Parks Victoria and Barengi Gadjin Land Council are currently undertaking more extensive cultural heritage assessments at Dyurrite (Mount Arapiles Tooan State Park). Dyurrite is a premier rock climbing destination. Traditional Owners understand the importance of Mt Arapiles to rock climbing and that there have been significant concerns raised by the local community, including residents, businesses, and rock climbers that the protection of cultural heritage will lead to banning of rock climbing across the park.
In their recent media release, BGLC shared three important messages. (1) BGLC would like to work with the local Natimuk and surrounding community to discuss economic changes and opportunities related to fulfilling the need for protection of cultural sites. (2) In recognising the recreational, economic and social value of rock climbing to the region, they would like to be informed about how the protection of cultural values can co-exist with rock climbing. (3) They do not want to ban recreational activities, including climbing, where it does not impact on cultural values and want to seek information about climbing to make sure they make informed decisions that don’t lead to unnecessary closures.
BGLC have asked GWRN to provide detailed, route by route, information on rock climbing activities at Dyurrite. This will help them understand what activities occur, and where, so they can make informed decisions about the best protection approaches that may allow recreational use.
This will involve GWRN members providing information to BGLC about documented climbing and bouldering activities at locations where cultural values exist. This information includes: who uses the area, how people access the base, undertake climbs (i.e., ascend and descend), move around the areas, the proximity of cultural values to documented routes and problems, and any scope to reduce the likelihood of interaction with cultural values.
By providing this information, we hope this will lead to finer grained management solutions that keep climbing open where it is appropriate. Undertaking this work requires BGLC to feel comfortable and confident to share information about their cultural values. Right now, BGLC trusts GWRN with this information. However, as this piece of work evolves ideally the climbing community, individuals and organisations, will support the process and ultimately be in a position to become more actively involved. If this happens, GWRN will work with both BGLC and interested members of the climbing community to ensure it is both safe and appropriate and has the maximum potential for success.
In sum, Traditional Owners have clearly stated they don’t want to stop climbing where it doesn’t impact on cultural values. In order to do this well they need information. They are willing to engage, initially with GWRN, in a detailed site by site assessment at Dyurrite. They have no obligation to do this. Through this process, they will gain an understanding of how climbing works, which also creates the opportunity to jointly explore whether practices can be modified to reduce risks of harm to cultural values. While we don’t know what the precise outcome will be, the process can provide certainty on what is possible in what we hope will be a reasonable time frame.
This is a big undertaking. We are looking for organisations and climbers to show their support for GWRN to get this process started at Dyurrite.
If you support our involvement in getting this process started at Dyurrite / Mt Arapiles, please go to this online form to show your support.
FAQs about cultural and recreational use assessments at Dyurrite / Mt Arapiles
Why are the cultural heritage assessments taking place?
Dyurrite is a cultural landscape and a significant site for the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk peoples. BGLC is working with Parks Victoria to undertake more detailed cultural heritage assessments at Dyurrite. This is an exciting piece of work for BGLC and the rediscoveries of heritage values will build a clearer picture and a deeper understanding of how people have interacted and connected with the landscape for thousands of years.
BGLC is also aware of the importance of Mount Arapiles to the climbing community locally and more broadly. They are conscious of the uncertainty that exists at the moment and the anxiety that this creates. The driver behind BGLC assessing the whole of Dyurrite in such a large single piece of work is a desire to provide certainty as soon as possible for the local community and the climbing community more broadly, whatever the outcome may be.
Who is involved in the assessments?
BGLC and Parks Victoria have been conducting cultural heritage assessments at Dyurrite to identify, record and assess heritage values in the Dyurrite landscape.
As a separate process, BGLC has asked GWRN to be involved to provide advice and technical expertise on recreational use, in particular around considerations for rock climbing and bouldering. These are referred to as recreational use assessments.
Ideally, the climbing community, individuals or organisations, will support the recreational use assessment process and potentially be in a position to get more actively involved. GWRN will work with BGLC, the local and climbing community to support this to happen in a way that is safe and appropriate for everyone and enable respectful relationships to form.
We hope that a demonstration of broader support for the reconciliation approach within the climbing community and climbing organisations will lead to an environment that is more conducive to involvement beyond GWRN. At the current time, several GWRN members live locally and bring decades of experience of climbing and guiding at Dyurrite, which can enable this process to get started. Ultimately it is hoped that this type of work will be continued by a climbing representative group or peak body in the future.
What is the likely outcome of these assessments? What will change for climbers?
There are no guarantees or anticipated outcomes from this process other than a clearer understanding of the cultural heritage values that exist at Dyurrite. This is a significant and exciting project for BGLC and the Traditional Owners of Dyurrite.
The cultural heritage assessments will focus on understanding what values exist and what measures could be introduced to protect the heritage values. This will almost certainly result in some ongoing visitor access restrictions to parts of the landscape.
The involvement of GWRN in the process ensures that information about climbing and bouldering are considered in decision making by BGLC and for individual climbing sites where cultural heritage values are present, there is a defined process that can protect the values that exist, understand the recreational uses, and consider the options for coexistence.
Once again, it is important to note that GWRN is not making any decisions or negotiating on behalf of the climbing community. This role is to provide Gariwerd Traditional Owners with information and to act as a resource.
How long will this take?
This is a significant piece of work and is likely to take some time. The initial cultural heritage assessments with BGLC and Parks Victoria will continue into the New Year.
Once this information has been gathered, GWRN will work with BGLC to apply a more nuanced approach for individual climbing sites where cultural heritage values have been identified. This will involve the same methodology that was used at Taipan Wall and provide a defined process that can protect the values that exist, consider the recreational uses, and consider the options for co-existence.
GWRN is a small group of volunteers and we are hopeful that demonstrated support for this process within the climbing community will enable others to become more actively involved in this process. Due to the large scope of this work, looking for ways to involve others in the process is a priority for us.
What information does GWRN provide?
The Traditional Owners (BGLC) have invited GWRN to be involved and provide information about climbing practices and the value of sites to the climbing community. By working together we gain a much clearer understanding of the interaction between recreational activities and cultural heritage values.
GWRN provides factual information such as how climbers use the site, how the sites are accessed, the nature of the user groups, the significance of the crag to climbers and the impacts of any closures and if there were any potential solutions or changes that could be made to enable co-existence.
This information will potentially allow for more informed discussions and a tailored management response where appropriate and enable Traditional Owners to make informed decisions about the future management of their heritage.
How does this fit with purposes GWRN and why is GWRN involved?
The Gariwerd Wimmera Reconciliation Network is a location-based reconciliation network with the following vision and purpose:
The Gariwerd and Wimmera cultural landscapes, communities and visitors are strengthened by respectful and enduring relationships between Traditional Owners and non-indigenous people. We acknowledge our true history, celebrate Culture, Country and knowledge, and support Traditional Owners’ self-determination, so we can proudly share a future together.
- Build respectful and enduring relationships between members and Traditional Owners of the Gariwerd and Wimmera cultural landscapes.
- Provide our members with opportunities to learn about reconciliation, and what Country and Culture means to Traditional Owners.
- Engage with recreational user groups and other relevant stakeholders to promote reconciliation.
- Respect and promote the cultural values and heritage of Traditional Owners and the laws that protect them.
GWRN has been invited by BGLC, as the Traditional Owners of Dyurrite, to provide factual information about rock climbing and bouldering activities at Dyurrite. This will allow BGLC to make more informed decisions about the future management of their Cultural Heritage at Dyurrite.
This piece of work is about supporting Traditional Owner self-determination, as outlined in our vision and sits comfortably under our purposes.
We have been invited to participate as a trusted, reconciliation-focused resource, in recognition that our members’ knowledge and experience allows us to bring the perspective of climbing to the conversation.
GWRN has been involved in recreational use assessments at Taipan Wall and it still remains closed to climbing. Without any evidence of an outcome of GWRN’s approach, why should I support this process at Dyurrite / Mt Arapiles?
The outcome of the recreational use site assessment process for Taipan Wall has been endorsed by the Gariwerd Traditional Owners and is now with Parks Victoria to provide land management input. GWRN has requested information from Parks Victoria about the timeframe and potential process for implementation. There are no guarantees that the process will be adopted but this is currently the best option we have for climbing knowledge to inform the decision-making process.
We are seeking support to bring the climbing community together to work towards what most people have been asking for – a more nuanced, site by site assessment/analysis of climbing areas that are both culturally safe and capable of producing respectful, legitimate and sustainable solutions for a shared future.
Demonstrating broader support for the reconciliation approach within the climbing community and climbing organisations will hopefully lead to an environment that is more conducive to involvement beyond GWRN.
Where do climbing individuals and organisations fit in this piece of work?
As this piece of work evolves it is hoped that the climbing community, individuals and organisations, will support the process and ultimately be in a position to get more actively involved. GWRN will work with both BGLC and interested members of the climbing community to ensure that if this happens it is both safe and appropriate and has the maximum potential for success.
GWRN is not a ‘representative’ climbing group, nor does it aspire to be one. We are a location-based reconciliation network and are ultimately interested in building support for this process and facilitating others to be involved when this can happen.
It is important that we know this piece of work has broad support to ensure that it has the best chance of providing sustainable, long term outcomes for the future of climbing at Dyurrite.
From today’s mail out I felt like I must just be missing something in terms of what the registration of support is going to be used for?
The recreational use assessments are going to take a lot of work and resources for us and the Traditional Owners. Before we start we want to understand the level of support in the community for this process. It will also help demonstrate to the Traditional Owners the level of support for undertaking this work, which we hope will build our confidence to get others involved. We won’t share any personal information or identify anyone’s responses.
Is GWRN open for new members? Will involvement in the assessments require membership?
For those who want to actively be involved in supporting the vision and purposes of GWRN, we are planning to welcome new members early next year. We will send out updates when our online membership application forms and processes are ready to go. We want to thank those who have shown us support over the past year via donations, social media, conversations and messages.
At this stage, it is undecided whether membership will be necessary for involvement in recreational use assessments at Dyurrite. We make a firm commitment to ensure that everybody who is involved has an experience of mutual respect and safety. We will work with BGLC to determine how we can create and foster this kind of working environment.