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Byron Shire
February 25, 2021

Wollumbin track closure may be permanent

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The debate over whether it’s appropriate to climb Wollumbin – also known as Mt Warning – could ultimately be decided by concerns over the safety of the track.

Visitors climbing the peak track to the top of Wollumbin. Image: National Parks and Wildlife Service

A number of traditional custodians of the sacred site have called for non-Indigenous people to refrain from undertaking the five-hour trek.

Up to 100,000 people climb the mountain each year, according to tourism data. However, some leave rubbish such as soiled toilet paper by the side of the track and at the stunning peak.

The track has been closed for much of the past year owing to COVID-19, and it now appears it may stay that way.

A safety audit and an engineering assessment conducted during the closure have identified significant safety issues with the final climb to the Wollumbin summit.

These include an ‘extreme risk of landslide, rockfall and failure of the chain section of the track’.

A spokesperson from the National Parks and Wildlife Service said the current closure had been extended, at least until May.

Tellingly, the spokesperson also said that the future of the summit track was now under consideration.

This was being done in consultation with various key stakeholders, including the traditional owners of the site.

‘We understand that locals and visitors may be disappointed by the extended closure, however our main priority must always be to ensure the safety of visitors and staff,’ the spokesperson said.

‘We will now consider the future of the Summit track, in consultation with key community and tourism stakeholders, including Aboriginal Elders and knowledge holders.’

Wollumbin, which means ‘cloud catcher’ in some Aboriginal languages, is a traditional place of cultural law, initiation and spiritual education for the people of the Bundjalung Nation. 

Under Bundjalung law, only certain people can climb the summit.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service asks visitors to respect the wishes of the local Indigenous mob and ‘avoid climbing this very difficult track’.


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33 COMMENTS

  1. I provided an independent assessment of the chain and general safety of the climb to the Minister after visiting the summit in early January 2021. The safety claims are grossly exaggerated and the walk is as safe as any other grade 5 walk in the state. A summary of the misrepresentations about the climb including the misrepresentations about Aboriginal opinions about climbing made by NSW NPWS are available at my blog and in the Quadrant article below. I am happy to speak with the Echo about this.

    http://righttoclimb.blogspot.com/2021/01/mount-warning-aboriginal-claims-about.html
    https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/doomed-planet/2021/01/first-ayers-rock-now-mount-warning/

  2. There was once a time when you could go up before dark and spend the night. Then catch the first rays of sunlight. Those lucky people, I always wanted to do that! After a few years went by you weren’t allowed to go up in the late afternoon any more.

    However, I finally did get up to the top at 70 years old with my grandkids. It almost killed me in the sense of energy and muscle strength needed to go up and down the “Chain” at the last bit! My legs were like jelly on the way down. It will always be one of my greatest life achievements.

    But now it is time to honour the wishes of local custodians because for some reason or other we have turned into a disrespectful lot with our litter etc. Time to leave Wollumbin to it’s natural spiritual glory as requested and show the place and the local mob the respect it deserves!

  3. Given you have now climbed it NF, it must be time to close it down, youré right mate, stuff the rest of us who would like to experience it.
    Uluru, Mt Warning lets close all the beaches down too! they seem pretty sacred.
    Hey why stop there, lets close down Circular Quay, Sydney CBD and anywhere else that has suddenly become revered.
    I’m all for suitable and appropriate respect but the list keeps getting longer and the demands are made by fewer. I’d love to work for a National parks, if it gets to hard lets get on the sacred site wagon and close it down
    We share the country or we don’t! you cant be a little bit pregnant.

    • NF go back and read what you just wrote. You just spoke about how good an experience it was for you and your family to climb the summit. You spoke of how lucky those who climbed at dawn were. You described it as a great achievement of your life to climb it. And now you think it should be closed? How can you be so hypocritical without realising it? Don’t you care about the happiness of the literally hundreds of thousands of people yet to come who might want a small piece of what you have experienced?

      I travelled to the Tweed Valley about six months ago specifically to climb the peak and was surprised to find out that it was closed due to covid. This seemed strange to me at the time, as other famous walks (such as Dorrigo) remained open. I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but the whole idea that it was someone a covid hot spot …seems very unlikely… and now the idea that a multi million year old igneous landscape is on the “extreme” verge of landslide seems highly implausible. There is something else going on here…

    • Flounder…. well all I can say about sharing the country is that since the white mob arrived nearly 250 years ago, little sharing with the original owners has been done. They’ve been slaughtered, treated as slaves, unfairly jailed, had their children stolen and generally treated like crap. If we are finally starting to show a little respect, then that’s a great thing and yes it’s early days for respect but hopefully it grows. Acknowledging and respecting their sacred places is one way. And your projection of what could happen is ludicrous and you know it is! How much difference will it really make to your life if there are a few places that you can’t access because they are part of our original culture’s sacred places. Come on!…

    • I wholeheartedly agree, I have climbed Mt Warning a number of times,it’s hardly a difficult climb! It’s ridiculous to close a track because some people are too clumsy to do it,you would have to close all beaches because the water is too dangerous!If you are not up to it,do something else,but don’t force your fear on anyone else! I come from Austria and you could not go to the Alps if that track is dangerous for you,even the top is fairly easy and could easily and inexpensively made a bit safer,but you would never have a chain to help you in Austria on such a simple climb,it’s one of the great walks,please leave it open,thanks

  4. Just a white guy but I don’t think non indigenous people should be excluded from Wollumbin, however it could be an opportunity for indigenous guides to take small groups of people for time on the mountain to pass on the knowledge about this special place. I think we all need to spend more extended time in nature.
    The Australian government aims to create a society where indigenous groups are fully inclusive in all aspects but that does not apply in reverse when non indigenous are excluded. Ideally the climb should not be touristy but with more spiritual meaning and respect by participants. Also remember that only a tiny fraction of the mountain is actually walked upon, there are not multiple routes to the top and most is pristine wilderness and completely unspoiled.

  5. I have been up and down many times— perhaps twenty, and I have never seen significant litter, or an accident. Why close such a popular attraction? The local people are alienating the public by these continual closures.

  6. More than 100,000 people climb the mountian each year and the numbers are increasing.
    That figure of 100,000 was available about a decade ago back in about 2010.
    Those 100,000 people, each year stay in Murwillumbah and buy products in Murwillumbah.
    If you want to destoy the economy and employment in the town, close down the Summit climb.

  7. While where at it, let’s ban driving, riding motorcycles, drinking alcohol & smoking cigarettes. I could go on, but I’ve wasted enough of my precious time on this matter.

  8. I was part of a group who was asked to test PLB devices in Coomera Crevice many years ago. We had reps from various government departments with us, and two indigenous representatives in case the land was sacred or whatever passes for it. The indigenous pair didn’t get far— they were too unfit, so we let them on the banks of a creek to smoke and to wait for us. As we returned, we could plainly see one of them urinating in the ‘sacred’ creek.
    Another poster made the point well— about the beaches, Circular Quay.
    What about Bennelong Point?
    I mighty also add that I was also privy to the original maps of the walking tracks in Lamington. Dozens have been closed because of supposedly unsafe conditions. Nat Parks always takes the closure option if it gets sticky. At this rate, bushwalkers will end up doing laps in neighbour hood parks.

    • I reckon they should be taken to the anti discrimination court. Why should indigenous people be allowed to climb it and not others ??

    • I too have climbed the mountain, first time was almost 40 yrs ago. A very different climb then, no built lookouts or platforms at the top . Just a big book on a dais to sign your name. We descended after dark too , with a full moon and glow worms guiding our way. Again with my son about 20 yrs ago after moving here. Loved the experience and, while not an indigenous person, l still felt very grateful to have done it . I feel it really does make you more appreciative of the area . I originally come from the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, another area with much indigenous culture and yet you can walk out to any of the places there. The Three Sisters have their own dreamtime story of origin yet we can walk out to them no problem, Ruined Castle, Orphan Rock, even Jenolan Caves further west. It’s a beautiful place that needs to be shared and appreciated for all. As long as its looked after and respected l can’t see a problem.

  9. I had always though that national parks were owned by the people of Australia. Now we have a group that comprises less than 3% of the population closing off parks so that the population that fought so hard to have them (and still fund them) can’t get the use of the resource they have supported all these years. The sentence “The debate over whether it’s appropriate to climb Wollumbin – also known as Mt Warning – could ultimately be decided by concerns over the safety of the track” also concerns me. We seem to be suddenly renaming many well known places by stealth. I would suggest if you asked most of the people who live from Brisbane to Byron Bay where Mt Warning was they could tell you. If you asked about Wollumbin I suspect most would look blankly and have no idea. Perhaps the sentence should read “The debate over whether it’s appropriate to climb Mt Warning – also known as Wollumbin by a small indigenous group – could ultimately be decided by concerns over the safety of the track”. Indigenous politics and the PC culture is poisoning Australia. We were once a country that lauded by how we integrated our diversity of peoples, now the 3% elite seem to want to take over the conversation to the detriment of what the vast majority want.

    • Boz – National Parks are owned by the Crown (ie the Queen of England). Australia is a Constitutional democracy where all public land is ultimately owned by the English (the British army has twice come over to look at resources in case push becomes shove) , and all Federal laws only come into force if the Queen gives the ultimate consent – which is the problem with basing anything on what Australians of immigrant background want or do, while ignoring the 60,000 years of actual and continuing Aboriginal ownership. Royal Law, British Parliamentary Law and International Law all prohibited the British (and in Law the ongoing) illegal occupation – either we move forward with respect and recognition of past wrongs or we remain a society where a significant portion of the Aboriginal People , their knowledge of this land, and their culture, continue to be marginalised and their kids suiciding due to white contempt still flowing from the original occupation mess

  10. I contacted NPWS Head Office several months ago and the reply I received was that they were unaware the track had been closed! I contacted the local office and the response I received was obviously biased. Their own “fact sheet” was full of negativity on why the track was closed and why the mountain should not be climbed. There are tens of thousands of people each year who access and enjoy this part of Australia. It should not be closed by people with vested interests or be swayed by those who have their own political motivations rather than any form of “cultural sensitivity”.

  11. Wow! We, as a community must move forward. Forward to recognising the past and planning for a better future. I’ve climbed Mount Warning as a child, but as a female adult I’ve known that I cannot climb the mountain, out of respect for the traditions of the Bundjalung tribe (it’s a male mountain), and just like things from the past that were the norm like: gay-bashing, female circumcision, giving your kids a good bloody belting, not allowing women to vote etc..times have changed! Just because you “could” doesn’t mean you “should”..wake up people it’s 2021. That mountain is sacred. Would you let crowds traipse all over your church?

  12. I must point out something. The reasons why certain places in the Australian landscape such as Wollumbin (Mount Warning) are sacred relate to wider stories as part of the Aboriginal spiritual belief system. In other words, the reasons that make Wollumbin and other places sacred have no basis in scientific fact. Wollumbin is sacred due to religious beliefs, which only those who believe in that particular belief system will believe in. Christians, Muslims, etc do not believe in the Dreamtime and instead have different creation stories that they believe in. For example, if a group of Muslims in Australia tried to pressure non-Muslims into acting in certain ways based on the Muslim creation story, then the demands of those Muslims would be rejected outright. This is a free, pluralist society. Those who do not belive in the Islamic faith should not be compelled to act in ways that accord with the religious beliefs of Muslims, and in this case nor should those who don’t believe in the Dreamtime stories of Aboriginal faith be forced to comply. Personally, I reject all religions including Aboriginal faiths as I subscribe to scientific explanations. For me, Wollumbin was not created in the Dreamtime. Humans have only been in Australia 60,000 years. My opinion is that Wollumbin is an extinct volcano that is 23 million years old. If your religious beliefs do not permit you to hike up Wollumbin, then don’t do it. Do not impose your religious beliefs onto others.

    • I think maybe you are mixing up religion and culture – we go to church to observe religion, we don’t eat meat on Good Friday (and most businesses in this entire country close on Good Friday) to observe a religious day – ANZAC Day as a cultural day, Australian culture, nothing to do with religion.
      Do you complain when you can’t buy a steak at the pub on Good Friday? Why not? Good Friday is a day of religious observance.
      Just as many folk choose to turn bogan on January 26, wear Ozzie flags, paint their face with green and yellow zinc, get pissed, eat dead flesh and act like yobbos, to celebrate a time when one nation invaded another – this is not a mad religious frenzy, it’s culture. (And we’re ok with that).
      We celebrate the the day that marks the beginning of the genocide of the people who were here before the invaders – in your own words: 60,000 years – yet, this is culture, NOT religion.
      The local mob asking us not to climb the mountain is NOT a religious request, it’s a cultural request.

  13. Shocked and dismayed by the number of insensitive responses. Its one little mountain let it rest. Greedy white capitalist and there all importance, need to do and and own what ever they want.

    • What has a natural environment, a place we all can experienced (at no cost) and appreciate regardless of race, religious or cultural beliefs, got to do with capitalism?

      Past local elders disputed the men only mountain claim. I didn’t offend them when I walked the track but I’m offending now?

      BTW – greedy white capitalist are a thing, but most of us ordinary folk around here, regardless of race, are not. Disappointed you have used that label, but not offended. Call me what you will but we are sharing kind who don’t need to own much.

  14. Eve Jeffery: I don’t think you understand the Indigenous perspective on this subject. The stories around Wollumbin are part of the Dreaming. The Dreamtime is the Aboriginal version of religion. All cultures around the world have religious beliefs that relate to the creation of the world. Do not try and dismiss the Dreaming as merely culture. Of course religion is a type of culture, in the same way that Christianity is embedded in Western culture. The stories of creation in Bible are religious. The thrust of my argument is that religious beliefs should not be imposed on those who do not share those beliefs. We should respect the right of any Indigenous person to choose not to climb the summit. But it’s backward thinking to want one group’s religious beliefs to be imposed on non believer–this sort of backward thinking should have no place in the twenty-first century.

  15. Why doesn’t the Aboriginal tribe just update their belief system? Everyone else is having to do it. Even the Catholic Church. I don’t think the beliefs of this tribe are compatible with modern standards. The idea that you have to have a certain skin colour and be a certain gender (male!) in order to be allowed to climb a mountain is really old fashioned. Maybe the elders who are enforcing these decisions should be replaced by a younger generation 🙂 Because I was thinking that these views must be more than 200 years old now. They are probably way way older than that! So I think it’s time the tribe started practicing all-inclusiveness. Better suited to the future of Australia, rather holding onto old-fashioned belief systems.

  16. Wollumbin was taken as the heritage and name of my family’s peak and applied as a fake Aboriginal name to Mt Warning, the fake ban on climbing the wrong Wollumbin was an attempt to scam money from a toll gate. Bundjalung is just what white linguists called the language, Yugambeh in QLD, all the money has been wasted for two fake nations in the one language group.

  17. In 2007 on her death bed Ngaraakwal Elder Marlene Boyd RIP has this to say about the climb to the Mt Warnign summit: “I do not oppose the public climbing of Mt Warning – how can the public experience the spiritual significance of this land if they do not climb the summit and witness creation!”

    She also scalded the Bundjalung claims and said they were false.

    It’s a pity this woman’s inspirational message has been rejected and discriminated aginst by NSW NPWS. Her words deserve to be posted at the beginning of the walk, and at the summit.

    source newspaper clipping and transcript of her interview at the following website- http://righttoclimb.blogspot.com/2021/01/mount-warning-aboriginal-claims-about.html

  18. It’s a shame to alienate people from nature on any level really. If you are a human (or any living creature) it’s important to have a connection with your environment – clearly we are losing that connection and god knows it shows in the destructive way we organise our world.
    The issues with first nations inequality is so much bigger than the issue of closures or particular nature sites. Really our dubious leaders should be closing the gap by looking into a constitutional voice for first nations people, resolving issues with the soaring number of indigenous deaths in custody and all the other major issues bred from disproportionate privilege for some and intergenerational trauma.
    I have attended moving speeches by indigenous leaders and community members who spoke passionately of sharing and respecting the land together, so I am sure the desire to close off spaces is not shared by the whole community.
    This may feel like a small win for some but I the seems to me that it only really serves to further disconnect us from each other and our environment and masks the deeper issues, which need to be resolved.
    It must be expensive for National Parks to maintain this track, especially with so many visitors annually to the site. It’s pretty clear they need more funding, after the barrage of cuts they have faced in recent years. I would suggest it is this lack of funding that is to blame for the closure.

  19. This region is caked with the blood of massacred Aboriginals. The failure of the sector of Australians of immigrant background, who do not share the pain and anger at how the Aboriginal people and their cultural practices have been treated, and who do not want to move to wards reconciling the past , but just want to ignore the 60,000 years of this country’s culture for their own indulgences, will never be able to call themselves fellow countrymen in this land – they are just visitors still sucking on the colonial teat of violence, prejudice and occupation. Theirs is the same blind bigoted prejudice that, rightly, saw the arsonist that burned the cathedral in Lismore sent to jail, while incoherently the destroyers of the Juukan gorge just had to resign with million dollar payouts.

  20. Every person on the planet origin started in Africa as the oldest civilization on earth.

    Therefore everyone has rights to this mountain even if they dont identify as Aboriginal.

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