operators? Just an idea. Anyway – we digress.
Inductions – what is it all about?
There has been some confusion about exactly what the point of these inductions are. Some believed they would be an educational curriculum that LTOs were taught and then expected to re-teach to their clients (the school groups or tourists). Others believed it would be more a site induction where the TOs pointed out the no-go areas in Summer Day Valley and explained consequences for breaking these rules. The reality was it was a bit of column A and a bit of column B. But it was certainly more column B.
So was it worth the wait? Attendees we spoke to said it was a largely positive experience with a lot of general discussion about the overall Grampians climbing issues. In some ways it was the unofficial roundtable discussion with TOs that climbers had been requesting and hoping would happen for many months now. Unfortunately it was narrowly focused on Summer Day Valley and the commercial guiding side of climbing and off the record. No representatives of the major climbing access organisations ACAV or VCC CliffCare were invited (but some LTO guides who attended are also members of those organisations). We attempted to get a place in these inductions last month but were politely refused by PV.
There were four inductions in total held at Summer Day Valley. Each induction ran for about an hour and attendees were not charged a fee for attendance (however some people had to travel from Melbourne at significant time and cost obviously). It is not known if Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation, who hosted these inductions, is paid by Parks Victoria for their work. There was no exam held at the end of the induction – to “pass” and gain your LTO permit for Summer Day Valley it appears you just had to attend and listen.
Who is Running These Inductions?
The following representatives turned up for the first induction.
Stuart Harradine (Manager – On Country Operations – Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation)
Jake Goodes (State Aboriginal Art Work and Cultural Heritage Specialist – Parks Victoria)
Rhonda McNeil (Area Chief Ranger Grampians/Gariwerd – Parks Victoria)
Will Cox (Acting Western District Manager, Parks Victoria)
Stuart Harradine is the Traditional Owner representative that has been selected by the three local Aboriginal groups to discuss the Summer Day Valley site and issues with the tour operators at these inductions. He was the only representative of these groups in attendance. According to his Facebook account he either works for, or has worked previously for Parks Victoria. You can listen to Stuart talking about the recent Dec Crag closure in this ABC radio interview [skip to 2:13:40 – 2:21:42].
Jake Goodes has been doing a lot of the actual exploration and discovery of Aboriginal art work and other cultural heritage in the Grampians over the last few years. You can read a bit about one of his discoveries in this newspaper article – Rediscovered rock art reveals an ancient monster. It is our understanding that Jake has been working closely with archaeologist Robert (Ben) Gunn on doing cultural heritage assessments of Grampians climbing areas for PV since the widespread SPA bans came into force this year.
Rhonda McNeil and Will Cox are senior PV managers responsible for the Grampians and the wider Western District. Will Cox is new to the job, temporarily replacing Gavan Mathieson who “left” PV earlier this year. Their attendance at these inductions seem more symbolic than useful – showing that PV took these inductions seriously. After the Tori Dunn affair put these inductions into the national spotlight there would have certainly some pressure from top levels of government to make sure they went smoothly.
A document giving an overview of the induction, and maps showing the limited areas that LTOs are allowed to operate in was handed out to attendees. It was unfortunately plagued with mistakes.
Amongst the litany of typos was our favourite – “Wall of Falls” and “Wall of Fools” which was used interchangeably throughout the document. Remember these are the guys managing this area for climbers now and they can’t even get the name of the crag right. Can someone at least proof-read the next round of notes PV?
A printed copy of Park Victoria’s Aboriginal Heritage identification Guide was also given to each attendee. You can also download and read this important document below:
What Was Discussed
Jake Goodes led a discussion about the various types of cultural heritage that can be found in the Grampians including aboriginal burials, earth mound features, middens, axe grinding grooves, modified trees, flaked stone tools, grinding stones, ground edge axes, historic places, quarry sites, rock art and stone arrangements. According to Jake, the most common in the Grampians are rock art, flaked stone tools and quarry sites. We finally got some better information about the SDV quarry site that has caused the closures at SDV this year. Apparently it is a significant quarry site on the ledge below the Wall of Fools that stretches from the route Diazepan all the way to Milupa (about 20m wide).
The section of rock above the quarry was not commonly climbed before the bans – as it only contains 4 routes between grades 25 and 29. The arch to the right of the quarry was once a popular abseiling spot for commercial operators – but this is currently banned. The quarry was used by Aboriginal people to create high quality quartzite sandstone tools and there is also evidence of rock scatter on the ground below the ledge. Jake also mentioned stone artifact scatter has been located in the open between the Wall of Fools and Back Wall as well. These sorts of quarries are at many crags in the Grampians – and have also been found at Arapiles (see recent closure of Dec Crag). It does appear that this one at SDV is quite large compared to others we have seen.
Generators & Sledge Hammers – WTF
The quarried edge on Wall of Fools is at ankle height and tucked under a small overlap. Despite four decades of commercial absieling and climbing in this area it does not seem to have been damaged in any way. There is no chalk or safety bolts near it for obvious reasons. When one of the guides at the induction made the point that it appeared to be unaffected by climbers, Will Cox from PV* responded that it could be damaged if climbers drop something heavy like a generator or heavy tools like a sledge hammer on it.
*Will Cox has since denied this; but we have 4 participants who have confirmed that he spoke about generators whilst at BARC cliff and sledgehammers at Wall of Fools, in relation to potential damage to quarried sites from climbers.
We will let that statement sink in for a bit………. OK. This is the sort of ignorance we are dealing with from PV staff. They honestly seem to believe that casual climbers at SDV are lugging generators and sledge hammers to the cliff. You know who probably did bring in that sort of heavy equipment? The film crew that PV approved to shoot a gambling ad at this very location earlier this year! Read about that hilarious hypocrisy in our article Commercial Clash and Cancellations. Reality TV juggernaut Biggest Loser also filmed in SDV several years back with elaborate rigging across the valley.
So it still seems climbers have a lot of work to do to educate PV staff about what climbers are actually doing in these areas. Again it appears these heavy restrictions on climbing have been put in place to protect from hypothetical extreme damage – rather than an actual real risk of damage being done by climbers. Right now there is no signage about this Wall of Fools quarry location or any restrictions on bushwalker/tourists. That lot can wander in along the tourist trail, scratch their name in the rock (there much much nearby evidence of this) and wander off with a clean ignorant conscience.
Hope on the Horizon?
At the induction Stuart Harradine mentioned that this was a trial protective measure to ensure the site is protected whilst it is able to ascertain what climbing activities occur there and where climbing can co-exist with the cultural heritage sites and the values present. The Aboriginal groups don’t want to see the whole place locked up, they wish to see recreation in the park continue but must ensure the protection is handled correctly and weighted appropriately. They believe it hasn’t been protected appropriately in past (we are in total agreement there). There is possibility that SDV access may change in the future and other sites may be opened, some with LTO supervision and some without. Stuart mentioned that BGLC members and PV staff may attend the area to get an idea of what actually occurs and hopes to meet climbing groups. That this is an “idea” rather than what has already happened as part of the new management system is a little odd. I’m sure any of the climbing organisations and tour operators would be more than happy to take anyone from these groups out climbing and give them an overview.
In general, the feedback we got were these inductions was a really positive experience from all involved. Much of the online angst and fear evaporated when people met face to face. Climbers and TOs share a love for these important places and the more each party understands this can only lead to good outcomes for all. If PV or BGLC is reading this – recreational climbers would like an opportunity to attend an induction like this as well.
Are these inductions the golden ticket to climbers returning to all the SPAs? Probably not.
SGC Editorial Independence
We cop quite a bit of criticism on this blog for not being “positive” enough about the current events. Apparently we are supposed to be following the rule of say nice things or say nothing at all. Sorry that is not going to happen. Don’t visit this site if you only want to read feel good puff pieces. We will always keep publishing documents, quotes and whatever we can get our hands on from a myriad of sources. We will continue to question relentlessly any decisions made that effects the rock climbing community. We are fiercely independent of any climbing access organisation, club or government department so we can be an equal opportunity critic. We will not be shying away from acknowledgement of losses to the climbing community. We will publish the climbing history and context of banned climbing areas. We will not be burning the history books and pretending it didn’t happen. Hypocrisy has no place here. If someone puts themselves forward in the public eye as an expert then we expect that to be backed up by facts. Sometimes truth hurts and can be uncomfortable. Ruffling feathers and making people want to research further to be better informed is the aim here. Don’t take what we write here as gospel – do your own research and make your own informed decisions. Talk about this with your friends and your enemies. If you have better information then let us know – we are happy to correct factual errors and do it regularly when better information is presented. Or even better publish your own! We have written over 40 articles on this subject so far this year. We really would prefer to be doing something else like climbing…