The geography of respect

Rock climbers, Traditional Owners and reconciling ways of seeing

Featured in

  • 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.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

If you are an educator or student wishing to access content for study purposes please contact us at

Share article

More from author

Waiting our turn

EssayGENERATIONALISM IS A complex phenomenon. The concept of a generation is obvious: the social and economic contexts for a group of people born around the...

More from this edition

Revolutionary wave

Non-fictionThis was the late ’60s, early ’70s and surfing in Wales was regarded by the parent generation as delinquency. It was for losers, layabouts, rogue males. In those early days Welsh surfers numbered around one hundred, congregated on half a dozen beaches down fifteen miles of coastline west of Swansea, known as the Gower. I knew each one of those surfers by the styles they deployed on the waves. So idiosyncratic was early Welsh surfing that out on the road if you saw a car with boards on the roof coming at you, both drivers would pull over for a chat.

Oh, the shame of it

Non-fictionModern leisure emerged in the West in the early 1700s when French and English cities developed new forms of society built around urban amenities – parks, cafés, fairs and shopping districts – servicing an expanding class of people with discretionary time and income. Public museums as storehouses of national culture appeared a little later in the nineteenth century where they contributed to the development of so-called ‘rational recreation’, a species of serious leisure intended to ‘civilise the masses’.

Stories from the city 

In ConversationPublic art in particular is a great way for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to tell different histories and narratives that are site specific. There are lots of hidden histories that we know as community but that lots of other people don’t, and so we use these public spaces as opportunities to install different types of artwork to allow people to engage with these histories and stories during their everyday commute...

Stay up to date with the latest, news, articles and special offers from Griffith Review.