A temporary access ban has been enforced on two locations in Grampians National Park, Australia due to the introduction of protection zones following recently rediscovered Aboriginal heritage. The entirety of Taipan Wall (Gunigalk), Spurt Wall and a section of Bundaleer (Bugiga) have been placed under a 'Temporary Protection Zone' with no public access permitted.
The National Park - known to Traditional Owners as Gariwerd - is home to sites of ancient cultural heritage and native flora, which are protected under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006. As part of a process to create a new management plan for the Grampians landscape, surveys have revealed quarry sites - which supplied stone to Aboriginal people for tool building - and ochre deposits used in stone painting alongside other 'archaeological deposits' in the rock. Soil compaction and vegetation damage have also been discovered in the area, according to the Parks Victoria press release.
Traditional Owners represented by the Barengi Gadjin Land Council (BGLC), Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation and the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation support the move for the protection of their cultural values. Stuart Harradine, Manager of On Country Operations at the BGLC, commented:
'We welcome the action to protect the significant Aboriginal cultural values in the Gariwerd cultural landscape, which to us is vital and long overdue. We also value the working partnerships that have been formed with the other Traditional Owner corporations, Parks Victoria and climbers through Gariwerd Wimmera Reconciliation Network, which will result in a more equitable balance between cultural values protection and recreational use in this sacred landscape.'
Long-time NSW climber and lawyer Warwick Baird, who specialises in Indigenous land issues and Reconciliation, commented:
'It isn't coming across as being handled well at all. I'm very much an outsider to the Victorian situation so there will be local matters I'm unaware of, and my legal background and sympathies mean I am very supportive of the Indigenous position. Nevertheless, here we have access prohibited to one of if not the most iconic cliffs for climbing in Australia, with climbs on it of major international standing, and the peak state climbing representative bodies, the Victoria Climbing Club and the Australian Climbing Association Victoria, don't appear to have been notified of the prohibitions or meaningfully consulted and included before they were made.
'I really hope the climbing community takes a long, slow, deep breath, and stays calmly focused on the stated temporary nature of the prohibitions. Then works on convincing the Indigenous community to in the future engage closely with the climbers in the management of the land and the development of the forthcoming management plan. Taipan Wall is a centrepiece of Australian climbing history, culture, and mythology, and it is a place of international importance to climbers. Many climbers are going to be gutted, feeling excluded and locked out of meaningful involvement in the management of such an important place to both Indigenous people and climbers.'
Relations between climbers and park authorities in Victoria have long been strained, as Melbourne climber Charlie Creese explained in his 2019 UKC piece 'Australian Access Issues - Breaking Up is Hard to Do'. In February 2019, approximately 550 square kilometres of The Grampians were deemed off-limits to climbers, with financial penalties set in place.
Freedom-of-Information documents obtained by climbers subsequently demonstrated that bans had been contemplated in the area since at least 2017 without informing the climbing community of the plans. Parks Victoria has previously apologised to the Victoria Climbing Club after sharing an image of a demarcation bolt placed in 1937 for the protection of artwork which falsely suggested that climbers damage Aboriginal art through bolting.
According to discussions on social media, this latest Taipan Wall/Bundaleer ban was reported in a local newspaper before climbers in the area were made aware of any changes. With Victoria currently under strict lockdown and curfew restrictions, the timing of the Parks' announcement - at a time when people can't mobilise easily - has also been highlighted by some climbers online.
A fact sheet published by Parks Victoria relating to the ban reads:
'In August, Parks Victoria hosted a meeting with rock climbing representatives to discuss the need for immediate protections at these locations.
'Later this year there will be another opportunity for people to provide their views on the future management of the Grampians through formal consultation on a new landscape management plan.'