World Class No More – Days Roll By

Where are we at? It’s been a bit quiet over here at SGC as the dust settles from the big Plan of Management reveal and the “players” work away from the public eye to implement it. Plenty of people are burnt out from the whole affair and are just going climbing and forgetting the last three years ever happened.

It has now been many days, months – and years – since the bans were first announced. So long, that a new generation of climbers have arrived on the scene who are entirely ignorant on what they have missed out on by starting climbing post 2019. It’s depressing to think that the most popular crags in the Grampians these days are no longer magical sweeps of orange such as Taipan or Summerday Valley – and instead appear to be the grey gritty walls of West Flank and the Watchtower.

So many of Parks Victoria’s “temporary” closures remain across the Grampians and Arapiles – faded signs, fallen down fencing and unmaintained walking tracks are a sure sign that many in authority who were deeply involved in the original bans have moved on – both physically and mentally. Banning climbers is no longer the priority – it’s an election year after all and it’s all about getting funding for the next big glamorous tourist project in a National Park near you. With no oversight after publication of the Plan of Management it’s not in any of these organizations best interests to get this over quickly. It’s worth reminding ourselves of just how long many of the once “world class” climbing areas have been closed as of the date of publication of this article – 12th September 2022.

It has been 1,304 days since the northern Victoria Range was closed to climbers… (that’s three & half years)

It has been 1,014 days since Declaration Crag was closed to climbers

It has been 759 days since Taipan Wall was closed to climbers

It has been 686 days since Tiger Wall was closed to climbers

There appears little appetite to update the climbing community on progress in any of these areas. Even the climbing & access organizations created since the bans were first put in place appear to have lost the ability to inform and update on their progress in a regular fashion.

Taipan – it’s going to be reopened isn’t it?

Stop dreaming and face reality. We have lost count on the number of climbers we have overheard recently celebrating the soon to be reopened Taipan Wall. Don’t fall for PV’s cleverly worded press releases – the majority of Taipan’s best routes and probably all of Spurt Wall will probably never reopen. We have it on good authority that only the left side of Taipan (left of Serpentine) will be reopened in some fashion involving permits and inductions – and you will not even be able to walk underneath the right side. Famous routes such as Groove Train, Invisible Fist, World Party, Mr Joshua and Venom are all in the no-go-zone. This is not a win – it’s merely a reduced loss. It’s all there on PV’s own website.

What’s the latest news we’ve missed?

  • Meanwhile, the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning have been taking notes from Parks Victoria, and proposed to ban climbing (and swimming and many other things) across metro Melbourne, and inner regional areas – unless they expressly permit it. Climbers put in submissions for the consultative box tick. Regulations expected to be made by Oct 2022.
  • The recently created Climbing Victoria Advisory Council (CVAC) offers an update to the access situation, with a whole bunch of ‘positive developments’, mostly revolving around helping PV to do their job. Better to let the climbers dig their own graves than get their own hands dirty. On a side note – why is this organization using a photo of someone climbing on Euro limestone in the Grampians update page??
  • ACAV have continued to be a general pain-in-the-ass for PV.
    (NB Topics appear to have vanished from Facebook, but you can read the original articles / letters on the ACAV site).
    – ACAV have questioned the “whole of park legal instrument”.
    – Questioned the equipment ban that implies that bushwalkers who use a rope in a safety situation are ok, provided they use no additional equipment (meaning trad gear, quickdraws etc).
    – Also, after the previous ‘success’ of the request from the Victorian Auditor General’s Office about PV’s procurement process (see our report HERE), ACAV have requested a more specific “Performance Audit Request” which asks questions of the reports that provided the evidence for the wrong doing of climbers in the first place.

Between A Rock and Hard Place

Finally, we thought we’d have a look at this ‘obituary for Victorian climbing‘ that appears in the latest issue of Australian Geographic – Sept/Oct 22 edition (we’re not sure when/if it’ll appear online; but we’ll try and summarize here so you can save your $15).

Leigh Hopkinson (previous VCC Argus editor) treats us to several pages on the recent history of the climbing bans saga and some great photos. The article is light on facts, but what it does do is present a nicely coherent overview from the safe and virtuous high-ground of a desk in New Zealand.

Here goes: Parks Vic are the poor hapless land-managers; the VCC went and angered TO’s by formally requesting access to certain crags*. ACAV are irrelevant and GWRN steps in to save the day.

And climbers? Interestingly there’s little reference to actual climbers apart from a few quotes, and the assumption that:

“Errors in PVs publicity, such as exaggerated user numbers and false accusations of bolting in rock-art sites, led a core group of mostly hard-grade sport climbers to believe they were being scapegoated…”

Ah yeah. Except, we think some climbers might take offense to being excluded due to the grade they climb.

At SGC, we’re often accused of ignoring TO’s interests or glossing over Cultural Heritage, but Leigh’s article does the reverse… Encouraging the perception that climbers are the major threat to Cultural Heritage, even when evidence is perceived (photos of Art means damage must be occurring to Art), or pretty thin – referring back to the same incidents at Lil Lil (Black Ians) as a catalyst for the whole affair, which is true – but surely there’s more damning evidence than the Black-Range incident from a single person 5 years ago?

But this is where we’re at. This is the perception of climbers now, and even climbers themselves appear to be less and less willing to keep questioning or even to keep paying attention actually. For this generation – West Flank is the new world class climbing destination of Victoria after all.

Yet the rocks are still there. They are silent, indifferent. Beacons of hope that will be there long after we’ve forgotten who owns them, who names them, or who manages them.

* NB – crags were in SPA’s, but did not contain Cultural Heritage and were banned for unknown reasons, as the then VCC president explains.

11 thoughts on “World Class No More – Days Roll By”

  1. As a writer/editor and a climber I find the tone of this site always very outraged and masc. Too dramatic and agro at times. I appreciate the work but I’m worried the site represent climbers with a voice/tone that actually hinders us. I’m also very sure you would have heard this before from other climbers.

    Saying that I am also frustrated by the sluggish bureaucracy and commercialisation of outdoor spaces. A short-sighted funding issue no doubt. It ineitably makes the outdoors less wild and exposes issues with access quality when the promoted Peaks Trail is so expensive. “Leave no trace” should include structures in the wilderness where possible. We need to go back further and be changing the cultural value of spaces, and ensure governments are funding proper maintenance.

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    1. Hi Climber writer – thanks for your comment…. perhaps you could write something for us?
      We did a pretty lazy / poor review of the National Geographic piece because it was kind of depressing. The whole affair is a bit depressing really, and sorry this does come out in our writing.

      The fact of the matter is that when climbers go into the Grampians, the huge majority of climbers “know” the cliff they are going to does not have Cultural Heritage they can actually harm (especially Artwork) – whether it’s on the Green-list or not. So reading all this shaming of them, and how they are destroying, or have potential to destroy Cultural Heritage just gets a bit much. Although harm is such an emotive word; as just ‘being there’ can be considered harm. But if that’s so, then why aren’t walkers banned… and we go round in cirlces.

      But what climbers don’t see are rangers, they don’t see the TO’s. When they see other climbers, it’s a comforting comradery. A relief. There’s no shame at the Crag – only online. I don’t like to use the words like Virtuous, or ‘high-ground’, but social and print media is full of examples.

      So really, we’re back at square one – where climbers fundamentally disagree about the level of harm they are actually exerting (or being blamed for), and also, the level of protection required to stop “potential harm”. I really want to cover this from a new angle (in more depth), as it’s a huge area – but also one riddled with traps for the writer where it could come across all privileged and insulting to TO’s, which I believe is what you were getting at.

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  2. Nah it’s mostly the tone. It’s been there from the beginning. Phrases like “Stop dreaming and face reality ” are overly dramatic and trying to incite a reaction. You don’t need to do that if you are being objective and stating the facts. If it reads too much like an opinion piece it loses journalistic integrity.

    From the inception of this site, the writing comes across as tabloidy and sounding very privelidged and white male. I understand much of the outrage but I think it’s often just bad comms. Maybe the writing should be more solution-focused. People respond well to positively framed outcomes.

    Also, are you honestly saying that most climbers can recognise artefacts and cultural heritage sites? Even archaeologists have trouble finding the whispers of ancient history. There is a definite need for timely surveys.

    I hope we can have some proper, meaningful collaboration with Parks Vic. I know we’ve tried. And many of their actions in other parts of the state make it tempting to give into negativity and feed a confirmation bias. Come on Parks, prove to us that you’re not a bunch of disconnected bureaucratic suits trying to commercialise wild spaces. Lobby for funding and stop building glamping sites with reclined chairs on rocky peaks.

    Again, appreciate the discussion. And the amount of work you’ve put into everything over the years.

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    1. Unfortunately the ban on off track walking and wild camping in the entire Grampians has shown that, in fact, Parks Vic is a bunch of disconnected suits (that’s the most generous assessment) who are actively assisting corporate interests to privatise public land for commercial gain.

      If it were “regular corporations” involved in this process, I believe that there would be protests on the streets.

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  3. I agree Climber-writer, the tone has been disappointing. And it’s a tone I feel embarrassed about as it is not how I as a climber would like to be represented. Unfortunate because some of the content is fact, but the way it’s delivered I cannot align myself with. It’s not allowing everyone space to form their own feelings or boundaries on the subject. And rarely gives time and space to the process we are currently in with Traditional Owners. It’s all about the delivery. Information no matter how true cannot be digested by people if it is delivered in an aggressive or over-dramatic tone. People need to feel safe and respected to listen.

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  4. Say good bye to the great outdoors and hello to a social credit score and the great stakeholder capitalism. Congratulations climbers on helping assist us elites to protect nature from the plebs and make sure they stay in the gulags. eh I mean cities, where they belong.
    yours truly Klaus, WEF

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  5. First they came for the christian schools, and I did not speak out – because I was not a christian. Then they cam for our bodily autonomy, and I did not speak out because I was not an anti vaxxer. Then they came for the outdoors enthusiasts, but I didn’t speak out because I was more of a city person. And then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

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  6. First they came for the sport climbers, and I did not speak out because I was trad climber that only climbs grade 15…. Martin Niemöller.

    Ever heard of the Hegelian Dialectic. Thesis (TO’s), Antithesis (sport climbers), Synthesis (whatever the real agenda is).

    They don’t really care about the climbers, the bush walkers or the TO’s. You’ve all been played. And you will all lose unless everyone wakes up and unites in the freedom movement – freedom for everybody, freedom from government, freedom from tyranny.

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