One of our members shares part of her own journey and her hopes for building the Network – coming together to listen, understand and acknowledge the past. This article was first published in Vertical Life Magazine (#29 Winter 2019), and is republished here with permission.

Hardly a climber will be unaware of the access storm that has rumbled through the Grampians over the past months. It has been brewing for a while and isn’t rolling out with winter storms.

Since Parks Victoria asserted that closures to climbing in the Grampians-Gariwerd were related to impacts to cultural heritage and the natural environment, my initial feelings of shock and denial have since settled into a stomach-knotted cluster of fear, embarrassment and guilt. Up until this point I have always felt proud of my identity as a climber, which I have associated with freedom of thought and movement, coupled with an environmental consciousness. Accusations of cultural vandalism have been particularly distressing because I have never truly looked at myself through that lens.

This point of self-reflection starkly highlights the loose grip I hold on personal values that support the importance of conservation and the sovereignty of First Nations people. I have never had to face the reality of sacrificing any integrity (that I was aware of), nor material benefit, to uphold such beliefs. It becomes different when there is skin in the game.

I want to be honest about the effect that changes in access to the Grampians-Gariwerd has had on me. I am embarrassed and ashamed to air these fears and worries in public. Yet, I think sharing them is important. They have impressed upon me the strong emotions that – without reflection or regulation – motivate us out of complacency, yet draw us away from civility.

My partner and I recently relocated to the Wimmera to invest in being part of a community with climbing near its heart and centre. Investing in life continuing on as usual, with uninterrupted access to some of the most beautiful, isolated crags in the world. Over the past months I have worried about whether we should commit to living out here if climbing access is prohibited. Is Arapiles-Djurite next? I’m not sure I could cope with that. Will this community, in which I am beginning to feel connected and located, irretrievably dissolve? With the doom of climate change, I have already been worried about the existential realities of collapse in the Wimmera. At the heart of this fear is nostalgia in the face of uninvited change.

But, nostalgia in all its unimaginative comfort is a poor substitute for the discomfort that is needed right now. As I wrestle with what I can’t authentically resolve, the discomfort alerts me to the distance between the things I claim to value and my actions, opening me up to examine a life through the lens those values command.

Now, at the start of my journey, I feel equal parts terrified and determined to find my proper, respectful place in the caretaking of lands that have, for unimaginable time, thrived through the care of Aboriginal People, their culture and knowledge systems. In considering these access uncertainties, I have become acutely aware of my ignorance of the details of history that would open me to understanding the perspectives of others, whose voices are integral to this journey.

One detail that has become shamefully obvious is my ignorance about what First Nations people think and feel about climbing in the Grampians. Up until recently, I didn’t think much about it, let alone see it as part of being a respectful and responsible member of our broader community.

I wonder if, by unveiling these blind spots, by sitting patiently in the discomfort it exposes, and seeking permission to hear and truly receive the stories of others, we hold a fragile opportunity to create a better world, not just make the Grampians great again?

—Meg Dennison