Outrage over insane cost to keep tourists from climbing Mount Warning after it was closed down out of respect to Indigenous community

Ben Fordham has hit out at the cost of stopping tourists from climbing a ‘stunningly beautiful’ mountain after it was closed out of respect for the indigenous community.

Mount Warning, in the Northern Rivers region of NSW, once welcomed more than 120,000 visitors each year, but has been off-limits since 2020, despite an argument between Indigenous elders over its cultural significance.

From April to October last year, private security guards were hired to keep people off Mt Warning at a cost of about $7,000 a week.

Overall, nearly $200,000 was spent securing the mountain and security continues to be brought in on events such as New Year’s Eve and Australia Day.

Fordham called the costs “nuts” and questioned why thousands of dollars were being spent on security guards to stop tourists from climbing the mountain.

“There’s work that’s been going on for about 10 years in terms of recognizing the Aboriginal place that exists in this space,” NSW Environment Minister Penny Sharpe said. 2 GB Monday.

There is growing outrage over the ban on climbing to the top of the 'stunningly beautiful' Mount Warning out of respect for the indigenous community - and the massive cost of enforcing the ban.  Three hikers are depicted on top of the mountain

There is growing outrage over the ban on climbing to the top of the ‘stunningly beautiful’ Mount Warning out of respect for the indigenous community – and the massive cost of enforcing the ban. Three hikers are depicted on top of the mountain

‘We have to remember this is a world heritage site that is loved by many and very well protected by Aboriginal place and requires a management plan to go with that.’

Ms Sharp is part of the NSW Labor government which has only been in power for 10 months and said the previous coalition government ‘handled (Mt Warning) really badly’.

She said there are ‘two issues that are a problem’.

“We have conflicting views on whether people should move up or not, but we also have some safety considerations,” she said.

“And we’re continuing in a circle about what needs to happen, to decide if it’s actually going to fully reopen to be managed in the future.”

In the early hours of Australia Day last month, protesters campaigning against the walking ban climbed to its peak to shoot a video, in what has become an annual tradition of resistance.

The route on Mt Warning, now known as Wollumbin, was closed four years ago amid the Covid pandemic, but has remained closed ever since because of its cultural significance to Indigenous Australians.

In 2022, the NSW Department of National Parks recommended fully handing over management of the site on the Tweed Coast to the small Wollumbin Consultative Group, which supports a ban on visitors to the popular walking spot.

The group, made up of indigenous families and community organizations, caused an uproar when they claimed that allowing women – including those of indigenous heritage – into the site would ruin its cultural significance.

The Re-Open Mt Warning group, which has 4,700 members on Facebook, filmed their protest on January 26, which was attended by Ngarakbal elder Sturt Boyd, and posted the video on social media.

In a speech to those gathered at the summit, one of the group’s founders Marc Hendrix, who wrote A Guide to Climbing Mt Warning, said the mountain should be ‘for all Australians’.

“We’re here to catch the first sunrise on Australia Day 2024,” Mr Hendrix said.

Fordham branded the costs 'nuts' and questioned why thousands of dollars were being spent on security guards to stop tourists from climbing the mountain

Fordham branded the costs ‘nuts’ and questioned why thousands of dollars were being spent on security guards to stop tourists from climbing the mountain

The Wollumbin National Park track to Mt Warning-Wollumbin has been closed since March 2020 due to Covid-19, public safety risks due to recent floods and further consultation with the Aboriginal community

The Wollumbin National Park track to Mt Warning-Wollumbin has been closed since March 2020 due to Covid-19, public safety risks due to recent floods and further consultation with the Aboriginal community

The mountain is famous for being the highest peak at Australia’s most easterly point, thus being the first part of Australia to receive sunlight every day.

“Despite all this recent division we’ve been through,” Mr Hendrix said, referring to the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum, “we’re here with an elder of the Ngarakbal people”.

Mr Boyd’s mother Marlene was referred to as the custodian of Mt Warning and his sister Elizabeth campaigned against the Wollumbin Consultative Group claims.

“We’re here with his permission to be up here to enjoy this wonderful day together and that’s what Australia Day should be about – working together to make this country a great place.” Mr. Hendrix said.

“So let’s end the breakdown, if you look out at this amazing sunrise and sub-tropical rainforest below us, the views to the coastline it’s Australia in a nutshell.”

The Wollumbin Consultative Group says the national park is of physical and spiritual importance to the community, particularly the Bundjalung nation.

A proposed new management plan for the site has sparked an outcry and divided the local indigenous community.

Opposing local indigenous elders, including the Boyds, claim the group appears to be extinguishing the ancestral women’s learning sites by claiming everything in the park as exclusively male and Bundjalung.

They also claim that the Yoocum Yoocum and the Ngarakbal Githabul people were the original people, not the Bundjalung.

Elizabeth Boyd said that in 2022, her late mother Marlene Boyd, who died in 2007, will be recognized as the ‘Keeper of the Seven Sisters Creation Site’, one of the two female learning sites.

There is also a memorial dedicated to her late mother on the Lyrebird Track at the base of the park.

Elder Elizabeth Davis Boyd, the authorized representative of the Ngarakbal Githabul women, says the Wollumbin Consultative Group proposal has caused great damage to her ancestral culture, tradition and lore.

Elder Elizabeth Davis Boyd, the authorized representative of the Ngarakbal Githabul women, says the Wollumbin Consultative Group proposal has caused great damage to her ancestral culture, tradition and lore.

Marc Hendrix (left), author of A Guide to Climbing Mt Warning, and Ngarakbal elder Sturt Boyd (right) are pictured atop Mt Warning during the Australia Day 2024 protest.

Marc Hendrix (left), author of A Guide to Climbing Mt Warning, and Ngarakbal elder Sturt Boyd (right) are pictured atop Mt Warning during the Australia Day 2024 protest.

In relation to the security costs, Ms Sharpe said the guards ‘were there because there were security concerns … there are no security guards there at the moment’.

She admitted that ‘people have been calling… about wanting access to the mountain and demanding access to the mountain’.

Fordham put it to her that there should be a general rule in NSW to say that we don’t want anyone stopping anyone from accessing a beautiful mountain.

“Look, there’s huge amounts of space around that area that’s accessible and that’s been reopened,” Ms Sharpe replied.

“We have Aboriginal sites across the state and we are required by law to have a management plan to protect the values ​​(of these sites).

“It just took a long time and I don’t think it was explained well.”

The Minister said she would be talking to “a much wider range of people”, including the local business community and tourist operators about the issue.

Fordham put it to Ms Sharpe that ‘once upon a time we could respect the history of the place while still enjoying it’.

She replied that there was ‘concern about the number of people up there’ and that ‘the issue around some of the safety at the top, especially after those big floods, is a real issue.

‘We have to get to the bottom of it, we can’t have people being unsafe on the way up, but I don’t want to use that as an excuse not to actually deal with all the issues.’

Ms Sharpe concluded by saying her ‘commitment is that I will talk to anyone who has a view and I will try to resolve it’.