One of Australia’s most natural places could be the last to be closed to visitors due to a ban by traditional owners.
Horizontal Falls in Kimberley, Western Australia is an extremely popular destination for tourists from the state, across the country and around the world.
But the Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation (DAC) wants to ban all boats from passing through the spectacular rock crevices because it is a culturally sensitive place.
If the ban goes into effect, Horizontal Falls will join other popular destinations across the country that have been closed to tourists for cultural reasons.
In some cases, visitors have been threatened with hefty fines, while hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ money has already been spent hiring security guards to stop tourists from climbing a mountain in New South Wales.
Horizontal Falls (pictured) could become the latest tourist destination to be closed to visitors due to a ban by traditional owners
The Washington government does not want the falls, which bring tens of millions of dollars to the local economy each year, to be cut off from tourism in any way.
“These are unique, world-class experiences and Western Australians are striving for them,” said Evan Hall from the WA Tourism Council 9News.
The falls are formed when seawater flows quickly through two short, narrow gorges about 300 meters apart.
DAC said the area they call Garaan-ngaddim is “a powerful, sacred place.” Our people lived there all year round and we still feel their presence.
“It’s a quiet, calm place.” But it can be dangerous. “It’s not something to rush into – we’ve seen how a country reacts when people don’t respect its power,” the company said.
Dozens of tourists were injured in a horrific boat accident at Horizontal Falls in May 2022.
This raised security concerns among traditional owners. The DAC said: “We ask visitors to be calm in Garaan-ngaddim, respect our cultural obligations to care for the land and culture and ensure your safety.”
The company said tourists are still welcome to see the falls and their beauty, but not to boat through the cliffs.
“It is much safer to travel to our national parks and our unique areas with a tour operator than to travel for free and independently,” Mr Hall said.
The WA government said the area had significant economic, cultural and social value.
“It is an iconic tourism experience in northwest Australia, creating local jobs, attracting visitors from around the world and generating visitor spending in local communities.”
“We want Horizontal Falls to remain open to visitors so that these economic benefits continue to be available – particularly to the local community.”
Mr Hall added: “We really want to make sure the experience is for everyone, but it’s done in a safe and culturally sensitive way.”
“These are unique, world-class experiences and that’s something Western Australians aspire to,” said Evan Hall (pictured) from the WA Tourism Council
The traditional owners said in a statement: “We have never supported boats racing through the falls.”
“In the past, (tourism) operators didn’t listen and we didn’t have a say. Now they are starting to understand and respect how sensitive this place is to us.”
In NSW, taxpayers have paid more than $100,000 to stop hikers from climbing a famous mountain after it was declared “sacred” for cultural reasons.
In April, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) hired private security guards for $7,000 a week to prevent access to Mt Warning in Wollumbin National Park in northern New South Wales.
In Victoria, a climber was threatened with a $346,000 fine under the Heritage Act after visiting an iconic tourist destination.
The visitor was stunned to receive a letter after his visit to the Grampians National Park in Victoria on October 18.
Victoria’s First Peoples-State Relations unit is reportedly monitoring climbers and other visitors after climbing was banned in the area in 2019.
The ban was put in place to protect indigenous heritage – including rock art that is so worn it can only be viewed through special X-ray glasses.
The Horizontal Falls (pictured) are formed when seawater flows quickly through two short, narrow gorges about 300 meters apart
A climber has been threatened with a $346,000 fine after his car was linked to alleged heritage violations in the Grampians (pictured, a climber on nearby Mt Arapiles).
Pictured is the letter sent by First Peoples-State Relations in Victoria
The climber’s home was visited twice by an investigator from the First Peoples Unit, who claimed a vehicle registered in her name was linked to heritage violations.
In the latest such incident, a high-level Aboriginal panel has been heavily criticized over its move to establish a “cultural police” to inspect homes and farms in Victoria.
The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council has warned that its staff investigating suspected heritage violations need more powers to do their work and should be allowed to enter private land without the permission of the owner or tenant
The council, which reports to the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet, used as an example the remains of an Indigenous person that may have been in a shed but were not recovered because entry required the occupier’s consent.