[update 1 November 2022: the access issues described in the below article have been partially resolved thanks to a massive climbing community letter writing campaign, mainstream media attention and a large community meeting that was held in the town of Currarong with the Defense department top brass. For more info read this ABC news story. More media stories related to this story are end bottom of this page]
This article was first published on October 23, 2022
Public access to world class climbing at Point Perpendicular on the Beecroft Peninsula is under threat due to recent changes to entry procedures and safety concerns from the land manager, the Australian Department of Defence. Anyone who has climbed at Point Perp over the last couple of decades has seen the slow erosion of access to this area year on year – from gates, guards, area closures, night curfews, only weekend access, user number limits and now it appears compulsory inductions and restrictions to all areas outside of the lighthouse enclosure. It is getting to be a bureaucratic nightmare for anyone who wants to visit. To get a glimpse into the endless closures check out their Facebook page.
Point Perpendicular contains over 700 established climbing routes across a vast 80m high cliff-line that stretches 14km along the northern side of Jervis Bay. The majority of routes are single pitch trad and mixed climbs – approached by rapping from the top down to ledge belays and climbing back out again. It is one of the great sea cliff climbing destinations in the world – an international draw card that should be on every climber’s wish list.
Over 100 routes have been off-limits since the 1990s, when access was removed due to perceived safety risks associated with unexploded ordnance (UXO). A small area (10% of the total park) is used by Defence for testing bombs, missiles and other explosive devices. This is not at any of the current popular climbing areas.
This week’s surprise announcement of an access ban to almost the entirety of Point Perp seems to be a rehash of these old concerns around unexploded ordnance. Climbers are not the only target, access is currently denied to any member of the public unless they agree to only stand behind the fence in the lighthouse enclosure and stay away from beaches or other areas in the park. Visitors now have to agree to this in writing and attend a compulsory induction before being allowed entry through the guarded security gates. This induction process needs to be completed every day you visit the site – it is not a one off. Climbers have been turned away in recent days as their activities were deemed not appropriate to the new rules. Imagine Xmas holidays when 100 cars can be lined up to get into the park and each and every one of them has to do a 15 minute personal induction?
The reason for this recent wholesale closure we have been told is a newly commissioned survey for unexploded ordnance. ACANSW have not been able to find out the timeline for this survey, whether there are plans to sequentially open areas as they are cleared or whether any other user groups were informed of this process. We don’t even know if the cliff face is actually in any danger from unexploded ordnance. Climbers certainly haven’t been communicated with nor has the local community. Other warnings about UXOs already exist and have been considered sufficient for years.
One direct question we have is – why, if the lighthouse precinct is considered safe enough, cannot climbers access the cliffs in that area? Climbers have been safely using this area for decades and these cliffs are no longer in the live firing range. The decision to prevent access to these cliffs seems to be an administrative overreach by an overly cautious land manager. The lack of public consultation, work plans and timelines is disturbing.
The land is under control of the Department of Defence ie federal jurisdiction. We would encourage everyone to email the Federal member for Gilmore, Fiona Phillips MP (email@example.com), the Minister for Defence Richard Marles (firstname.lastname@example.org) and their local federal member outlining:
- Their love of recreation, especially rock climbing, on the Beecroft Peninsula and Point Perpendicular.
- Concerns that access has been progressively diminished over the past few years.
- That the current access restriction is excessive, and that the cliffs in the lighthouse precinct be reopened immediately.
- The induction process is onerous and unnecessary when existing warnings are clear and unambiguous.
- That the Defence Dept needs to consult with the climbing community via ACANSW on any closures and changes to management plans that would affect access.
- The Defence Dept needs to publish clear timelines and plans for this UXO survey.
- And ask what assurances can be provided about ongoing public access.
Thanks for helping to restore climbing access to such a significant climbing area. Contacting politicians and land managers has been a proven and effective way to change our climbing access at several other sites in NSW. The more feedback they get from the general public the better chance we have of changing the outcome.
Enjoy the magic that is Point Perp in the photo gallery below. Don’t let it slip out of reach!
Update 1 November 2022 – Letter writing works! Due to hundreds of emails being sent from ACANSW members to politicians and other recreational user groups (fishing, boating, bushwalking, conservation etc) the media published significant articles and news stories about this issue. Below is a selection of these media stories.
Illawarra Mercury [paywall] – What’s going on at Beecroft Peninsula? Rumours of closure quashed by Defence
Daily Telegraph [paywall] – Shock reason climbers fear world class site could close
Outdoors NSW & ACT – Active recreation gets turned away