Submissions, meetings and some positive steps

1) Call for submissions re a possible interim protection order at Declaration Crag

Parks Victoria has sent around the following communication:

‘The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is considering whether to make an interim protection declaration in relation to a Barengi Gadjin Aboriginal place known as ‘Dyurrite 1’ in Mount Arapiles-Tooan State Park. 

Dyurrite 1 is at Taylors Rock (Declaration Crag), where Aboriginal rock art and other cultural heritage values were rediscovered last year.

The interim protection declaration would provide legally enforceable protection for this Aboriginal cultural heritage place.

Before making a decision, the Minister must give people and organisations who are likely to be affected by the proposal an opportunity to be heard.

Aboriginal Victoria is managing this process, with details on how to make a submission at:

The VCC will be making a submission. We encourage other climbers and climbing organisations to do likewise. There are dozens of heritage sites at Arapiles so it is important that, for this site, a wide range of possible protection options are carefully considered (and these options should include informed consideration about impacts of recreational users ). Any decisions that are made for this site might well create the template for how other sites in the Mount Arapiles-Tooan State Park are treated in the not-too-distant future.

We suggest that submissions could include:

  • Acknowledgement of Parks Victoria’s responsibility to protect the cultural heritage and natural environment of the Arapiles-Tooan State Park
  • Statement of the desire of the climbing community to act as stewards in assisting in that protection of cultural heritage and the environment, and mention of the climbing community’s proud legacy in acting as responsible stewards at Arapiles for the last 60 years
  • Acknowledgement of the understandable reluctance of Traditional Owners to divulge the location and detail of cultural heritage, as is their legal right, but mention the difficulty of making an informed submission without being privy to more detail about what cultural heritage there is at ‘Dyurrite 1’ that needs to be protected
  • Mention of the cultural heritage site to the north of the Plaque Area that is currently protected by a small sign explaining its significance, which has been respected and appreciated by climbers and other park visitors and has remained unharmed, without the need for exclusion fences, set-aside determinations or other formal prohibitions
  • A note of how cultural heritage has remained unharmed in the Park under existing arrangements, with hundreds of thousands of visitors over many decades, without requiring an interim protection order
  • A call for more explanatory signage so that visitors can learn more about cultural heritage and it can be celebrated rather than ‘locked away’.

2) Arapiles District Community Group online meeting with representatives from Parks Victoria

The Arapiles District Community Group was set up in the wake of the ‘Engage’ public forum held at Natimuk earlier this year. At that forum Parks Victoria reps and a Barengi Gadjin Land Council rep talked about the rediscovery of tangible cultural heritage at Taylors Rock/Declaration Crag at Mount Arapiles and the temporary closure of this site to the public until a formal decision was made about the best way to protect the cultural heritage there.

At a recent meeting of ADCG and PV representatives (2 April) there was strong consensus about the desire and need to:

  • build a respectful dialogue and a strong working relationship between Arapiles-Tooan State Park users and Traditional Owners
  • celebrate and ensure protection of the cultural heritage (indigenous and non-indigenous) associated with the Park.

PV reps noted that their long-term aim was to enable BGLC to work directly with the local community on all matters relating to Mt Arapiles-Tooan State Park. ADCG reps were happy to hear that and suggested that PV could and should help broker such relationships in the short-term.

In relation to the submissions that are being asked for, to help inform the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs’s current consideration about whether to make an Interim Protection Declaration in relation to ‘Dyurrite 1’:

  • It was noted that it is difficult, if not impossible, to make a meaningful and informed submission when the cultural heritage that needs to be protected is unknown to those interested in exploring options for its protection—options that might also be able to be implemented without widespread blanket-ban exclusions. 
  • It was acknowledged that Traditional Owners are, understandably, loathe to divulge information about cultural heritage sites (whether at Arapiles, Gariwerd or elsewhere). That remains a dilemma for those people who are keen to learn as much as they can of Aboriginal perspectives, to add such knowledge to their own understandings of recreational pursuits and their possible impacts, and then provide constructive input that might help to deliver mutually beneficial outcomes.
  • It was suggested that, ideally, one or two Traditional Owner reps could ‘walk the ground’ at Dec Crag with one or two locals whom they trusted to share understandings and consider possible measures to deliver sustainable Cultural Heritage protection.  

In conclusion, Parks Victoria would like to support Traditional Owners by developing a ‘road map’ that helps facilitate community engagement, foster mutual respect and ensure protection of cultural heritage and the environment. ADCG is supportive of these general aims and is keen to see what concrete steps can be taken in the short and medium term.

3) Parks Victoria website

The VCC and some of its friends made written requests to Parks Victoria to change or remove particular references from the Parks Victoria website, which the VCC believed unjustifiably painted climbers as environmental vandals.

Specifically, under the Things to Do section for the Grampians National Park, there was a heading What are the impacts of climbing on the environment? under which was listed a number of potential negative impacts including ‘clearing areas for bush camps and campfires in forested areas’.

It was suggested to PV that such a statement would be more appropriately placed under a heading like What are the negative impacts of camping on the environment? It was pointed out that there was no mention of the negative impacts of bush camping under the camping section of the website. Indeed, there was no heading ‘What are the negative impacts of…’ for any other activity (walking, camping, 4WD, etc.) apart from climbing. It was also pointed out that a lack of even-handedness was a stumbling block for climbers, who felt that they were being unfairly targeted by PV.

To its credit, PV has accepted these criticisms and have removed the What are the negative impacts of climbing on the environment? section from their website. Thank you PV.

4) Grampians Wimmera Reconciliation Network joint statement with Traditional Owner groups

Climbers are very aware of the need to connect with and listen to Traditional Owners. Grampians Wimmera Reconciliation Network (GWRN) have been quietly building some positive relationships with Traditional Owners and the recent joint statement developed by GWRN, Barengi Gadjin Land Council, Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation and the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation is a promising and constructive sign.

We wish GWRN well on its journey. We also look forward to the time when GWRN and Traditional Owners feel it is appropriate to invite the wider climbing community to accompany them respectfully on that journey.