Statement of Position
Heritage Protection in the Dyurrite & Gariwerd Landscapes
In light of recent developments with the protection of Aboriginal heritage in Dyurrite (Mt Arapiles) & Gariwerd (Grampians) and the negative response from some sections of the public, Barengi Gadjin Land Council would like to make our position clear on what has become a source of concern, uncertainty, misinformation and anti-Aboriginal sentiment.
BGLC represents the interests of the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia & Jupagalk Traditional Owners. As such, we have been heavily involved in recent years with management planning in the Dyurrite & Gariwerd areas in order to protect heritage values. We have strong cultural, physical, spiritual, psychological, emotional and economic connections to these landscapes that go back for tens of thousands of years. Traditional Lore & Custom tells us the Creation Ancestors helped to form many features of these landscapes, and some of these features even represent their physical remains.
We view these areas holistically - as living cultural landscapes, not just as places with some heritage sites within them. Environmental values, as well as both tangible (visible) and intangible (not easily apparent) cultural values are all considered part of the importance of these landscapes to us.
Many management and recreational user activities have historically caused harm to our heritage values and continue to do so. This harm isn’t just physical to the heritage in question, it is harmful to our people psychologically, emotionally, spiritually and physically as well. When Traditional Owners see visitors trampling over ceremony sites or artifact scatters, or see climbing bolts drilled into the bones of our Creation Ancestors or around our rock art, it is a cause of enormous distress. This distress has a direct impact on the health and wellbeing of Traditional Owners, and affects our very place within the Creation (Dreaming) Cycle of our spirituality in a way that is beyond full understanding within conventional Western thought. This is why it is important for Traditional Owners to reassert their ancient cultural responsibilities to care for Country & Culture, so that this harm can be minimised.
Support for Heritage Values Protection
BGLC would like to make it clear that our organisation supports the efforts that Parks Victoria are making in regards to the protection of our cultural and natural heritage in these landscapes. In fact, we are the drivers for the very actions Parks Victoria are undertaking in this aspect of park management, specifically for Dyurrite, and in partnership with other Traditional Owner organisations for Gariwerd. Parks Victoria has particular responsibilities as land managers to ensure the protection of our heritage as legislated in the Aboriginal Heritage Act and the National Parks Act, and we are working with them to ensure that their actions are consistent with their responsibilities to comply with the Acts, and in line with the expectations and needs of Traditional Owners. Traditional Owners are the right people to be making decisions and providing direction around heritage values protection. In this light, BGLC fully supports the involvement and conduct of Mr Ben Gunn, a heritage consultant who has undertaken important assessment work on rock art sites in both the Dyurrite & Gariwerd landscapes. Mr Gunn has undertaken rock art assessment and protection work for over 40 years and is widely recognised to be the leading expert in this field, particularly for the Dyurrite & Gariwerd landscapes. Whilst Mr Gunn completes his assessment reports, it is ultimately the Traditional Owners who decide on what heritage protection measures should be put in place.
Finding Balance between Use & Protection
It is the aim of BGLC to further the aspirations of Traditional Owners by ensuring the protection of our heritage is given the attention and action it deserves by land managers and recreational users. In the case of Dyurrite and Gariwerd, it has long been the case that access and use hasn’t been regulated to maintain natural and cultural values to the extent they should. In this sense, we have an imbalance of use over protection, and the actions now being undertaken are required to bring things back to a balanced state. In the past, walking trails and climbing routes have been established without any consideration of, or consultation with, Traditional Owners. This has led to inappropriate usage and infrastructure that would never have been established if our interests and perspectives had been considered in the past. Now is the time to correct the mistakes of the past and find equilibrium. It is not a case of BGLC seeking to ban user activities such as bush walking or rock climbing, but to ensure that user activity doesn’t unnecessarily impact or affect the integrity of our natural and cultural values.
Proof of ‘Harm
BGLC is in the process of collating evidence from various sources to demonstrate ‘impacts’ or ‘harm’ to Aboriginal heritage values. This will be released soon and will show the extent that recreational use impacts on Aboriginal heritage values.
Recognising Land Stewardship Initiatives
BGLC recognises that some efforts have been made by recreational users to address the imbalance between use and protection. Some examples at Dyurrite include track maintenance and campground revegetation projects largely undertaken voluntarily by Rock Climbers and supported by Parks Victoria. We acknowledge there is a general intent to look after the landscape for the benefit of all, and the value of these action shouldn’t be taken for granted. However, BGLC is of the view that more action is needed to address the imbalance in relation to heritage protection, and this can only be undertaken by and under the direction of the Traditional Owners. This is why it is important that recreational users support our efforts rather than work against them.
Issue of Consultation
BGLC is aware that some criticism has been levelled at Parks Victoria for a perceived lack of consultation or engagement about heritage protection with interest groups. We understand this to mean that some people believe they should be more involved in the decision-making around heritage protection and have a say about how it should be managed.
It is important to know that when it comes to compliance with the Aboriginal Heritage Act, and deciding what measures should be put in place to protect heritage in these landscapes, the decision-making needs to be undertaken by the relevant Traditional Owners in partnership with the land managers, utilising the expert knowledge of heritage consultants where available.
Temporary Area Closures & Set Asides for Heritage Assessments
BGLC acknowledges the concerns around what might appear to some to be ‘unnecessary’ blanket closures of some recreation use areas however we believe this is important in order to:
minimise the of further/potential impacts on heritage, as required under the Aboriginal Heritage Act, and
ensure that heritage surveys and assessments can be undertaken without also having to work around or be interrupted by recreational users.
It is important to have the space and freedom to undertake these processes without external pressures, and so we respectfully ask recreational users to abide by signage and refrain from entering these areas at this time. We have also requested that Parks Victoria put in place Set Asides as a management tool under the National Parks Act for some areas in Dyurrite we have identified for heritage survey and assessment work.
This is in response to recent challenges to Parks Victoria around the legality of the Temporary Protection Zones to exclude park visitors. It is the view of BGLC that if recreational users wish to undermine the intent of the non-enforceable Temporary Protection Zones, then we have no choice but to advocate for formal and legally enforceable Set Asides to be implemented in order to ensure visitor access is managed at least in the short term. There is potential for the Set Asides to be modified in future depending upon the outcomes of the heritage assessments.
Heritage Assessment Process & Potential Outcomes
A series of on-country survey blocks will take place from November 2020 to early in the new year at Dyurrite. This will allow Traditional Owner experts and Parks Victoria heritage staff to identify, record and assess heritage values in the Dyurrite landscape. The assessments will focus on what measures need to be introduced to protect the heritage values, and this will almost definitely result in some ongoing visitor access restrictions to parts of the landscape. As part of the assessment process, BGLC will be seeking the involvement of the Gariwerd Wimmera Reconciliation Network, to provide advice and technical expertise on recreational use, in particular around considerations for Rock Climbing. (In this regard they have already been incredible allies and contributors of climber knowledge and perspectives in both Dyurrite and Gariwerd, and have respectfully advocated for recreational users in a way that other representative organisations could learn from.) Traditional Owners will then be able to make informed decisions on where heritage protection needs to take precedence, and where recreational activities are appropriate. Again, it is not the intent of BGLC to completely close down activities such as climbing, but to make sure such activities are not interfering with heritage values protection. Where the two conflict, we will naturally need to prioritise protection over use. We believe the relatively short-term inconvenience of the closures will be outweighed by the greater heritage protections and certainty for recreational use that will be the expected result of the survey and assessment process we are undertaking.
Social and Economic Considerations
BGLC and Traditional Owners recognise that changes to the management of recreational use in Dyurrite and Gariwerd has generated concern about the on the local economy and communities, and we want to make assurances that these concerns do not go unrecognised. This is why we successfully campaigned to Parks Victoria to allocate sufficient resources to undertake formal heritage surveys of the Dyurrite landscape, starting in November 2020, to fully scope out heritage protection needs and define designated recreational use areas, so that certainty can be provided as soon as possible to park visitors, local communities and small businesses that may rely on visitors. BGLC has also established a dialog with the Arapiles District Community Group, so that BGLC can address the concerns and impacts of the local community. We have already identified a number of possible initiatives around cultural tourism which can provide benefits to the local economy, and we see this untapped area of development as a key going forward.
Respecting Traditional Owners
We ask that recreational users and members of the public show respect to Traditional Owners by complying with their wishes, staying out of signed areas while surveys and assessments are being undertaken, and demonstrating understanding and patience during this process. It is the view of BGLC that any actions by user groups or individuals to diminish or interfere in the implementation of heritage protection as undertaken by land managers is a direct challenge to our efforts to ensure adequate site & environmental preservation processes and measures are put in place. We view the recent legal challenge undertaken by the Victorian Climbing Club against Parks Victoria over climbing restrictions to be counterproductive and a direct challenge to our rights and cultural responsibilities to protect our heritage values. The VCC has failed to engage with BGLC in an informed or respectful manner, and we are of the view that despite their occasional claims of wanting to establish a relationship with Traditional Owners, their continued attempts to erode cultural values protections via legal challenges demonstrate they are disingenuous and disrespectful.
BGLC will not engage with VCC while they are promoting extremely misleading information, denigrating and undermining us, and taking legal action against Parks Victoria.