“You’re hired!” PV seeks climbing guides to chop bolts.

  • Parks Victoria seeks to pay Licensed Tour Operators (i.e. recreational climbing guides) to chop bolts in Grampians’ Millennium Caves. This potentially conflicts with strict WorkSafe laws
  • Bolts are located in roof of cave, with high chance of worker hitting the ground if one bolt fails
  • PV contractors have previously attempted to remove bolts, failed and left deathtraps for climbers
  • Rope access experts alarmed at new proposal as it bypasses safe work practices and likely not covered by industry insurance
  • Would likely involve placing at least 50 additional bolts into the cave
  • No construction, trade or industrial rope access qualifications sought by PV
  • PV to give angle grinders and drills to unqualified workers and expect them to safely operate in extremely dangerous environment.
  • Chalk to not be removed, instead will be covered by “pigment”.
  • PV and all 3 TOs to be in attendance to oversee this work for 2 weeks. Cost to taxpayer unknown.
  • Membership of climbing organizations may exclude guides from work
  • Controversial author of discredited anti climber academic paper, is behind this proposal
  • Safer Cliffs Australia formally warned PV against interfering with critical safety bolts a year ago.
  • This alarming proposal will be reported to WorkSafe Victoria in the next few days.

PV pitches for cheap workers to do their dirty work

In a feat of utter incompetence, Parks Victoria has decided to hire Licensed Tour Operators (LTOs) from the Grampians region to remove climbing safety bolts from Millennium Caves in the Grampians. Key excerpt from their proposal below…

Sounds totally safe – right?

These “professional rock climbers” who work for these Grampians “licensed tour operators” are generally working day to day on jobs such as running school abseiling sessions at Summer Day Valley. Relatively simple ropework involving top-roping, abseiling and possibly a sneaky lead here and there. They are not trade qualified rope access technicians who work on building sites (for example IRATA or SPRAT qualified). Recreational climbing guiding is a totally different activity to the highly regulated construction industry (yes, chopping bolts with an angle grinder whilst hanging 20m off the ground is certainly construction). A different skill set and a LOT more paperwork is required. Working with tools such as angle grinders on a rope is not something you want the fresh out of TAFE climbing guide to be doing.

Lets take a look at this proposal in detail…

This proposal was emailed to several LTOs this week – triggering many within the industry to contact us with safety and legal concerns.

“…removing the bolts from Millennium would require 3-5 rope access people and an engineer with a rope ticket to do it under worksafe laws. If they try to do it with rock climbers/unqualified people PV should get their asses nailed to the wall…. It is striking how PV plays the “hands are tied” card forced to follow regulations when it comes to kicking out climbers, yet it’s “she’ll be right” when hiring unskilled rock climbers to chop our own bolts. Those a**holes must love the irony.”

Anonymous IRATA qualified climber

“Guides with angle grinders wouldn’t work at all. Majority have probably never been on ropes with power tools at all… There are so many extra hoops to jump through for government organisations. Getting them out [bolts] will be hard enough in that steep terrain, but a layer of government clipboards overseeing it will make it close to unworkable”

Anonymous Melbourne based LTO

“While I may not be an active climber these days, professional Rope Access is what I do. I am rather surprised that Parks Victoria is seeking Climbing Guides to do this as this WORK is clearly covered by Victorian and National Codes of Practice and Legislation dealing with the prevention of falls. This kind of work must be performed by certified Rope Access technicians and be described by approved work method statements. Even with all of this though, I fail to see how any contractor could bid for this work as, to my knowledge, it is impossible for any contractor to supply the required “cut proof ropes” – there is no such thing! Richard Delaney”

Richard Delaney BE (Hons), MEnvMgt, SPRAT Level 3, Dip Outdoor Recreation.”

So what are Parks Victoria expecting these climbing guides to do?

Millennium Caves is a huge cavern – routes are generally either totally upside down roofs, or feature long traverses. The safety bolts already in place were mainly installed by young climbers in the mid 1990s. They are homemade ringbolts held in with some of the very first generation of adhesives on the market and are now more than 30 years old. The spacing of the bolts at Millennium has often been described as “exciting“, “bold” or even “stupid” depending on your tolerance for hitting the deck whilst clipping the 6th bolt on a route. To remove these super spaced bolts whilst keeping workers safe will be quite the challenge.

Ian Dory onsighting the heroically bolted Nomads, Saints and Indians (29)

We spoke to several qualified rope access techs about this proposed PV project – and they all suggested it would require the installation of additional backup bolts and/or scaffolding. To remove 50 bolts would likely involve the installation of a similar number of new bolts. Remember that installing critical safety bolts, or erecting scaffolding is not part of any recreational climbing guide qualifications. And adding so many additional bolts to then remove bolts? That just sounds a bit crazy when the aim is to reduce harm.

Even better, PV expects these climbing guides to be so inexperienced at construction that PV will actually supply the tools – including angle grinders and hammers! The guides just need to bring their harness, helmet and ropes (and possibly their lead pass from the gym? who knows).

So PV is expecting recreational climbing guides to hang around on single 28 year old non-certified bolts, whilst hacking away with angle grinders (!!) all whilst using their own “cut proof ropes” – hmmm, that last bit of gear isn’t even a thing PV. Angle grinders (and their sparks) are really dangerous anywhere near climbing equipment – a brief touch of a harness and it is good bye worker. Imagine if you took a whip with an angle grinder? Safety third!

That’s one way to remove bolts (and limbs).

Would these LTO guide workers even be covered by their insurance if an accident occurred whilst doing PVs bidding? According to our sources, climbing guides in Australia have Adventure Insurance, most commonly from Affinity Insurance, underwritten by Liberty Insurance and Lloyds of London. $20M Professional Indemnity insurance is the norm. This comes with stringent limitations. Guides have told us that they have reported the Parks Victoria Millennium proposal to their insurers, somewhat in disbelief that anyone would seek insurance cover for a project of this nature. Note that special working conditions (eg. angle grinder removal of unrated bolts without backup) must be covered in writing before proceeding.

Chalk it up to inexperience

One of the more bizarre sections in the proposal is that they want these workers to “paint” over any old white chalk with pigments or coloured chalk. No mention of just washing it off with water – a tried and tested method that has been used across the world and explained in detail in this great ACANSW article Cleaning Off Climbing Chalk – Simple Tips. Chalk simply washes off – only tiny bits may ingrain themselves in the rock deep inside pockets (which would be largely invisible from the ground). Over time most chalk simply disappears through the natural water cycle and erosion. Caking on coloured chalk over white chalk seems like the least permanent solution ever – and at incredible cost to the taxpayer. What is the aim here? Who comes up with this stuff? And why do we keep paying them to do it?

Why hire guides rather than qualified techs?

Budget? That’s a guess. Imagine the cost of real workers, real insurance and real safety oversight on such a dangerous job like this. Proper rope techs charge at least $1000/day. Climbing guides? Not so much. The proposal document states that the work period is two weeks and there will be:

Staff from Parks Victoria, Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation, Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation, and Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation will be onsite throughout the works.

How much does that all cost on top of the actual workers on the ropes? Well a quick look at the current rate card for Eastern Marr and its seems they charge $1340 per representative per day for cultural heritage work (travel to and from site is additional charge). They recommend two representatives attend. There are three of these aboriginal corporations. It’s 10 days work. We hope you can start doing the math on this one. Are archeologists and art conservators still involved? PVs favorite archeologist made hundreds of thousands from climbing site assessments in recent years. This is sounding expensive. Best to cut costs on the actual workers then… right WorkSafe Victoria?

PV have form on messing with climbing bolts

This has not been disclosed before, but way back in August 2019, Parks Victoria actually employed a so called art conservator “experts” to try to remove some of the climbing bolts in Millennium. This was only months after the first proposed bans were announced in the Grampians. Their attempts are best shown visually below…

PV contractors attempted to remove this bolt – and instead left a deathtrap for unsuspecting climbers

We presume the taxpayers paid top dollar to the team who did quality work such as this. This damaged bolt was left in place, with no warning signage, for more than two years before Safer Cliffs Australia representatives were alerted to the issue. They contacted Parks Victoria in January 2022 expressing concern about the whole principle of PV removing bolts in secret at long established climbing areas – even if there was a ban eminent (this bolt was attacked years before the new management plan was even finalized). Leaving bolts damaged, but still in place, is an unforgivable act against climbers by this PV contractor. The very safety of recreational users of the Grampians was put in direct danger by these actions. In letter of reply at the time Jason Borg, PV’s Regional Director Western Region assured Safer Cliffs that “I can also confirm that aside from the rehabilitation works that were conducted over two years ago, Parks Victoria has not removed or commissioned the removal of bolts or other safety anchors across the Gariwerd landscape.

We find this hard to believe as bolts in at the Gallery have also been crudely damaged. Was this work done by a rogue operator?

Who is behind this?

The proposal sent to LTOs clearly states that a PV employee who is very familiar to anyone who has been following along on the Grampians climbing ban saga for the last four years is behind the proposed project. His previous working arrangements with archeologist Ben Gunn even made a Victorian Auditor-General’s Office report – read about that in this SGC article from 2021. He infamously co-authored a paper with Ben Gunn that was instrumental in the climbing bans – yet contained alleged falsehoods and exaggerations of climbing impacts. That he was allowed to come up with such an informal and unsafe proposal to debolt Millennium caves, and send it out to the climbing guide community seems a severe oversight on PV’s management. Surely after so many years of these sorts of things becoming “news” – even in the mainstream press – they would be making sure to tick off everything before hitting send?

Member of a climbing organization? Probably don’t ask for work from PV

One little tidbit in the proposal sent to LTOs sparked interest to us. In the list of questions that must be answered by companies seeking this job was this zinger:

Are your guide members of ACAV/VCC/CVAC/GWRN?

Why would this be relevant to the hiring process we ask? Seems likely they are seeking guides with no affiliations to the climbing community so they can do PVs bidding silently and without fuss. We think actually asking for certified Rope Access technicians is probably a better membership to be asking for.

Where to from here?

If you’re a climbing guide and think this sounds like a good gig then please reconsider. You are probably not covered by Australian workplace safety laws. Check your insurance, check what PV expects you to do. Don’t under quote your life.

Rumour has it that this work is being done so PV can carve an official track to the cave as part of a new sanctioned visitor site. Imagine that. Remember when PV complained that climbers had cut vegetation to make a track to this cave? Let’s see the hypocrisy…

Enjoy the following photos from Simon Carter from the era when international rock stars Dave Graham and Nalle Hukkataival used to visit the Grampians…

Nalle Hukkataival working What’s an Aging Gigolo to Do (32)

One thought on ““You’re hired!” PV seeks climbing guides to chop bolts.”

  1. just catching up on this whole saga. as an american, boy does this have me fuming. This reminds me of the 90s when there were numerous attempts to ban bolting and/or climbing in general in Joshua Tree National Park (then a national monument, distinct from national parks in a few ways) and the climbing community came out on top, but by the thinnest of margins. Here, it feels like there was never any intention by the land managers to work with anyone to come up with any sort of plan, they had an idea to kill off land usage and went for it, fabricating data as they saw fit to reach their goals.

    One can only hope that the pendulum will swing the other direction some day in the future when a land manager that has actually gone rock climbing is in charge of the park. For now, I guess I won’t come to Australia for climbing any time soon.


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