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Bushwalking Bans Looming in the Grampians/Gariwerd

Tourist hordes are swarming over ancient quarried edges beside a popular Parks Victoria walking track in the Grampians/Gariwerd.  Some are sitting beside quarried edges that are surrounded by graffiti. They are seemingly oblivious to the cultural heritage significance of the site.  Elsewhere in the National Park, graffiti (including false rock-art) spoils a rock shelter and threatens genuine indigenous rock art. Amazingly, this site is a Parks Victoria (PV) authorised campsite that is popular with walkers doing a multi-day hike. The Oasis campsite on the Fortress walking trail has tragically been trashed.

Graffiti on rock walls which run right up against the Grampians Peak Trail

Massive graffiti damage on a wall along the Grampians Peak Trail

At yet another tourist site in the Park, rock art is protected by a steel cage but tourists can easily scramble above and behind the cage location to find other less obvious but nonetheless easily discernible rock art and quarry sites that are marred by scratched and painted graffiti. The aforementioned tourist sites, and a number of others where damage to cultural heritage has occurred and continues to occur, remain open to all and sundry.  This is despite Parks Victoria having been alerted to the existence of cultural heritage at these sites and photographic evidence having been supplied.

New graffiti next to a quarry site at the Manja Shelter in the Victoria Range

Meanwhile, rockclimbers have found themselves excluded from vast tracts of the Grampians/Gariwerd and a growing number of key sites in nearby world climbing mecca, Mt Arapiles/Dyurrite.  Parks Victoria has consistently justified these exclusions on the basis of their “legislative obligations to protect cultural heritage”. Climbers have been perplexed by their exclusions from sites that have not been assessed for cultural heritage because of what PV management have called a “precautionary approach” (i.e. “we will keep you out just in case we might find something of significance there one day”). They are even more perplexed by their continuing exclusions from sites that have been assessed and where no tangible cultural heritage has been found. And they have been galled by what they see as double standards and the discriminatory application of regulations to some groups of recreational users of the Park but not to others.

Given that such blatant anomalies and discrepancies in the protection of cultural heritage sites have been pointed out to PV officials, and that Traditional Owners have stated that “protection of cultural heritage is non-negotiable”, it is understandable why some PV officials have privately admitted that it is inevitable that access to numerous tourist sites will soon be prohibited and multiple popular walking trails will be closed.

Graffiti damage inside Hollow Mountain

Along waterways and beside lakes in the Grampians that are popular with both walkers and fisher-folk, there are a number of cultural heritage sites that are listed in the Aboriginal Heritage Register.  It feels inevitable that access restrictions or prohibitions will soon be applied at these sites too. PV have no options since they are required to meet their legislative obligations. These actions of course spell disaster for many of us. Bans on walking trails and climbing areas may take years to resolve and in many cases these sites may never open again. Bushwalkers might hope for a far more granular approach to protection of cultural heritage than is embodied in Set-aside Determination. Unfortunately climbers have suddenly found themselves faced with bans which currently prohibits climbing in over 550 square kilometres of the Grampians/Gariwerd.  Bushwalkers should look no further than recent history and politics, which suggests that hope alone will not be enough. Check out this Save Grampians Climbing post HERE for further details

Quarry site and graffiti as you enter Hollow Mountain
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Parks Victoria Forces Closure of all Future Grampians and Arapiles Rock Climbing and Bushwalking Guidebooks

To all of our loyal wholesale and retail customers it is with a great deal of regret that Open Spaces Publishing has made the decision to halt work on all of our planned rock climbing and bushwalking titles for the Grampians National Park and at nearby Mt Arapiles.

Our business moved to Natimuk in the Wimmera almost 7 years ago to concentrate on climbing and bushwalking publications and I would like to think that our guides have been of some importance to the tourism industry. Over the years we are proud to have printed and sold well over 110,000 of our own Open Spaces titles, generating over 5 million dollars in retail sales and helping to support numerous authors and small businesses. We had a number of climbing guides to the Grampians in various stages of production and had started work on the fourth edition of our very popular Arapiles Selected Climbs guide which was scheduled for release in about 18 months.

There is no doubt that the massive Grampians climbing bans (on an unprecedented global scale and which have come into force over the last 18 months) combined with the recent Bundaleer and Taipan Wall climbing and bushwalking bans, have forced Open Spaces to re-evaluate our position. In these uncertain times and given the likelihood of further climbing and bushwalking bans in both the Grampians and at Mt Arapiles we have decided to cease all of our planned publications to these areas. A business like ours cannot be expected to operate where there is no certainty. We are especially disappointed that Parks Victoria and the Traditional Owners have decided not to engage with the climbing and bushwalking communities and instead continue to foster this uncertainty. Our own recent discussions with senior Parks Victoria staff regarding our forthcoming Grampians bushwalking guidebook have also given us further cause for concern.

Open Spaces would like to offer our full support to all of the various rock climbing, bushwalking and reconciliation groups working towards a mutually beneficial outcome. We understand and are upset that this decision will directly effect the flow of tourism dollars into our Wimmera and Grampians regions but we feel we have no choice. This decision does not affect our existing publications and we will continue to act as a wholesale and retail distributor to titles on our current stock list.

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Is This the Oldest Photograph of Roped Climbing in Australia?

The Grampians have been in the climbing news a lot lately after Parks Victoria initiated the world’s largest rock climbing bans (over 50% of the region’s best climbing) and with no consultation with the climbing community. To say these have been tough times for the climbing community is an understatement. Coincidentally I have just finished reading The Living Rock, the Invention of Climbing in Eastern Australia by Michael Meadows (a Queensland based journalism professor). His 378 page book explores a colourful and exciting climbing history that has grown into the rich community we share today. If you haven’t read The Living Rock then I implore you to do so. It’s a great read.

The Living Rock, however, is primarily focused on the climbing pioneers of southeast Queensland and the Blue Mountains of NSW. As a Victorian I couldn’t help but wonder about my own state and its early climbing history. All I knew was that in 1947 the Melbourne University Mountaineering Club (MUMC) became the first (and still longest running) climbing club in Victoria. It was followed in 1952 by the Victorian Climbing Club (VCC). Sugarloaf Peak in the Cathedral Ranges were a popular destination in those early years. The formation of these climbing clubs came late when compared to European clubs. The Alpine Club was formed in London in 1857 (originally a gentleman’s club which mainly focused on mountaineering in the European Alps). Pure rock climbing saw its birth around the mid 1860s in places such as the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Germany, the Dolomites in Italy and the north of England in the Lake District and the Peak District.

In the 1970s I met an older MUMC climber who told me that there had been ‘a fair bit of climbing activity’ in the Grampians in the early 1930s. That discussion stayed in the back of my mind and I have always felt it probable that important pieces of Victoria’s early climbing history had gone missing. Fast forward 40 years and we have the internet. With an ever increasing number of photographs and newspapers becoming digitised (and available as searchable documents) we may eventually be able to fill in those gaps. It turns out that George Rose, the well-known early Australian photographer, took a series of climbing images in the Grampians back around 1910. One photograph in particular caught my eye. The caption read A NERVE-TRYING FEAT. Scaling the Gorilla Head, an immense overhanging cliff, Mackay’s (sic) Peak, Grampians, Vic, Australia. Copyright 1909.

The year 1909 was initially hard to comprehend. If the stereograph had been taken in 1909 then this would certainly be one of Australia’s most historically significant climbing photos. It would also establish the Grampians as one of the earliest rock climbing destinations in Australia. I contacted Michael Meadows for his opinion and this was his email reply:

I met up with Robert Thomson this morning and he agrees with me that it is a genuine photograph and bears some similarity to some of the Abraham Brothers images of climbing in the Lake District about that time (see images below). It seems highly likely that George Rose — the well-known Australian photographer who took the image — would have been aware of the Abrahams’ work and quite possibly followed that style — i.e. having a number of climbers strung out on a route. There’s a mixture of pulling up on the rope (as they most often did back then) and a half-hearted belay. Regardless, the first climber soloed the route. A bold and daring lead for the time. I’ve seen several other photographs of people pulling up the rope like this (and even a movie of Bert Samon’s crowd doing it on Mt Lindesay in the mid-1930s). But the images are not quite so spectacular (and as old) as this one. The earliest image I have found was an artist’s impression of a drama on Mt Lindesay in 1890 which shows someone hanging onto a rope on the very steep Mt Lindesay cliff. But it’s a drawing. There is a description of the Clark sisters climbing Crookneck in 1912 where they were actually using rope as a belaying device, tied around their waists. That’s the earliest example of belaying as we do it today that I have come across so far. One of the young women actually fell and was held swinging over a 50 metre drop. But no photographs except that doctored one on the summit we spoke about where the photographer, George Rowe, inserted himself in the image in a darkroom. I am confident in saying that it is the oldest known photograph of serious climbing activity in Australia involving the use of a rope.

Michael Meadows
Moss Ghyll. Lake District, England. Abraham Brothers. Fell and Rock Club c1895
O.G Jones on Kern Knotts Crack. Lake District, England. Abraham Bros. Fell and Rock Club c1895

Unfortunately there was a fly in the ointment. Apparently Mackeys Peak was not called Mackay’s (sic) Peak in 1909. According to the Parks Victoria signage in Halls Gap it wasn’t until 1920 that it was given its official name of Mackeys Peak. Halls Gap locals had originally named it Cherub Peak after the death of a baby girl (Agnes Folkes) in 1870. The grave still exists today at the start of the walking trail up to the cliff.

So what is going on with this 1909 caption by George Rose? It appears to be 11 years too early. With a bit of research it soon became obvious that the 1920 ‘official’ naming of Mackeys Peak didn’t quite add up. From what I could gather George Rose had finished producing stereograph photographs by 1920 as the fad of viewing stereographs was pretty much over. Around 1910 or so George Rose had moved away from the production of stereographs to what later became his immensely popular Rose Postcards. The following two newspaper cuttings are much more convincing.

The Advocate 05 February 1910.
The Argus, 21 December 1909.

So there you have it. The cliff is Mackeys Peak (once called Cherub Peak), a large cliff overlooking Halls Gap in the central Grampians. The climb is called Manolete, three pitches at grade 11 and which had its first recorded ascent by Phillip Stranger in 1967. In future I propose that Manolete be returned back to its original name of Gorilla Head (the reason why is obvious) and the first ascent should be recorded as 1909. It’s a shame we don’t have the name of the first ascentionists. There has to be records somewhere of who these people were and maybe one day we will find them. This image and a number of other stereographs (by George Rose and others) are providing proof that the Grampians have played a significant role in Australia’s rich rock climbing history for at least 110 years. In other words, rock climbing should be viewed along with bushwalking as the first recreational pursuits to be enjoyed in the Grampians. Hopefully Parks Victoria takes this into consideration in the coming months and years ahead.

Thanks to Michael Meadows and Robert Thomson. Thanks also to Steve Toal (editor of the new Central Grampians Comprehensive Guide) who scoured his many topo photographs and helped me to eventually identify the climb.

This is a close-up of the 1909 photo (left) next to a 2019 photo (right). Nothing has changed in 110 years! Even the white lichen patch (above the third climber) is very similar in shape and size. How long does lichen live for? I reckon I managed to stand in almost the same place as George Rose did in 1909. The Gorilla head is obvious.
Castle Rocks, Goat Rock, Grampians, Vic, Australia. A Striking example of weather erosion of sandstone strata. 1909. Goat Rock was the settlers original name for Mt Rosea. Notice the climber using a rope in the chasm. There is also a climber perched halfway up the wall.
Climbing out of the Grand Canyon, Grampians. Herbert Percival Bennett , photographer. 1912-13.
Climbing the White Cliffs, Mt Difficult, Grampians, Vic, Australia. A task even for good climbers. George Rose. 1908.

Sources

Pic 1. A nerve-trying feat, scaling Gorilla Head, an immense overhanging cliff, Mackay’s Peak, Grampians, Vic., Australia, Monash Collections Online, http://repository.monash.edu/items/show/14249 George Rose, 1909.
Pic 2. Castle Rocks, Goat Rock, Grampians, Vic, Australia. A Striking example of weather erosion of sandstone strata. State Library of Victoria. http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/457577 George Rose, 1909.
Pic 3. Climbing out of the Grand Canyon, Grampians. State Library of Victoria. http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/359521 Herbert Percival Bennett 1912-13.
Pic 4. Climbing the White Cliffs, Mt Difficult, Grampians, Vic, Australia. A task even for good climbers. Monash Collections Online http://hdl.handle.net/1959.1/1269599 George Rose. 1908.

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The First Ascent of Blimp

At the end of the academic year 1968 at RMIT, I looked for a new outdoor activity, so I met Fred Langenhorst and Rein Kamar from the bushwalking club in the college café.

‘Hi Bruno, would you like to do a rock climbing course with us?’

‘Yeah, I would like that.’

Chris Dewhirst. Photo Bruno Zielke.

The introductory course with the Victorian Climbing Club immediately fired up my passion. Being athletically built, ex-sprinter, skilled in gymnastics and a natural risk taker, I quickly progressed to the more difficult climbs. A determined newcomer usually attracts the attention of the establishment, so I was picked to climb with Chris Dewhirst. He was one of the elite ‘hardmen’. Chris was a tall, wiry Englishman, very intelligent and with a sharp wit. He sometimes beat me at chess, and on the rock face he was the master and I, aged twenty seven, was the apprentice. He laughed a lot and had a-nothing-is-impossible attitude. Thirty years later, he successfully flew two balloons over Mount Everest.

 

 

Bruno belaying Chris Dewhirst. Photo Zielke Collection.

Chris Dewhirst attempting Blimp. Photo Bruno Zielke.

Chris Dewhirst attempting Blimp. Photo Bruno Zielke.

Having done several hard climbs with Chris in the following months, we attempted ‘Blimp’. It is a rock climb in the middle of a cliff named Bundaleer in the Central Grampians in Victoria.

The cliff is overpowering, steep and with massive overhangs. In 1968 Blimp was the great unsolved climbing problem in Victoria, having defeated several strong attempts. It was named and made famous by the legendary Peter Jackson, who was regarded as the father of Australian rock climbing. The climb followed a long, finger-thin crack in a steep corner, between two smooth and overhanging rock faces. The exit at the top was blocked by a two-metre flat ceiling.

Chris tried very hard all weekend, but he always got stuck at the crux point about a third of the way up. If Chris could not do it, I certainly gave it no further thought, so we packed up and went home.

John Ewbank starting up Blimp. Photo Zielke Collection.

In January of 1969, I had an invitation to have another go at it, this time with John Ewbank from Sydney. He was the leading climber in Australia, and I regarded him with great admiration. Jackson told him about Blimp, and Ewbank asked me to climb with him. I was so excited, that it did not even occur to me to ask Chris for permission to do the climb without him. John Ewbank arrived in Melbourne with his girlfriend Valerie, who taught clarinet at the Sydney Music Conservatorium. And so along with Fred Langenhorst and Rein Kamar (both RMIT climbers), we all packed the gear into my car and headed for the Grampians. That Friday night around the campfire, Valerie and John played on their guitars, and she sang sad songs. Then John turned to me.

‘So you’ve already had a go at Blimp?’

‘Actually, no I haven’t. I spent all weekend standing on the ground, holding the ropes for Chris, who had several goes at it.’

On Saturday morning we arrived at the bottom of the climb, and everyone got busy. Valerie took off her T-shirt and stretched out on a nearby rock to work on her suntan. Fred and Rein climbed up a line of bolts, previously banged into the smooth rock face to the right of Blimp, for the express purpose of filming its first ascent. They alternately used my battered Minolta camera to get a different viewpoint. John stood at the bottom of the climb and quietly studied it, while I busied myself with fixing the ropes to anchor myself to a nearby tree, just like I did for Chris. If the lead climber fell, I would hold the rope and arrest his fall. His health and possibly his life depended and how well I did that. The cliff was in the shade and the air smelled of rotten eucalyptus leaves. I loved it.

Bruno Zielke belaying John Ewbank on Blimp. Photo Zielke Collection.

John had extremely blue eyes and long curly blond hair. He wore a red jumper and short golf-like climbing pants, with long red greasy wool Norwegian socks, which was the fashion of the day. A climbing helmet, equipment belt with lots of gear hanging of it, and climbing boots with smooth soles completed the outfit. We all dressed in a similar way. John oozed confidence and was eager to get going. I was quietly apprehensive that he may actually get up, and I would have to follow him. Rein and Fred were hanging from bolts high up on the face with my camera, ready for action. The scene was set. Eventually, all was ready and before John made the first move Valerie said, ‘You know a girl could get pregnant just being near you, with so much testosterone and adrenaline in the air.’ We all laughed and it eased the tension somewhat. I thought that John would show us how to do it and that we will have it on film. But aloud I said, ‘I like your red socks’.

 

John Ewbank on Blimp. Photo Fred Langenhorst / Rein Kamar (Zielke collection).

John moved up the rock with the grace of a ballet dancer and a cat, in short deliberate moves punctuated by a concentrated study of the next move. He placed protecting gear, such as pitons and crackers into the climbing crack and moved up again. He easily passed the first three of the difficult spots. Then John moved up to the point where Chris and everyone else before him reached and said, ‘Wow! I can see what Jackson was talking about’.

He studied it for a while, then came down and rested. John had several attempts but didn’t commit to the hard bit. We went back to the campsite for the night.

‘So Fred did you get some good pictures?’, said Valerie once we settled in. John cut the answer short. ‘What good would they be if we don’t make it up?’

We slept little that night. I thought, surely John will solve Blimp’s riddle made up of all those

strenuous and risky chess moves. On Sunday, John climbed up and down, always reaching the same point, and by three o’clock in the afternoon he came down and said, ‘It’ll have to wait till another time’.

At this point I felt a huge energy rush, and a determination swelling in me. Without knowing what I would do, I started putting my climbing boots on.

‘I wanna have a go John’, I said. Fred and Rein looked at each other puzzled and stayed up on their bolt line.

‘Yeah, you may as well, since everyone else has’, said John.

So we swapped roles and I started off. I remembered all the moves by heart, that Chris and John had made, and climbed quickly, preserving energy. When I reached the high point John got up to, I instantly understood why it had all ended here for everyone else. Above me was an overhanging thin crack in crumbly rock with enough space to push fingertips just half way in. That was all. There were no other handholds, nor footholds, and no place to put protection of any sort. I went on and on. This required total commitment and sustained strength. The long crack led to an overhang where I could probably place protection. But it was a long way off.

Bruno Zielke on the first ascent of Blimp. Photo Fred Langenhorst / Rein Kamar (Zielke collection).

Rein yelled out. ‘Hi Bruno give us a smile for the camera and go for it.’ So I turned around, smiled and committed myself. The adrenalin rush helped. Every two metres I had to stop and hang on one arm to rest the other. There was no support for the feet. I moved slowly, painfully, grunting a lot, and so focused on each next move that I was not even aware of the risk I was taking. If I fell off now I would hit the ground and be crippled for life. I was further above the last protection than it was from the ground level. My one thought was to reach the base of the roof above and secure myself. My weight training and gymnastics paid off here. I felt I could sustain the effort for a while. I heard no other noise except my own heart, heavy breathing and Beethoven’s Fifth symphony, the music thundering in my ears. The stress got unbearable, beyond fear, and beyond pain I could still register. My body numbed, but the fingers held on and that was all that mattered. Nothing mattered as long as I held on. Voices in my head started arguing with each other.

‘Go on fall off, you won’t have to struggle any more.’

‘Ta da, da dah’, thundered Beethoven.

‘Don’t listen to them, just rest up your hand and move up, again and again.’

First ascent details of Blimp in the January 1969 edition of Argus.

Eventually, I could stop and get a small purchase on one foot to take most of my weight off my arms. It was enough. I breathed heavily and I knew I would be alright for a while. A few more minutes and I reached the roof and rested. It was uncomfortable there. If I stood up my head had to be bent to the side or I have to hang on my arms again. I bent my head and banged in a solid piton into a crack and secured a rope trough it. I was safe now. My confidence returned. I surveyed the overhang. That was the next problem. The exit was to the left along a mossy ledge extending for almost two metres. There were holds for the fingers and absolutely nothing for the feet. The ledge started off several centimeters wide, sloping down and gradually narrowed to nothing at the end of the overhang. Having rested I regained my humour and yelled down, ‘This is really tricky, so hang on tight on the ropes’. I cleaned the ledge with my fingers, throwing lots of rubbish in John’s face below, and on the third attempt I reached the exit point. Time was running out, my energy nearly spent, and if I didn’t commit to the overhang now I would simply fall off from exhaustion. So with a loud ‘Urgh!’, I put my left hand on the only hold available and pulled up. The rest happened very fast. The feeling of exposure gave me such a boost, that I swung over the overhang and I was up.

I could not believe it. I had just done the first ascent of Blimp. Following lots of jubilant screaming from below, I secured myself to a tree at the top and yelled down, ‘Climb when ready.’ John climbed up, grunting and muttering mild obscenities in admiration, but with the confidence of the top-rope from his waist to my hands. Eventually, he came up offered his hand and said, ‘Welcome to the world class mate’. Strangely I felt humbled by the experience. I came very close to my limit on this climb.

Back in Melbourne John Ewbank got on the phone and told Chris Baxter and Peter Jackson about the climb. My life had changed. I acquired a ‘persona’ which did not agree with the usual image I had of myself as a person who was withdrawn somewhat.

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Open Spaces Tree Change

Open Spaces and it's new home in Natimuk, with the Natimuk Cafe.
Open Spaces and it’s new home in Natimuk, with the Natimuk Cafe.

It’s been a tough ten years in print publishing as the internet revolution continues to change the way we create and distribute information. Traditional printers across Australia have been putting off large numbers of staff or closing their doors for good. Wholesale distributors and book shops have been similarly affected. The introduction of smart-phones and tablets using e-books cut further and further into the traditional book market.

It’s no secret that we at Open Spaces have not been immune to the tsunami which has raged around us. At times it felt that we were shoeing horses in a blacksmith’s shop, all the while watching automobiles speeding past on the road outside. We changed tack accordingly and provided our newest walking titles with comprehensive GPS coordinates, which were able to be downloaded directly from our website. As far as we know this was a world first. Open Spaces also joined up with iCrag to create Australia’s first interactive climbing apps for both Apple and Android. We were very proud of how our Arapiles Selected Climbs and Rockclimbs Around Melbourne turned out as apps. We even changed the concept of our books, creating smaller print runs of slimmer, less expensive editions (such as our Western Gorges and Victoria’s Goldfields), which gave us the ability to update quickly and regularly. These innovations helped us to stay in business but despite this we at Open Spaces are under no illusions as to what the future holds for many ‘less adaptable’ publishers in the traditional print industry. We don’t believe that the end of traditional books will occur any time soon but we feel that there will be a fundamental shift in how books will be printed. High-quality, fast, digitally printed books that will have very short print runs (usually under 500 copies) will start to make more business sense. Our latest book, Law Unto Himself is a good example of this print on demand style of publishing. In the end though we have to face up to certain truths. More and more people will use the internet as a prime source for much of their information and they will have less need to purchase traditional forms of print media.

Which is why we have made some rather large changes here at Open Spaces. One of our biggest decisions was to drop the publishing and distribution of all our cycling titles. Of all of our books it was our cycling titles which suffered the most. With few book shops able to sell our product (to the general public) and with almost no support from cycling shops we had no choice but to drop them. We have sold the remaining stock of our excellent Bike Rides Around Melbourne to a leading distributor (Woodslane) and we will no longer be stocking it ourselves. We have also dropped many of the smaller less popular titles in our range, simply because we couldn’t justify holding so much stock.

Perhaps the biggest change for Open Spaces was that we have sold our premises in Melbourne and moved ourselves to Natimuk, a small town in the Wimmera region of Western Victoria. Natimuk is within spitting distance of the famous Mt Arapiles and the rugged Grampians mountains are nearby. This change in lifestyle will allow us to do more of the things we love. Tracey Skinner, our office administrator, has followed suit and moved up to near Natimuk with us. In fact, she and my partner, Karen, are now owners of the popular Natimuk Cafe, which is open on weekends for locals and visiting climbers and walkers.

Finally, Open Spaces would like to apologise to any of our customers that may have been inconvenienced by the inevitable chaos involving our move. Things should now be running smoothly again and we look forward to a bright future where we will continue selling and distributing walking and climbing books for many years to come.

 

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Healthy Parks – Wealthy People

hpwp

 

For many years the various organisations that have run Victorian Parks have had an objective of increasing visitor numbers. The most recent incarnation, Parks Victoria, has gained a new objective – a greater proportion of Parks expenditure is to be raised from users and less is to be provided through government budgets. Are the two objectives compatible? The recently released Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) and its proposed increases in camping fees assumes the two objectives are compatible. I believe the RIS uses weak research and an avoidance of challenging questions to maintain this pretence. Here is why.

Horizontal equity – merely an excuse for regressive cost shifting:

The fundamental objective of the RIS is cost recovery for camping in parks. This objective is partially justified by the principle of horizontal equity. Stripped to its basics as used in the RIS, this is the principle that all users should pay the full costs of the camping services they use in Victorian Parks. No one group of campers should subsidise another. There are two problems with this simplistic principle.

  • Why should horizontal equity only be applied to campers. Why should it not be applied to day visitors or to those who derive benefit merely from knowing that Parks exist and are accessible? The answer is that campers are more easily regulated.
  • More importantly, the proposed fee structure will apply the same nominal costs to campers irrespective of income and so will discriminate against lower income campers who will be required to pay a greater proportion of their disposable income to camp. Its impact will be felt most strongly by those who choose camping as an affordable form of recreation. This is hardly horizontal equity. It is a form of regressive taxation. This regressivity will change camping behaviour in ways not anticipated in the RIS.

Most camping visitation is to low cost options – suggesting price influences camping choices

Three quarters of camping visits are to basic and very basic camp sites. Currently these sites have modest fees. The high useage suggests price is likely a factor in the choices of many of campers. This issue is dismissed by the RIS using short citations from a study by Deakin University. Too little detail is provided to determine if sample used in the study is representative of the high number of users of low-cost sites. But if the sample is representative, half of the respondents suggested they would choose another option if camping prices rose. This limited evidence of camping ‘price elasticity’ is dismissed in the RIS with no explanation. This is a fatal flaw in the RIS logic.

Price elasticity of camping demand – higher prices will divert campers

The charging of a $13 fee for a basic camp option may have little impact on the use of these facilities. However, most car-based camping sites that have till now been used as low-cost camping options are being re-classified as mid or high cost camping sites. The case of the Grampians is instructive. All eleven car-based camping sites in the Grampians have been classified as mid or high level service. Currently the majority are low cost options. After the new fees are applied, no low-cost options will remain. The daily fee per vehicle in any of these sites will be between $34 and $50 – a rise of between 170% and 300%. This is a very hefty rise. Despite the scale of proposed fee increases, the RIS makes no real attempt to assess the impact on visitation, other than to cite a poorly designed question in the Deakin survey which asked respondents if they were willing to pay a ‘reasonable’ fee. The concept of ‘reasonable’ is in the eye of the beholder. I imagine few respondents would have considered a 300 per cent rise to be reasonable. It appears the survey gave no indication of the potential scale of fee rises. This makes the survey useless as anything other than a tool for opportunistic citation. And this is how the RIS has used it. To paraphrase its argument- campers agree they would pay a reasonable charge. We define a 300 per cent increase is reasonable. Therefore campers will accept this fee increase. This is hardly credible analysis.

The survey should now be repeated and users asked whether the proposed fee increases are reasonable and whether they would be willing to pay them. We all know that the response to these questions would be very different to the repsonse in the Deakin survey. The outcome of the proposed fee increase can be predicted with reasonable confidence:

  • Fewer camping visit: A significant proportion of low income (and possibly other) campers will reduce their visitation to formal campsites. Some may convert to day visitation. Some may not visit.
  • Diversion to commercial facilities: Some current users will make an assessment that the price charged for basic Parks Vic camp sites is significantly more expensive than commercial campsites that offer services unavailable in Parks sites – hot showers, washing machines and camp kitchens etc. They will divert to commercial options. [This raises a suspicion that the fee rise is partly designed to increase the profits of private operators – particularly any future operators buying the new 99 year leases of park land]
  • Informal and illegal camping will increase. The RIS acknowledges that non-compliance with fees is already high (60 per cent). The fee rises proposed will provide a vastly increased incentive for non-compliance. Parks will need to either increase surveillance of informal camping areas, or accept lower revenue and the potential threat to park values.

Is the future will remote campsites be closed due to negative returns?

If maintaining park visitation was considered a real objective of Parks Victoria, much greater consideration would have been given to the price elasticity and cross-elasticity’s of camping. There would have been a serious attempt to estimate the level of fee increase that could be achieved without reducing visitation. The absence of such a consideration from the RIS suggests that revenue raising is now the over-riding objective of Parks Victoria. If the proposed fee increases do reduce visitation, divert campers to commercial facilities and increase informal camping, the revenue estimates in the RIS will be proved grossly optimistic. Little additional revenue will be raised, but visitation will have shrunk.

At the same time, increased illegal camping and non-compliance will require the diversion of Parks Victoria staff, if not to enforce revenue targets, at least to protect park values where these might be threatened by informal camping. This will either increase Parks Victoria’s costs, or more likely decrease the investment of Parks Victoria budget in the rest of the work needed to protect our Parks.

If these predictions become reality, Parks Victoria will face the realisation that many lower level service and remote camp sites will never be self-funding. Given the current climate, the next logical step would be to close these campsites as unviable. This future seems quite at odds with an objective of increasing park visitation. Park visitation will become a recreation only for the wealthy able to afford to stay in the higher level facilities (more than $200 a night) or in whatever up-market facilities are created on the 99 year leases. These will not provide low cost camping. Parks Victoria could then change the logo on its vehicles from “Healthy Parks – Healthy People” to “Healthy Parks – Wealthy People”. This would only require repainting one letter and should be affordable within the currently stretched Parks Victoria budget. At least then we would all know where we stood. Parks exist to serve those able to pay hefty visitor fees. The alternative is a fundamental rethink of Parks Victoria priorities and an investment in credible research.

[Open Spaces: This piece was provided by one of our regular readers and who wishes to remain anonymous. It follows on from Glenn Tempest’s short blog/response to the Victorian National Parks Camping and Accommodation Fees Regulatory Impact Statement (Healthy Parks, Wealthy People) from last week. ]

 

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Healthy Parks, Wealthy People

Victorian National Parks Camping and Accommodation Fees – Regulatory Impact Statement
The Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) has released a proposal for a user-pays approach to charges for camping and roofed accommodation in parks and reserves managed by Parks Victoria.
Victorians are invited to provide comment on the regulatory impact statement by 22 November 2013.

I just emailed the following response to the Victorian Government/DEPI (Department of Environment and Primary Industries) in relation to the Victorian National Parks Camping and Accommodation Fees Regulatory Impact Statement. If you feel strongly about these fee increases then I suggest you provide comment by the above date.

……………………………………………

As a regular park user and author/publisher of some of Victoria’s most popular bushwalking and rockclimbing guides I would like to voice my strenuous objection to the proposed increases to camping fees within our parks and reserves managed by Parks Victoria.

Having read the proposal I cannot help but be impressed at the Victorian Government/DEPI in having created one of the most confusing, inconsistent and badly worded documents that I’ve ever read. Was this proposal rushed or is it deliberately obtuse?

There are so many issues regarding these proposals that it’s difficult to know where to start. Firstly, however, I have to say that I’m astounded at the size of the proposed increase in camping fees. A fee of almost $50 for an individual to stay one night at a campground designated as having a ‘high’ level of facility and service is simply outrageous. If these massive fee increases are intended to drastically lower the number of overnight visitors to our parks and reserves then you are definitely going about it the right way. Especially affected will be those in our society who are less well off. My suggestion is that instead of promoting ‘Healthy Parks, Healthy People’, Parks Victoria can change its message to, ‘Healthy Parks, Wealthy People’.

Many park users are travelers who don’t plan ahead but simply ‘roll-up’ to various campgrounds. So who thought it was a good idea to confine those park users to an online booking system upon arrival at the campground? A smart phone and a credit card appears to be the only solution but plenty of people still don’t own a smart phone (although if you confine our parks to wealthy users then this may not be such a problem!). Unfortunately even those with smart phones are not always going to get reception. I hope that Parks Victoria will take a lenient view of all of those (roll-ups, gray nomads, etc) that will end up breaking the law through no fault of their own.

One certain result of these proposed campground increases will be that many park users will turn to bush camping to reduce their costs. Unfortunately this will result in an increase in environmental damage. This proposal indicates that substantial bush camping fees will also be introduced. As a regular bush camper I cannot wait to hear exactly how this will be policed. It’s simply not fair that an already overworked and greatly diminished Parks Victoria staff be turned into a rural version of Melbourne’s ticket inspectors.

Cheers,

Glenn Tempest

………………………………………

Written submissions should be forwarded by 5:00pm Friday 22 November 2013 via either of the following:

Post
Camping and Accommodation Fees
Land Management Policy Division
Department of Environment and Primary Industries
Level 3, 8 Nicholson Street
EAST MELBOURNE VIC 3002

 

Online
Email: camping.RIS@depi.vic.gov.au

DEPI RIS Page link: http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/forestry-and-land-use/visiting-parks-and-forests/national-parks-camping-and-accommodation-fees

Fact sheet: http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/205971/Victorian-National-Parks-Camping-and-Accommodation-Fees-Regulatory-Impact-Statement-October-2013-Fact-Sheet.pdf

RIS executive statement: http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/205519/Victorian-National-Parks-Camping-and-Accommodation-Fees-Regulatory-Impact-Statement-October-2013-Executive-Summary.pdf

RIS statement: http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/205517/Victorian-National-Parks-Camping-and-Accommodation-Fees-Regulatory-Impact-Statement-October-2013.pdf

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Law Unto Himself

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Last Monday Open Spaces in conjunction with the Victorian Climbing Club saw the release of Michael Law’s autobiography (of sorts) at Thousand £ Bend at Little Lonsdale Street. It was a wild Melbourne night of heavy rain and hail, yet despite this almost 70 people turned out to listen to one of Australian climbing’s most colorful and notorious characters. Michael provided the audience with a staggering 300 or so historical images, which he dispensed with in just under 1.5 hours and – unlike many slideshows – left the audience wanting more. MC for the night was Simon Mentz who opened with the classic line; “This book launch was originally organised for last week but would have conflicted with the big Chris Sharma road show. The VCC kindly changed it since it was obvious that nobody would have gone to see Chris knowing that Mike was in town”.

As it was the night was a massive success. Michael signed loads of books and got a sore wrist, the Victorian Climbing Club sold a bunch of books and hopefully broke even (after paying the venue costs), and the audience had a great time. What was really interesting was the large number of climbing’s elder statesmen that obviously shunned their nightly rituals of comfy slippers, hot toddies and an early bed to brave the elements and see the show. It’s not often to see the likes of Michael Law, Robin Miller, Geoff Gledhill, Peter Watson, Glenn Robbins and John Chapman rubbing shoulders.

A big thank you to the Victorian Climbing Club who organised everything and to Tracey Skinner, Ben Wright, Dan Miller and Mike Poore who did all the behind the scenes work.

Michael Law’s book, Law Unto Himself ($27.95), is available at most climbing gear stores and through our online bookshop.

 

Michael Law entertaining the masses.
Michael Law entertaining the masses.

Michael Law signing books.

Michael Law signing books.

Michael signing books. Gitti Bulloch waiting expectantly with Steve Pollard behind.
Michael signing books. Gitti Bulloch waiting expectantly with Steve Pollard behind.

Michael Law and Tracey Skinner looking up to Dan Miller.
Michael Law and Tracey Skinner looking up to Dan Miller.

Glenn Robbins and Josef Goding.
Glenn Robbins and Josef Goding.

Glenn Robbins, Mac and Chelsea Brunkhorst and Josef Goding.
Glenn Robbins, Mac and Chelsea Brunkhorst and Josef Goding.

Michael the Showman with a pic of Glenn Child (left) and Greg Child (right).
Michael the Showman with a pic of Glenn Child (left) and Greg Child (right).

Robin Miller, Peter Watson and Glenn Robbins.
Robin Miller, Peter Watson and Glenn Robbins.

Martin Wood, Michael Collie and Robin Miller.
Martin Wood, Michael Collie and Robin Miller.

Simon Mentz & Michael Collie.
Simon Mentz & Michael Collie.

Michael Law & John Chapman.
Michael Law & John Chapman.

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The Art of Belay

So what sort of belayer are you? Are you a fashionable belayer? A safe belayer. Attentive or casual? Which belay devices do you use? Here are a few of my favorite belay scenarios, dug out of my dusty archives.

1. Waist belay. Bundaleer, 1976. Jerry Maddox wondering if anyone will notice that the clothes he's wearing are the same ones he used on his numerous climbing trips to the European Alps back in the 1960s. Your secret is safe with me Jerry. To be fair, winter conditions at Bundaleer are not much different to those on the North Face of the Eiger.
1. Waist belay. Bundaleer, 1976. Jerry Maddox wondering if anyone will notice that the clothes he’s wearing are the same ones he used on his numerous climbing trips to the European Alps back in the 1960s. Your secret is safe with me Jerry. To be fair, winter conditions at Bundaleer are not much different to those on the North Face of the Eiger.

2. ATC. Ormiston Gorge (Northern Territory), 1996. Damien Auton obviously believes that belaying a mate on a difficult climb and an afternoon siesta should never be mutually exclusive.
2. ATC. Ormiston Gorge (Northern Territory), 1996. Damien Auton obviously believes that belaying a mate on a difficult climb and an afternoon siesta should never be mutually exclusive.

3. Sticht plate. Manali (India), 1986. As a professional climbing instructor Michael Hampton knows that belaying is a very serious activity that requires ones full concentration.
3. Sticht plate. Manali (India), 1986. As a professional climbing instructor Michael Hampton knows that belaying is a very serious activity that requires ones full concentration.

4. Waist belay. Lake Districk (UK), 1982. Chris Baxter telling me that a single-point belay in shit rock is totally acceptable when you are twenty metres back from the edge of the cliff and using a dodgy waist belay!
4. Waist belay. Lake Districk (UK), 1982. Chris Baxter telling me that a single-point belay in shit rock is totally acceptable when you are twenty metres back from the edge of the cliff and using a dodgy waist belay!

5. Belay plate. Wilson's Promontory (Trackside Wall), 1982. Eric Jones proving that a single sky-hook belay anchor is absolutely bomb-proof (as long as the second doesn't do anything silly – like fall off).
5. Belay plate. Wilson’s Promontory (Trackside Wall), 1982. Eric Jones proving that a single sky-hook belay anchor is absolutely bomb-proof (as long as the second doesn’t do anything silly – like fall off).

6. Sticht plate. Mt Buffalo, 1996. Professional climbing instructor, playboy and entrepreneur, Simon Mentz is well known for his dedication to climbing safety. Here Simon is trying to figure out if the girl on the lookout is a blonde or a brunette. Damn that sun!
6. Sticht plate. Mt Buffalo, 1996. Professional climbing instructor, playboy and entrepreneur, Simon Mentz is well known for his dedication to climbing safety. Here Simon is trying to figure out if the girl on the lookout is a blonde or a brunette. Damn that sun!

7. Italian hitch. Ben Cairn, 1987. John (Rabbit) Rawlin proving that a (casual) belay should never get in the way of a good full-bodied red.
7. Italian hitch. Ben Cairn, 1987. Jon (Rabbit) Rawlins proving that a (casual) belay should never get in the way of a good full-bodied red.

8. Figure-eight. Phra Nang (Thailand), 1991. Greg Caire trying to work out the odds of losing his ability to ever father a child (not to mention the worst inner-thigh splinters known to medical science) should the leader take a massive winger.
8. Figure-eight. Phra Nang (Thailand), 1991. Greg Caire trying to work out the odds of losing his ability to ever father a child (not to mention the worst inner-thigh splinters known to medical science) should the leader take a massive winger.

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The Rust Bucket

This new Grampians sport-climbing cliff is located just near the Mount of Olives, a couple of minutes walk off the trail linking the Stapylton Campground with the Mt Stapylton Amphitheatre (total walk-in time is about 20min). The cliff is very short (only 12m or so) but the climbing is steep on generally good pocketed rock. There should be enough to entertain most climbers here for at least an afternoon’s moderate cranking. At present there are just five routes (not counting variations) as well as a couple of projects.

Echo Beach (22) is probably the Rust Bucket's most popular climb. It doesn't look too bad from the ground but the moves turn out to be surprisingly steep. Here Steve Holloway contemplates the crux.
Echo Beach (22) doesn’t look too bad from the ground but the moves turn out to be surprisingly steep. Here Steve Holloway contemplates the crux.

 

There are probably another six or seven possible new routes waiting to be done. The Rust Bucket is most appealing as a summer destination as it faces west, which means that it is in the shade until about 4pm. It also conveniently catches any cool breezes and has an appealing high aspect overlooking the plains. In winter the Rust Bucket would be a very cold place indeed. A few of the routes require stick clips on the first bolts.

Martin Wood on the second ascent of Echo Beach (22).
Martin Wood on the second ascent of Echo Beach (22).

 

Ian Smith pulling the initial moves on Blink (24).
Ian Smith pulling the initial moves on Blink (24).

 

Glenn Tempest leading the first ascent of African Queen (23).
Glenn Tempest leading the first ascent of African Queen (23).

 

The following PDF topo provides approach and route details. It can be opened up in Google Docs Viewer.