BARENGI Gadjin Land Council's chief executive Michael Stewart says rock climbing restrictions in the Grampians National Park becoming a highly political issue has delayed a cultural heritage survey at Mount Arapiles.
It comes as licensed tour operators put forward suggestions for how climbing and cultural heritage can exist side by side at Declaration Crag, an outcrop within Mount Arapiles-Tooan State Park.
BGLC's Michael Stewart made his comments after an information session on Declaration Crag at Natimuk community centre on Wednesday night, attended by many Natimuk residents.
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In December, Parks and Barengi Gadjin Land Council announced significant Aboriginal cultural heritage, including rock art had been rediscovered at Taylors Rock, a small outcrop in the state park.
Parks Victoria has installed signs advising people to not enter the area, which is known to be used by rock climbers.
Mr Stewart said what items of cultural significance - tangible and intangible - were there was still to be established.
"To get a full understanding of that significance and what may or may not be appropriate within that location, we have to do a full-group consultation," he said.
"The finalising of Special Protection Areas in the Grampians and the following commitment by the state government and Parks Victoria to undertake a new management plan for the area has meant to be truly respectful in the development of that process, a lot of survey work needs to be done to map our cultural values there.
"It means all organisations have had to commit significant resources they have available to that process. It means Parks and us don't have the resources to do another survey at Arapiles simultaneously.
"We haven't even got to the planning phase on how the surveys (at Arapiles) are going to work."
Mr Stewart said he understood Natimuk residents had a connection to Mount Arapiles.
"What we need to reflect on is Traditional Owners connection - spiritually, culturally - to that site has existed for thousands of years," he said.
Parks Victoria's regional manager Jason Borg said successful applicants the Mount Arapiles-Tooan State Park advisory group would be contacted in February.
"We are doing a reassessment of that advisory group and its functions - working out what the purpose of that group is and how it could help us work through some of the issues that we've got now," he said.
The drop-in session followed a two-hour meeting earlier in the day between Parks Victoria, BGLC and licensed tour operators.
One operator, Tori Dunn of Brimpaen, said they persuaded the organisations to hear their concerns and suggestions as one large group, so that everyone received the same information at the same time.
"In the Grampians, there is an area of Summer Day Valley called the Wall of Fools where LTOs can use the wall, because a permit to harm has been enacted," she said.
"Essentially Parks Victoria money goes to Aboriginal Victoria and is redistributed as revenue. We discussed the possibility of something similar happening at Declaration Crag and the money going to BGLC."
"Legislation gives Traditional Owner groups all the power int his situation. That's why there is a lot of frustration in Natimuk that people don't have a voice."
Ms Dunn said closures of climbing areas in the Grampians had prompted a spike in visits to Mount Arapiles in 2019.
"Declaration Crag sees about 25 per cent of all guiding activity during the peak season, alongside Bushranger Bluff, Mitre Rock and the Plaque," she said.
Barengi Gadjin Land Council is the registered Aboriginal Party for Mount Arapiles, meaning they administer the Aboriginal Heritage Act (2006) for that area.
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