4500+ Climbs Closed – 38% Gramps and Arapiles Now off-Limits

  • Half of Grampians climbing routes are now closed
  • Tiger Wall, Castle Crag, Fang Buttress and Black Ians Rocks latest areas to close to all visitors
  • Greater Gariwerd Landscape Management Plan draft has been completed
  • Parks Victoria confirms SPA & no climbing rule near Roses Gap Recreation Centre
  • Parks Victoria forced to reprint signage after admitting errors

We are going to just start with an update on statistics so everyone is on the same page when it comes to understanding the extent of the current climbing closures in the Grampians and Arapiles region. We have included this weeks Arapiles and Black Ians Rocks closure announcements.

4556 – the number of climbing routes closed in the Arapiles/Grampians region

38% – percentage of climbing routes closed in the Arapiles/Grampians region

48% – percentage of Grampians climbing routes closed

63% – percentage of Grampians sport routes closed

59% – percentage of Grampians boulder problems closed

12% – percentage of Arapiles climbing routes closed

378 – the number of Arapiles climbing routes closed

We dare Parks Victoria to close just one more Grampians crag so it tips that 48% figure to 51% so we can say they have shut the majority of climbing in the park.

We hope these figures shock you out of a slumber. Two years ago all of these areas were open and free for recreational rock climbing. We keep hearing about people saying they are drawing a line in the sand – when 38% of the climbing across two of the best climbing areas in the planet are now closed is this not far enough?

These statistics are sourced from this spreadsheet that catalogues the climbing closures in Western Victoria announced by Parks Victoria since February 2019. “Route” refers to anything from an 8 pitch climb on Tiger Wall to a single boulder problem. We are not 100% sure on the exact figures for Arapiles as Parks Victoria’s new maps and information is vague so we have included only the front faces of The Bluffs (30 routes) located directly above Bard/Tiger Wall. The entire Bluffs area is over 100 routes. We have taken a middle path – not conservative and not hyperbolic in our assumptions.

Latest closures include iconic Arapiles crags

It was another pre-weekend late afternoon announcement and another round of surprise closures from Parks Victoria – read their media release here. This time we saw some of the most important cliffs at Arapiles fall under the spell of rolling cultural heritage closures. This slide from Parks Victoria’s announcement to the Roundtable lists the areas affected.

Let’s take a quick visual journey of what the climbing community has lost this week and why.

Crag names: Fang Buttress, Plaque, Alis, Bard Buttress, Tiger Wall and the Bluffs
Number of routes closed: 256 (aprox)
Iconic routes: The Bard (12), Resignation (14), Syrinx (10), Blockbuster (11), Quo Vadis (19), Scorpion (18), Anxiety Neurosis (26), Ergonomics (26)
Fun climbing facts: Tiger Wall is considered the world’s best easy multi-pitch trad climbing area.

Andrew Trotter and Sarah Osborne, on the classic multi-pitch Checkmate (17), Bard Buttress. Photo Simon Carter

Crag name: Castle Crag
Number of routes closed: 35
Iconic routes: Procol Harum (26), Swinging (17), The Undertaker (25)
Fun climbing facts: Home to Australia’s first grade 25 & 26

French international visitor on Swinging (17) Castle Crag – with the closed Tiger Wall in the background. Photo Glen Tempest

Number of problems closed: 10
Iconic problem: Attack a Helpless Chicken (V6)
Fun climbing facts: Jon Muir climbed a very high & scary V5 here pre-pads

Chicken boulder. Photo thecrag.com

Crag names: Black Ians Rock, Lil Lil
Number of routes closed:
137
Iconic routes:
Prosecutor (18), Objection Sustained (18)
Fun climbing facts:
Best easy single pitch crack climbing in Victoria.

Nick McKinnon on Objection Sustained (18), Lil Lil

Let’s put it into real perspective. How about this?

And this is just the Arapiles closures! Guidebook photos courtesy of Open Spaces.

The following is the full Parks Victoria Powerpoint slideshow presented to the Roundtable participants. It’s worth a look to see the spin doctors at work.

What are they proposing?

Don’t expect any of this to happen immediately, for the moment we are under the “informal” arrangement where climbers are being requested to stay away. But when the so called set-asides are formalized they will be very difficult to rewind. Once an official ban is in place it is always hard to refute the reasons that triggered it’s creation and thus trying to stop them now is of immense benefit to the future of the climbing community. We only have to look at Special Protection Areas in the Grampians to see the problems associated with rewinding something enshrined in the last management plan. Informal “bans” via simple signage are a lot better than formal bans through legislation. Time is of the essence – write those letters and ring those politicians to express your concern about such wholesale official closures coming our way.

What is cultural heritage as defined in legislation?

Most of the “rediscoveries” of Aboriginal cultural heritage that have caused these recent closures are of rock quarries (areas where stone has been broken from cliff faces and shaped into tools such as knives and axes). Oddly they have been announced as “new” rediscoveries (an oxymoron if ever there was one) despite the location of these rock quarries being well known by climbers and archeologists for many decades. For example we found reference to scientific studies of quartzite quarries at Arapiles conducted in the 1990s and cited in a scientific paper from 2011.

The Mt Arapiles-Tooan survey and subsequent management and monitoring reports (Edmonds 1992; Long 1995a, 1995b) documented substantial evidence of quartzite quarrying, in some cases associated with small rock shelters.

Long, A.T. (1995a). Detailed recording and sample surface collections at the Bluffs Quarry 1 (AAV Site No. 7224–199), Mt Arapiles. Unpublished report for Aboriginal Affairs Victoria: Melbourne.

So if they knew about rock quarries at The Bluffs almost thirty years ago (when climbing at Arapiles was still incredibly popular and had been occurring for 30 years already) why was nothing done then to protect them? Now suddenly it requires immediate closures to massive areas and even walkers are excluded? This appears to be highly reactive and panic driven management of an issue they had actively ignored.

Many have asked what is the definition and levels of importance allocated to various types of cultural heritage. Are quarries as important as rock art for example? As you can see in the below slide from PV’s presentation – all are considered the same -there is no hierarchy of importance.

Looking at the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 for the relevant definitions of Aboriginal cultural heritage can be educational:

It’s a very broad definition indeed and still applies “whether or not the object existed prior to the occupation of that part of Australia by people of non-Aboriginal descent“.

BGLC Statement

Unlike the first round of Arapiles bans where Barengi Gadjin Land Council (BGLC) released a fairly comprehensive press release (read that here) – this time we only got one sentence and it came via the Gariwerd Wimmera Reconciliation Network.

According to one GWRN member we spoke to their organization got no heads up on these recent Arapiles and Black Ians closures from PV or BGLC.

How long until this all gets resolved?

In the above statement from BGLC they said they wanted assessments sorted as “quickly as possible” – but a read of the following newspaper article reveals “quick” may easily stretch out to two years.

Wimmera Mail story

Good to see the local media continuing to follow this important story.

VCC Letter to the National Party

President of the Victorian Climbing Club and Natimuk resident Kevin Lindorff has written a letter to the Leader of the National Party in Victoria Peter Walsh. There are lots of good points relating to the recent Arapiles closures and it’s well worth a read. The National Party are currently in opposition but the local State Member for the Arapiles area is a National Party member (Emma Keally) who has been broadly supportive of the local climbers concerns. Download the letter from Kevin below. If you’re thinking of writing a letter to a member of parliament this is a good template to use!

Update on Roses Gap and Signage

In our previous article Sign of the Times – we alerted Parks Victoria to several major issues involving their misleading signage in the Victoria Range and Arapiles. We also provided information about the Roses Gap Recreation Centre was possibly operating commercial rock-climbing and abseiling in a Special Protection Area without an exemption or permit as recently as March this year. This appeared to be a serious breach of the rules that all other Licensed Tour Operators are forced to abide by. Since that article went live we have been contacted by other LTOs that let us know they had alerted Parks Victoria to the Roses Gap issue more than 15 months ago and had been heavily rebuffed. So it surprised them greatly when we received the following email response on the 26th October from Will Cox – PV’s Senior Manager Strategic Projects. We will split his reply into three parts and will leave our comments after each part.

This is a remarkable admission from Parks Victoria considering they were alerted to the issue way back in 2019 (when they first announced the SPA bans to the wider community). The maps clearly showed The Rockwall was an SPA but PV allegedly allowed Roses Gap Recreation Centre to continue operating without oversight at the very same time they were sending “enforcement officers” into other SPAs to kick out recreational climbers. If you are a government minster we suggest looking into this further.

Social media post about abseiling on The Rockwall SPA – dated November 2019, nine months after SPA bans were announced.

This is the first proper honest admission from Parks Victoria that they have been misleading the public and the majority of their recent climbing closures are not legally enforceable and rely on the “good will” of the climbing community.

“…the temporary protection zones have been created to inform the public of the potential to harm as the basis for temporarily discouraging access to these sensitive sites. However, the temporary protection zones have not been created pursuant to any formal power under any Act or Regulations, so cannot be enforced to prohibit the public’s access to these sites.”

We thank Parks Victoria for updating the signage so it accurately represents the legal situation. We do take some umbrage with their claim in their statement that they “engaged with the wider community as part of implementing the temporary protection zones” and “informed the Rock Climbing Roundtable in advance of its intention to implement temporary protection zones“. A meeting at 4pm on the day before a long weekend to announce the Monday closure of 500 routes at Arapiles may be technically advance notice, but it is a hardly “engaging”. And saying this was an “intention” makes it sound like it may or may not happen – not that it will 100% certainly happen. A clever use of words to soften the blow and make PV look better to the outside world.

Someone at Parks Victoria is doing a lot of re-printing of signs it seems! In a Wimmera Times article (under paywall) Parks Victoria’s regional director Jason Borg added to this by saying these signs were placed “in error” and “If a licensed tour operator is granted a licence, they can, but that sign is in error, because operators won’t be given a licence to operate in there, that is not our intent“. Now everyone knows we are a cynical bunch here at Save Grampians Climbing but honestly does PV really expect us to believe they made an “error” when making this signage? How do you insert the highlighted words below “in error“? Remember these were signs they updated from old signs that didn’t contain these crucial lines of text.

Signage installed in the Victoria Range around July 2020 – we highlighted the additional words they added compared to old signage

Greater Gariwerd Landscape Management Plan draft complete

Parks Victoria has announced that the draft of the much awaited new management plan for the Grampians (and Black Range) has been sent to the Minister and should be released to the community before the 11th of November. That is really soon! When it hits we will be asking ALL of you readers to really make an effort to push back against whatever draconian proposals are being put forth to restrict climbers in the region. This is the big one and our final real chance to make concrete changes to an old document that has caused us so many issues. It was the invention of Special Protection Areas in the 2003 Management Plan (and the fact it was slipped through without the VCC noticing) that has caused us such heartbreak in the last two years.

PV slide about the new

Please share this article and don’ t forget to check out the other 60+ articles on this blog for further background reading. Stay tuned for further updates…

8 thoughts on “4500+ Climbs Closed – 38% Gramps and Arapiles Now off-Limits”

  1. Hi, a few questions:
    1) Will a letter to relevant members be considered if not from someone of their constituancy? E.g. is it worth writing a letter to a Victorian MP as a NSW/QLD/SA resident?
    2) You mention that “set asides” are hard to reverse, but wouldn’t the expiration of the protections on Dec Crag seem to speak otherwise?
    3) Do you consider the other policies of the National Party in keeping with the broader environmental protection measures that climbers should be concerned about?
    4) Do we currently have any pragmatic means of opposing these bans ? If so, what are they? These stats are heartbreaking, climbers need a genuine action plan.
    5) Would these means be able to co-exist with the preservation of legitimate cultural heritage?
    6) Do you believe that climbers are the best people to cast judgement on the inherent value or hierarchy of indigenous cultural significance?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 1) Yes – write those letters and let them know you want to bring tourist climbing $ to the area.
      2) The Interim Protection Declaration that expired has nothing to do with Set Asides. The former is enabled via Aboriginal Victoria and has a legislated 3 month period upon which it expires. The latter is “created” internally by PV and lasts for as long as PV says it lasts.
      3) If a politician wishes to bring our concerns to the attention of State parliament this is a good thing. You don’t have to vote for them.
      4) As a start lobbying politicians and Parks Victoria to reconsider applying Set Asides is very important. That allows breathing space for rational discussions between all parties.
      5) They have already co-existed for 60 years. The “rediscoveries” of such major sites is a testament to the lack of damage that climbing causes. Routes along Tiger Wall would be some of the busiest in all of Australia.
      6) No.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. The “rediscovery” of assorted stone chips and quarry sites that were known about for decades suggests the cultural values in the Grampians are quite arbitrary and there are other factors at play. This is more about power and politics than culture heritage.

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  2. Thanks for another great article. It’s difficult to see a process in place that will see access to these iconic places restored in the short term. It’s seems the contagion is spreading and things will likely get worse before they get better.
    It’s a remarkable testament to the care shown by climbers to the environment over many decades that all those objects are still there to be found.

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  3. Thanks for the update at this important time. What is our strategic position for arguing against these bans? Climbers agree with the importance of cultural heritage protection. However, not all examples require the same level of protection. What’s is the continuum?. Unique, iconic examples probably require the glass case approach with no access except for study or viewing. The other end of the continuum is public awareness and education for sensitive visitation…similar to what has occurred around most Arapiles and Grampians cliffs for decades (with some notable exceptions). I believe we need to argue for a considered, rational and realistic zoned system that preserves iconic sites, and also enables all to be on country, to connect with country in deeply personal relationships with place. As hundreds of climbers have done.

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  4. The Dab Wurrung issue regarding sacred trees near Ararat implies that Vic roads can proceed as they wish, destroying trees that indigenous people have protested about for years.
    Significant granite boulders on the highway near Stawell have paint from white folks plastered all over them.
    Climbers have always respected Aboriginal artefacts yet Parks Vic which has done little to upgrade Third World conditions at Arapiles can ban an activity without reference to those sympathetic users?
    Climbers would be one of many user groups who would without question support sensitivities about ancient cultural issues.
    Is there any logic to parks vic behaviours at all

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  5. Since when have climbers been such a pack a soft and easily regulated numpties?! This is an utter abomination and a slap in the face for those who have looked after the land and highlighted its beauty and been in awe of its indigenous significance more than most. All done under cover of COVID.

    I would suggest a mass of civil disobedience, given the lack of consultation, NOTHING else will be listened to by these power drunk bureaucrats. Ignore it, go climbing by the hundreds in all banned areas, refuse to give your name and tear up any tickets. Only wish I could get over there right now.

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