As many people will have guessed, it’s with some sadness that we have to cancel this year’s Grampians Bouldering Festival.
The current situation is the Grampians/Gariwerd is a shit-show of uncertainty and mistrust. Unfortunately, many of the areas that we’ve used in previous years now fall within designated and enforced Special Protection Areas (SPAs) created by Parks Victoria (PV). Not only are the areas where we could hold the festival severely restricted as a result but there is just a lot of bad juju around.
We are surprised that some of the areas we used in the Festival have been locked up in SPAs now.
To hold the festival in the Grampians National Park/Gariwerd we have to apply for a permit from PV. The permit process is very detailed. As part of the process PV conducted an evaluation of cultural and environmental values, not only in the areas for which we applied for a permit but for some considerable distance around them. The results that were conveyed to us stated there were no cultural heritage sites found during this evaluation. Some minor environmental concerns (some vulnerable flora) were identified, which we mitigated against by ensuring that everyone stayed on already established tracks and committed to zero foliage damage (we also added photos and descriptions of the flora to the festival handbook that goes out to each participant).
As such, it’s a mystery to us why areas such as Andersens (which has a sign installed by PV pointing to it!), Hollow Mountain Cave, Loopeys and the Kindergarten, all areas we used during the two Festivals, are now closed to climbers when PVs own processes determined that there were no cultural heritage nor environmental concerns. This fact alone raises many questions about the process by which PV conceived, rationalised and implemented the bans.
On a number of other levels, it’s also a shame. About 30% of Festival goers each year were complete beginners to bouldering outdoors. This meant the Festival acted as a great way – indeed, the only formal way – to introduce boulderers (in large numbers) to the outdoors with expert tuition on safety, etiquette and Leave No Trace principles. Instead of this important site of learning, we’re back to the informal process of beginners learning either on their own or from others whose expertise is unknown.
In Year 1, then Grampians Head Ranger, Dave Roberts (pictured above), accepted our invite to the Festival opening ceremony. Dave spoke to participants about Parks Victoria and the responsibilities of park users. Noteworthy, during his speech Dave also encouraged boulderers to ‘get organised’, unfortunately we climbers did not heed his warning and the echo of these words haunts us all today. We feel this opportunity for PV to speak directly to boulderers is another great loss to both sides. Also noteworthy, a similar offer for PV to attend the opening ceremony in Year 2 was not taken up by Parks.
The Festival also brought a fair bit of money into the local community. We camped on a private property, some attendees stayed in cabins, we bought food and other supplies from Horsham, paid fees to the Horsham Rural City Council, hired equipment and employed local people, not to mention the longer term effect of introducing new climbers to the Grampians, many of whom will return many, many times, each time adding money to the local economy.
Beyond that, we feel like the Festival contributed massively to the sense of climbing community. It brought people together in a fun and valuable way. We had the most generous and wonderful support from experienced boulderers who were keen to impart their wisdom on attendees and brands keen to nurture the community and support the values of the Festival.
While we’re disappointed that we have to cancel 2019’s festival, we hope that in the next year issues around access can be resolved and that we can again hold the Festival – that we can boulder together, spot the aged, learn together, support each other, kickstart the kids and enjoy the part of the world that we love the most.
Thanks to everyone who has supported the first two years of the Festival, with special mention to our great mates at Black Diamond Equipment, and Deirdre Baum, who’s property in Laharum acted as a most beautiful home-base for the Festival.
We love youse all,
Simon Madden & Ross Taylor, Festival Directors
NOTE: An earlier version of this piece stated that the SPA covering the areas used in the Festival was newly created. This was incorrect. The SPA was pre-existing. In 2019 PV decided to enforce the SPA to restrict climbing and bouldering in areas including Andersens, Hollow Mountain Cave and the Kindergarten.