MORE popular climbing spots in the Grampians have come under protection zones, following the discovery of Aboriginal cultural heritage.
On Friday, Parks Victoria announced it had installed signage at the areas "so that people don't inadvertently enter the areas and cause harm".
"Popular rock-climbing areas Taipan Wall/Spurt Wall and Bundaleer (are) located within these Aboriginal cultural places," a statement from Parks read.
"The protection zones cover areas used for bushwalking and rock climbing, while other sections currently remain open to the public. A long-term approach to protecting these places will be determined by a new management plan, a draft of which is expected to be released for further public consultation later this year."
In February 2019, Parks Victoria put in place eight Special Protection Areas across the Grampians, barring rock-climbing and other activities following concerns about damage to sites of cultural significance.
Since June, climbers at Mount Arapiles have faced $300,000 fines for entering Taylor's Rock/Declaration Crag, where more cultural heritage has been rediscovered.
Parks Victoria said it consulted with traditional owners and the Gariwerd Wimmera Reconciliation Network to discuss the environmental and cultural values present and recreation prior to implementing the changes.
Regional Director Jason Borg said: "We know that these protection zones extend across highly regarded climbing areas. We will continue to consult with climbers and hope we can work together to protect and celebrate these unique rediscoveries."
A spokesman said the discoveries included "ancient cultural material, including multiple quarry sites - places where Aboriginal people took stone from rocky outcrops to make tools for different purposes".
"Concentrations of stone tools, archaeological deposits within rock shelters and, unusually, an ochre deposit are also present," he said. "Ochre is used for painting and decorative purposes, and along with other materials confirm the connections that Traditional Owners have to land they have cared for tens of thousands of years."
Traditional Owners react
In a joint statement, the three Gariwerd Traditional Owner corporations, consisting of Barengi Gadjin Land Council (BGLC), Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation (EMAC) and Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation (GMTOAC) said they backed the actions of Parks Victoria.
In a statement, the three groups said they recognised the concerns and uncertainty "that exists amongst recreational users". They said the recent Aboriginal Heritage surveys had found recreational use to be "impacting significantly" on cultural sites.
"(We) have inspected two cultural places, the Gunigalk area in northern Gariwerd, at a location known to rock climbers as Taipan Wall, and in the Bugiga area in central Gariwerd, at a place known as Bundaleer," a statement read.
"The inspection was to assess the immediate management needs of those locations, to ensure Parks Victoria is complying with their responsibilities under the Aboriginal Heritage Act to protect the Aboriginal cultural heritage values while the longer-term recommendations for their management are being considered.
We welcome the action to protect the significant Aboriginal cultural values in the Gariwerd cultural landscape, which to us is vital and long overdue. We also value the working partnerships that have been formed with the other Traditional Owner corporations, Parks Victoria and climbers through Gariwerd Wimmera Reconciliation Network, which will result in a more equitable balance between cultural values protection and recreational use in this sacred landscape.Stuart Harradine BGLC Manager of On Country Operations
"The outcome so far, which is to temporarily restrict public access to Taipan Wall and a part of the Bundaleer due to the potential of harm to the cultural values at these sites, is supported by the three Traditional Owner corporations as both necessary to comply with the Aboriginal Heritage Act (2006), and to meet the minimum expectations of Traditional Owners.
"The input from members of Gariwerd Wimmera Reconciliation Group has also greatly informed considerations by providing practical knowledge of climbing routes and climber perspectives of these places, and has fostered an understanding which has enabled informed decision-making on where cultural values and recreational uses may be able to co-exist."
Some parts of the Grampians National Park are closed due to coronavirus (COVID-19), while others are open to local residents for the purpose of exercise if it is their closest park.