Gariwerd Wimmera Reconciliation Network

Gariwerd Wimmera Reconciliation Network


We believe that Arc’teryx can be a force for positive change. We create this change not only by improving the practices in our core operations, but by supporting projects and partners that align with our values.

Today, Thursday November 11th, 50% of all sales from Arc’teryx Australia (both online and in store) will be donated to the Gariwerd Wimmera Reconciliation Network (GWRN). 

The GWRN was started by members of the Victorian climbing community who live and climb in Gariwerd and the Wimmera in Western Victoria. They grappled with the idea that climbing, something that we love and value in our lives, and climbers’ actions have been hurtful towards Traditional Owners. They recognised that a reconciliation approach and relationship was missing between the climbing community and Traditional Owners, as is often the case in Australia more broadly. 

We sat down with Chris “Chook” Betts, GWRN Committee Member, to learn more about the group and their mission.

Tell us about GWRN. What’s the organisation trying to achieve?

We are a reconciliation advocacy group in Western Victoria, specifically around Gariwerd and the Wimmera. We came together as there was a realisation a crucial relationship was missing between recreational users and the Traditional Owners of Gariwerd and the Wimmera. Our general purposes focus on building that relationship in a respectful and enduring way and we want to progress learning and understanding of reconciliation, of Country, and of Cultural Heritage for ourselves and other recreational user groups, and in fact all relevant stakeholders. We’d like to increase awareness of historical and current inequalities and highlight perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We want to put forward a voice from the recreational community that prioritises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples self determination. Within this work and the relationships we have developed we have been heartened to find a willingness for a nuanced approach to the coexistence of Cultural Heritage and rock climbing as we all have a passion for climbing and the outdoors.

What projects or initiatives are you currently working on?

We are focussing on a few things at the moment including some community reflection sessions, we’re helping with the setup of a climbing peak body with reconciliation set into its framework, and we managed to help facilitate a belated Reconciliation Week event, pretty difficult under the circumstances... Thanks to John Clarke, Gariwerd Traditional Owner and proud Kirrae Whurrung man who hosted this, a walk and talk in the Gariwerd cultural landscape with a small group of organisation representatives and individuals from the climbing community.

We are also currently working on the fulfillment of a project between ourselves and the Gariwerd Traditional Owner’s at Taipan wall, which may be an example of how climbing and Cultural Heritage can coexist through a nuanced approach. The foundation of this work was done around 12 months ago in assisting the Grampians Traditional Owners to share a plan with Parks Victoria. Work is now being done to finalise this and we hope it will be a great example of a positive outcome and may give the climbing community hope this process can be repeated in other areas. We’re optimistic that a climbing peak body can respectfully step into this space to move forward with a similar respectful process around the region.

How can climbers (and the greater outdoor community) respectfully recreate on Traditional Owners land?

Recreating respectfully on Traditional Owner lands involves awareness and acknowledgment and of course general respect for Culture, Country and environment which are intrinsically linked. Doing what you can to be aware of local History and sensitivities, acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the lands, knowing whose land and which Country you are on, and respecting any requests the local Traditional Owners have made around protecting their Heritage and History. Checking in with local information services and cultural centres, such as Brambuk in Gariwerd, can be a great resource for local information. The simple act of learning Traditional Owner place name’s can go a long way to start thinking about a place in an aware and respectful way. Also reporting anything you see that may have Cultural significance is really important. The recreational users of National and State parks travel far and wide in these areas and over the years many important rediscoveries have come from the wider community reporting having seen something. This helps Traditional Owners reconnect with more of their history and Culture, counter the ongoing impacts of colonisation,  and helps protect it for future generations.

We’ve seen a rise in people acknowledging the Traditional names of outdoor spaces. Why is this important?

Acknowledging the Traditional Owner names helps us recognise these places were populated and named thousands of years before the colonial claim to discovery in just the last 200 or so years, and reminds us of the strong and enduring presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture. Again, it just shows respect to the Traditional Owners of land that was never ceded. In many cases the existence of colonial names effectively obscures or erases Aboriginal Culture and some names continue to honour European settlers who committed atrocities on Traditional Owners. This is clearly just wrong.

GWRN run a number of Reconciliation Workshops. What happens in these workshops?

These workshops have been run with climbing and recreation groups and are a forum to explore principles of reconciliation, and prompts for further independent thinking and exploration. The sessions provide the opportunity to have deep and challenging conversations, and in particular, the opportunity to talk respectfully with others about digesting changes in the governance of Country and what it means for climbing and for our identity as climbers.

How can we support GWRN? Where can we learn more?

We put out resources and information through standard social media platforms and have a web page where people can see who we are and the work we are doing. Following this stuff is a good start. We have tried to put together some good resources and links around reconciliation. Reconciliation Victoria and Reconciliation Australia are also great resources and have supported us in getting to where we are. We do have a ‘support’ page on our website too for anyone wanting to help with our work.

Arc’teryx acknowledges the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the traditional custodians of the unceded lands on which we live, learn and work. We recognise their ongoing connection to Country and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.