Wallcliffe Climbing Ban | CAWA Urges Responsible Climbing, 2018

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On December 12, 2018, the Shire of Augusta Margaret River (the Shire) made a decision to chop the bolts at Wallcliffe and prohibit public access to the climbing area. As a result, climbing at Wallcliffe is currently banned, and the Shire Rangers have been authorized to issue infringement notices and confiscate climbing equipment if climbers are found at the crag.

No rock climbing sign.

This decision has unfortunately led to the loss of an iconic and irreplaceable crag in Western Australia, where climbing opportunities are already limited. The climbing community in WA must take this as a wake-up call.

The Shire’s actions were supported by behaviours observed at the site, including leaving chalk on the cliffs, pruning trees at the water’s edge, defecation in caves, playing loud music in caves, graffiti and vandalism, entering caves, intentional damage to vegetation, and damage to cliffs from bolting.

It’s crucial for climbers to understand that climbing outdoors is a privilege, not a right, and this privilege can be lost if responsible behaviour is not maintained. There are currently situations in Australia and overseas where climbing areas are at risk of being lost. For instance, there are serious issues in the Grampians, and according to the US Access Fund, 1 in 5 climbing areas in the US is threatened.

To ensure the preservation of climbing areas, climbers must be mindful of their conduct outdoors. It is essential to be familiar with and adhere to the CAWA Code of Conduct, the CAWA Code of Bolting and New Route Development, and the US Access Fund’s The Climber’s Pact.

In response to access issues, CAWA has established an Access Subcommittee to address future challenges related to climbing access in WA. If you have any questions or concerns about access, you can reach out to CAWA directly through their email addresses or the CAWA Facebook Page.

Let’s climb safely and responsibly to protect our climbing opportunities and preserve the natural beauty of our climbing areas.

Climb safely and responsibly,

Dirk Klicker
CAWA Vice President

The behaviours that the Shire used to support their actions were as follows:

  1. Leaving chalk on the cliff.
  2. Pruning of trees at the water’s edge.
  3. Defecation in caves.
  4. Playing of loud music in caves.
  5. Graffiti and vandalism.
  6. Entering the caves.
  7. Intentional damage to vegetation.
  8. Damage to cliffs from bolting.

The minutes of the ordinary council meeting of 12 December 2018 were published on 18 December 2018. The copy can be found here.

Transcript of the deputation made on behalf of CAWA during the council’s meeting on 12 December 2018

  1. CAWA acknowledges the traditional owners of the Land (the Wardandi people) and would like to pay respects to the Elders past and present.
  2. Firstly, CAWA respectfully urges the Council not to “chop the bolts”:
    • Climbing has taken place at Wallcliffe for nigh 30 years, most routes being set in the early 90s. There is no urgency, as they don’t affect the Council’s plans for a public viewing platform.
    • Wallcliffe is a key location for climbing in WA. There is only one other area of similar character of limestone climbing, where climbing is permitted by the management plan.  Chopping the bolts will forever close an iconic chapter of climbing history in WA.
    • The bolts are required to climb safely at Wallcliffe, as they are needed to protect the climber from falls.
    • The small heads of the climbing bolts that protrude from the cliff would not be visible from the platform proposed. They are visible only on close inspection.
    • The Golder geological study and the Goode cultural study did not recommend removal. There is no report that recommends the removal or which finds that removal conflicts with Shire’s plans.
    • The anecdotal evidence does not support removal:
      • Pruning of trees at the water’s edge. Not climbing-related
      • Defecation in caves. Not climbing-related.
      • Playing of loud music in caves. Not climbing-related. 
      • Graffiti and vandalism. It is not part of the culture of climbing.  There are graffiti artists that pride themselves on putting graffiti in high places.
      • The only evidence of people entering the caves are permit holders. Not climbers. 
      • Intentional damage to vegetation. Some silly do-gooder trimmed the existing access path.  Not climbing-related.
      • All of the above are addressed in the draft management plan CAWA has provided to Council and the traditional owners. No response has been received from the Council to date. The traditional owners have indicated that they are considering the draft management plan.
    • The investigations of Council to date are inconclusive as to the person(s) responsible for environmental damage at Walcliffe, noting the Cape to Cape Track runs adjacent, and the area is reasonably popular with tourists.
    • In WA, no other open-access climbing area has a problem with bolts (e.g. Churchmans Brook, Kalbarri, Willyabrup, Albany, West Cape Howe, Bluff Knoll and Porongurup). At Albany, Porongrup and Bluff Know, there are viewing platforms.  So why chop the bolts?
    • The bolts cannot be removed, as that would cause more damage to the cliff. The small protruding head of the bolts must be carefully ground off, some damage to the cliff is likely.
    • Delaying a decision to chop the bolts will permit a period of consultation and not prevent the Shire from proceeding with its proposed plans.
  3. Secondly, CAWA respectfully urges the Council not to “ban all access”, as the following concerns have not been addressed:
    • A ban on access would be invalid, being inconsistent with the Management Order to manage the Crown Land for the purposes of “Recreation”. A ban on access will prevent recreation, including climbing.  Shire’s attorneys have not addressed this issue.
    • Nor have the Shire’s attorneys properly addressed the legal issues raised by CAWA regarding the validity of the 2013 Determination concerning climbing or the related Determination proposed to be made today.
    • The Council should defer any decision on the proposed Determination pending the resolution of these serious legal issues.
    • Further, a ban on access is not supported by expert or anecdotal evidence. All previous reports have recommended restricted access.
    • With respect, Shire has not properly considered other options involving restricted access, such as a management plan, codes of conduct, permits, licenses, booking systems or further education or signage.
    • Council proposes to move from completely free public access to a complete ban without proper consideration of options in between.
    • The Standing Committee overturned similar local laws in the 1990s and recommended that the Shire consult with CAWA and consider a management plan. That recommendation has not been followed, and history is repeating itself.
    • A number of petitions protesting against the chopping of the bolts and banning access have been signed by over 300 people and presented.
    • A ban on public access whilst permitting access by commercial enterprises sends the wrong message.
    • Allowing commercial interests to profit from visiting Walcliffe is also inconsistent with the Shire’s apparent desire to rigidly protect the cultural significance of Walcliffe.
    • Ironically one of the current permit holders facilitates 3,000 people per annum visiting the site. Climbers would probably number no more than 200 per annum.
    • CAWA urges the Council to defer making the proposed Determination today until outstanding legal issues have been resolved and proper consultation has occurred regarding public recreational (including climbing) access in accordance with the purposes of the Reserve.
    • CAWA is willing to work collaboratively with the Shire and the traditional owners to find an acceptable compromise.
  4. Thank you, madam President, for the opportunity to speak here today. I am now open to any questions.

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