Parks Victoria is Failing to Protect Grampians Cultural Heritage

The Australian Climbing Association Victoria (ACAV) recently wrote to the Parks Victoria Chief Conservation Scientist, raising concerns that the widespread bans on climbing in the Grampians have not addressed the central issue of protecting cultural heritage in the region. Climbers were excluded from three quarters of the park as convenient scapegoats, representing illusory “protection”. We believe that Parks Victoria is mismanaging the situation to the detriment of all and we request a review by the responsible Minster.

Tourist vandalism, Hollow Mountain, Grampians

Letter to Chief Conservation Scientist

These are our five questions raised in the letter to the Chief Conservation Scientist. For those interested, more detail on the history of this situation is available in the full 7-page letter. We await a response from Parks Victoria.

Q1: How was it scientifically determined that historic quarry sites must be protected from climbers but not from tourist vandalism, feral animal damage and bushfires?

Q2: Are any further protections planned for the hundreds of quarry sites, or will you proceed at risk of harm from tourist vandalism, feral animal damage and bushfires?

Q3: Do you propose the same, minimal protection for cultural art sites in the region?

Q4: Are you confident that your protection strategies are fully compliant with the ATSIHPA 1984 and the AHA 2006?

Q5: How have you managed any contradictions between the ATSIHPA 1984 and the AHA 2006?

Furthermore, the Chief Conservation Scientist has been put on notice:

We contend that your present cultural heritage protection strategies are not compliant with the ATSIHPA 1984 and the AHA 2006. Please consider this letter as notice, confirming that, under AHA 2006 Division 1: 27 (1) you are now aware that your omission to act accordingly is likely to cause irreparable harm to cultural heritage artefacts.”

This matter has recently been taken up in the Victorian Parliament and we will report on progress in a follow up communication.

ACAV remains available to assist in the implementation of the Victorian Climbing Management Guidelines.

Please support the work that we do at ACAV:

Join as a member for $15

Ongoing feedback and assistance is always welcome: acav@climb.org.au

You are invited to join our Facebook group: ACAV Access Discussion

Grampians Green List

“Where can I boulder and climb in the Grampians?”

We are often asked this question. Here are the Parks Victoria lists of 13 Bouldering Areas and 89 Designated Climbing Areas, transcribed from the Greater Gariwerd Landscape Management Plan.

Maps 

* UPDATE: The complete spreadsheet of green list locations can be found here:

https://vicclimb.files.wordpress.com/…/grampians-green…

Parks Victoria Signage Plan, July 2022

Rock Climbing in Gariwerd (updated July 2022)

Many other Grampians bouldering and climbing locations, not shown on the lists above, are unidentified in the management plan and will remain unidentified on the ground. These locations are presumably deemed to be not-permitted by default. There are no Bouldering Areas or Designated Climbing Areas listed for the Black Range State Park.

The Climbing Victoria Advisory Council attends quarterly meetings with Parks Victoria and we understand that discussions are ongoing to potentially increase the number of Designated Climbing Areas. Parks Victoria prefers to communicate only with CVAC. We are advised that no additional Bouldering Areas will be permitted. CVAC does not appear to be fully formed at this stage. We have been advised to contact Outdoors Victoria for representation within this process.

It appears unlikely that Parks Victoria would be prepared to issue a legal infringement notice should anyone be found to be bouldering or climbing outside the listed locations or in violation of any future permit conditions. Parks Victoria is relying on park users to “do the right thing”.

Climbing permits are not available and not required at this stage. They will be introduced in the future. This is the latest advice on permits.

The permit will be free and can be completed online. There are still more logistics to work through and it could take up to a year before it is implemented. More details will be provided as the process is finalised.” Parks Victoria, July 2022

This management approach is cumbersome, restrictive and expensive. Overcrowding at a limited number of bouldering and climbing locations may lead to environmental harm. This is already occurring at popular tourist spots. Yet this containment strategy does nothing to protect important cultural sites from the far greater threats of bushfire, feral animal damage and tourist vandalism. We believe that there are far better ways to manage bouldering and climbing in the Grampians.

ACAV remains available to assist in the implementation of the Victorian Climbing Management Guidelines.

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Please support the work that we do at ACAV:

Join as a member for $15

Ongoing feedback and assistance is always welcome: acav@climb.org.au

You are invited to join our Facebook group: ACAV Access Discussion

Parks Victoria Equipment Ban Challenged

ACAV has written to Parks Victoria raising concerns over safety instructions given by a Parks Victoria Director, in a letter to Open Spaces Publishing:

“A rope may be used to assist hikers on a designated trail. However the use of additional equipment outside of a designated climbing area is not permitted.”

Letter from Parks Victoria to Open Spaces Publishing 18022022

Any prohibition of safety equipment presents a glaring safety risk, exposing Parks Victoria and its policy-makers to litigation in the event of an accident. We see it as our duty of care to raise this matter.

Tragedy on the first ascent of the Matterhorn, 1865 – drawn by Gustave Doré

Many experienced climbers and hikers will be aware of a tragedy that occurred on the first ascent of the Matterhorn, Switzerland in 1865. Four people died on the descent when one person slipped and pulled three others off the mountain to their deaths. They were simply roped together with no point of attachment to the rock.

The present ruling allows a fine of $1817 for carrying karabiners, slings or rock protection while deemed by a ranger to be doing the wrong kind of walking / hiking / scrambling / climbing, in the wrong place.

Parks Victoria must step back from banning “additional equipment” under any circumstances and must publish updated advice at the earliest opportunity, to ensure that outdoor enthusiasts feel able to equip themselves properly, without fear of prosecution. Any group, in any part of the Grampians may be hit by bad weather, become lost, experience illness or may encounter another emergency. Group leaders must have the freedom to carry equipment as they see fit.

ACAV remains available to assist in the implementation of the Victorian Climbing Management Guidelines.

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Please support the work that we do at ACAV:

Join as a member for $15

Ongoing feedback and assistance is always welcome: acav@climb.org.au

You are invited to join our Facebook group: ACAV Access Discussion

ACAV Calls For Withdrawal of “All of Park” Access Bans

ACAV has called for the withdrawal of newly-introduced “all of park” access bans on legal and regulatory grounds.

Link: ACAV Letter to Parks Victoria 30 May 2022

Arapiles / Dyurrite as the sun sets

Recent modifications to the National Parks Regulations 2013, allow Parks Victoria to ban everyone from all parks across the state if they wish to do so. The Victorian parks comprise 4 million hectares or 18% of the land area of Victoria, including 70% of our coastline.

On 9th March 2022, Matthew Jackson, CEO of Parks Victoria, implemented a “whole of a park” legal instrument to execute new set aside determinations for the Grampians/Gariwerd National Park, banning more than three-quarters of the climbing.

There is concern that this new legislation may soon be applied at Australia’s premier rock climbing location, Mount Arapiles / Dyurrite.

ACAV has requested that Parks Victoria:

  1. Withdraws the implementation of all-of-the-park set asides, pending a review of legal and regulatory compliance.
  2. Instigates an internal review of the justification for this proposed all-of-the-park exclusion approach.
  3. Suspends the implementation of the associated rock climbing and bouldering measures prescribed within the Greater Gariwerd Landscape Management Plan.
  4. Collaborates with climbing groups to modify Parks Victoria strategy in this area, guided by the well-established principles described within the Victorian Climbing Management Guidelines.

Victorian Climbing Management Guidelines

As further restrictions are introduced, we can only reflect upon what may be gained by this approach, and what may be lost.

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Please support the work that we do at ACAV:

Join as a member for $15

Ongoing feedback and assistance is always welcome: acav@climb.org.au

You are invited to join our Facebook group: ACAV Access Discussion

Auditing Parks Victoria: Let’s Do Another

In September 2020, a request for audit was submitted to VAGO, the Victorian Auditor General’s Office:

https://acav.climb.org.au/2020/09/02/time-for-an-audit-parks-victoria/

It took 12 months for the query to be addressed but a result was eventually achieved in September 2021. The Auditor General found major problems with the manner in which Parks Victoria procured Archaeological reports pertaining to perceived rock climbing damage in Grampians/Gariwerd and at Arapiles/Dyurrite. Their procurement findings are summarized in Section 5 of this VAGO report (follow link and scroll down).

Managing Conflicts of Interest in Procurement

Parks Victoria was compelled to improve procedures, much to their inconvenience and embarrassment. However, past indiscretions were never addressed.

We are now requesting a VAGO Performance Audit of two key archaeological reports that led to the rock climbing bans. This is the audit request:

VAGO Performance Audit Request

Excerpt from the May 2022 VAGO Audit Request

Hopefully it doesn’t take as long this time to hold our park managers to account. They are compelled to demonstrate an evidence-based scientific approach and they have failed to do this.

We contend that the climbing restrictions noted within the Greater Gariwerd Landscape Management Plan are based upon false information and we again assert a management approach based upon the Victorian Climbing Management Guidelines.

ACAV remains available for consultation on this matter.

Reference links:
Rock Art and Rock Climbing: An Escalating Conflict
https://acav.climb.org.au/2020/09/21/victorian-climbing-management-guidelines-version-4/
Parks Victoria Statement of Obligations
https://savegrampiansclimbing.org/2021/09/09/auditor-general-investigates-parks-victoria-and-archeologist-ben-gunn/
https://www.onsight.com.au/2020/02/rebeka/
https://acav.climb.org.au/2020/05/25/archaeologist-complaint-lodged-by-acav/

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Please support the work that we do at ACAV:

Join as a member for $15

Ongoing feedback and assistance is always welcome: acav@climb.org.au

You are invited to join our Facebook group: ACAV Access Discussion




Greater Gariwerd Grampians Management Plan – A Practical Review

The Plan was published in November 2021 and it is likely to remain active for 15 years.

Ethan Pringle on The Groove Train (33) on Taipan Wall in the Grampians (photo : Simon Carter)

Sadly, Parks Victoria has failed to genuinely consult over the new climbing rules.  Parks Victoria has recently informed us that “Consultation continues, with Parks Victoria regularly meeting with the newly established Climbing Victoria Advisory Council.” This organisation does not exist.

Several practical and legal failings affect the proposed rules:

  1. Many of the “open” cliffs cannot be accessed via the proposed “designated tracks” under the proposals to limit off-track walking.
  2. The “closed” cliffs are not identified anywhere in the plan.
  3. The mapping provided by Parks Victoria is inadequate. Climbers remain unaware of key location details.
  4. Widespread closure signage is impractical, yet it is required by law, to clearly identify the hundreds of “closed” locations.
  5. If Parks Victoria went ahead and issued climbing permits, they would become legally responsible for bolt integrity and bouldering pad safety. In the event of a serious accident, any disclaimers would be deemed invalid in court.
  6. The provision of only 13 bouldering locations will lead to overcrowding.
  7. Coloured chalk is impractical – see title photo.
  8. Discriminating against and excluding one user group (climbers), runs contrary to Parks Victoria’s responsibilities under the National Parks Act.
  9. Parks Victoria must demonstrate “evidence-based park management” under their Statement of Obligations. Their Archaeological reporting does not meet this standard (referred to the Auditor General).
  10. Parks Victoria cannot issue a legal infringement notice for climbing or walking in the wrong places and hence cannot police the new climbing rules.

Climbers and boulderers seeking clarification will be disappointed and they face a choice to either selectively break rules or continue to stay away from the Grampians.

Recent correspondence from Parks Victoria has been dismissive i.e. read the Plan.

ACAV remains available for consultation and will continue to support its members.

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In this election year, you are encouraged to email your local member of parliament to make your feelings known on this issue. Lily D’Ambrosio is the Victorian Minister responsible for this portfolio lily.dambrosio@parliament.vic.gov.au

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Please support the work that we do at ACAV:

Join as a member for $15

Ongoing feedback and assistance is always welcome: acav@climb.org.au

You are invited to join our Facebook group: ACAV Access Discussion

ACAV Submission – Draft GGLDMP

Have your say on the future of climbing and bouldering in the Grampians/Gariwerd National Park. Template available below.

Submissions responding to Park Victoria’s Greater Gariwerd Landscape Draft Management Plan (GGLDMP) close on Sunday 24th January 2021.

The GGLDMP is a critically important document as it will direct management of the Grampians for possibly the next 15 years and it may also used as a template for management of rock climbing in other areas. Climbing in the Grampians/Gariwerd is going to be absolutely decimated if this plan is implemented in it’s present form.

The ACAV has prepared a 22-page Submission to Parks Victoria in response to the draft plan. We have major concerns over these proposals and we have made a number of recommendations. Our response has been prepared in-line with international precedent and best practice for climbing and bouldering management around the world.

We have formatted our recommendations into a Word document, linked below, which you may wish to use as a template for your own submission to Parks Victoria. Simply download the Word document, fill out your details, edit accordingly, add your own recommendations if you wish, and most importantly email it to Parks Victoria by Sunday, 24 January. Email address: parkplan@parks.vic.gov.au

Template of recommendations for your submission

Thank you for making your voice heard to help protect future climbing access in the Grampians/Gariwerd National Park.

Victorian Climbing Management Guidelines – Version 4

Following a period of consultation, the Victorian Climbing Management Guidelines document has been updated to version 04.

The Victorian Climbing Management Guidelines V04

This document has been issued to interested parties at all levels. It is intended to inform and advise with a view to establishing excellent climbing management practices for the benefit of everyone.

We are indebted to Matt Brooks, who took on the lead role of pulling all this information together, managing the consultation process and closing out this major piece of work to produce a high quality document and a forward plan for rock climbing and bouldering in Victoria, Australia.

The Victorian Climbing Management Guidelines has been developed in accordance with international best practice, factoring-in comprehensive advice from climbing bodies around the world, including Access Fund USA:
A Guide to Climbing Issues and the Development of a Climbing Management Plan

This approach is a continuation of work done by Cliffcare for many years: https://www.cliffcare.org.au/

Victoria also has a new stewardship organisation, Crag Stewards Victoria, described in the Victorian Climbing Management Guidelines.

Ongoing feedback is always welcome for future updates to the Guidelines: acav@climb.org.au

You can also provide feedback on our Facebook group: ACAV Access Discussion

Time for an Audit, Parks Victoria

Blanket bans on rock climbing in Gariwerd/Grampians National Park and Tooan/Arapiles State Park have been introduced by Parks Victoria under the advice of one consultant archaeologist. When a site has been assessed by this archaeologist, the Aboriginal Heritage Act comes into play and the barriers go up. This has brought about climbing exclusions on a scale never before seen in the climbing world. To date, all sites that have been closed remain closed. No reviews, no questions, non negotiable.

Climbing groups have taken issue with many of the archaeological findings and allegations. Refer to previous news stories on this site for details. In May 2020, ACAV made a formal complaint to the Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists. No substantive response has been received.

Archaeologist Complaint lodged by ACAV

The procurement process for archaeological advice is highly questionable. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that Parks Victoria claims that only this particular archaeologist can do the work; allegedly the “sole supplier in the market” and “the only qualified person to complete this task in the state”. In fact there are multiple highly qualified consultant archaeologists willing and able to carry out work of this nature. The “sole supplier” reasoning may have been inappropriately used by Parks Victoria to avoid following a competitive tendering process. It makes the paperwork easier and Parks Victoria is clearly happy with the outcomes. No peer reviews have been carried out.

An audit application has now been submitted to the Victorian Auditor General – Audit application.

Supporting paperwork includes procurement documents recently obtained from Parks Victoria under the Freedom of Information Act – FOI applications and responses.

Further revelations within these FOI documents will be of interest to climbers piecing together how bans on this scale have been able to occur in Western Victoria but nowhere else in the world.

While the procurement paper trails have been released with heavy redaction, Parks Victoria has flatly refused to release any information surrounding archaeological reports, findings and recommendations. The two FOI requests seeking reports have been rejected or have stalled. The Aboriginal Heritage Act gives some justification for this, since a degree of discretion is required over site locations. That’s why we need the Government auditor to step in to cut through the veil of secrecy. If everything is above board then Parks Victoria has nothing to worry about. If malpractice has occurred there will be serious consequences and remedial action will follow. The forthcoming Grampians Landscape Management Plan has been drafted under the assumption that the archaeological advice is sound.

We have redacted point 5 from the audit application form as this relates to a connected matter raised by ACAV and currently under Ministerial review. It takes a very hot issue for ACAV to consider keeping access news under wraps. Watch this space for updates.

This is a sensitive area. Many climbers are reluctant to challenge the behaviour of Parks Victoria for fear of giving offence to Aboriginal representatives. This quandary has so far led to a wipe-out of rock climbing in the state with all hopes being pinned on a climbers’ reconciliation group.

Let’s see what the auditors find.

ACAV work of this nature has lost support. We will be holding a Zoom AGM in October. Along with several committee members, I will be stepping down. Any member may nominate for a role. If you are interested, please get in touch: Contact page

Refer to the ACAV Constitution to review the purposes of the Association.

Report by Mike Tomkins

New Grampians Management Plan Imminent

This ACAV update covers Victorian climbing access issues in the lead up to the proposed release of the draft Grampians Landscape Management Plan 2020 by Parks Victoria, due for review by the Environment Minister in June 2020.

The 2003 management plan defined the Special Protection Areas (SPAs) that were later invoked in 2019 to ban climbing and bouldering from 100 locations across the Grampians. The draft GLMP 2020 will be issued for public consultation once the Minster has reviewed it. We may see the draft plan in July or August.

Recent climbing access events and stories in Victoria – please follow the links for more detail.

  1. Rock climbing round table 4 documents released: More cultural surveys planned by Parks Victoria. Bundaleer and other cliffs to be added to the list of banned SPA locations.
  2. Declaration Crag Protection Order, ACAV submission. Consultation occurred with selected groups only. Minister’s response inadequate.
  3. ACAV Regulation 10 query led to Parks Vic Legal Manager advice: the SPA bans are “relying on the cooperation of the Victorian public” as these bans cannot be enforced.
  4. ACAV complaint to Archaeological Association, seeking retraction of erroneous claims by Ben Gunn.
  5. ACAV Freedom of Information requests have been declined to date. Parks Vic archaeological consulting procurement practices look likely to remain a state secret.
  6. Licensed tour operator new contract arrangements: all liability passed to LTOs. Several LTOs cannot renew their licenses. Climbing businesses under threat of closure.
  7. Chalk-wash fallacy. Sandinista Scandal. Parks Vic criticised in the media after blaming climbers for natural white streaks.
  8. Unworkable Aboriginal Heritage Regulations 2018: Parks Vic cannot meet permit costs and cover risks. Ground works aborted. PV Admits Heritage Regulations Unsustainable.
  9. Victorian Climbing Club ongoing delays over the 2019 SPA legal challenge. Refer to VCC for details.
  10. This ACAV letter requested that the VCC return the $30,000 legal contribution made by ACAV in February.
  11. Arapiles known art site surveys in progress by Ben Gunn. Whole-of-park surveys proposed to look for more artifacts. ACAV concerns prompt national media story.

It is possible that the Grampians Landscape Management Plan 2020 will map out a fair and reasonable place for rock climbing in 2021. However, considering the ongoing lack of meaningful consultation with rock climbers and the actions of Parks Victoria thus far, we are not optimistic. You are invited to draw your own conclusions.

We would like to hear from any members with legal, financial or IT experience to assist with the running of ACAV at this critical juncture for climbing in Victoria. Please email acav@climb.org.au if you can help in any way.

Please support the work that we do at ACAV:

Join as a member for $15

Donate to the Access Fund

You are invited to provide feedback on our Facebook group: ACAV Access Discussion