ACAV Grampians Climbing Access Update
On Wednesday afternoon (1st May 19) Mike Tomkins, representing the ACAV, met Simon Talbot (Parks Victoria) for the first time to advocate for climbing access in the Grampians National Park.
Climbers have been a respected user group within the Grampians for many years and the apparent intent of Parks Victoria to exclude climbers from the large sections of the Park is of great concern to the climbing community.
Information has certainly been thin on the ground, not helped by a media campaign by Parks Victoria aimed squarely at climbers. The Parks Victoria media included false accusations and misrepresentations, discrediting climbers as a user group.
Over the last few weeks ACAV representatives have been active in the media and have also been engaging with local political representatives. TV, radio, and news agencies have all shown interest in this controversy. The ACAV has been developing important legal contacts both within and outside the climbing community. The ACAV Access Fund, raised to pursue legal options, already exceeds $10,000 thanks to the generosity of the climbing community and others.
In response to media push back by climbers and pressure from the ACAV, we recently saw a flurry of activity and announcements from Parks Victoria leading to a meeting with ACAV on Wednesday.
Mike Tomkins, representing the ACAV, met with Simon Talbot (Parks Victoria COO). Also present were Paula Toal (VCC President) and Lucy Marshall (Parks Victoria – Manager, Stakeholder Relations).
At this meeting the ACAV:
- Strongly objected to the reputation of rock climbers being brought into disrepute by Parks Victoria in the media by the use of inaccurate and misleading information;
- Requested reasons behind the current climbing restrictions with particular reference to the 8 focus sites;
- In light of the unexpected climbing bans, sought explanations for the long term failure of Parks Victoria to inform and manage climbers with regards to assisting with the protection of Cultural Heritage areas that may be impacted by climbing activities;
- Asserted that the climbing bans in the Grampians are against the public interest;
- Asserted that ACAV will vigorously defend the legal interests of climbers as a legitimate recreational user group, while also ensuring the respectful protection of the Park in the interests of all concerned;
- Noted that Traditional Owner interests are fundamentally in alignment with climbers interests in the Grampians and that the relevant legislation will be invoked to assist both groups in a harmonious manner;
Parks Victoria responded by declaring that they will no longer be engaging with the media about climbing access in the Grampians following recent experiences in the press, on radio and on television. Interestingly, Simon Talbot stated that Traditional Owner groups directly initiated the February 2019 climbing restrictions by threatening financial penalties towards Parks Victoria over failure to protect Cultural Heritage. On ACAV querying this, Parks Victoria acknowledged there may be potential conflicts of interest regarding some key Parks Victoria staff members.
Simon Talbot stated that the present climbing restrictions will not be lifted during the interim period while the new Grampians management plan is negotiated, completed and gazetted over the next 15 months.
While this had never been conveyed to the climbing community until April 2019, Simon Talbot confirmed that the Gallery is a registered Cultural Heritage quarry site and this had been known by Parks Victoria for many years. ACAV expressed disappointment that this information had been withheld.
Simon Talbot suggested that Parks Victoria held some additional photographs including evidence supporting the highly controversial “drilling into paintings” narrative. The ACAV is fully aware of the location mentioned by Simon Talbot and ACAV strongly refuted that such damage to artwork has ever occurred. Simon Talbot agreed to issue to the ACAV the 99 photographs of alleged climbing impacts at the Grampians, including photographs of alleged damage at sensitive cultural locations (which the ACAV was advised, must remain outside the public domain).
Simon Talbot also stated to the ACAV that there are two active liability cases concerning safety bolt incidents in the region. Simon Talbot expressed concerns over Parks Victoria liabilities in this regard. The ACAV is seeking clarification as no further details were provided.
A second meeting, solely between Parks Victoria and VCC representatives was held immediately after the first meeting and is reported in the following statement on Cliffcare’s website:
So where to from here?
The ACAV is seeking a public apology from Parks Victoria regarding the misrepresentation and misinformation promoted by Parks Victoria about the alleged cultural heritage damage and the extent of climbers’ environmental impacts. We are also seeking a public apology from Parks Victoria for setting Traditional Owners against climbers and severely damaging relationships that have been developing for decades.
The ACAV is seeking proper references for the statistical information presented by Parks Victoria regarding climbing numbers used in media releases to justify claims of excessive environmental impact. We are also seeking explanations for the inconsistencies in the current management plan particularly around the SPAs and how these are defined under legislation.
The ACAV is committed to:
- Defending and promoting climbing access in Victoria in accordance with the law and in respectful understanding with Traditional Owners.
- Engaging in stewardship of climbing areas, in harmony with Traditional Owner values.
- Working constructively with Parks Victoria as current land managers of the Grampians.
- Providing climbers with current information on access issues throughout Victoria.
- Encouraging ACAV membership and financial donations to generate a comprehensive legal access fund.
- Encouraging membership of the Victorian Climbing Club, the Western Victorian Climbing Club, University Outdoor Clubs and other relevant clubs.
- Developing affiliations and strong relationships with other user groups with similar access interests.
The ACAV will continue to represent and advocate strongly and passionately for climbers in the legislative domain whilst working respectfully with Traditional Owners to begin to learn what we don’t yet understand.