Q&A Gariwerd

Hi Climbers
Hello Neil

Recently Neil Monteith from savegrampiansclimbing.org raised a number of good and valid questions, so we decided to boost the visibility of this conversation by republishing his questions here, together with our answers.

You’ll find our replies below in bold italic

If you have any other questions or want to provide feedback, we invite you to one of our pub info nights or just shoot us an email or facebook message.

Thanks and hopefully we’ll see you soon over a beer 🍻
Your VCC

ACAV – Australian Climbing Association Victoria
AE – Access and Environment
AG – Advisory Group
AV – Aboriginal Victoria
GAWG – Grampians Access Working Group (part of the VCC)
GLMP – Grampians Landscape Management Plan
MAV – Mountain Activities Victoria
(Working title for the new overarching Victorian climbing body)
PV – Parks Victoria
SRG – Stakeholder Reference Group
TO – Traditional Owners
VCC – Victorian Climbing Club 😉


We all now understand this is the world’s largest climbing ban. Firstly, thank you VCC for stepping up and working towards trying to fix this issue. It’s a tough job and everyone is pretty stressed. The following is just my own person thoughts and questions – aimed at the VCC organization not any individuals. I’ve been a VCC member in the past – not currently now as I live in NSW. I have donated hundreds of $ to CliffCare and ACAV in the last months in the hope that these organizations can help with these bans. If any group claims to be the peak representative group then they need to be transparent, respectful and open to hearing others viewpoints. You will be asked hard questions from the public and should attempt to answer them. Right now, to an outsider, it does appear to be a very insular process that the GAWG and VCC are in. Having spoken to people who are/have worked for GWAG and ACAV it is clear to me that neither side are really talking to each other. For example both are independently working on a bolting document with no knowledge that the other group is also doing the same.

Mike Tomkins and Paula Toal are in very frequent contact by phone and regularly discuss what documents are being worked on.  

In terms of the bolting document there has been strong support and general consensus from many members of the climbing community –  including Mike – that the VCC Bolting Policy is a strong document as it stands and can be used with little amendment for inclusion in a Climbing Management Plan, whilst further technical information will need to be developed. We understand the ACAV are developing a Climbing Management Plan.   The VCC have been invited to collaborate on this but we’re still waiting to receive something to review and contribute (there has been recent follow up on this). Over the past months, VCC and GAWG have started to compile information to develop a Climbing Policy for Parks Victoria, as we indicated was required in correspondence with Parks Victoria’s CEO in October of last year. These letters were shared publicly on the CliffCare website. These activities aren’t at cross-purposes, and I believe that all of this will come together in time. There is a lot of work to be done and a lot of people giving of their personal time to assist and as such, things don’t always move as quickly as I’m sure we would all like.

The community is rightfully concerned that reports such as “we attended a positive meeting” is not a good enough explanation of what was discussed in the meeting. There have been LTO meetings, Summer Day Valley assessments, cancelled VCC trips to Black Ians, problems with running trackcare days at Arapiles, negative Facebook messages from traditional owners directed at VCC and many more examples of things happening in the public sphere which don’t make the CliffCare news pages. Some of these comments have literally been deleted to hide them from view and presumably accountability.

Yes not each and every event hits our social media accounts or our website. Argus is the standard means of communicating with our members. We recently appointed a new editor and she is still coming up to speed. Also given the complexity of the ongoing issues we made good experiences with face to face meetings (see below). Regarding deleted comments: The VCC and CliffCare encourages a healthy and respectful discussion on our social media channels. While we do not discriminate against views or opinions posted to our channels, we reserve the right to remove or not approve any comment.

I think it is an entirely reasonable request to ask for a more formal Q&A session to have taken place in the past with VCC members and the public. Dare I say in a town hall format? The last one was problematic for sure, but that community frustration has not gone away. At least this time (hopefully) there won’t be any surprise announcements to derail the proceedings and most climbers will now be far better informed on the details. It’s refreshing to read that this is planned in the future as part of the new Gramps management plan. Just don’t make it in a pub please. This is a serious situation.

First of all the last town hall was indeed problematic and nobody can guarantee that this isn’t happening again. We also don’t have the same opportunity that Goatfest presented in already having a gathering of a large number of climbers in one place. Whereas we had good experiences with the past pub info nights which were well received by the attending audience. This is a complex issue and not every member is interested in every single aspect of the whole situation. By having multiple VCC and GAWG members at the pub info nights we can focus on aspects which are interesting for the audience while not having a lengthy meeting. That said, as per Paula’s recent post and our news on the VCC Website regarding the Grampians Landscape Management Plan Stakeholder Reference Group, a series of formal meetings and workshops will be organised to support genuine, transparent engagement and contribution from the whole of the climbing community – not only members of any club or organisation. VCC and GAWG volunteers invest a substantial amount of their free time in research, education, campaigning and day to day engagement with various stakeholders – when we host a formal meeting we want it to be with purpose.  At the current moment, there is no clear question we could put forward in a formal meeting and as such, we continue to work on developing a Climbing Management Plan / Policy and developing further plans for education campaigns and a reconciliation strategy to engage meaningfully with Traditional Owners including hopefully rolling out a program of Cultural Awareness Training for Climbers in the near future.

You asked for questions so here goes… some of these will reference statements made by CliffCare on their website.

Does the VCC consider the Special Protection Area climbing prohibitions legal? If so, does the VCC plan to try and reverse these prohibitions? Precedents of banned climbing areas show almost 0% chance of closed areas ever reopening to climbing once the ban is formally in place and accepted by usergroups (Crookneck, Tongue Point, Breadknife, Sydney Sea Cliffs, Tomaree Head, 3 Sisters, Wallcliffe, Hanging Rock are examples of banned areas in Australia). How do we “prove” that these bans should not apply in the future if we accept them now?

Over the past months the VCC has taken steps to seek written reasons from Parks Victoria (PV) in relation to all recent closures within the Grampians National Park. This was done with legal advice and to reserve all VCC’s rights in terms of the legal process.

VCC Report 1st May 2019

“PV and the Grampians Access Working Group (GAWG is a working group of VCC/CliffCare) have been analysing spatial data to provide clarity as to which crags currently sit within Special Protection Areas (SPA) so that the climbing community has accurate information. Updated map and list of crags will be available soon”

Is this not counter to the best interests of climbers who you are supposedly a lobbyist for? Is this not digging our own graves? If there is any legal question about the validity of these bans should we not be holding off on helping them to formalize the geographic areas? If you disagree, why?

Members simply requested this information to get clarity. Not everyone is able or wants to interpret the maps PV provided. Save the Grampians has provided maps and lists in order to give this clarity as well. Also as per the comments above, we believe there is a strong chance to re-open areas by having SPA boundaries redrawn, however this will be a slow process. Parks Victoria wishes to work with us to prioritise areas that require Cultural Heritage Assessments to determine if there are conflicts between rock climbing and particular Cultural Heritage values.

Has there been any lobbying from VCC or GAWG to political parties, other outdoor recreation lobby groups, national or international clubs or outdoor industry businesses? If not, why?

The VCC has reached out to political parties, outdoor industry groups as well as national and international climbing clubs. E.g. we’re in constant contact with Outdoors Victoria and the Alpenverein Melbourne provides regular updates to the Section Innsbruck of the Austrian Alpine Club. The process for the formation of a Climbing Federation as the Peak Body for climbing in Victoria was initiated by Sport Climbing Victoria, the VCC and Outdoors Victoria.  Members of all climbing clubs and organisations have been invited to be a part of this and many organisations have already signed a Memorandum of Understanding to support the process. Furthermore, the process is being supported by Sport and Recreation Victoria and will provide the climbing community with strong political clout and support in future lobbying.

Has there been any attempts made to publicize a more positive view of rockclimbing in general to the public and bureaucrats to counter the current negative image? This does not have to be related to the Grampians situation. 

Yes – our Access Is No Accident campaign is not only aimed at climbers but also the general public to demonstrate we as a community take care of the environment and cultural heritage. CliffCare is also partnering with The North Face in the upcoming Global Climbing Day and the Walls are Meant for Climbing campaign to portrait the Victorian Climbing Community in a positive way. 

Parks Victoria have also reached out to us to facilitate some positive media about climbing in relation to the GLMP process in which we hope to engage key respected members of the climbing community for a series of podcasts explaining their values and the importance of climbing and our respect for the environment and Cultural Heritage. Indications from initial meetings suggest it is likely these will be produced between July and September.

Everyone is focussed on SPA areas. What about non SPA areas such as Taipan, Bundaleer, Black Ians and Arapiles. These have also been mentioned in PV meetings and social media as areas of concern. Have these areas also been included in discussions? And if so, what has been discussed? Has there been any guarantees from PV that these areas will remain open?

To date we have had no specific discussions about these areas however there have been no indications from Parks that there will be any changes to access in these areas.  Parks continues to promote climbing in the Grampians as does Visit Victoria and these areas are all highlighted as open. VCC committee members have also applied to be included on the revised Arapiles-Tooan advisory group.

Has there been any sit down formal meetings with ACAV? Has information been shared between the groups? If not, why?

The VCC is committed to work with all clubs and organisations who are part of the foundation council of  Mountain Activities Victoria (MAV – that’s a working title only. The final name and branding will be determined by community input). There has been one formal meeting where the current access issues have been part of the discussion. There will be a second meeting scheduled soon – hopefully by mid July. Currently the Memorandum of Understanding has been signed by these clubs: 

  • Alpenverein Melbourne
  • ClimbingQTs
  • La Trobe University Mountaineering Club
  • Outdoors Victoria
  • Sport Climbing Victoria
  • Victorian Climbing Club
  • Western Victorian Climbing Club

The ACAV attended the first meeting of the Founding Council and indicated they want to be part of this initiative but haven’t committed to it in writing yet.

Furthermore, Paula has had one formal meeting (strangely it occurred in a wine bar, maybe that’s more formal than the pub) with members of the ACAV in relation to the legal processes.  That meeting was a positive step forward, however there are very clear differences between the approach that ACAV is taking and the approach that VCC is taking. We need to push from all sides, VCC is strongly aligned to collaborating with Parks Victoria whilst the ACAV pursues legal avenues.  These approaches are compatible! It is likely that legal avenues will take quite some time and in the short term the VCC believes there is a real opportunity to work with the Land Managers to get more immediate positive outcomes for the climbing community. Paula has frequent conversations with Mike Tomkins about VCC and ACAV collaboration and both the VCC and the ACAV attended the meeting with the Minister’s advisors in a unified manner and will continue to do so in such meetings going forward.  

VCC Report 24 April 2019
“After initial contact with a number of Traditional Owner groups, we are working with our Reconciliation advisor on next steps in this area. Once we have more substantive information we will share”

You have both a “reconciliation adviser” and an “indigenous rights researcher” in GAWG – but have any TO groups actually been contacted by the VCC? There has been many mentions via social media from TO groups that they have not been contacted officially and are keen for this to happen. Why is this not happening if they are urgently requesting it?

We’d like to point out that language matters when engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The City of Greater Bendigo has written a very helpful Protocols Guide which every climber should read. 
Whilst individuals within the VCC may have reached out individually to Traditional Owners, that is a personal choice and a personal journey.  As a committee we are not entering into this process lightly and we are very aware that we don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t want to step on toes and we don’t want to make blunders.  We want to go on a genuine journey of acceptance and reconciliation and we recognise that this will take time. There are members of the climbing community actively working to take this forward and they have respectfully asked the VCC and the ACAV to be patient with this process and support it, but not to insert ourselves directly within in it. 

There is obvious mistrust between some TO groups and the government departments of PV and AV. How do you think this is affecting us as climbers and our future access?

Speculating about the relationship between Traditional Owners and other involved parties is not productive and something we don’t wish to engage with.

These cultural heritage access problems are bound to affect other climbing areas in Victoria. Has Cliffcare contacted Aboriginal Victoria (who appear to be the defacto group in charge as there is no official Registered Aboriginal Party for the Grampians)? 

AV was one of the parties in the recent meeting between climbing groups and ministerial advisors. Mike (ACAV) and Paula (VCC) have been in contact with Tim Kanoa (Executive Director AV) who has provided some limited advice on contacting Traditional Owners. 

What is your understanding of the relationship between PV and AV considering Simon Talbots public statements about AV threating to fine PV for mismanagement?

Simon Talbot was simply stating a fact. There are rules and regulations in place which individuals and organisations need to adhere to. PV is no exception to this, in fact, given the recent legislative changes they need to be fully accountable within it and that’s why the threat of penalties arose. Obviously there’s a debate what is the best way to stick to these rules. We believe blanket bans are completely inappropriate and perhaps not even a legal option.

VCC Report 1st May 

“We are anticipating the formal response to that legal request from Parks Victoria by the end of this week and PV confirmed that response is on track to meet that deadline.”

24th May

“PV has now provided a number of documents which it has confirmed constitute its written reasons for those decisions”

What did these say in this response? Will these documents be released to the wider climbing community? If not, why?

These are ongoing legal procedures.  While PV considered its response to be adequate we have not yet obtained answers to our satisfaction and have sought additional legal advice at every stage of this process. When there is information worth sharing, it will be shared.  

VCC Report 31st May

“PV has also offered to participate in a mediation with VCC members (and legal representatives) in respect of the closures so as to avoid costly litigation.”

What is the item under dispute that the VCC mediation with PV seeks to resolve? 

The VCC’s request for reasons in relation to the recent climbing bans in the Grampians.

When is this mediation to begin?

This hasn’t been scheduled yet however Parks Victoria will not seek to hold the VCC’s attendance at the mediation to its detriment in terms of the timing around any judicial review application that the VCC may determine to initiate.

If this mediation can only be with PV and VCC members, why is the VCC Access & Environmental Officer also the automatically chosen representative for the Stakeholder Representative Group? Do similar standards of accountability only to VCC members apply? 

[We asked Neil to clarify this question – here is his response: “I’ll explain – when you refer to the proposed mediation you refer to it clearly only being between VCC members and PV. But then you also say the same organization (VCC and the Access Environment Officer) is going to be the de facto organization to be fronting up to all of the Plan of Management working group meetings representing all climbers (not just VCC members). Im wondering why the mediation only applies to VCC members and the plan of management meetings apply to all climbers.”]

The mediation between PV & the VCC and the Grampians Landscape Management Plan review are two different things. 

The mediation between PV and the VCC is a direct result of the VCC’s request for reasoning. The VCC has not filed any proceedings against PV (or its officers) yet. It is also not unusual for mediations to occur between parties prior to proceedings being filed. Obviously, those sorts of mediations are not compulsory. Usually, it is the person disputing the decision that will try to seek a mediation. In this case, PV extended this invitation to the VCC. Basically the mediation is part of a legal process between the two entities PV and the VCC.

However the review of the Grampians Landscape Management Plan is a formal but, unlike the mediation, not a legal process. Asking for input from the local communities, recreational groups, tourism bodies and other stakeholders is explicitly part of this process. The VCC has been invited as the representative body of the climbing community on the Stakeholder Reference Group (SRG). You’ll find more information about the SRG  below.

Longstanding VCC member Tracey Skinner has now left. Considering the vital role a new Access and Environment Officer will play in the creation of the new plan of management – when is this position likely to be filled? Will this be a position that members elect? Will this person’s role be expanded to include government lobbying for climbers interests? What is the expected workload (full time until this Grampians issue is resolved?).

[Tracey has been the Access and Environment Officer for the past 11 years.]

Paula has been appointed as the interim AE Officer of the VCC. In the meantime we’re rewriting the position description to broaden the field of responsibilities and secure funding. We are hopeful this will  be able to be funded as a full time role for the next 18 months. The role will be publicly advertised and subject to a formal recruitment process. Once we have a finalised role statement with key selection criteria, this will be shared with members for feedback.  

There has been considerable donations collected by all access groups. Considering this is an access emergency of untold scale – what do you plan to use this money for? Asking for donations is one thing – but we would like to know where this money is being used. What is the expected salary for the Access and Environment officer? Hypothetically – if you got a donation for $100k – what could this be spent on to help maintain climber access?

The exact award for the AE Officer and therefore the FTE costs haven’t been determined yet since the role description hasn’t been finalised. Hypothetically if we get a donation of 100 kAUD, this could definitely support hiring a full time AE Officer.

[The following paragraph has been corrected 1.7.2019]
CliffCare is a separate legal trust that is managed by the VCC. CliffCare has been granted Deductible Gift Recipient status as an environmental organisation which enables it to accept tax-deductible donations. Tax-deductible donations made to the CliffCare Fund must be
unrestricted and can only be used for specific environmental and education purposes. If a donation is made for a specific purpose, such as Grampians Access Campaign, then it is not tax-deductible and does not go into the CliffCare Fund. Donations that are not tax-deductible go into a separate CliffCare Trust account, and the use of these funds is not restricted to environmental and education purposes.

The plan of management will take two years to create. Should Mountain Activities Victoria (or whatever the proposed Peak Governing Body will be called) be a better group to submit a person for this advisory group? If not, why?

First of all the Grampians Advisory Group* is a different body than the Stakeholder Reference Group (SRG). Given you’re talking about the Management Review, we assume you mean the SRG. In a nutshell MAV doesn’t exist yet. Therefore PV has invited the body who participated in plan reviews in the past which is the VCC. However the VCC is committed to consult and work with all MAV clubs on this review. This was discussed at the Founding Council meeting of the MAV and supported by the attendees. You’ll find more details about the SRG in our recent news post.

Secondly by our reading, the revised Parks act obligates Parks to produce a revised Management Plan within two years of the gazetting of the legislation, which was June 2018. 

[* The Advisory Group (AG) was set up shortly after the establishment of the Grampians National Park, in order to bring community concerns to park management. Members are chosen as individuals, not formal representatives, of any interest group but the aim is to involve a diversity of interests. Therefore the current group has neighbours of the park, rock climbers, 4 wheel drivers, educators etc. Membership is for a limited term, but there is no limit on how often people can be members. The current group will finish at the end of the year and the advertisements asking for expressions of interest have already been published. The new AG will be chosen by PV.
Arapiles-Tooan also has an AG and advertisements asking for expressions of interest have been published too.]

It’s important to remember that climbers are expecting the various groups (VCC, ACAV etc) to be their lobbyist and not PV or Government apologists. When someone asks for more positive stories about climbing – what they want to feel is that these climbing groups are standing up for them as climbers.

In the end all climbing organisations want the same – having access to climbing areas. There are multiple ways to achieve this goal e.g. by lobbying for changes in legislation. Another way is to work with government bodies on new Management Plans and policies. While we don’t have to make excuses for these bodies we also have to maintain a working relationship. 

We’ll close with an overall comment.  The climbing community are angry and frustrated and that is understandable but there is no value in seeking blame or for the community to be fighting within itself.  This issue has been precipitated by several key events, which have been outside of the control of the VCC and the climbing community at large. Namely, the 2016-2018 changes in Victorian Legislation which created or strengthened obligations in terms of Aboriginal Heritage, and changed the liability position of the board of Parks Victoria, and the 2017 bolting incidents in the Western Grampians which brought the spotlight onto the impact of climbing on heritage areas.  That created a volatile situation which could have been managed in a far better way but unfortunately resulted in the bans. The VCC is committed to working for a better outcome for all climbers and that includes maintaining constructive relationships with Parks and others. That strategy might mean less headline news in the short term but better outcomes in the longer term.

Thanks for listening – and hopefully responding.

Thanks Neil, for reaching out to engage on this in a constructive way, we hope our answers shed some light on where we – the VCC – are at in all of this, and paves the way for the community to come together in a way that respects the differing approaches of various groups and the validity of both in the process of securing a future for climbing not only in the Grampians but state-wide.