The Australian Climbing Association Victoria has made a formal complaint to the Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists regarding the conduct of a registered Archaeologist, Robert (Ben) Gunn in relation to the nature of his published work, reporting on alleged rock climbing impacts in the Gariwerd/Grampians region.
The outcomes we seek are: 1. To retract the accusation that climbers were responsible for Lil Lil graffiti as there has been no evidence provided to support his claims; 2. To amend the title “Rock Art and Rock Climbing an Escalating Conflict” in the Rock Art Research Journal, volume 37. It is extremely unprofessional to start with a title of this nature in an academic publication; 3. For Mr Gunn to acknowledge his indiscretions, clarify these matters publicly and apologise for his conflict-inducing behaviour; 4. For Mr Gunn to be removed from all future climbing-related archaeological contracts; and 5. A review of Mr Gunn’s registration with AACAI as a consultant to be conducted.
Parks Victoria has been quietly getting on with business during lockdown, entering into consultation over Declaration Crag / Taylors Rock at Arapiles with 3 community groups:
Arapiles District Community Group
Mount Arapiles Advisory Group
Gariwerd Wimmera Reconciliation Network.
No climbing groups were consulted. This is concerning. Alternative viewpoints from a climbing perspective are unwelcome it seems. ACAV has 1600 members and we are dedicated to climbing access with a strong legal focus. This is the first we have heard of the recent consultation meetings.
Why are we concerned about the proposed Interim Protection Declaration at Dec Crag?
“An interim protection declaration, or an ongoing protection declaration, that relates to an Aboriginal place or object has effect despite anything to the contrary in any of the following— (a) any other Act or law; (b) an approved cultural heritage management plan; (c) a cultural heritage agreement; (d) any other agreement.”
After 3 months as an interim order, the ruling is likely to be upgraded to an ongoing protection declaration. This powerful legislation is akin to locking it up and throwing away the key, no further questions. Maybe that’s appropriate at Taylor’s Rock, maybe not. Nevertheless a precedent is being set and many other sites at Arapiles are now being surveyed. Similar protections are highly likely if this goes through unchecked. We will follow this up accordingly.
We received this email from Parks Vic, explaining the recent events:
EMAIL FROM PARKS VICTORIA, 21 MAY 2020
This email provides an update on cultural heritage rediscoveries, assessments and protections at Mount Arapiles-Tooan State Park.
With public health measures in place to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), Parks Victoria has been adapting the way it works to keep progressing important conversations with our communities.
Taylors Rock Interim Protection Declaration – Aboriginal Victoria consultation
The feedback period on a proposed Interim Protection Declaration at Taylors Rock (Declaration Crag) closed on 22 April.
The consultation occurred in March to consider whether to approve the additional legally-enforceable protection for this Aboriginal cultural heritage place where rock art and other cultural heritage values were recently rediscovered.
In addition to recent finds at Taylors Rock, there are a number of rock art sites that have previously been identified in Mount Arapiles-Tooan State Park.
These sites are on the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register, which is a central repository for Traditional Owners to store information about cultural heritage.
Beginning this month, Parks Victoria and Barengi Gadjin Land Council will assess these registered rock art sites, checking their condition and, where required, undertake further site protection.
Ongoing community consultation by Parks Victoria
While it has not been possible to hold a follow-up community information session in Natimuk due to current circumstances, members of our regional team have met online with three local representative groups.
In the past month, we’ve held separate meetings with the Arapiles District Community Group, Mount Arapiles Advisory Group, and the Gariwerd Wimmera Reconciliation Network.
Conversations were positive and focused on the aspirations of each group and the relationship moving forward with Parks Victoria. General discussions were also held on the current and future cultural heritage protection at Mount Arapiles Tooan State Park, opportunities for local groups to build relationships with Traditional Owners and the proposed Interim Protection Declaration for Dyurrite 1 (which is being led by Aboriginal Victoria).
As circumstances allow, we remain committed to holding future information sessions with the broader community to discuss the cultural, environmental and recreational values of Mount Arapiles-Tooan State Park, and how they are managed, recognised and enjoyed.
Finally, a recurring theme from community conversations has been the creation of a ‘roadmap’ that outlines the process and timelines for cultural heritage assessments and park management developments. We are working with Barengi Gadjin Land Council to finalise this and look forward to sharing it soon.
We understand that Parks Victoria will soon commence extensive archaeological survey work at Mount Arapiles. We require evidence that proper process is being followed to be assured that this work will be carried out to the highest standards of propriety.
ACAV has coordinated the submission of four Freedom of Information requests to Parks Victoria on 12th May 2020. These applications will be rigorously followed up by the applicants to seek the information within the required 30 day timeline.
Is Parks Victoria following its mandatory procurement and tender process in spending public money to appoint archaeological consultants and advisors?
Who has been receiving all this contract work and how much has been spent? ($1.2 million was committed in mid 2019)
What archaeological advice has been submitted to Parks Victoria in relation to rock climbing impacts?
Did Parks Victoria follow the advice of this discredited Grampians report?
The Freedom of Information application forms can be viewed here. The document requests are as follows:
FOI #1Please provide all documentation, from 1 January 2018 to present, relating to the procurement of archaeological and/or cultural heritage surveys of sites where rock climbing is known to occur in the Greater Gariwerd Area (Grampians National Park, Black Range State Park, Red Rock Reserve and associated areas) for potential damage to archaeological and/or cultural heritage values. Please include as a minimum any market engagement plan, request for quotation / specification, supplier selection or engagement briefs, approvals for deviation and/or exemption from standard process, bid evaluation reports / briefs and conflict of interest declarations. As the purpose of our request is of public interest and benefit, we expect that additional fees will be waived in accordance to Clause 22(1)(h)(i) of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
FOI #2Please provide all documentation, reports, plans, correspondence and meeting notes, from 1 January 2018 to present, relating to archaeological surveys of sites where rock climbing is known to occur in the Greater Gariwerd Area (Grampians National Park, Black Range State Park, Red Rock Reserve and associated areas). As part of this request, please include any and all reports from, and all correspondence with consultant archaeologists and all cultural heritage advisors. As the purpose of our request is of public interest and benefit, we expect that additional fees will be waived in accordance to Clause 22(1)(h)(i) of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
FOI #3Please provide all documentation, from 1 January 2018 to present, relating to the procurement of archaeological and/or cultural heritage advice regarding the surveying for potential damage to archaeological and/or cultural heritage values in Mount Arapiles State Park. Please include as a minimum any market engagement plan, request for quotation / specification, supplier selection or engagement briefs, approvals for deviation and/or exemption from standard process, bid evaluation reports / briefs and conflict of interest declarations. As the purpose of our request is of public interest and benefit, we expect that additional fees will be waived in accordance to Clause 22(1)(h)(i) of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
FOI #4Please provide all documentation, reports, plans, correspondence and meeting notes, from 1 January 2018 to present, relating to archaeological surveys in Mount Arapiles State Park, As part of this request, please include any and all reports from, and all correspondence with consultant archaeologists and all cultural heritage advisors. As the purpose of our request is of public interest and benefit, we expect that additional fees will be waived in accordance to Clause 22(1)(h)(i) of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
A year ago, Parks Victoria listed Bundaleer as one of five Grampians locations where climbing was acceptable and “not in a protected area”.This week we have received a set of attachments from the March round table meeting showing contradictory information. Now we are informed that Bundaleer has been defined as a Special Protection Area since 2003 via a red dot on a map and climbing will need to be banned across a major portion of the cliff line.
We have been informed that:
“Pending the new plan being finalised, Parks Victoria may need to put in place some additional protection measures in the coming months. Parks Victoria expects that the area from 30m to the north of “Manic Depressive” (and northwards of this point) are unlikely to be affected by additional cultural heritage protection measures. Climbing routes south of this point are likely to be affected by additional cultural heritage protection measures.”
Licensed Tour Operators (LTOs) running climbing and abseiling activities in Gariwerd at Summerday Valley and at Lookout Point Wall have been offered new license conditions by Parks Victoria for the financial year starting July 1st 2020:
Each LTO must apply for a cultural heritage permit (previously held by Parks Victoria)
LTOs become legally responsible for any ‘harm’ – fines of up to $1.65 million
The definitions of harm present significant real-world risks for the LTOs
If LTOs sign up to this by 19th May, Parks Victoria will cover the cost of permit applications (otherwise $600 per LTO)
The new Grampians Landscape Management Plan, due in December, may override these permit conditions during the permit period
Only 7 of the 29 LTOs attended the dial-in briefing
This is a test case, anticipated to be rolled out for all activities, across Victoria
This new scheme presents a new level of risk for Licensed Tour Operators and their insurers. Noalternatives have been offered.
Links to documents issued by Parks Victoria to LTOs on 6th May 2020:
This initiative was commenced by the ACAV in July 2019. The version 3 document has been put together by a group of climbers from across the different climbing groups. We would like to acknowledge the excellent work done by Matthew Brooks as the content manager and driving force behind this publication. We would also like to thank the Victorian Climbing Club for their support and input towards the publication of this major piece of work.
Additional climbing community consultation is now invited, to allow these Guidelines to be further developed across future revisions.
These Guidelines provide a road map for the management of recreational rock climbing and bouldering in Victoria, Australia. It is our intent to build upon the value of positive cooperation with land managers and with the traditional custodians of the land, seeking collaborative outcomes for the future.
ACAV was launched one year ago today. How are we going and where to from here?
The Grampians Special Protection Area climbing ban is still in place, AKA: World’s Largest Climbing Ban
Parks Victoria is forging ahead with a new Grampians Landscape Management Plan, due for completion by the end of 2020
Parks Victoria continues to carry out extensive environmental and cultural surveys across the Grampians, focused primarily on rock climbing impacts
Consultation with the climbing community has been somewhat limited to date
The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is seeking an Interim Protection Declaration to strengthen protection measures for cultural heritage at Taylors Rock, Arapiles
The Victorian Climbing Club has “taken steps to be ready to file legal proceedings at a moment’s notice” on behalf of the climbing community, supported by ACAV and VCC funds.
It has become clear that climbers have been drawn into a complex political situation. It is no exaggeration to say that access to all public land across Australia is under serious question and climbers in Victoria are at the forefront of this new paradigm.
At ACAV we have become increasingly concerned about the overreach displayed by Parks Victoria in seeking to “prove” that climbers are the problem rather than taking active steps to genuinely protect cultural heritage as a land manager should. The blanket bans, the expensive surveys and now the prospect of huge fines at Arapiles all point to a bureaucracy that is working against the people rather than for the people.
Some ACAV members may feel reluctance to consider legal action against the land manager Parks Victoria, seeking a more collaborative approach. Others fear that a legal challenge against Parks Victoria will be viewed unfavourably by the Registered Aboriginal Parties. It is the view of the ACAV committee that it is entirely appropriate to hold a Government agency (PV) to account under the law. Indeed, without such action, all user groups are likely to lose a significant degree of access in the present climate, particularly where there is no monetary benefit in allowing people to access the land.
Holding Parks Victoria to account is also highly beneficial in the cause to protect cultural heritage and the environment. PV chose a “quick and dirty” approach to get rid of climbers and claim: job done, heritage protected. Strong resistance from the climbing community can force PV to do this job properly, focusing on all user groups and working site-by-site on genuine protection initiatives.
The ACAV is collaborating with the Victorian Climbing Club to pursue legal avenues against Parks Victoria to work towards respectfully managed climbing access in Gariwerd/The Grampians.
ACAV members’ funds raised in 2019 were utilised as follows:
During 2019, ACAV appointed lawyers, developed a legal case and paid legal fees to the law firm, along with associated costs for Junior and Senior Queen’s Counsel advice.
ACAV made a significant donation to a VCC legal fund in February 2020 on the understanding that the VCC would utilise this money to initiate appropriate legal action against Parks Victoria over the 2019 Grampians bans.
Note that the donation to the VCC legal fund followed advice that, as a new entity, the ACAV may not have legal standing (could not be plaintiff) in this case, whereas the VCC would have standing. It is expected that in due course the ACAV will have standing to run legal action independently.
It is the ardent desire of the ACAV committee that our members’ funds be used without delay and we encourage the VCC to take appropriate legal action on behalf of the climbing community at the earliest opportunity.
In addition to the proposed legal action over the 2019 bans, there are several additional legal and political avenues the ACAV is keen to explore, to further the cause of respectful climbing access in 2020. As such, the need for funding has never been greater.
RENEW: If you are an existing member, please renew your membership and continue to support climbing access in Victoria. Please remember to tick the box to receive email updates. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you require assistance.
ACAV has made a written submission to the Minister regarding the proposed interim protection declaration for Dyurrite 1, located in the vicinity of Declaration Crag / Taylors Rock at Mount Arapiles / Djurite. This submission was made in response to a proposal from the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet:
On 23rd March the rock climbing round table participants received meeting notes and a presentation from Parks Victoria, following the fourth round table meeting held on 5th March.
These are the meeting notes prepared by Mark Dingle of Deloitte Australia and approved by Parks Victoria. We note that, unlike formal minutes of meetings, the round table participants have no input into these notes and there is no group approval process.
This is the Gariwerd Assessment Update presentation made by Maria Pizzi, Parks Victoria Director, Managing Country Together. This presentation describes four Projects that are in progress by Parks Victoria in their ongoing efforts to quantify the impact of rock climbing in the Grampians.
Project 1 – Assessment of climbing areas in the Grampians NP (125 climbing sites)
Project 2 – Aboriginal rock art site impact assessments in Grampians NP SPAs (72 rock art sites within 28 new Special Protection Areas created in 2019)
Project 3 – Conservation works at 8 focus areas in the NVR SPA (6 climbing locations and 2 caged art sites)
Project 4 – Environmental impacts assessment at rock climbing sites (8 climbing sites)
A fifth project was also outlined – a LIDAR survey of the Grampians is proposed at an estimated cost of $400,000. Parks Victoria wishes to “identify priority areas for future cultural surveys.” Light Detection and Ranging imagery is achieved through aerial photography and Parks Victoria has sought this funding to achieve survey resolution down to 2 cm.
This comprehensive report covers Round Table 4 – Part 2 including: Headlines – Information regarding Parks Victoria’s “Current Management Protection Regime” – Cultural Heritage Survey Progress – Environmental Survey Progress – Survey Scope and Cost
This is followed by a section on Legal Updates including a Legal Action Timeline reporting on significant events that have occurred since July 2019.
Parks Victoria issued this official Round Table 4 Communique on 11th March 2020. Further meeting notes are expected soon, including copies of the environmental and cultural presentations made at the meeting.
The Parks Victoria Rock Climbing Round Table 4 meeting on 5th March 2020 was once again attended by big guns: Parks Victoria Chairman, CEO, 3 Directors and a Deloitte facilitator. Plus a cohort of climbing/outdoor administrators – see Part 1 of this report for the list of attendees.
The February 2019 legal determination regarding climbing restrictions in the Grampians will remain in place, pending new conditions to be incorporated in the Grampians Landscape Management Plan (GLMP)
“The current management protection regime is unchanged”
The draft GLMP is due for issue to the Environment Minister in July
There will be an 8 week period of public consultation over the draft GLMP
The final GLMP is due to be issued in December 2020
Special Protection Area (SPA) details will be updated in the 2020 GLMP
Parks Victoria remains engaged in extensive Grampians surveys, focused on measuring rock climbing impacts
Current Management Protection Regime
8 focus sites – enforcement and fines apply for anyone found to be climbing at: The Gallery, Millennium Caves, Billywing Buttress, Billimina Area, Cave of Man Hands, Little Hands Cave, Manja Area, Gondwanaland. Signage is in place at the trail heads on the approaches to these 8 sites.
Special Protection Areas comprising 100 further climbing locations – climbing “restrictions” apply in accordance with Parks Victoria website advice. The wording on this web page is ambiguous. Fines do not apply for climbing in SPAs.
The photo above shows one of the 8 signs that Parks Victoria installed 12 months ago. The white SPA sign at the top cites National Parks Regulation 65 across Special Protection Areas. The grey sign at the bottom refers to prohibition at the 8 focus sites. These 8 signs are the only physical indicators of any work done over the last 12 months to protect cultural heritage. This sign is at the locked gate at the head of the Yanganaginj Njawi Track “camp of the emu foot track” several kilometres from the Gondwanaland focus site.
The photo above shows the grey focus site sign, showing that climbing is “prohibited” at the 8 focus sites.
This represents 40% of the climbing sites in the Grampians, comprising 4,300 routes
Further data on specific findings will be issued to the climbing community shortly
Observed impacts – not all attributed to climbing: litter, chalk, bolts, rock breakage exfoliation, vegetation clearance, illegal tracks
Tangible cultural heritage was found at 27 of the 125 sites surveyed
Assessments have not yet been carried out for intangible cultural heritage at these sites. Representatives from each of 3 Registered Aboriginal Parties have attended each cultural survey to date and will attend each review of intangible heritage.
100 further climbing sites will be surveyed in the coming months
Parks Victoria also carried out Project 2 – Impact Assessments at Rock Art Places to investigate climbing impacts at 29 new SPAs that were created in 2019. Evidence of chalking, bolting or rock breakage was present at 5 of the 29 sites. The 5 sites of concern are all in the northern Grampians. Photographs will be published as part of the presentations that were given at round table 4. Chalk marks were found within 1.8m of hand stencil art.
Parks Victoria is seeking a $400,000 federal grant to carry out a LIDAR aerial photography survey of the Grampians, showing details of ground conditions to a resolution of 2 cm.
Environmental Survey Progress, RT4
Parks Victoria has completed environmental survey work at 8 climbing locations:
Mt Zero, Andersens, The Watchtower, Venus Baths, Lookout Wall / Sundial, Bundaleer, Gilhams (shelter not the main cliffs), Mountain Lion
Parks Victoria acknowledged that the “7 hectares environmental damage” previously alleged at 8 climbing sites was incorrect. The correct assessment was given as 0.7 hectares vegetation damage at 8 sites. A media correction has been issued.
Parks Victoria then extrapolated from this, an estimate across 200 sites to allege that there is likely to be 18 hectares of vegetation damage across 200 climbing sites and an estimated 108 km of unofficial tracks created to access these 200 climbing sites.
Categories of environmental impact: vegetation removal or damage, evidence of fires, rubbish, toilet waste, track formation, weeds.
Parks Victoria stated that environmental damage found at rock climbing sites was not necessarily attributable to rock climbers.
Further environmental survey work was done in the Eastern Wall / Peking Face area, following a request made by the VCC at a previous round table meeting. There were concerns that a shiny Wild Country No. 3 Stopper was recently found in an area that was the subject of a long standing voluntary closure to protect brush tailed rock wallabies. There was some confusion over boundaries and location names in this area.
Survey Scope and Costs
The cost and scale of the Grampians surveys is enormous, considering the low-impact nature of rock climbing in comparison with other user groups, particularly day visitors on the main tourist trails. It appears that Parks Victoria is attempting to reinforce it’s 2019 position that climbers damage rock art in the Grampians as alleged in this academic paper Rock Art and Rock Climbing: An Escalating Conflict. However, despite the studies and all the surveys, Parks Victoria has been unable to produce evidence to support this notion.
There is no evidence of damage to rock art by climbers yet there is ample evidence of damage by tourists to paintings and ancient hand stencils along some of the popular tourist trails. The question of climber damage or harm to Aboriginal places is mired in terminology and inferred exclusion zones. Climbing impacts have certainly occurred in the vicinity of cultural heritage sites. Acceptable exclusion zones have not been established. The whole Park is deemed to be an area of cultural sensitivity. A Cultural Heritage Management Plan covering the entire Park would be necessary to properly protect cultural heritage under the terms of the Aboriginal Heritage Act. This would be an expensive exercise.
Every human activity has impact. The relatively minor impacts of recreational climbing are currently under a powerful microscope in the Parks Victoria boardroom. A verdict on the future of recreational climbing in the Grampians will be handed down later this year as part of the Grampians Landscape Management Plan. Climbers continue to have very little input to this process.
What’s happening with the Grampians legal action?
Note that any climbing legal dispute is against Parks Victoria. ACAV wishes to emphasise that great respect is intended towards cultural heritage sensitivities in the Grampians.
The set aside determination used by Parks Victoria to exclude climbers is invalid and a more fine-grained cliff-by-cliff, boulder-by-boulder approach is required to allow respectful recreational climbing to coexist alongside locations holding special cultural and environmental significance.
The invalid use of Regulation 65 of the National Park Regulations has caused Parks Victoria to place single signs to cover large areas and set up a blanket bans for one user group (climbers) while allowing other user groups (tourists, walkers, everyone except climbers) to continue to access cultural sites and cause harm. The use of Regulation 65 allows Parks Victoria to give the appearance of protecting cultural heritage, without any worthwhile management work taking place to properly protect the cultural sites. Day tourists remain free to visit these sites without restraint. Valuable cultural artifacts are all at ground level and are at great risk of harm that may be caused deliberately or accidentally.
A successful legal challenge against Regulation 65 would force Parks Victoria to invoke a more appropriate Regulation that would bring about a focused approach to protecting individual cultural sites while accepting respectful recreational activities in the vicinity. Parks Victoria has been applying major resources to outlaw rock climbing for the last 12 months.A more effective use of resources would be to spend money on more comprehensive educational strategies and practical physical measures to protect cultural heritage against all threats (without locking up the park).
ACAV Legal Timeline – regarding ACAV proposed legal action against Parks Victoria over restrictions on rock climbing across 550 sq km of the Grampians National Park.
July 2019 – ACAV engaged a law firm to advise on legal opportunities in regard to challenging the overreaching Grampians bans.
August 2019 – ACAV met with lawyers along with Junior and Senior Counsel to develop a legal case to challenge the set aside determination made by Parks Victoria in attempting to exclude climbers from large areas of the Grampians National Park.
September 2019 – This letter was sent from our lawyers to Parks Victoria, challenging the Grampians set aside determination and the invalid use of Regulation 65. A substantive response was not received. The legal team then prepared to file legal action against Parks Victoria on the basis that “the set aside determination is invalid”.
October 2019 – ACAV received legal advice that ACAV would not be able to show legal standing in court as the Association had not been established for a long enough time period. A typical duration of operation required to establish legal standing was indicated as approximately two years. Hence ACAV could not be the plaintiff in the proposed legal case. One or more individual climbers with a history of climbing in the region could conceivably act as plaintiff with ACAV backing but the plaintiffs would bear financial risk.
November 2019 – ACAV entered discussions with the Victorian Climbing Club (VCC) over the potential for the VCC to act as plaintiff as the club was established in 1952.
December 2019 – ACAV paid for professional legal work to gain QC advice that the VCC would be likely to achieve legal standing and hence the VCC could act as the plaintiff in a joint action with ACAV.
January 2020 – The VCC Committee voted to take legal action. The ACAV committee voted to donate the majority of ACAV funds raised to date, towards a VCC/ACAV legal challenge against Parks Victoria. This money was paid into the lawyer’s trust account along with similar funding from the VCC.
February 2020 – The law firm, along with Junior and Senior Counsel prepared the necessary legal documentation under the direction of the VCC, including affidavits to file proceedings against Parks Victoria.
March 2020 – theVCC Committee voted to suspend the legal challenge, anticipating good faith being shown by Parks Victoria towards the climbing community in the form of positive engagement over the management of rock climbing in the Grampians and at Arapiles. The ACAV funds previously donated will now be returned to ACAV to allow the implementation of alternative strategies.
Since the VCC has opted to suspend legal action, ACAV has no opportunity to bring about legal action at present. The legal action proposed above would benefit from the support of the VCC in two ways. Firstly as a plaintiff with legal standing and secondly to show broader support for a legal challenge within the climbing community.
While some track work is occurring with rangers at local level, we have not seen “good faith” consultation from Parks Victoria at executive level. One of the critical missing components is attendance by climbing representatives at site surveys to allow climbing-focused solutions to be put forward in a collaborative environment. This is standard practice at similar climbing locations around the world.
ACAV will continue to lobby for constructive consultation with Parks Victoria, including via mainstream media and at a political level. We are also working on alternative strategies with a long term aim to bring about properly managed climbing access across the State.