• Wandi Wandian man Michael Robinson wants to see climbing stopped on significant areas on the NSW south coast. (NITV/The Feed)Source: NITV/The Feed
This week marked one year since the Uluru climb was closed - a historic day for Anangu people. But for other First Nations people across the country who'd like to see climbing ended on their country, the fight doesn't end with Uluru.
Keira Jenkins

The Point
29 Oct 2020 - 1:55 PM  UPDATED 29 Oct 2020 - 1:59 PM

Thompson’s Point in Nowra, on the New South Wales south coast is a popular rock climbing destination.

But for Wandi Wandian man Michael Robinson, the sandstone overhangs and steep walls are so much more. 

For tens of thousands of years Aboriginal people used these overhangs as shelter, the walls feature ancient artworks and other evidence of their use before colonisation. 

“Well to me it means connection. It's connection to my, to my immediate local ancestral ties,” Michael said.

“We sit here long enough they'll talk to us and they'll teach stuff. 

“And this rock it's not just a rock it's a, it's alive it's got feelings, you know, it's got memories.”

There are around 1500 climbing routes around Nowra.

In 2015, one artwork was found in the middle of a climbing route.

Local Elders George and Tom Walker Brown were in awe the first time they saw the artwork. 

“It blew me away how old it is. We were told stories about this and now actually seeing it I said, ‘wow’,” George said.

“Well in the first visit just looking at it and I'm thinkin, there's a lot more here I can learn.”

While the climbing route has now been moved to avoid the artwork, for George and Tom, it is hurtful to see the damage already done to it.

They’re also worried about other significant areas close to climbing routes at Thompson’s Point.

“To us it's like we going up to one of the famous Cathedrals in Sydney and using that as a climbing opportunity, you know, that's ridiculous,” he said.

“That's their heritage, don't do this to ours, that's all we're saying.”

Another issue that’s been raised about Thompson’s Point are the names of some of the routes.

Names like Brother in a Body Bag, THE FINAL SOLUTION and Trigga N***** caused debate about the culture of climbing.

Michael was shocked to find out these places had been given such offensive names by the climbing community.

“I'm just, I'm still pretty lost over it,” he said.

“That's, you've gotta know that naming something derogatory, homophobic, racial, you know, N***** and stuff like that, it's like, you know, and they're all just throwing it around like it's nothin.”

“It's not known for its traditional name it's Dharawal name or it's Dhurga name.”

Rob LeBreton is one of the authors of a 2016 guide book that included these names for climbing routes.

“The tradition within climbing is that the first ascensionist chooses the name and that book was published in 2016. Those names have been there for 26 years and they, they were just the names of the climbs,” he said.

Following debate about the names and the culture in rock climbing Rob sought to change these names in an online climbing guidebook.

“There's so many climbers out there I can't speak for everyone but certainly none of the people that I climbed with back in the day I would say, you know, were racist, racists at all,” he said.

“I contacted basically the first ascensionist for a lot of those climbs, that were part of the group that I climbed with there back in the early 90s and I said, look, you know, this has come up they've got a fair point, and, you know we need to fix this.”

Traditional Owners across the country have been asking for climbing to be banned on their significant sites.

One year ago Anangu people celebrated the closure of the Uluru climb after a decades-long fight.

While climbing at Uluru was a walk assisted by a chain - different from the climbing practice around Nowra - it was seen as a significant win for protecting cultural heritage.

In Victoria, the Grampians and Arapiles have also been partially closed for climbing.  

In Queensland, on Kabi Kabi and Jinibara country, the Glasshouse Mountains are a popular climbing spot.

Some of the most popular routes are on Mt Tibrogargan and Mt Beerwah.

Kabi Kabi man Lyndon Davis said these routes can prove perilous for many climbers

“If  you would ask me that question, you gonna climb that? No straight out, 'Kabi', which is no, or 'wah, wah' which is ‘ah no not ever’,” he said.

Lyndon said for Kabi Kabi people, the Glasshouse Mountains are seen as a family - with Mt Tibrogargan the father, and Mt Beerwah the mother. 

“There's a lot of climbers that use it now and they've been doing it for a long time, you know and putting those bolts in the side of him and, we treat them like family members,” he said.

“Not too keen on the fact that it's being climbed and without a little bit of insight into that landscape before you go into it. I think it's been like that for a while now and we have not really been part of that conversation.”

Lyndon is a tour guide. He takes young people on tours, visits schools and runs other cultural education programs.

He said he’d like to see more understanding and conversation between local Aboriginal people and climbers.

“What I'd like to see I suppose is probably a little bit more awareness like giving us an opportunity to take people on really good educational walks that give them really good insight and background to all of those things that we're discussing,” he said.

“And then, you know, once you have that sort of understanding I think then you'll realise that, that's the proper way to do it.”

George and Tom Walker Brown agree, saying climbers need to understand the significance of the places they’re climbing, and the possible damage they could be doing.

“The significance and um the importance of this site that needs better protection from rock climbers who haven't been educated in Aboriginal culture, that it’s not a place for them to climb, there must be other places around in this area that don't have rock art on the walls,” Tom said.

“I think it's just about communication, just party to party face to face and saying well don't do this and cause that's the reason why,” George said.

Rob LeBreton said he understands the significance of some popular climbing areas to Aboriginal people, but wants to make sure there are ways to share these places.

“I think with any, any sort of area that, you know, is special to two groups of people, obviously, you know, 50,000 years of special is a lot more than 10 or 20 whatever we're up to now with Nowra,” he said.

“It's about compromise and it's about realising that that, we wanna respect their use of the area and their involvement with the area and hopefully still be able to do our climbing as well.”

While Michael Robinson agreed sharing and communication is key, he also said it’s about respect for the environment and for each other.

“At the end of the day we've all gotta share this place, it's all about sharing and it's all about listening to each other and it's all about caring for everything,” he said.

 “We've gotta share, we've gotta talk to each other, resolve an issue, move on and that's how us as people are gonna move forward together all of us.

“And I understand you're probably gonna be climbing for the rest of your life, I'm, gonna be living my life doing culture."

To find out more watch The Point tonight, 8.30pm AEST on NITV (Ch. 34).

One year since the Uluru climb closed, Traditional Owners are also marking another anniversary
Traditional Owners in the Northern Territory are on Monday marking 35 years since the land rights to Uluru were handed back, and this year there’s added significance with it being one year since tourists were banned from climbing the sacred site.