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‘The bush is sacred to me too. And I’m not indigenous’

It is true we, as climbers, could change some of our practices. We need to be more vocal about the ways in which we protect the environment, rather than assuming our best intentions speak for themselves. We need to articulate how we are also custodians of the landscape: we love the land, we educate others, we pick up litter, we don’t leave graffiti, and we never intentionally destroy the environment or Indigenous cultural heritage.

It seems that Parks Victoria view some activities as more damaging than others. This is unfair. Groups of sightseers are allowed to walk over sacred Indigenous land, and to scramble around and through caves such as Gariwerd’s Hollow Mountain. Couldn’t this also possibly damage areas of Indigenous cultural significance? Taxpayers’ money has gone towards the new Grampians Peaks Trail for walkers, but surely the creation of a 36km trail also has an impact on areas of environmental and cultural importance.

I read the Gariwerd draft management plan with a sense of profound helplessness. My children who are 5 and 8 years old, won’t be able to have the same experiences as I do in Gariwerd. They have been locked out from exploring this beautiful place, hands on the rock, feet off the ground.

Other countries have succeeded in making culturally significant areas accessible to all.

Other countries have succeeded in making culturally significant areas accessible to all.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. This is the path Parks Victoria have chosen. In the United States, a country with a rich history of Indigenous culture like Australia, ground-breaking initiatives have been set up to allow climbing in culturally significant areas. In Hueco Tanks State Park in Texas, some climbing areas have been rightfully closed off. Some areas are self-guided but others can only be accessed with a guide. This approach not only preserves environmental and Indigenous cultural heritage in a more nuanced rather than sweeping manner, but it also creates jobs and brings in revenue.

Rock climbing connects me to the land, and Parks Victoria’s plan for Gariwerd has severed that connection. It leaves me, and no doubt other climbers, adrift and questioning who we are, if we can’t climb. Parks Victoria doesn’t have to choose between climbing and environmental and cultural heritage. Thoughtfully managed, they can successfully coexist, as they have done for many years until now.

Peter Reynolds lives in Central Victoria and has been a rock climber for more than 25 years.

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