- Community divided over recent closures
- Bans a big legal bluff
- New Grampians & Arapiles guidebooks cancelled
- 22% of Arapiles bouldering now off-limits
- Grampians Peaks Trail installs “huts” for commercial use
“Taipan was supposed to be what was left for us to climb, now that’s gone too”
Last weeks Taipan Wall closure announcement was made on a Friday afternoon – that is no coincidence. It is standard government procedure to drop bad news at a time when everyone is on their way home from work at the end of the week. It makes it hard for people to ring up and complain when everyone responsible won’t be contactable over the weekend. Even better – journalists will struggle to do their own research – and will instead just reprint whatever press release is sent to them by the government at the last minute. It is a great political strategy – that fuming anger and despair everyone had on Friday has already abated to resigned indifference pretty quickly. Even the heavy hitters of the Australian climbing scene have kept away from this altogether – anyone seen a pro-Taipan post from a sponsored athlete? MIA. Retailers are sharing a fundraiser for a Beirut climbing gym but ignoring these Grampians access dramas. Why is that? One commentator on Facebook nailed it:
“The political force against climbing is too strong and there is insufficient will to resist.”
It’s not an actual legal problem we are facing – but the reluctance of most to get involved due to perceived conflict between the Aboriginal community and climbing. We saw it during the week on Facebook when one person suggested a GoFundMe account be created to pool a legal fund to fight the bans – but they were quickly shut down by someone else suggesting the money be used to finance legal cases for Indigenous deaths in custody. Is it any wonder most are now just ignoring the whole issue? It is not apathy but fear of being seen to be on the wrong side of history in the public eye that is keeping many people quiet. That negative angle is being heavily stoked in the mainstream press (in the last year we have seen climbers pitched as being reckless and requiring unnecessary rescues, naming cliffs using racist and homophobic words and also destroying the environment). Having anything to do with the mainstream press appears mostly counter-productive for climbing access despite the best intentions of the climbers being interviewed.
Many in our community are struggling to separate their wish for social justice with our future freedom to climb. We doubt many would have predicted how fractured the climbing community has now become over this issue and it’s certainly being used as a wedge issue by Parks Victoria. Saying that – there are still over 31,000 people who have signed the online petition and that number is steadily climbing (hehe). If you haven’t signed – please do so.
After the surprise announcement last week Parks Victoria has issued five statements that attempt to put a positive spin on the process. We’ll let you decide if this gives hope.
Local climber Mike Rockell has given his three reasons for hope in a recent Facebook post titled Is All Hope Lost?
1. The latest closures have been described by both Parks Victoria and the three Traditional Owner organisations as a temporary measure “until a plan can be agreed upon which balances recreational use and essential cultural protection.”- Quote by Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation in the Traditional Owner Media Release.
2. The three Traditional Owner Groups went to the effort of releasing a joint statement regarding these latest closures. They did not need to do this. They do state that “this isn’t about trying to close down recreational activities such as climbing” but more about going through a “process required under legislation to ensure the protection of cultural heritage which will then lead to greater certainty in future for recreational users when carrying out their activities.”
3. There is now a group of climbers, the Gariwerd Wimmera Reconciliation Network (GWRN), that has developed a working relationship with these Traditional Owners. Already in the words of the Traditional Owner Group media release they say that the GWRN has “greatly informed considerations by providing practical knowledge …and fostered an understanding which as enabled informed decision making”. A year ago we did not have this connection.
Mike Rockell has also written a list of actions you could take to try and help regain access to these incredible climbing areas. Taipan/Spurt and Bundaleer Closures – Five Things You Can Do. However this does all sound a bit like deja vu to what we asked of you last year.
It’s a Bluff
In their press release PV wrote that these crag closures “restrict all visitor access including climbing, bouldering and bushwalking, to ensure no harm is caused to cultural heritage.“. But do they? We have had advice from someone “in the know” that these new restrictions at Taipan & Bundaleer are in fact a total bluff with no legal basis.
The term used by PV on their maps is “Temporary Protection Zone” – but this type of zoning is not described in any of the Acts or Regulations regarding Cultural Heritage or National Parks. Government gazettes have also been checked to see if this has been slipped into the system recently – but nothing was found there either. Climbers are being hoodwinked into believing that they could be heavily fined for even walking into the area. When you read the actual wording of the sign it clearly states that “financial penalties apply for harm caused by individuals or corporate bodies“. What they mean is direct harm to cultural heritage – not being in the vicinity of it. A search of convictions under this Act has only unearthed one example – a farmer being fined $20,000 for removing 3000 cubic metres of sand from an area containing Aboriginal heritage items. Apparently he went ahead with removing the sand after he was quoted $20,000 for a cultural heritage management plan and decided he couldn’t afford that amount. He was only fined after three warnings to not go ahead with the work and the conviction took 6 years of legal to and froing. Would someone rapping into the 2nd pitch of Serpentine and climbing back out again be in any danger of being fined? That is highly doubtful unless PV tried to do them for using excess chalk or something similarly pedantic.
The reality is bluffing climbers to stay away and installing signage is about all Parks Victoria has managed to achieve in recent years as protection against damage to cultural heritage. Check out their new meager messaging at the Flat Rock carpark. Sometimes it feels like they are just going through the motions to avoid legal liability.
Similar signs to these installed two years ago in the Victoria Range are now faded, falling down and out-of-date. When something billed as temporary still remains after so long is it any wonder there hasn’t been any progress towards reopening these areas? PV clearly think there isn’t anything else they need to be doing.
Bait & Switch
Has anyone noticed that everyone seems to forget about whatever the previous closure was when they announce the new one? A few weeks ago we were worried about Pharos bouldering, a couple of months ago we were worried about Declaration Crag, before that it was Bundaleer, last year it was Summer Day Valley & Hollow Mtn, before that it was all of the northern Victoria Range and finally before that it was the 8 key sites of Gallery, Millennium etc. As PV continues to ratchet up the bans it is easy to forgot about what they have already put in place over the last couple of years (yes – it has been almost two years since Muline was announced as banned in the “rogue ranger” incident). Has there been any attempt by PV to broker access to any of the myriad of places they have already closed? Not that we have seen. Let’s forget about Summerday Valley and insignificant Lookout Point Wall which have only been reopened to commercial operators under strict licensing restrictions.
The Victorian Climbing Club has attempted to get PV to reopen areas that have been assessed already and do not have any cultural heritage or major environmental problems (Andersens bouldering is a potential site apparently). Surely out of the hundreds of areas assessed there has to be at least a few easy ones to reopen without dramas. The VCC have been continually rebuffed with the excuse that it all will be revealed in the new management plan (coming 2021?). Changing the system of zoning in the new management plan is one solution to gaining some access to areas previously marked as Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Way back in April Parks Victoria presented this slide to the Stakeholder Reference Group as options for zoning:
If this table doesn’t make sense you are not alone. We sought clarity and got this response from PV:
“The rows represent three examples of some possible options in how management zones could be established across the landscape. The word ‘default’ suggests that a particular zone would be applied on a broad basis across the landscape.
The first two examples propose applying the Conservation and Recreation Zone as the default and the Conservation Zones/Special Protection Areas applied to identify “very high significant” value areas.
The third option proposes applying Conservation Zone as a default to recognise the significant rich biodiversity and cultural landscape for the whole landscape.”
It still isn’t very clear which of those options would be in the best interest of gaining back climbing access to the thousands of climbs currently marked as off-limits. We will need to continue to argue that the SPAs need to be limited in size – i.e. limited to small discrete sites, rather than to huge areas that happen to contain a smattering of small discreet sites of very high value within their vast expanses. Having the entire northern Victoria Range and Serra Range marked as “special” surely dilutes the meaning of that very word.
And then there are the places that remain open to walking and climbing – defying logic considering the harsh restrictions now placed on Taipan Wall. How come tourists can walk into the Cool Chamber on the Wonderland walking circuit despite there being clear evidence of major quarrying – significantly more than what was found at the base of Taipan?
There is still the crazy situation where Black Ians Rocks remains open to climbing – with no new signage – despite it being the scene of one of the the nearest “misses” when it came to climbing safety bolts damaging art. Each new restriction added to the ever growing list comes with harsher and harsher rules. It appears new discoveries are put on a far higher pedestal than previously recorded ones. It’s hard to imagine what could be worse than the latest round of closures at Taipan – but it is possible. How about permanent closures – to everyone including walkers and campers – across the entire Victoria Range? Or the permanent closure of Hollow Mountain and Stapylton summits? This is a very real possibility considering the current trajectory.
David Reeve, past president of the ACAQ , wrote these warning words this week:
“The agenda goes well beyond climbing access, to the very roots of what public lands for purposes of conservation and recreation once meant. This is a common sense way in which to manage those public lands the majority of voters will never visit in their lifetimes. It converts parks from money sinks to cash cows which allows bread and circuses to be dispensed for maximum electoral effect on the streets of Melbourne. It ticks the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage/Treaty box and the conservation box as side benefit.”
When a considerable proportion of our own climbing community is willing to let Taipan slide we can be assured the rest of the general public have zero interest in a bit of sandstone in the Wimmera. Providing the government continues to frame their actions as reconciliation and conservation the restrictions on climbers seem positive to the vast majority of Labor voting Victorians. That’s the cold hard political truth.
According to Dave Reeve there is an an unlikely outcome to what we have seen happening – and it comes down to the administrative burden placed on Parks Victoria by the Acts and Regulations around Cultural Heritage.
“Ironically it may be Parks Victoria that comes to our aid to remedy this situation through the courts. Since they are compelled to chain a tripod sign to a tree to avoid digging a small hole then it’s quite possible that they will be eventually forced to challenge in court the more impractical aspects of the Aboriginal Heritage Act. They have known for 3 years that they will struggle to fulfill their purpose as land manager if they cannot afford the paperwork required to carry out simple ground works.”
This seems unlikely in the current political climate – but post-Covid could see drastic changes in the political and public service landscape.
Our Gariwerd Stories – crowd sourced stories
In more positive news, a website has been launched this week “which allows climbers or anyone to share stories of what Gariwerd means to them and their stories and memories there. It also provides a platform to give thanks for being on country.” It’s apparently a political free site that hopes to collate some of the joy that the Grampians has brought to people (not just climbers). Check it out – www.ourgariwerdstories.com. Your contribution would be greatly appreciated.
Mirage mini documentary
Enjoy this little doco about the journey one climber takes to climb the iconic Taipan Wall dyno-route Mirage. Obviously this was shot before the recent bans.
Guidebook Publishers Bow Out
The two main Australian guidebook publishers (Onsight and Open Spaces) have both decided to put on hold research work and publication of forthcoming climbing and bushwalking books to the Grampians and Arapiles region citing the uncertainty about the future of these activities. Onsight’s 2015 Grampians Climbing guidebook was due to be updated this year – but with half the areas listed now off-limits and further bans to come it is a no brainer to stop work and wait for this to play out. Natimuk based publisher Open Spaces announced on Facebook this week that they have also “made the decision to halt work on all of our planned rock climbing and bushwalking titles for the Grampians National Park and at nearby Mt Arapiles.” Read their full statement below…
This is just another example of how these bans are slowly eating into the local economy. What other negative business decisions are being made when uncertainty about the future of the sport in the Wimmera is this high?
Grampians Peaks Trail® Destruction Continues…
At the same time that Parks Victoria is using track erosion as one of their reasons for closing down Taipan and Bundaleer – they continue the construction of the 160km Grampians Peaks Trail – with more than 100km of it being new track being cut through the virgin bush. Side thought – why isn’t this new tourism friendly track being called the Gariwerd Peaks Trail instead? We bet that’s a can of worms they don’t want opened.
The commercial nature of this track appears to be solidifying – with their most recent email newsletter giving further details of the first glamping “camp huts” that are to be constructed at two areas (Mt Difficult & Lake Wartook).
International Attention in the Media
This website gets quite a bit of traffic from the international climbing community – about 10% of the hundreds of thousands of views come from countries such as the USA, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Germany and Japan. The following is a list of articles related to the Taipan closures from around the world and locally that went online last week:
Climbing Banned at Taipan Wall and Other Areas in the Grampians – Rock & Ice (USA)
Climbing Banned at Taipan Wall – Planet Mountain (USA)
Climbing Banned on Australia’s Taipan Wall – UKC News (UK)
Climbing Banned at Taipan Wall – Yukiyama (Japan)
Grampians : le Taipan Wall temporairement interdit – Fanatic Climbing (France)
Climbers Rocked by Park Closures – The Australian
More climbing closures follow cultural discoveries in the Grampians – Stanwell Times
Pharos Boulders added to the off-limits list
We didn’t actually report on this when it happened – as it was done without any public press release from the land managers. On July 10th Parks Victoria and Barengi Gadjin Land Council fenced off a second area at Arapiles from all public access (including bushwalking) after the discovery of rock art on boulders located below the rock formation known by climbers as the Pharos. According to intel we have gleaned – the art is located on the Around the World boulder – and was actually reported to authorities by a local member of the climbing community (a member of GRWN who regularly bouldered in this area). How this art was missed by the professional archeological assessors who have been combing the area in recent months is a mystery. Even odder – why have these recent assessments not unearthed other areas that required immediate restrictions on all access?
This art on the Around the World boulder is hard to see with the naked eye and tucked under the overhung lower section. According to PV’s press release “In addition to rock art, other cultural heritage including artefact scatters and quarry sites have been identified“
This fencing has now been expanded to include all the boulders below the Pharos – and according to PV’s press release “includes the boulders known as Around the World, Monkey Puzzle, Superman and Finalgon“. This is certainly one of the more popular bouldering areas at Arapiles with around 37 separate problems spread across the four boulders. It is highly unlikely these boulders will ever be reopened to climbing with a “longer-term management approach” being determined by the Traditional Owners. This has dragged on for more than six months at Brain Death boulders so don’t expect anything formal on the Pharos anytime soon.
According to thecrag.com there are 225 recorded boulder problems at Arapiles – and with the loss of Brain Death boulders (14 problems) that means a total of 51 problems are now off-limits at Arapiles – that is 22% of the total. Add that to the huge losses in the Grampians (at least 600 problems – more than half) it is a sad time to be Victorian boulderer. Check out this video (taken before the recent ban) of a climber on Around the World V5.
You can read more about this recent closure on PV’s information sheet that was sent out in August.
We understand that to many of you these are very special places and this is not good news no matter how some may spin it. Melbourne climbers are quite literally locked up at the moment and this information may be highly distressing. If you are feeling upset, helpless or depressed about this news please seek professional help – or have a chat with good friends and family. We need to band together as a climbing community during these tough times – trad, sport, boulderers, weekend warriors, sponsored Olympic athletes – all of us. Here’s hoping we can return to climbing in the Wimmera in some capacity in the future. Be kind to each other.
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 further updates…