Australia Wollumbin National Park summit, formerly known as Mount Warning, could be closed permanently
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There are plans to permanently close a national park with a summit famous for being the first spot on the Australian mainland to see the sun each day.
Wollumbin National Park on the New South Wales far north coast attracts more than 100,000 visitors a year and its summit is considered a sacred Aboriginal place.
Documents obtained under Freedom of Information by the Right To Climb website show the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is working on a Wollumbin closure strategy.
Right To Climb spokesman Marc Hendrickx said he applied to see the documents when he discovered chains leading to the Mount Warning summit had been removed.
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He said the heavily censored documents included plans for a final closure event in November 2022.
"I think that document was supposed to be redacted in its entirety, and there's one page that they've left open for whatever reason," Mr Hendrickx said.
"Maybe it was supposed to be revealed, but in there, that's where this event is listed, this final Wollumbin closure event.
"I couldn't believe the level and the scale of the secrecy surrounding this decision, which should be made collectively by all people involved.
"Running a state park in Australia has suddenly become tantamount to running some sort of secret military organisation."
Those documents not redacted included a Wollumbin National Park closure communications and engagement plan.
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It outlined some of the factors being considered:
"The closure of Wollumbin National Park to visitors (due to COVID-19 restrictions) needs to be extended due to visitor safety concerns after recent engineer's assessment of critical infrastructure.
"An extended interim closure would allow NPWS time to consult with the Aboriginal community and key visitor economy stakeholders to deliver alternative experiences and plan a permanent closure due to ongoing safety risks and visitor impacts on Aboriginal cultural values."
The strategy described the Wollumbin summit as a sacred place of the highest significance to Bundjalung people and other Aboriginal nations.
It noted the site was declared an Aboriginal place in 2014 to protect those values.
"NPWS has consulted with the Aboriginal community about cultural matters and management of the park through the Wollumbin Consultative Group since November 2000.
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"In November 2018, the group restated a long-held Aboriginal community aspiration for a strategic long-term program to close public access to Wollumbin."
The 8.8-kilometre hike to the summit is particularly popular at sunrise, meaning many people may miss the sign from local custodians asking visitors to reconsider their climb out of respect for its spiritual significance.
In 2019, a spokesperson for the Wollumbin Consultative Group told the ABC the mountain was considered a sacred place of lore to the local Bundjalung people.
"Only selected men could go onto the mountain for higher level initiation. It is a dangerous spiritual place for women."
The NPWS plan noted:
"Current generations of Aboriginal elders and community representatives see it as their responsibility to ensure sacred sites are protected and the traditional lore and associated cultural protocols are upheld by all people.
"Desecration, litter and toileting, particularly around the summit, is causing unacceptable physical and cultural impacts and damage."
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Tweed Shire Mayor Chris Cherry said the district's tourism industry would suffer if the national park was closed before alternative plans were in place.
Cr Cherry said the summit climb typically attracted more than 100,000 visitors a year.
"It gets them out into our hinterland and away from those heavily touristed areas and that is why it is important," she said.
"If we had an alternate kind of offering, like the guided tours around Uluru to talk about the cultural value, I think there's certainly a market and interest in people to know about the cultural value of the site.
"I would be hoping the state government would work with us to come up with an alternate tourist offering.
"There are other places within the shire that can have a fantastic view of the first sun in Australia, such as The Pinnacle Lookout, where you can look out across the whole caldera."
The NPWS said it would provide further information regarding the future of the summit track by May this year.
It said a structural assessment by an independent engineer conducted last August strongly recommended the closure of the 100-metre chain section used by climbers approaching the summit.
The ABC has approached the Tweed-Byron Local Aboriginal Land Council for comment.
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