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Grampians National Park becomes battleground as rock climbers banned to protect Aboriginal art

May 1st, 2019 | | industry

One of Australia’s most beautiful national parks has become the backdrop of an ugly battle.

Key points:

  • About a third of the Grampians National Park closed to climbers in March
  • Parks Victoria claims climbers were causing environmental and cultural damage
  • The Grampians is home to almost 90 per cent of south eastern Australia’s Aboriginal rock art
  • The park is also world renowned for its rock climbing sites
  • Climbers are petitioning Park Victoria to overturn the ban

The Grampians National Park, west of Melbourne, is home to about 90 per cent of south-eastern Australia’s Aboriginal rock art, but it also contains some of the best rock climbing locations in the world.

In March, Parks Victoria announced a climbing ban covering about a third of the park.

It said climbers were causing environmental and cultural damage, including cutting their own paths to sites, putting climbing bolts in rock walls, leaving chalk and even defecating in sacred areas.

“If you love the environment, then take care of it, look after it — don’t bolt it, don’t leave chalk, don’t leave remains behind, respect sacred places,” Parks Victoria chief operating officer Simon Talbot told 7.30.

“Certainly we have rock climbers who do that, but we have others on the opposite end of the spectrum who don’t care.

‘Loving the Grampians to death’

A rock wall in the Grampians with metal climbing spikes and hooks

PHOTO: A rock wall in the Grampians with metal spikes and hooks left by climbers. (Supplied: Parks Victoria)

Indigenous ranger Jake Goodes said seeing the damage was devastating.

“To see there’s fire rings, there’s bolts, there’s chalk all over the rock, vegetation’s been cut, it’s really heart-wrenching,” he said.

“You feel gutted.”

He said the ban was necessary because, even now, rangers were still finding undiscovered rock art.

“With more people, you know, we love the landscape to death,” Mr Goodes said.

“It’s an actual thing and it’s happening here in Australia, it’s happening here in the Grampians.”

Indigenous ranger Jake Goodes

PHOTO: Indigenous ranger Jake Goode says the damage has been heart-wrenching. (ABC News: Lauren Day)

But the climbing community has hit back, saying the number of climbers using the area and the damage they have been accused of causing have been wildly overstated.

Long-time rock climber Mike Tomkins pointed to one example where Parks Victoria had posted an image of a bolt through rock art that authorities were in fact responsible for.

Mr Talbot admitted the error but denied it was part of a smear campaign.

“It was a mistake,” he said.

“We posted around 100 impact images, somehow that one got through. It was a 1937 bolt, it was blamed on rock climbers and we said that’s completely wrong. Sorry.

“But there’s another 99 photos there that show clear environmental and cultural damage.”

‘Climbers shut out of world-significant site’

Millennium Caves are included in a Special Protection Area which only authorised climbers can access

PHOTO: Millennium Caves are included in a Special Protection Area which only authorised climbers can access (ABC News: Lauren Day)

The ban sent shockwaves through the global rock climbing community.

Large sections of the Grampians/Gariwerd in Australia look like they are likely to be closed to climbing due to tensions with the park’s managers.

One of the sport’s biggest names, Alex Honnold, whose quest to become the first to climb the El Capitan rock formation in the Yosemite National Park without ropes, was the subject of popular documentary Free Solo, has even weighed in to the debate.

“Large sections of the Grampians/Gariwerd in Australia look like they are likely to be closed to climbing due to tensions with the park’s managers,” he posted on social media.

“Which is unfortunate, because the Grampians might have the best rock on Earth.”

Mark Gould from the Victorian Climbing Club said it would have a huge impact on tourism.

“People are cancelling their holidays to come here because it’s just too confusing,” he said.

“Some of the most significant places that climbers would come to internationally have actually been put into these SPAs, the special protection areas, so that essentially those climbers could be turfed out of that area and then more specifically be fined in other certain areas.”

Climbers Mark Gould and Jackie Bernardi

PHOTO: Climbers Mark Gould and Jackie Bernardi don’t understand why the ban has been introduced. (ABC News: Lauren Day)

His climbing partner Jackie Bernardi said climbers were confused about why such widespread bans were necessary.

“There hasn’t been a lot of information, so there’s been a lot of questions,” she said.

“And for me, it hasn’t made a lot of sense why it’s decided that now’s the time to bring these bans in.”

Mr Tomkins said what had most upset the community was the lack of consultation.

“The climbers were shut out of what is a world-significant site,” he told 7.30.

“That is not acceptable — by lazy bureaucrats who are just attempting to close the park.”

Mr Tomkins said climbers had a good relationship with local traditional owners.

“It’s possible … that Parks Victoria’s been generating some of that bad feeling by stirring up bad feeling amongst the traditional owners,” he said.

‘Once sites are gone, they’re gone’

Eastern Marr traditional owner, John Clarke

PHOTO: Eastern Marr traditional owner, John Clarke, says the rock art is part of Indigenous identity. (ABC News: Lauren Day)

John Clarke, one of the Eastern Marr traditional owners, said that statement was absurd.

“Our heritage, our stories, our identity is just not up for debate, the value of these places is just not up for debate,” he said.

“And we need to protect these places.”

White chalk prints from climbers on a rock wall near some rock art

PHOTO: White chalk prints, left by climbers, just metres from some rock art. The magnesium in the chalk can damage the art. (ABC News: Lauren Day)

He also hit back at rock climbers who said they too had a history and connection to the Grampians.

“It’s a false equilibrium,” he said.

“We’re fighting for our very survival. Those places are part of our survival, they’re part of our identity. Leave them alone.”

He said Aboriginal people were happy to share the Grampians with climbers and tourists, but only if they treated them with respect.

“Once they’re gone, they’re gone. Now that’s the bottom line,” he said.

“So much has been taken from Aboriginal people through colonisation. And this is just an extension of that.”

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow