The geography of respect

Rock climbers, Traditional Owners and reconciling ways of seeing

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  • Published 20230801
  • ISBN: 978-1-922212-86-3
  • Extent: 196pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

ROUGHLY FIVE HOURS’ drive north of Adelaide, in the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, is a cultural and geological marvel known in English as Wilpena Pound. To the Adnyamathanha, the Traditional Owners of the lands encompassing the Pound, this marvel is Ikara, ‘meeting place’, from which the park draws its name. The creation story of Ikara, as told by Adnyamathanha and Ngarrindjeri woman Jacinta Koolmatrie in The Conversation in 2019, is connected to that of Yurlu the Kingfisher. It tells of the journey of Yurlu, the Master of Ceremonies, down to Ikara and the fires he made along the way, which signalled a great gathering and resulted in the coal deposits that have attracted mining operations to the area for many years. It tells of the two big snakes who followed him, known as Akurras, whose passage is visible in the unique shape and pattern of the hills and whose resting bodies give the Pound its shape. Archaeological evidence from the nearby Warratyi rock shelter dates Aboriginal settlement of the area back 49,000 years. Every surface of this rugged, rolling land is mapped by foot, by story and by custom. 

The two curved ranges of the Pound form a natural amphitheatre. Viewed from above, it appears like a shock radiating from a central depression, cliffs forming the face of an outward-running wave as if the impact of some great celestial weight had moved the earth like water and then frozen it in time. The varied, striking outback landscape is a lodestone for ecotourists and bushwalkers. One of the Pound’s cliff faces, Moonarie, is a renowned rock-climbing site. A towering wall of orange quartzite, Moonarie was once one of the most esteemed climbing locations, or ‘crags’, in the country. Once, because Moonarie is predominantly a traditional or ‘trad’ climbing area. Trad climbing involves few, if any, permanent safety features, and a climber must ensure their own safety through a combination of the natural features of the rock and an array of removable devices carried on their harness. It is slow, and contemplative, and not without substantial risk. The late twentieth century saw the rise of sport climbing, in which a climbing route is designated by a line of bolts fixed permanently to the rock and a climber follows it with relative impunity. Its popularity has largely surpassed that of trad. Such laborious, so-called ‘clean’ climbing is now more the purview of old hands, adventure junkies and dedicated naturalists.

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