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Everest, Guns & Money

When I started out rock climbing, back in the mid 1970s, there were a handful of leading Aussie climbers who immediately captured my admiration and fed my teenage inspiration. Chris Dewhirst was one of those climbers. Dewhirst had established some of the hardest climbs of the 1960s and early 1970s and his name is still linked to hundreds of routes that litter the pages of Victorian climbing guidebooks. In 1966 he freed Werewolf at Mt Arapiles to create Victoria’s first grade 20, a major milestone. In 1969, at Mt Buffalo, he and Chris Baxter overcame enormous psychological hurdles to climb the first ascent of Ozymandias over three long difficult days. Two years later, also at Mt Buffalo, Dewhirst teamed up with Peter McKeand to establish Lord Gumtree, Australia’s longest and most difficult aid route of the time.

It wasn’t surprising that Dewhirst’s thirst for adventure saw him drawn to the huge granite walls of Yosemite Valley in the United States. In 1973 Dewhirst climbed the Salathe Wall on El Capitan, one of the best climbs on one of the biggest and most impressive chunks of vertical granite on the planet. Chris Dewhirst was at the top of his climbing game, but other, unforeseen events, were soon to take place that would see Dewhirst getting dragged into a dangerous maelstrom of drugs, guns and murder.

Everest, Guns & the Money tells an extraordinary story of how a plane, carrying Mexican marijuana and Colombian cocaine, crashed into a frozen Yosemite lake killing both the pilots. How Dewhirst and his climbing buddies not only enriched themselves of drug cash, but how Dewhirst managed to find himself in the employ of the CIA running guns to Santiago in support of Chile’s General Pinochet’s junta. This is also the story of Colonel Al Morgan, a distinguished but disillusioned US Air Force pilot who confided in Dewhirst during multiple helicopter runs in the autumn of 1973. Dewhirst has taken Al Morgans facts and combined them with his own to write the book in the first person. He’s also condensed the multi-year time frame into three months. Dewhirst makes no apologies for the dramatising of events. Upon reading Everest, Guns & the Money I was constantly wondering as to just how much was Morgan’s story and how much was Dewhirst’s. In the end it didn’t really matter. I couldn’t put the book down. It’s a crazy rollarcoaster ride of a story that will appeal to not only climbers but to anyone with even a passing interest to the far-reaching events occurring in Central America during the early 1970s.

Everest, Guns & the Money is published by One Tree Press HERE.

ISBN: 9780645907209
Format: Paperback
RRP: $39.00
Pages: 384
73 photographs

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Have Parks Victoria Really Banned Scrambling in the Grampians National Park?

Bushwalkers scrambling on the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk linking Hollow Mountain with Mt Stapylton. One of the most spectacular day walks in Victoria.

Just before last Christmas Parks Victoria finally released the Greater Gariwerd Landscape Management Plan. Unfortunately in Parks Victoria’s haste to ban rock climbing across significant areas of the park they also appear to have banned scrambling and in doing so they have effectively closed three of the best adventure walks / scrambles in Victoria. Two of these walks are described in our popular walking guide Daywalks Around Victoria (the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk [Hollow Mountain to Mt Stapylton] and the Fortress summit walk).

Here at Open Spaces we had concerned readers contacting us and asking for clarification. It’s no secret that Parks Victoria have closed a significant number of walking trails in the Grampians (possibly to funnel walkers onto their newly constructed Grampians Peaks Trail and to simplify management responsibilities and costs), but to have banned visitors to the Grampians National Park from undertaking any scrambling – an innocuous and common pastime for many outdoor enthusiasts – seemed to be too draconian even for them. Furthermore, there had been no hint of initiating such measures within the Greater Gariwerd Landscape Draft Management Plan nor in the public consultation process that preceded it. Back in 2019 and again in early 2021 Parks Victoria had even given us assurances that such adventure walking trails were open (although not officially recognised). Even as recent as March 2021 Jason Borg (Regional Director, Western Region) had continued to express support for these walks and even the use of safety ropes, safety harnesses and safety helmets both inside or outside of what Parks Victoria call Special Protection Areas (SPAs). To clarify, although the majority of averagely fit and able bushwalkers find these scrambling routes (such as the ridge-line linking Hollow Mountain to Mt Stapylton) to be both enjoyable, easy and straightforward, some walkers (especially those less agile within clubs or school groups) use safety ropes to provide a bit more security.

You can read our full blog relating to this matter and Parks Victoria’s detailed responses at Grampians National Park: Safety Ropes, Bushwalking and Special Protection Areas.

With the the release of the Greater Gariwerd Landscape Management Plan Parks Victoria included the following table (p99) which was added without any consultation with either the bushwalking or rock climbing communities.

It is difficult to know why Parks Victoria decided to hastily adapt the North American Yosemite Decimal System (YDS), which is what Parks Victoria refers to as the Sierra Club’s “modern classification”, to divide hiking and rock climbing into five general classes. According to Wikipedia, “the exact definition of the (YDS) classes is somewhat controversial, and updated versions of these classifications have been proposed”. In fact, the Sierra Club (which is California based) have now reviewed the YDS ratings system and have new “Scrambler” definitions “to distinguish them from the closely related but not identical YDS ratings”. There is also the question of where and exactly how does the North American YDS actually fit in with the widely accepted Australian Walking Track Grading System (of which Parks Victoria has endorsed) or with the long established Australian and New Zealand Ewbank rock climbing grading system.

However the real issue is with how Parks Victoria have used the Class 3 definition, which equates to “scrambling with increased exposure, where handholds are necessary and falls could be easily be fatal”. Parks Victoria has decided that class 3 scrambling is to be regarded as “hiking” but only if it occurs on a designated hiking trail. And this is where things get really strange. According to Parks Victoria if class 3 scrambling occurs on a non-designated hiking trail (such as on the Hollow Mountain to Mt Stapylton traverse or to reach the summit of the Fortress) then it is to be considered rock climbing ‘whether ropes or other safety equipment is used or not’. What this effectively means is that although this stops all those pesky rockclimbers in their tracks it also puts an an end to what many experienced walkers take for granted as part of their normal outdoor experience – scrambling. There must be literally thousands of established walking routes around Australia and throughout the world that involve sections of so-called class 3 scrambling. Surely Parks Victoria cannot be serious in banning something so innocuous as scrambling. So, we decided to clarify the situation by contacting Parks Victoria. Almost a month later we finally received the following reply:

To say we were confused is an understatement. The first paragraph states that “class 3 off-designated track scrambling is not permitted outside of designated climbing areas”, and the third paragraph states that “in respect to the Fortress and the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk as described in your correspondence, off track hiking is permitted”. As both the Fortress summit and the Stapylton Amphitheatre walks are indisputably classed by their own adapted YDS system as class 3 this means that these paragraphs are contradictory.

The rest of the letter told us that unlike 12 months previously, safety equipment can no longer be used by bushwalkers unless they are on a Parks Victoria designated walking trail. Again, very odd. Also, the walking and scrambling route to the top of the Chimney Pots is no longer allowed as it is now located in a Special Protection Area, yet this is again strange as there is a designated walking trail loop around the entire Chimney Pots, up against the cliffs. Apparently you can apply to walk and scramble to the top of the Chimney Pots but only after applicants “document this request in writing including details of when, who and why they need to walk in this area”. If it sounds like a ban and looks like a ban then it’s probably a ban!

This letter from Jason Borg left us more confused than ever. I therefore emailed Jason again to point out the contradictions and soon received an email back, not from Jason Borg but from Will Cox, the acting Area Chief Ranger for the Grampians National Park. Will Cox and I exchanged a couple of confusing emails in which he finally stated that “Parks Victoria will be conducting a review of these hiking tracks along with many other tracks throughout the park through its implementation of the Greater Gariwerd Landscape Management Plan. As you can appreciate, I can’t pre-empt any outcomes of this process”. I summarised the conversation with, “So if I understand you correctly walkers can walk these trails until further notice?”. Will Cox didn’t reply so I took this to be a reasonable assumption of the situation as it stands.

So there you have it. The Greater Gariwerd Landscape Management Plan has been released and scrambling may or may not be banned in the Grampians National Park. From what I can ascertain, this plan, even though it has been released, is exactly that, still a plan. Apparently Parks Victoria has communicated in writing that a set-aside will be posted on its website. However, if the plan is enacted as is, without changes, then class 3 scrambling will be banned and bushwalkers could be facing large fines for doing what many walkers around Australia and the world take for granted.

To be fair Parks Victoria appear to have painted themselves into a complicated bureaucratic corner over their hasty attempts to initiate sweeping rock climbing bans across the Grampians and in doing so have unfortunately caught up bushwalkers in the process. If our email conversations with Parks Victoria are anything to go by then it is obvious they are struggling with a complicated, poorly thought out and ultimately contradictory strategy.


  • Parks Victoria are in the process of banning class 3 scrambling in the Grampians National Park.
  • Bushwalkers are potentially facing large fines should they be caught class 3 scrambling on non-designated hiking trails.
  • According to Parks Victoria their class 3 definition is that ascending a given section of rock (whether it is 5m in length or 100m in length), whether with or without “ropes and other safety equipment” is “scrambling” if that section of rock is on a “designated hiking trail”; however, ascending that identical section of rock (whether with or without ropes and other safety equipment) is regarded as “rockclimbing” if it is not on a designated hiking trail. In other words, simply by designating a trail or by removing its designation, an ascent (whether with or without ropes and safety equipment) can be assessed as either class 3 scrambling or rockclimbing according to Parks Victoria’s whim.

If you wish to have an input regarding the future of walking and scrambling trails in the Grampians National Park, please consider writing to Parks Victoria. It would also help if you encouraged your bushwalking club to do likewise. If enough people voice their opinions then maybe Parks Victoria will be forced into revisiting this issue and come up with a less draconian solution, a solution that will benefit both Parks Victoria and bushwalkers alike. The following contacts include Bushwalking Victoria (who represent all bushwalkers in the state) and relevant Parks Victoria representatives:

Bushwalking Victoria:
Lily D’Ambrosio (Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change):
Matthew Jackson (Chief Executive Officer of Parks Victoria):
Jason Borg (Parks Victoria Regional Director, Western Region):
Will Cox (Acting Area Chief Ranger, Grampians National Park, Parks Victoria):
Stuart Hughes (Director of Park Planning and Policy, Parks Victoria):

In the meantime I’d recommend that bushwalkers consult with Parks Victoria before undertaking any of the walks discussed here. Parks Victoria can be contacted on 13 1963 or via email at
I’d like to also thank Parks Victoria for addressing our concerns.

The Fortress. One of the most attractive isolated rock summits in Australia and an historic bushwalking destination.

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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 Halts New Grampians And Arapiles 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 Australia’s Oldest Rock Climbing Photograph?

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.


Pic 1. A nerve-trying feat, scaling Gorilla Head, an immense overhanging cliff, Mackay’s Peak, Grampians, Vic., Australia, Monash Collections Online, 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. George Rose, 1909.
Pic 3. Climbing out of the Grand Canyon, Grampians. State Library of Victoria. 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 George Rose. 1908.

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Grampians National Park: Safety Ropes, Bushwalking and Special Protection Areas

This article was added to on 10 March 2021 to include a letter from Jason Borg at Parks Victoria.

Many of you are probably aware that Parks Victoria have initiated sweeping rock climbing bans across the Grampians National Park in what are called Special Protection Areas (SPAs). At Open Spaces we have received a number of phone calls and emails asking whether these bans will effect bushwalkers who use safety ropes within SPAs. At least two of our Grampians walks in our Daywalks Around Victoria guidebook are directly affected. These walks are Stapylton Ampitheatre and The Fortress Caves. So we decided to write to Parks Victoria to seek clarification. Here is our letter (dated 27 May 2019):

To whom it may concern,
Open Spaces are currently in the process of writing an online update to the four Grampians bushwalks we describe in our popular Daywalks Around Victoria guidebook. This book has sold over 3000 copies and we have a responsibility to the groups, clubs and numerous independent walkers to attempt to clarify the somewhat confusing situation regarding the current Parks Victoria Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Two of our described walks (the Stapylton Amphitheatre, p44 and The Fortress Caves, p50) appear to be affected by the SPAs.

As you are no doubt aware the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk (the rocky ridge linking Hollow Mountain with Mt Stapylton) has long been regarded as one of the most iconic walks in the Grampians, it has been called the most spectacular walk in Victoria and sees hundreds of walkers a year (both teenagers and adults). The Echoes Block section of the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk (at the point where you leave the main walking trail to Hollow Mountain) appears to be within an SPA. It is our understanding that there is now a ban on the use of safety ropes within SPAs. Unfortunately many groups, clubs and independent walkers commonly use a safety rope to gain the top of the Echoes Block. Although the scrambling is easy, it is the safest way to bring walkers up. Safety ropes have been used on the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk for at least 50 years.

We are writing to you to inform you that we will be advising our readers that if they resort to using a safety rope within an SPA they face possible fines of over $1600. We will also inform our readers that a safety rope is therefore not allowed to be used on the initial Echoes Block section of the walk but is allowed to be used on the final steep northern scramble up to the summit of Mt Stapylton (as this section is not within an SPA).

The final scramble up to the top of the Fortress is also regularly completed by groups, clubs and independent walkers. Some of these people rely on the use of a safety rope to gain what is widely regarded as the best summit in the Grampians.

Question one. Is the Fortress within an SPA? It is difficult to tell as the official maps are lacking in detail. If it is within an SPA we will inform our readers that the use of a safety rope to gain the summit is no longer allowed.

Question two. Has Parks Victoria considered that a no safety rope policy (within SPAs) will influence some walkers to forgo the use of a safety rope (due to the over $1600 fine) and which will almost certainly result in future accidents?

We understand that both of these walks are not officially recognised by Parks Victoria but considering that they are historically important, have a long history with walkers and are popular (particularly the Stapylton Amphitheatre walk) it would be hard for Parks Victoria to pretend that they didn’t exist, and therefore absolve themselves of any future responsibility.

Looking forward to your response, Glenn Tempest, Open Spaces Publishing

Here is Park Victoria’s response (dated 11 July 2019):

Dear Mr Tempest
Safety Ropes in Special Protection Areas

Thank you for your email of the 28th May, 2019 to the Hon Lily D’Ambrosio MP, Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, regarding Special Protection Areas and the use of safety ropes while bushwalking in Grampians National Park. As this issue falls within Parks Victoria’s responsibilities, your correspondence has been forwarded to me for my consideration and response. I apologise for taking so long to get back to you.

While Parks Victoria prohibits rock climbing within Special Protection Areas (SPA’s) there is no prohibition on the use of safety ropes to assist with the activity of bushwalking either inside or outside of SPA’s. Safety ropes are permitted if necessary for safety while bush walking and National Parks regulations are complied with (i.e. no damage to rock or use of bolts, no trampling or damaging of vegetation). Parks Victoria would be interested in working with you to provide clarity to bushwalkers on what defines the use of safety ropes while bushwalking and how it can easily be distinguished from climbing.

To clarify your question regarding Echoes block and the Fortress: Echoes block is within an SPA. The area is of significant natural and cultural value, and is not on an authorized walking track. Although bush walking is permitted in this SPA, the nature of this activity is “off track” therefore, bush walkers are reminded to adhere to minimal impact guidelines (tread lightly, keep group sizes small, don’t damage vegetation) and comply with National Park regulations. Safety ropes if necessary, should only be used as described above and not be the primary means of access.

The Fortress walking track is an authorized walking track that sits within a remote and natural area, where the activity of bushwalking on and off track is permitted. However, the walking track itself has an SPA layer over its entirety for the protection of important natural values. The summit of the Fortress is not within this SPA as the authorized walking track does not continue to this area. Bush walking in this summit area will need to adhere to minimal impact guidelines and comply with National Park regulations. Care should be taken when walking off track to consider remoteness and difficult terrain.

As you may be aware, a new management plan is being developed for the Grampians landscape, an area that covers the Grampians National Park and adjacent parks and reserves. This document will underpin strategic planning for the Grampians landscape over the next 15 years to ensure the precious environmental and cultural values of this iconic landscape are preserved for future generations to enjoy. This includes providing longer-term direction on matters such as access and usage of the park. The process to develop this plan will include opportunities for you to share your thoughts, attend public information sessions, and get feedback from Parks Victoria and key stakeholders on specific questions that you may have.

I will have local staff from the Grampians National Park contact you to meet you on site and discuss these matters further.

Yours sincerely
Sally Lewis, Regional Director Western Region Parks Victoria

So, just to be clear. Safety ropes are permitted if necessary for safety while bush walking and National Parks regulations are complied with (i.e. no damage to rock or use of bolts, no trampling or damaging of vegetation). I’d like to thank Sally Lewis (Regional Director Western Region) and to Simon Talbot (Chief Operating Officer) and Gavan Mathieson (South West District Manager) for contacting me with regards to this important issue.

UPDATE 10 March 2021

In February 2021 we had some further concerns regarding bushwalkers using safety ropes when scrambling inside or outside of Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Some walkers had contacted us asking whether or not they were able to use safety helmets and safety harnesses (particularly in regards to children, those less nimble or those less confident in their abilities). We wrote to Jason Borg at Parks Victoria on 29 January 2021 asking for further clarification regarding the use of safety helmets and safety harnesses. Here is his reply.

Perhaps the following graphic will help clarify Parks Victoria’s logic. Or maybe it won’t.

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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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Following the Wombat Poo Trail

Wombat poo and flower

Over the years I’ve developed a fascination for wombat poo. Nothing weird, more as a subject matter for my camera as opposed to collecting them for things like making paper with (which is apparently done commercially by some mob down in Tassie!) My native Victoria is home to many thousands of wombats and this amiable ambling marsupial is a common sight when visiting our parks and reserves. There are a few things about wombat poo that make it so interesting. Firstly, the poo is essentially square. That’s right, a fresh poo is pretty much cube-shaped. It boggles my mind that somehow a wombat’s intestine can knock out square-shaped poos. Also, wombats love to do their poos on top of things. On top of stones, logs, mounds and even low fence palings. Which is why they need to have their poos square-shaped – so they don’t roll away! Wombats pump out between 80 and 100 of these marvelous marshmellow-sized wonders each night. Not a bad effort. They place them in conspicuous positions to tell other wombats that this is my place so stay well away. Over time the poos melt back into the bush, back into the grass from whence they came. HERE is a bunch of my wombat poo pics (linked to my SmugMug site) to browse through – if you are so inclined…

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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



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. ]