Declaration Protection – It’s Official

Many people woke this morning to the dramatic news on the radio that Arapiles was now closed. Thanks ABC for giving us all a pre-coffee heart attack! Lucky it was just media hype. But what really happened is newsworthy all the same.

Stop freaking us out ABC!

What they meant to say was an “interim protection declaration” had been issued for the Brain Death boulder at Declaration Crag (officially known as Dyurrite 1 Aboriginal Place). What does this mean?

“The declared area must not be entered by any person unless that person is accompanied by, or is, a representative of the Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation”

In short – it is not just a ban on climbing, but a ban on anyone entering the 183m2 area surrounding this boulder. This is very different to the SPA restrictions on climbing we have seen in the Grampians. Over there the general public is still allowed to bush-walk and picnic at areas apparently off limits to the activity of climbing. With a protection declaration applied to the Brain Death boulder just stepping over the boundary is an offense with a potential $297k fine. The cultural heritage paintings on this boulder are described as 50 rock art motifs across several art panels that are undetectable to the naked eye. Archeologists use special cameras and software to see them.

This fine-grained approach to managing cultural heritage and climbing areas is exactly what climbers have been asking for. We would rather this than a huge area being marked as off-limits and and the cultural heritage locations being kept secret in the hope that people will never find them. That is is what happened in the Grampians and it appeared to have backfired spectacularly – because the land managers didn’t go and regularly check these secret sites.

Apparently this is the first ever use of interim protection declarations in Victoria – this is new ground for climbers, the government, traditional owners and the Aboriginal Heritage Act. Victoria is well advanced on most other Australian states when it comes to cultural heritage protections- so this is a window into the future at other areas (WA & Rio Tinto are clearly on the other end of the spectrum!). It is an interim measure – only valid for 3 months but the expectation is it will be a permanent ban once they survey the area properly. The 3 month interim ban can be extended once for a further 3 months if required. We knew this ban was probably coming anyway – we wrote about it back in March here when we asked climbers to write submissions to Aboriginal Victoria who proposed this declaration. You can read the official press release from Victorian government department Aboriginal Victoria here.

The official documents from the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Gabrielle Williams with the exact legal definitions and maps can be viewed below.

It is reassuring to see in the cover letter that she acknowledges the significance of climbing in the area “I appreciate there is a strong climbing community in the town of Natimuk and that Mount Arapiles is widely regarded as Australia’s best rock-climbing area and regularly draws visitors from all over the world.” Maybe all those letters we wrote were not a total waste of time after all?

Climbing at Declaration Crag in the 1990s – Brain Death boulder visible on the bottom left

Have a read of this reasonably good longer article from the ABC here – Victorian Government issues first ever interim protection order over Aboriginal cultural sites at Mount Arapiles. It includes an interview with Keith Lockwood, legend local Nati climber and Michael Stewart, BGLC Chief Executive.

One worrying part of the ABC article is this section:

That people were ignoring or misinterpreting the sign and still walking into the area is of no great surprise. Their initial signage was incredibly poor, a lonely laminated bit of A4 paper attached to a star picket with text written in green (graphic design tip: green = go, red =stop). There was no boundary markers or map. Remember this area is right next to the road, and has been historically used by climbers and tourists many times a day. If they really wanted people to stay out they needed to do much better with the signage. A non English speaker would struggle to understand what was the intention behind the sign. Anyone with an inquisitive bent would go in for an explore – that is human nature.

Original “information” sign from early 2020 – nothing clearly stating the area was off limits.

When we heard the ABC news this morning about the proper protection declaration over the Brain Death boulder & potential fines of $297,396 we wondered what new signage and fencing had been put in place. They had spent so much time and money managing community consolation, writing press releases and briefing the media. Surely the area would be clearly marked as off-limits with large clear signs? When our roving reporter visited Dec Crag at 8:30am this morning it looked exactly the same as it has for the last six months. One tiny sign and dusty carpark.

By 2pm this afternoon someone came and whacked in a couple more starpickets with a some laminated bits of paper attached. The new signage is not much better than the original lackluster effort. Two complex maps that contradict each other, lots of fine print and no symbols. There is still no fencing or signs at the boundary of the Dyurrite 1 site (Brain Death Boulder). Walk across that invisible line at your peril!

New signage installed today – not exactly inspiring confidence (19 June 2020)
Maybe a “you are here” symbol would be good?
Better hope your English literacy is top notch. At least they used red.

According to a Facebook post from Barengi Gadjin Land Council earlier today, they will be protecting the area by “demarcating the protected site using low impact, natural log fencing, installing signage, and through ongoing monitoring.” So no fences or ugly metal cages. Hurray!

What about the rest of Dec Crag?

According to the map supplied by Parks Victoria today, and posted on a starpicket at the cliff, the whole of Dec Crag is still a “Temporary Exclusion Zone – No public access”. This is the same exclusion zone put in place in December 2019. It doesn’t appear to be legally enforceable but it certainly seems they want don’t want climbers anywhere on Dec Crag.

Why is this large area still off-limits? Barengi Gadjin Land Council had this to say on Facebook:

“While not incorporated in this Interim Protection Declaration, recently rediscovered Aboriginal cultural heritage values at the adjacent rocky outcrop known as Dyurrite 2 remain protected by the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006. To ensure visitors do not enter that area and potentially cause harm, a temporary exclusion zone that was established in December 2019 will remain in place until a longer-term management approach is determined with Traditional Owners.”

Is Dyurrite 2 the large main cliff of Declaration Crag where Little Thor and Steps Ahead is located? This would be a far greater loss to the climbing community than a single boulder. Not only is it one of the best beginner friendly areas at Arapiles, it is also heavily used as a commercial guiding venue – with it’s roadside location, easy to setup top-rope routes and kid friendly scramble to the summit. Why did this second site not also get an interim protection declaration applied to it? This will be an ever evolving story. Local Arapiles climbers tell us that there have been several sightings of heritage assessors on others cliffs at Arapiles over the last few months, including some familiar faces from the Grampians dramas such as Ben Gunn. We even heard from one group who witnessed these assessors exclaiming about seeing a streak of climbers “adhesive” visible on the cliff at Mitre Rock. Once they had left the area the climbers went over for a closer inspection and saw it was natural rock colouring. The fun continues.

Please share this article and don’ t forget to check out the other 50+ articles on this blog for further background reading. Stay tuned for big news in the coming weeks when the Grampians draft management plan is finally released.

13 thoughts on “Declaration Protection – It’s Official”

    1. Marc Hendrickx,
      While I take issue with the ABC loosely equating the violent destruction of caves in WA with the largely benign use of Dec Crag by climbers, the article you link to is hyper-partisan nonsense (paid forby Gina Reinhardt). It has not place in a reasonable discussion of these issues.

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  1. Geordie,
    One reason Vic climbers are in the position they are in is due to misrepresentation of the facts by once trusted authorities such as Parks Victoria and the ABC who are engaged in promoting hyper-partisan nonsense paid for by you and me and other tax payers. It’s common these days that when presented with uncomfortable truths to right off the source and hyperventilate about the motives of the rich and famous but Peter O’Brien makes many good points that are of relevance to the issues of access to land for different groups including climbers. The destruction of the Juukan Rock Shelter was done with the authorisation of the owners who it seems were completely unaware of the historical use of the cave until Rio Tinto’s archeologists dug up stone chips at the site.
    This has some parallels with art work at Arapiles that can only be seen with sensitive cameras. There have been many trade offs between Aboriginal sites and mining in the Kimberley/Pilbara region by local communities. For Arapiles and other climbing areas in Victoria currently banned I would contend that access may magically re-appear once the $ side has been sorted.

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    1. Ok first point, it’s “write off” not “right off”

      Second, Quandrant is written but insecure little white men who can’t stomach the slightest inconvenience to their way of life for the first time in history. They dress their rants as journalism so other insecure little men can feel like they’re not really benefiting from institutional racism and sexism.

      The reason Aboriginal people might not remember the arecheological importance of sites like Juukan cave is cos they were removed from their land for generations and forbidden from speaking their own languages. When starting out at such a disadvantage, these communities might not have as much success in the white man’s rat race. So what else can they sell but the sovereignty over their earth?

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  2. Yeah I’m agreeing with you. Gaming people out of their heritage doesn’t deny that’s it’s still heritage. And that it still amounts to theft.

    Seems you’re in agreement as to being an insecure little white man. You must also be a real trad hero if you’re lamenting the loss of Dec crag.

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  3. Oh this is gold. “A guide to Climbing Ayers Rock- by March Hendrickx.” I bet that titan of intellectual rigour Andrew Bolt gave you a tough time in his interview. https://twitter.com/theboltreport/status/1123894058651410432?lang=en

    Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine someone came to your house, murdered you and took your wife and children away to an institution in a different city. Then imagine they are sexually assaulted, and your daughter gives birth to a child that’s taken away from her because she’s deemed unfit to raise it. Now that kid is taken and raised by another family. Do you reckon he would have any memory of where his grandfather’s house was or what it was about?

    I don’t know how much homework you’ve done with your book, but calling it Ayer’s Rock, suggests you haven’t done that much. Let’s give you the benefit of the doubt, and say that the Anangu and other traditional owners didn’t have a problem with a few people climbing the rock in the 1930s, do you reckon that’s really comparable to the situation today, when there are more than 300,000 every year? Do you think every one of those walkers/climbers does so with the respect it deserves?

    Rock climbing has also ballooned in popularity in the last 20 years but the ethics of managing its impact have not gone along with it. If all the new punters take your lead and commodify the sport without thought to these thinks, then absolutely the limited landscape available will become even more limited.

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  4. Yes that book is solid gold and a great example of how we being conned into giving up access to our natural world on the basis of irrational belief systems and outright lies and misrepresentations by activist government agencies and biased media outlets like the ABC. Those open minded individuals looking for insights into the wonderful history of the Ayers Rock climb can order a copy via Connor court:

    https://www.connorcourtpublishing.com.au/A-guide-to-climbing-Ayers-Rock–Marc-Hendrickx_p_212.html

    The similarities between Ayers Rock and the Grampians are stark. Traditional owners at Ayers Rock did not have an issue with access to the summit. If you read the book you’ll find locals and senior elders like Tiger Tjalkalyirri and Mitjenkeri Mick used to lead climbers to the summit and encouraged visitors to climb. Owners Paddy Uluru and Toby Naninga has no issue with climbers but were concerned about public access to the men’s initiation cave. In fact just about everything you have likely read about Ayers rock is completely wrong in the same way that media has completely misrepresented the impact of climbing at the Grampians.

    As to your other “points” and your manner of “argument” they are a sad indictment of the state of our education system.

    Once again enjoy your gym climbing because if the misrepresentations and lies continue, and you are helping their spread, that is the only place you will be permitted.

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  5. Education has nothing to do with logic. I’ve granted that your facts might be correct, but that there are still of rational gaps and conclusions to answer to. The fact that you seem unprepared to entertain these thought experiments, says a lot of about your own intellectual rigor.

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  6. Oh Marc you ARE prolific- If only your academic record was as long as your fevered blogging. Who who have guessed you are also a skeptic of anthropogenic climate change AND a misogynist as well? The odds are infinitesimal!

    Let me guess, you also think brumbies shouldn’t be culled from our national parks because their heritage value far outweighs any damage they do to the environment. 
    And clever your trolling of indigenous acknowledgement is;
    >>> “I acknowledge and pay respect to the actions, sacrifice, wisdom, traditions and curiosity of our ancestors. Their collective efforts over centuries helped evolve our western civilisation, giving birth to the liberal society that makes this work possible.”

    Man our Western Civilization is so terribly under threat from all these brown people getting handouts and free passes into the country.  I mean we were here first, LOLZ!  I can’t believe the Human Rights Commission didn’t go for your appeal against the Uluru ban. That racial discrimination you suffered must have really hurt your feelings! 
    Maybe you go and complain you’ve now been deprived your favourite grade 15 at Declaration Crag. Or maybe you should harden up, snowflake, at the trivial sacrifices you’ve been asked to make for others more deserving.

    As much as you would love to think that I’m an inner city bleeding heart who’s only ever climbed in the gym- I can guarantee my roots and connections to the bush are more significant than yours, which seem mostly focused on exploiting it. Trust me, you don’t want to compare records of trad walling, technical NZ winter climbing, or PhDs not out of a cornflake packet.

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/marc-hendrickx/27368?nw=0&pfm=ms
    https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/qed/2017/03/b-lakless-insiders/
    https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6457141/uluru-open-to-climbers-for-final-day/
    https://quadrant.org.au/writer/marc-hendrickx/

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    1. Good grief, what a scree from an anonymous stalker.
      Once I pick through all the ad hominems, false accusations and straw men the bones of the argument lay on a beach bereft of any flesh and without any need of a substantive response.

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  7. Rather than straw men, it is all evidence that your self-proclaimed expertise on the many subjects you turn your hand to is to be doubted. And that the prejudices worn proudly on your sleeve should cause anyone to question your comments on the subject at hand. It’s the boorishness of climbers like yourself that will costs us all access to areas of indigenous significance- it is indeed better that we hear no more from you.

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  8. loosing the freedom to climb rocks is the least of the freedoms I am afraid of loosing. History sometimes repeats itself when people forget the past, and it ain’t pretty

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