Stewardship Comes From the Heart Not a Paper Contract

David Reeve 21st April 2019

This piece is from a comment I wrote in response to the suggestion that a memorandum of understanding between climbers and Parks Victoria could be used to address the deteriorating relationship between the climbing community, Parks Victoria and Traditional Owner groups.

I have a problem with MOUs in the climbing context. Yes they make sense in a situation where the activity is event-based and you can bind the organisers, but, IMO, they are worse than useless for recreational climbing.

I say worse, because they are divisive when applied to a culture where independence of action is highly valued. No one person or group should be seen as signing away the rights of other climbers. This approach is guaranteed to fail, and climbing will revert to its feral roots.

Organised recreational events, by definition, are commodities, and their participants consumers. However, if you look at the climbing culture, the biggest push-back you see is against the commodification of the sport, especially where taming of the ‘wild’ experience is concerned. Climbers are easily converted to great stewards because the visceral experience of the ‘wild’ is a clear and core value, and one that all climbers will learn to protect as their experience level grows.

Over the last decades climbers have learnt to understand the natural values of their crags and the steps necessary to preserve those values. What is not at all clear to most members of the climbing community is the nature of aboriginal cultural heritage (ACH) and its value not only to the aboriginal people, but also to the wider culture of those that use the parks for recreation. Basically, you don’t know what you don’t know, and the subject isn’t open for sensible discussion, let alone meaningful steps toward preservation without taking on board the requisite knowledge.

Yet, I repeat, climbers make great stewards. They will step up and protect the ACH values of the park just as surely as they now protect the natural values, but only when they have the same visceral understanding of what it is that is of value.

Forget the bureaucrats. They certainly have agendas, but preservation of the values of the park system is not one of them. Climbers need to grasp the nettle and start down the long road of learning about ACH, seeking out the knowledge, learning to distinguish the pretender from the humble messenger. This has to be a journey of hearts and minds. PV don’t even figure as a blip on that landscape.