Climbing has been banned at Taipan Wall, the best-known climbing area in the Grampians National Park, Australia, following recent Aboriginal archaeological finds in the vicinity. Spurt Wall and parts of Bundaleer have also been closed to climbing. The Aboriginal People are indigenous Australians and the Traditional Owners of the country’s lands. Gariwerd is Traditional Owners’ name for the Grampians.
According to a fact sheet released by Parks Victoria—the governing and oversight body of parks in the Victoria, Australia—“The recent rediscoveries include ancient cultural material, including multiple quarry sites–places where Aboriginal People took stone from rocky outcrops to
make tools for different purposes. Concentrations of stone tools, archaeological deposits within rock shelters and, unusually, an ochre deposit are also present. Ochre is used for painting and decorative purposes, and along with other materials confirm the connections that Traditional Owners have to land they have cared for tens of thousands of years.”
This is the latest in a series of climbing-access developments in the Grampians that began in earnest last year. On February 15, 2019, Parks Victoria announced eight climbing areas that would be affected by forthcoming closures to protect Aboriginal art and sites of archaeological significance.
Following the initial bans, many climbers and climbing organizations in Australia cried foul, variously claiming that Parks Victoria had not consulted with them about the closures; that Parks Victoria had unfairly scapegoated climbers as the reason for the bans; or that the bans were too broad and widespread.
These new bans on climbing at Taipan Wall, Spurt Wall and Bundaleer, mean that some of the country’s most classic and famous climbs are now off limits, among them the testpiece Groove Train (5.14b/8c).
According to the Parks Victoria fact sheet, the exact breadth and size of the protection zones were “determined as the areas needed to ensure that people don’t inadvertently cause harm to the known Aboriginal cultural heritage.”
A joint press release from Barengi Gadjin Land Council, Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation and Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation—three Gariwerd Traditional Owner organizations—states:
“Officials from the three Traditional Owner corporations recognise the concerns and uncertainty that exists amongst recreational users, particularly rock climbers, resulting from current and potential changes in accessibility to such locations, and with no definite timeframes for full resolution in place. It is important to state that this isn’t about trying to close down recreational activities such as rock climbing across the whole of Gariwerd landscape. In fact, the ongoing assessments are a necessary management process, required under legislation, to ensure the protection of cultural heritage which then will lead to greater certainty in future for recreational users when carrying out their activities.
Marcus Clarke, CEO of the The Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation, said, “Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation welcomes the decision by Parks Victoria to temporarily restrict public access to two areas in the Grampians (Gariwerd) National Park – the Taipan Wall and a part of the Bundaleer area – which are rich in Aboriginal cultural heritage. The protection of these areas is paramount, enshrined in law and absolutely non-negotiable. This decision will prevent further destruction, until a plan can be agreed upon which balances recreational use and essential cultural protection.”
In a letter, Gariwerd Wimmera Reconciliation Network (GWRN), a non-profit formed in the wake of the 2019 climbing closures in the Grampians, explained that it had taken part in discussions with Traditional Owners and Parks Victoria in August. (Rock and Ice was unable to confirm whether additional organizations such as ACAV (Australian Climbing Association Victoria) and the VCC (Victorian Climbing Club) participated.)
“The reconciliation-led approach has enabled us to build trust in our relationships and create a more collaborative approach,” GWRN’s letter reads. “Traditional Owners are keen to work together with GWRN, and ultimately the broader climbing community, to find more nuanced management solutions that allow recreation activities, in this case specifically rock climbing, and Cultural Heritage to co-exist where appropriate.”
The letter goes on, “We respect the need for these temporary closures at both sites to provide protection for Cultural Heritage while the necessary conversations take place. We also recognise that there is uncertainty and this is difficult for people, particularly following previous closures. Our goal is to work with Traditional Owners using the principles of reconciliation to arrive at a new process that brings our communities to a place of mutual respect and understanding.”
More info to come.