Barenji Gadjin Land Council has warned if recreational users undermine the Temporary Protection Zones in place at Mt Arapiles and the Grampians, the body will advocate for formal and legally enforceable orders to be introduced.
Popular climbing spots at both Gariwerd (Grampians) and Dyurrite (Mt Arapiles) have closed in recent months, following the discovery of more Indigenous cultural heritage sites.
BGLC said while it acknowledged there were "concerns around what might appear to some to be 'unnecessary' blanket closures", the protection zones were necessary to minimise further impacts on heritage, and ensure heritage assessments can be undertaken without interruption from recreational users.
"There needs to be a rebalancing, so that site protection has its rightful status in relation to recreational use. We know we have the support of many in the region and climbing communities for what we are doing, and we will continue to work with those who engage with us in a respectful manner to get outcomes for the benefit of all," BGLC On Country Operations Manager Stuart Harradine said.
BGLC - which represents the interests of the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia & Jupagalk Traditional Owners - said it not only supports the efforts of Park Victoria but is, in fact, the "drivers" of the actions Parks Victoria is taking, particularly at Dyurrite (Mt Arapiles).
In a position statement, BGLC said in the case of both Dyurrite (Mt Arapiles) and Gariwerd (Grampians), there has been a historic imbalance of use over protection, and action was now needed 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," the statement read.
"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 bushwalking or rock climbing, but to ensure that user activity doesn't unnecessarily impact or affect the integrity of our natural and cultural values."
BGLC noted Traditional Owners viewed these areas as "living cultural landscapes, not just as places with some heritage sites within them."
The body said it is in the process of collating evidence from various sources to show the extent that recreational use impacts Aboriginal heritage values.
"This harm isn't just physical to the heritage in question, it is harmful to our people psychologically, emotionally, spiritually and physically as well," the statement read.
"When Traditional Owners see visitors trampling over ceremony sites, or artefact 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."
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A series of on-country survey blocks will take place from November to early in the new year, to allow Traditional Owner experts and Parks Victoria staff to identify, record and assess heritage values in the Dyurrite landscape.
BGLC welcomed the involvement of Ben Gunn - a leading heritage consultant, with over 40 years of experience - in the assessment process.
BGLC is also seeking the involvement of the Gariwerd Wimmera Reconciliation Network, to provide advice and expertise on the recreational use, with special consideration given to rock climbing.
"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," the position statement read.
"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."
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