Advisory Group Report

I realise that, although I have been giving reports of our meetings, I haven’t explained who we are for quite some time..

The AG was set up shortly after the establishment of the Grampians National Park, in order to bring community concerns to park management. Members are chosen as individuals, not formal representatives of any interest group, but the aim is to involve a diversity of interests. So the current group has neighbours of the park to the south, east and west, rock climbers, 4 wheel drivers, educators etc. Membership is for a limited term, but there is no limit on howoften people can be members. The current group will finish at the end of the year, then advertisements will go out asking for expressions of interest, and a new AG will be chosen by PV

Each meeting we hear from various park staff what has been happening in their area, and can comment and ask questions. We also have time to bring up our own topics, so if I know FOGGS have a concern I can bring it up. The rules are that we must not communicate with the press, parliamentarians etc. If we feel strongly about something we can write to the senior management of PV.

There is also a National Parks Advisory Council established under the National Parks Act 1975. Its functions are to advise the Minister generally in relation to the administration of the Act, on particular matters on which its advice is sought such as on any proposed excision from a park referred to it by the Minister and on certain leases and consents. However local AGs are quite separate. It’s current membership is quite impressive. If interested you can read their most recent report via https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/…/National_Parks_Advisory_Council_

However, back to the local Advisory Group which met on Wednesday 13th.Feb.

This was originally scheduled for December but had to be cancelled due to that being a Total Fire Ban day.  Moreover several staff who were going to speak to us were apologies, partly due to so many staff helping with the fire in East Gippsland and partly with important unexpected meetings.

The first item was a farewell and thanks to ranger Dave Handscombe.

Next we had a look at the terms of reference of our group, as PV looks to calling of expressions of interest for the next group.

Discussion of planned burns was next and we had so much to say here that it was decided to make fire the main topic of our next meeting.

FOGGIES will be pleased to hear that the planned work at Zumsteins is progressing well. We were shown the signage plans which go to the contractors next week, and we liked them.  Some signs will be plaques in the footpaths, some attached to buildings, rocks, and trees. I reminded parks about the seat we have money for (money originally from Friends of Zumsteins after they ceased).

Work to improve parking at McKenzie Falls has not got very far. The funding Dave Roberts had been hoping to get didn’t eventuate and flood and fire recovery works took precedent. Some good new signage re safety is there, but PV are waiting for the coroner’s findings after the recent drownings before making further changes. We discussed how difficult it is to get people to actually read the signs and even then to convince them how dangerous the pool is. There’s been a lot of discussion in Halls Gap social media among others, with accommodation providers also saying how visitors ignore their warnings.

The Grampians Peak Trail was next. Unfortunately no-one from the team was available to answer our many questions. The northern half is on target to be completed by September this year and the southern half by September 2020. One of our concerns, and of park management, is funding for ongoing maintenance of the trail into the future. Short term there is funding for maintenance, but for how long?  We also discussed the issue of built accommodation along the trail. Apparently research has indicated that many potential walkers want a pack free, or minimum pack experience. So the idea of having roofed accommodation at several sites is there for discussion. So far the concept is to have these provided by Parks, thus providing an income. The AG members were divided on this, some having enjoyed pack free walking in Tasmania on the Three Capes Walk and impressed with how well the buildings there sit in the environment, others wary of the impact of clearing for fire hazards, tracks in, or helicopters for building then servicing the buildings. We were told that there would soon be concept designs open for public comment, and when I know more I will inform our secretary.

One thing is clear. This does not sit well under the current Grampians National Park Management Plan. Now, the Management Plan is hopelessly out of date, and we have been asking about when a new one will be made for quite some time, but now we are told it will be revised and our group will have an input. I hope that our FOGG committee will also spend time on this when it becomes available.

The need to revise the Management Plan is also important to the next item on our agenda, The Rock Art protection plan. There has been a worrying increase in damage to indigenous art works, with the culprits being climbers, and particularly “boulderers”. It is really distressing to responsible rock climbers, as the two in our group explained. The main reason is that rock climbing has become a sport, many climbers now do it mainly indoors, in gyms etc. They are more interested in the experience and challenge than in the environment they are in. They look for new sites to climb, share that on social media, others follow, making more new tracks …. So at a recent meeting of climbing clubs “Cliff Care” and park staff strategies were discussed, including new maps, signs, and the possible closing of some sites, including some very popular ones, so it won’t be easy.

The next two items were to update us on the native title claim and the future of the Brambuk precinct. Again the person who was to talk on these was unable to attend, and in any case both of these are changing rapidly. Once the court case against Geoff Clarke (alleging among others that he and the family have stolen a large amount of money from Brambuk) is settled, a new agreement for the precinct will be negotiated.

Our last agenda item was to have been Mike Stevens giving us an update of the work to protect our environment. Make wasn’t able to attend but sent us a comprehensive report which follow.