In reply to SBS NITV’s story about Thompson’s Point climbing

A story featuring Nowra’s Thompson’s Point cliffs aired during the week on SBS NITV’s The Point titled – Sacred Sites and Cultural Heritage (story starts at 28 minutes).  A follow up petition was launched asking for all climbing to be banned at this area. This statement aims to correct factual errors in the SBS NITV story and change.org petition and inform the wider community about what work is being done to maintain respectful access to this climbing area.

We acknowledge that the land we climb on is Aboriginal country, and that areas of stark geological relief are often places of great spiritual importance, and there is the potential for misunderstanding or conflict if these aspects are not addressed proactively by climbers with respectful enquiry. ACANSW had been working with land managers and Aboriginal people in the Nowra region prior to this story airing.

Six weeks prior to this story being published we were informed by climbers at Thompson’s Point that SBS NITV had been filming a story there. These climbers were alarmed at the ambush style interviews and the questions being asked of them without context. We approached SBS NITV immediately as we felt it likely from the nature of questioning that climbers were being unwillingly co-opted into a trope of ignorant climbers damaging Aboriginal culture and the environment. We were concerned that SBS NITV would not provide fair and balanced reporting. We provided information to counteract this image. This information has been totally ignored. We shall be making a formal complaint to the SBS ombudsman, and to the media regulatory body, ACMA. 

Summary of events leading to recent route closures at Thompson’s Point

  • The first climbing routes were recorded at Thompson’s Point in 1989 and it quickly became one of the most popular climbing areas in Australia. The cliffline is crown land and managed by Shoalhaven City Council and is zoned “Public Recreation”. Several commercial tourism ventures utilize the site for abseiling and rock climbing and are promoted by Shoalhaven Council.
  • In early 2015 rangers informed a couple of climbers at Thompson’s Point that they may have found Aboriginal drawings on Mini Wall (underneath the route Cowboy Junkies). This was communicated by the climbers to the wider climbing community who took action by installing signage at the wall and placing notes on climbing forums about avoiding this area. A subsequent official archaeological survey was done of Thompson’s Point by the land manager, Shoalhaven City Council in late 2015. The report and location of findings were not released to the general public. Although no definitive notice was given about Mini Wall the climbing community continued to stay off this area despite no official signage being installed by Council.
  • The Nowra Climbing guidebook is published in 2016 and mentions that Mini Wall is “closed to climbing in respect of the aboriginal heritage in the area”. Climbers continue to stay away from this area.
  • In 2019 climbers at Thompson’s Point were told by Aboriginal people of a potential second art site at the Pocketed Wall. This site and Mini Wall were confirmed by Shoalhaven City Council on a walk around with ACANSW representatives soon after. Upon hearing this information the routes on Pocketed Wall were immediately signposted by the climbing community as closed. All climbing routes near the two art sites have since been removed. It should be noted that the art is quite faded at both sites, and is not what was shown in the SBS story (see below).
  • In 2020 a local Jerringa Elder Graham Cullen Senior and Jerringa Spokesman Graham Cullen Junior  walked through Thompsons’ Point with representatives of ACANSW to survey the routes that had been closed and to ensure that cultural heritage is being preserved. The current situation of limited route closures at Mini Wall and Pocketed Wall was approved by Graham Senior, who has since confirmed that Senior Elder of the Jerringa people Gordon Wellington has also approved climbers efforts to protect the cultural heritage that has been discovered on these two sections of the Thompson’s Point cliff. This approval by Elders is subject to interpretation by other individuals in the local Aboriginal community.
  • Shoalhaven City Council representatives have also walked through Thompson’s Point with ACANSW representatives in 2020 and have approved the current level of route closures and communication with the wider climbing community.
  • Shoalhaven City Council has agreed to install signage at the entrance of Thompson’s Point acknowledging its significance to Aboriginal people and it’s value to climbers. This signage will be a collaboration between Shoalhaven City Council, Nowra Aboriginal Land Council and the Australian Climbing Association.
  • Consultation with the local Aboriginal community is continuing towards a mutually beneficial future for the area.
  • Climbers demonstrate stewardship for the cliff environment: Thompson’s Point was for many years used by non climbers as a dumping ground for rubbish. Climbers have on several occasions removed tonnes of dumped waste, including car bodies. Throughout NSW, regional climbing coalitions have embarked on Crag Care activities over the past 2 years, building on the long-standing Blue Mountains Crag Care. Climbers have worked with land managers at The Grotto, on the northern side of the Shoalhaven River, and at Thompson’s Point to remove non climber waste, and conduct bush regeneration. See Thompson’s Point Crag Care on the Shoalhaven Council bushcare website or Nowra Crag Care on Facebook for details of future events. 
Crag Care helps to clean up Nowra bushland

Specific details of the story published by SBS NITV’s The Point – Sacred Sites and Cultural Heritage

  • ACANSW contacted SBS NITV six weeks before this story went to air to raise concerns about the divisive angle they were taking by “confronting” climbers at the crag. We informed them of the details listed above, and on work that the climbing community was doing to resolve access issues. This information was ignored by SBS NITV for a narrative of conflict without the hope of resolution.
  • Misleading close up imagery of rock-art hand prints as shown in the SBS NITV story was not filmed at Thompson’s Point. The art shown in the story is not near any climbing site at Nowra. The two recognized Aboriginal rock art sites at Thompson’s Point are difficult to see with the naked eye due to age and were not shown in the story.
  • Several misleading edits in the story make it appear that bolts are still in the immediate proximity of art areas and that climbers are disregarding protections in place – this is not the case. Climbers have avoided the two known art sites since they were first made aware of them in 2019.
  • Michael Robinson, who is filmed confronting climbers about climbing on sacred ground does not indicate which Aboriginal group he speaks on behalf of. Other local Aboriginal people were asked to be part of the SBS NITV story but declined. In our discussions with several local Aboriginal Elders we were told climbers are understood by their community to be people who are connected to nature and keen to protect cultural heritage.
  • The advice we obtained from two local Elders is that the remaining routes on the Pocketed Wall are not likely to damage the cultural value of that site.
  • George and Tom Walker Brown, the two Elders featured in the SBS NITV story will be contacted by ACANSW for discussion about further measures that can be taken to improve the protection of these areas.
  • With regard to climbing names, the historical route names from 30 years ago were taken out of context in this story, perhaps to make climbers seem like a disrespectful user group. None of the three named routes mentioned in the SBS story are located at Thompson’s Point and all three had been renamed prior to this story being shot. Yes, this issue should have been addressed more actively by climbers. Please read Rob LeBreton’s article on the issue for greater clarity on the history of the area.
  • Recording more Aboriginal cliff names as suggested in the story would be a positive change for the future of the area to acknowledge cultural values and shared appreciation of the natural beauty of these cliffs. This is being followed up by ACANSW. Climbers have historically been concerned they may be accused of cultural misappropriation, however discussions over the past 2 years with Aboriginal people have suggested that this would be well received.
  • The SBS NITV story also addressed climbing issues in Victoria and Queensland. We are disappointed to see that Park Victoria’s propaganda about climbers bolting in art has been repeated as fact. No climbing safety bolts have ever been placed in rock art.
  • In an interview with Jamie Lowe (ex Eastern Marr Aboriginal Corporation CEO and now head of the National Native Title Council),  he incorrectly asserts that climbers have put “steel rods through rock art” in Gariwerd/Grampians. This is factually incorrect. The only recorded bolt placed in rock art was placed by the land manager Parks Victoria whilst in the process of installing a protective metal cage. This claim of climbers damaging art has been refuted more than a year ago in this Save Grampians Climbing article.

In conclusion ACANSW believe the story aired on SBS NITV is biased, unbalanced and prejudiced. Climbers as a whole are well educated around environmental issues, climber impacts, and are an engaged and responsible user group of the outdoors. Climbers support further engagement with Aboriginal groups, and we recognise, that along with the rest of the country, there are areas for improvement in this regard. Climbers believe that SBS NITV have perpetuated a false narrative, which contradicts the reality: that climbers do respect Aboriginal rights and heritage, and care deeply about the environment, an integral part of our recreation. This incorrect reporting by SBS NITV is wilfully divisive.

Blue Mountains Cragcare – 28 November

It’s been a while, but now it’s time for some hard physical labour again!

You can register for November 28 by emailing: cragcare@gmail.com. Please note that the participant numbers are lower than usual so registering is essential – only eight (8) early birds can get in! Strict Covid-restrictions are in place – please do not attend if you feel sick on the day. Note that you may be asked to wear a mask.

Big John will also be there with morning tea and lunch is provided by Blackheath Butchery. (Remember to tell us if you have special dietary needs, we can cater for that too).

We meet at the Centennial Glen car park at 8.30 am, and the day will run until 3-4 pm with a morning tea and lunch break. Please check the current train timetables closer to the date.

Looking forward to seeing everyone again!

More info can be found here.

Image credit to amazing Kamil Sustiak

SRC/ACANSW Aboriginal Cultural History Day

On Saturday 24/10 a group of 7 climbers, and one of their children met with Evan Yanna Muru at Faulconbridge for a Dreamtime tour. The youngest showed us how much the education system has improved in terms of teaching Australians about Aboriginal history and culture as she out shone the rest of us in knowledge.

Evan, whose father was an Indigenous ranger in the Blueys and later Kosciusko NP, has run his own tours for years. It was a wet day, but this did not detract from the experience. We thought the warnings about how to walk in this terrain were a bit overdone, but later looking at trip advisor reviews, slipping over and the “ difficulty” of the walk features in a number of complaints so I can see why that was reinforced.

We were to concentrate the senses on what was around us, the sights, tastes, smell, feel and sounds of country. He explained how that this heightened state of sensory perception was a way of being for Aboriginal people. As we sat on a rock platform in the creek bed next to engravings of a swamp wallaby, Baime and Rainbow serpent motifs, a water dragon appeared as if on cue and stayed for over half an hour just metres from us. Here, and later under various overhangs where we paused on the walk, we gained some early understanding of levels of knowledge; Dreamtime stories; the importance of totems, ritual; the stages, or moons of existence; spirit doctors; symbolism in art, and some appreciation for intangible cultural elements.

None of us quizzed him on climbing access, as we were there to learn. However he did ask us what rock climbing means to us, and we tried to explain that climbing is more a way of life than an activity for many people, and that climbing in many aspects is a meditation on movement or a communion with rock that focuses the mind on being in the environment. With his own background in outdoor ed, we were encouraged to hear some of his opinions on the future of climbing, but they are his own and I will not presume to summarise them here.

Vanessa Wills

Narrow Neck Bushfire Crag Update

Diamond Falls and Narrow Neck trad crags reopened back in June and our access into the northern Narrowneck climbing areas is now permitted. However, this is a reminder to please still stay away from all crags beyond (south of) Diamond Falls until Autumn 2021. This is to reduce the spread of a sporadic phytophora fungus (spread accidentally by us when walking around) which can eliminate local species during this sensitive regrowth period.Access NOT PERMITTED into: – Red Ledge and Red Ledge Pass- Far Side- Boganville- Castle Head / Ruined Castle HeadAccess permitted into- Diamond Falls – Narrowneck Crags (Pump Station to Herbaceous Gully) Native vegetation regeneration is very sensitive to trampling and trail formation after the fires. We can all have a positive impact by strictly following established trails in these recently opened areas and avoid entering areas which are still closed. If you don’t know your way – go with someone who does. The usual rules apply in National Parks – no dogs, fires or smoking (see ACANSW’s update on Winter Access Issues). Thanks to NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service for working hard on recovery efforts and keeping us updated on the status of access into these areas that were so badly affected by the summer fires. Everyone’s ongoing patience whilst the last few areas recover from one hell of a bushfire season is appreciated. ACANSW will continue to stay in touch with Blue Mountains Council and NSW National Parks regarding access into areas that were impacted by the summer bushfires. Happy Climbing!

Save Centennial Glen

The NSW government is proposing to build a 4 lane highway across the top of Centennial Glen and Porters Pass as part of the Great Western Highway Upgrade. We need your help to stop this environmental vandalism! Our crags are in danger of being heavily affected by traffic noise, polluted water in the creeks, rubbish and destruction of the very bush we walk through to get to these climbing areas. Your emails to politicians and the government is the only way of stopping this.

Continue reading

ACANSW Monkey Face Crag Care – August 2019

Hunter/Central Coast Crag Care had its first Crag Care Day on Sunday September 8th at Monkey Face, Watagans National Park. There was amazing support from the local climbing community. About twenty enthusiastic, hard-working climbers turned up on the day to help out. These included members from Newcastle University Mountaineering Club, staff and members of the Pulse Climbing Gym, and other local climbers.

The morning started with motivating briefings from the Watagans National Park Local Ranger Jeff Johnson and NPWS Bush Regeneration and Volunteer Coordinator Nicola Booth. The main target of the morning was to remove Lantana from the area between the Lower Crag Access Trail and Gap Creek Falls Camping Area. Lantana is regarded as one of the debilitating weeds in Australia because of its invasiveness, potential for spread and environmental impact.

The group put in a huge effort and we got great results. Acknowledgement must be given to Pulse Climbing Gym for the wonderful morning tea sponsored by them. Dan Wilde organised a beautiful range of fruits, nut bars and muffins. They were thoroughly enjoyed by all.

 It was a fantastic way to get together, to meet some new people and to have the opportunity to give back by helping to restore and maintain the ecosystem of one of our favourite rock climbing sites.

19/8/2019 – SRC Lindfield Clean and Climb Day

Sixteen keen bods turned up for the first clean and climb day at Sydney’s iconic Lindfield Rocks bouldering area. The first 90 minutes were spent hunting sparse rubbish. We got about 3 big bags of rubbish, a pallet, 10kg of tiles, and a few syringes. This was run as a satellite Clean Up Australia event which gave us gloves, bags, a first aid kit, and helped with the council picking up our pile’o’crap at the end. Many thanks to all that helped to keep our park clean. SRC hopes to make this a regular event.

17/8/2019 – Logan Brae car parking changes and tree planting

Many climbers don’t know that this popular Blue Mountains sport crag is actually accessed via private property. Car-parking along the narrow country road has become a major issue in recent years, with the land owners becoming increasingly worried about potential traffic accidents and people camping in the carpark for multiple days. ACANSW has worked with the land owners to replant the edges of the road with native seedlings to limit the available car parking spots. There has also been new signage installed to encourage more sensible car parking and highlight the no dogs & no camping rules. Please be on your best behavior at this crag as access is very much the whim of the private land owners. Any concerns please get in contact with ACANSW.