We wished to give an update on our involvement in providing information to the Gariwerd Traditional Owners (GTOs) regarding their decision making in relation to protection of cultural heritage and climbing recreation at Taipan Wall.

What we’ve been doing

The GTOs have been very interested and engaged in learning more about how climbers use and access the Taipan Wall area. This special site contains important cultural values and is also a premium site for rock climbing. The intent is for the three organisations to gain information about rock climbing activities at this site to determine where these activities can resume in a way that ensures protection of cultural heritage.

GWRN has been on two site visits to Taipan Wall. The initial meeting involved representatives from all GTO groups, and Parks Victoria (PV), who provided information relating to the recent cultural values assessment. This visit established where the values are and enabled informative discussions about climbing activities at this site. GWRN provided a broad overview of climbing at Taipan Wall, for example describing Taipan’s significance to climbers, the number and nature of climbs, approaches, frequency and pattern of usage.

Following this, GWRN prepared an initial draft report detailing the distance of the cultural places that have been identified from existing climbing activity, including whether a cultural place is touched by an activity. “Climbing activity” includes climbs, approaches, access tracks and descents. The initial report has been discussed with the GTO groups on several occasions.GWRN requested a follow-up site visit last week to clarify some outstanding questions and explain aspects of the information in the report. This visit was attended by representatives from each of the GTOs, signalling strong support for this process as a test case for how things can move forward.

GWRN is in the process of finalising a report to present to the GTOs to support and inform their decision making and planning with PV. Given the sensitivity of the cultural values outlined in the report, GWRN has agreed to only provide a copy of the report directly to the GTOs.

We continue to experience a positive and collaborative relationship with the GTOs. Together we acknowledge the difficulty of this work, and the time and commitment it takes to create a robust framework for collaboration in this space.We recognise the immense strain and uncertainty the current situation places on many in our community. We are all in uncharted waters. GWRN is engaged in work that we hope can become a template for others – but it needs time and space to take form.As the recreational use assessment process is worked through we have the following messages for those who would like to demonstrate support for the work the GTOs and GWRN are doing.

Be Patient

The Traditional Owners are actively engaged in trialling and developing a granular, site by site recreational use assessment process to inform themselves of what actions they can reasonably take to protect cultural values and allow climbing activities to continue.

Site visits are a very time consuming activity. Over the past few months, the three GTOs have dedicated substantial resources at all levels of their organisations to these activities and their engagement with GWRN. The recent site visits and discussion regarding potential for co-existence of climbing and cultural heritage are a positive step, and being patient will enable this process to continue.

Traditional Owner groups cannot be compelled by any government agency or politician to engage with climbers or their various representative groups. Traditional Owners have a right to self-determination and informed decision-making in relation to their cultural heritage.

Be Respectful

The climbing community has shown immense respect over the past two years toward requests regarding closures, and toward the recent requests regarding temporary closures at Taipan Wall and Bundaleer. Many individuals, climbing clubs and organisations have stated a desire to help protect and respect cultural heritage. It is challenging but crucial to the success of our efforts that the community continue to demonstrate that commitment. Doing this will help protect cultural heritage, and help us all come to a deeper understanding of our true history to create a shared future.

The GTOs are acutely aware of the uncertainty and distress the climbing community is feeling and are committed to finding a path forward. Despite very limited resources, they are investing significant time to find out what they don’t know about climbing to look for solutions. Please respect their efforts by respecting their requests to avoid certain areas.Any disrespect of the temporary closures whilst the current recreational use assessment process is being worked through could compromise it and the possibility of future site visits. If trust in this process develops we hope that it expands far beyond GWRN.The long-term implications of this process shutting down completely at this time are worth reflecting on before deciding on what personal actions to take.

Be curious. Be kind

Our personal experiences repeatedly remind us that the process of reconciliation is difficult and confronting, especially when there is fear of loss or during times of change. We have avoided these conversations for centuries, and yet, the problems of history for our society and for Aboriginal Communities and Nations don’t seem to go away. What has happened in the past continues to play out before us. The only way we can change the story is through doing something different, and one pathway forward is reconciliation.

What might we need to find out about law, history and current Aboriginal society in order to play our part in informed and constructive discussion? How do we learn to sit in the discomfort of uncertainty and loss whilst holding hope that change can lead to a better place for all of us?

These are not easy questions to answer nor is it a place to want to be. It’s hard work, and we are all individually grappling with these questions. Karen Mundine, the Chief Executive Officer of Reconciliation Australia, describes how it feels to be engaged in this process:

“Reconciliation isn’t a single moment or place in time. It’s lots of small, consistent steps, some big strides, and sometimes unfortunate backwards steps …”

In taking consistent and small steps, we hope you will support the respectful dialogues that are now taking place.

For more information or to show your support go to our website (gwrn.org.au), sign up to our mailing list, follow us on Facebook or Instagram.

Yours respectfully,

The GWRN Committee

Adam, Chris, Claire, Dave, Earl, Edwin, Florence, Kieran, Mark, Meg, Melissa & Nate