The VCC President, Kevin Lindorff, attended the joint Parks Victoria / Barengi Gadjin Land Council presentation to the community at the Natimuk Community Hall on Wednesday 29th January, 2020. These are his notes of the meeting. We have published them here on our website as we believe that climbers outside of the VCC would be keen to read Kevin’s thoughts.
[Note: This meeting followed a separate meeting for Licenced Tour Operators (climbing instructors) that occurred at the same venue earlier in the afternoon]
Representing Parks Victoria: various PV staff including Koel Wigley, Will.., Lucy …, Finn …, Zoe Wilkinson, and others.
Representing BGLC: Michael Stuart (CEO),
Jason Ellis (PV or BGLC?)
The Traditional Owners did not attend.
Aims/Purposes of the meeting:
Prior to the meeting getting underway, I asked a couple of the PV staff what the aim/point/purpose of the meeting was. They suggested that there were two main aims:
- to inform about Arapiles/Tooan State Park management issues (what these are now and what they are likely to be into the future)
- to listen to park users (feedback forms were provided for attendees to fill in and return to PV/BGLC).
The first (information) aim, I was told, was the predominant aim at this stage of a process for informing and developing a new Management Plan for Arapiles/Tooan State Park.
I also asked what would happen to such feedback. The response was that it would be collated and then shared among PV staff to help inform them of major concerns or suggestions (i.e. it would be used primarily for their own internal uses). I suggested/requested to a couple of other PV staff after the meeting had begun that any collated summary of issues raised, questions asked and suggestions made should be disseminated to all registered participants (PV would have the email addresses of everyone who registered to attend). This would ensure that the community was kept ‘in the loop’ – far preferable to having individuals providing feedback only to hear nothing back about the key recurring themes in the feedback from the community as a whole).
The organisation and structure of the meeting.
There was no general introduction to attendees or any attempt to set the context for the ‘meeting’. On arrival, attendees had their names noted and were invited to join in any one of three table groups that were set up and to ask any questions they wanted.
Each of the three tables that had been set up set up had a PV staff member(s) and/or BGLC rep and had a nominal area of focus for discussion. The three focuses were:
– Arapiles/Tooan park management,
– Rediscovering Cultural Heritage
– Protecting Cultural Heritage
People were coming and going from table to table, there were no microphones, it was difficult to hear what was being said (particularly for people having to mill around behind those lucky enough to get a seat). Unsurprisingly then, it was almost impossible to decipher any clear coherent messaging as to the current and potential future state of affairs in regard to park management, including:
- any details of the cultural heritage assessment process still to happen and its likely timeline,
- what this assessment process might mean for protection of cultural heritage (i.e. what would be the process for moving from completed assessments of CH to coming up with appropriate and proportionate strategies to protect CH in the context of current and likely future park usage),
- whether there would be any opportunity for climbers to have a voice to feed into any plans for protection of whatever cultural heritage might be discovered (particularly given the fact that best informed suggestions for co-existence of climbing and CH protection would require an accurate and nuanced understanding of how climbing ‘worked’ and what its impacts were and were not)
- what options , if any, there might be for climbers or other recreational users to feed into the development of the new management Plan.
- How concerns of locals in regard to the local businesses and the local and regional economies might be considered in the development of a new Arapiles/Tooan State Park Management Plan (and what future opportunities there would be for local input into the plan in regard to these issues).
Rather, it was up to individuals to hopefully hear some questions and answers (and perhaps even ask some of their own questions) but inevitably remain oblivious to other pertinent questions and answers that may have been asked on other tables or by others in the preceding or subsequent waves of attendees who were allowed into the meeting when there was room to accommodate them.
It is also noteworthy that approx. 150 people showed up to the meeting. Because of the limited capacity of the venue, many had to wait for quite a while (1/2 hour) before they were admitted (once others who had attended had heard enough and had left). Some gave up in disgust and left without getting into the venue.
Nonetheless, fragmented and incomplete as the emerging picture was (not helped by having some PV staff who were relatively new in their roles and/or not across many of the pertinent issues and therefore unable to speak with any authority on many of the issues raised), some interesting snippets of information were gleaned.
Some points that I did hear comment on:
1) The existing Management Plan for Mt Arapiles/Tooan State Park is over 20 years old and is outdated (but is still the current Plan). A new one will be developed but it will be a joint management plan (PV/BGLC). There is no timeline on this but will likely to be after the new GLMP is completed. In future, the Park will likely be co-managed. As a mechanism for managing, a Management Plan is drafted and community is consulted.
2) Before a new Management Plan can be developed, quite a lot of cultural heritage assessment work needs to be undertaken (we can’t have an adequate Management Plan that protects CH unless we know what CH there is and how it might best be protected).
BGLC will be the ones, in consultation with PV who will determine how the Park will be managed. BGLC, by law, have to enter into an arrangement with the Land Manager.
3) Taylor’s Rock/Declaration Crag – the recent cultural heritage ‘re-discoveries’ were fortuitous/accidental, rather than the result of a deliberate rolling program of CH assessments at the Mount. The CH there includes artefact scatter and quarry site(s). Also intangible CH values (intangible CH can exist because of the very fact of how a site’s location relates to cultural stories, lore or practices).
4) PV resources are limited. Consequently, it will be quite a while before CH assessments at Arapiles are completed. PV focus is to complete the large number of assessments in the Grampians/Gariwerd first. Therefore there is no hard and fast timeline for completion of the new Management Plan for Arapiles/Tooan.
5) there was some acknowledgement that there were ‘mistakes made’ in the way that climbing bans in the Grampians were implemented, and PV would prefer not to repeat these mistakes but come up with more appropriate solutions for protecting CH whilst enabling continuation of climbing at Arapiles.
6) There is already a 2005 Native Title Determination for the Wimmera area encompassing Arapiles. This determination was the first in south-eastern Australia. Nonetheless, BGLC rep Michael Stewart was of the opinion that the Traditional Owner Settlement Act is a more respectful/more appropriate way forward than the Native Title Determination process.
7) However, the TOSA does put/imply some constraints in regard to how BGLC might talk with climbing reps.
Some individual climbers at the meeting suggested/asked whether there should/could be direct communications between climbers and Traditional Owners and articulated what the potential merits of such an approach. They noted that such communications regarding protection of CH in Gariwerd would have avoided much of the mis-information, mistrust and anxiety that sprung up in the wake of the set-aside determinations that banned climbing in much of that Park. They also noted that PV seemed to deliberately stymie approaches from climbers for such communications with the relevant ‘mobs’ and PV have deliberately used false accusations that have helped poison perceptions of some TOs about climbers and climbing.
Michael noted that he way that things are set up at the moment (an Agreement with state government, including funding arrangements, made in 2005), any conversations between BGLC and climbers that doesn’t include PV can’t be fed into conversations with PV. [not sure I understood this but I think he was saying that BGLC would be wary of engaging in any formal consultative process between climbers (or any other recreational user group) and BGLC that did not include PV. Such a process might be deemed as outside the bounds of what is prescribed by the agreement with state government in regard to collaboration between PV and BGLC on development of a Management Plan and, as such, might put their funding in jeopardy].
8) So, in summary, the Arapiles/Tooan State Park will likely be co-managed in the future. The new Management Plan that will be drafted will reflect this co-management model. As part of the process for the Plan’s development, the community will be consulted. This process for developing a new management Plan will not be a quick one. BGLC is comprised of 11 family groups. They need to develop confidence in a Corporation that is created by an instrument of white law and then work through any co-management issues with the land managers (PV). How long might this take? No-one knows with any certainty.
Kevin Lindorff 2nd February 2020