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Climbers concerned

Climbers concerned

Concerns expressed about potential rock climbing bans at Arapiles

By Colin MacGillivray

A Natimuk rock-climbing authority believes panic and speculation about an impending cultural heritage survey at Mount Arapiles is harming the community.

Rock climbers and licensed tour operators have expressed concerns about potential climbing bans at Arapiles following the closure of large parts of Grampians National Park to climbers earlier this year.

Parks Victoria said the Grampians bans were introduced to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage, including rock art, in the area.

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While many people are concerned bans at Arapiles – regarded as an international rock climbing mecca – could cripple the Natimuk community, veteran climber Keith Lockwood said people should wait for the results of the survey before jumping to conclusions.

Mr Lockwood is a formative figure in the Arapiles climbing scene, having climbed at the mountain for more than 50 years and written a book on the area’s history.

He said while he understood apprehension about the survey, it was counterproductive for people to speculate about its outcome.

“Everyone is talking about bans; why is that assumed to be the outcome when a survey hasn’t been done, let alone any consultation?” he said.

“That’s putting the cart well before the horse.

“People are already cancelling holidays from overseas and cancelling climbing trips here.

“It’s already having a major effect simply because of these rumours and whispers.”

Rock climbing licensed tour operator Tori Dunn said her business had been adversely affected by bans in the Grampians and a downturn of climbers at Arapiles.

“A lot of damage has been done already,” she said.

“We get a lot of clients from overseas who have stopped coming because they’re not willing to come to this area while there’s a cloud of uncertainty around access.

“My business is probably down 25 percent to a third this year and other businesses have said similar things to me.

“It’s hitting us, it’s hitting accommodation providers and it would flow on to all service providers.

“The whole community would be suffering.”

EDITORIAL: Our mountains are for everyone

Mr Lockwood said the survey had the potential to be a positive for the community.

“Another cultural survey might turn up something new and interesting,” he said.

“There are sites out there that are languishing for lack of attention, so it would be good if things like the scar tree in Centenary Park were preserved.

“Climbing heritage is only one of many other significant issues out at the mount.

“It’s not the only issue to be respected and protected.

“It’s all part of what NAIDOC Week says about sharing our future – harmony and respect and lack of discrimination.

“Otherwise, the whole issue of moving forward together is just empty words.”

Mr Lockwood said he believed if a survey did affect climbing at Arapiles, the situation would be handled better than the Grampians bans.

He said the dialogue opened between climbers and Parks Victoria by the bans meant potential changes to climbing at Arapiles would be made more sensitively.

“I hope the issue doesn’t descend into a similar dogfight at Arapiles,” he said.

“We live in a jolly democracy – we’ve all got to talk to each other.

“I’ve nominated for the Mount Arapiles-Tooan State Park Advisory Committee for another term.

“If I am appointed, I will certainly be able to have a voice on the park.

“I look forward to the dialogue and what comes out of the heritage survey.”

Ms Dunn said climbing represented the lifeblood of the Natimuk community and it was imperative that climbers and Parks Victoria worked together to ensure the sport could continue in the region.

“You’ve got people here who have moved from interstate, from Melbourne, from overseas, and bought houses and had families,” she said.

“If the climbing was to dry up, first you’d see the climbing instruction businesses go under, which collectively probably employ 50 people from families in the area.

“Then there are plenty of professionals in Horsham who might say, ‘this is it’.

“It’s like moving to the beach to surf because you love surfing, and if people tell you, ‘sorry guys, you can’t surf here anymore’, are you going to stay there or are you going to move away and find a place where you can do those things?

“Natimuk is a success story – it’s a town that has grown when other regional towns have dwindled away to nothing.

“You could see it go that way as well.”

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