Denby Weller, doing her bit

Denby Weller finally puts her muscle where her mouth is and joins a CragCare chain gang – or is that poo patrol?

One, two, three… heave!’

As I feel the vein in my forehead pulsing and the probable hernia in my abdomen expanding, a revelation strikes. It wasn’t slaves, or aliens, or even the Egyptians themselves who built the pyramids. It was climbers.

As sure as I’m about to explode from the effort of moving this block as if I were a ripe pimple on a teenager’s face, climbers must be the only people on earth capable of such a monumental task. The evidence is laid out before me: a motley crew of wife-beater-clad rock jocks wielding nerry a power tool between them, hoisting million-kilo sandstone blocks around like Tic Tacs. Hoving these behemoths into place on the Wall’s Ledge track, the skinny youfs belie a herculean inner strength and cast their malnutrition-sunken eyes towards Brad Wright, Lord High Overseer, wielder of the Spirit Level of Justice.

Brad, whose lifting power alone is worth about five of the rest of us peons, eyes the stone in question, ascertaining that it is approximately point-zero-five millimetres out of alignment, and rejects the work.

Very regular chain-gangers Macciza Macpherson and Elmar Jerg hoving behemoths. Image by Denby Weller

Very regular chain-gangers Macciza Macpherson and Elmar Jerg hoving behemoths. Image by Denby Weller

The lank-lean cheeks of the assembled workers pale, and they fly into a flurry of repositioning the million-kilo Sandstone Block of Doom. After chiselling it down by point-zero-five millimetres, it is again hoven into place and the Lord High Overseer is summoned to bring forth the wrath of the SLoJ again. This time, the work passes muster.

One Sandstone Block of Doom down, several hundred to go.

This is the scene at a CragCare workday, that quarterly event that you keep meaning to go to but haven’t got around to yet. Oh, wait, sorry, that’s me. I keep meaning… anyway. Made it. Yay!

On arrival, we were met by the Lords High CragCare and welcomed with warm words about the importance of not cutting off a foot during the day. Divided into the Masonry Gang and the Garbage Bag Army, we were given our choice of weapon and led to various locations along Wall’s Ledge, which is what lowlier types call Shipley Upper.

Before today I didn’t think it possible to lift such heavy bits of masonry with nothing but human power, but clearly I underestimated the power of climber-humans, in most aspects a superior breed to regular humans (have you seen them on Australian Ninja Warrior?). Fuelled by a hail of pastries and several kilos of sausage, these humans are capable of feats that would make you believe in, well, the pyramids. These are the volunteers of CragCare. And it’s a good thing that they’re so damn wonderful, because they have some recompense to perform, and it all goes back to my comment two columns hence, that one about how awesome it is that in Australia, we almost never step in human excrement on the way to the crag.

That’s because these folk, as well as heaving sandstone blocks to within a millimetre of perfection, also have the fun task of removing the human waste from around Centennial Glen, which according to Damien Taylor, founder of CragCare’s present iteration, has amounted to the vast sum of a hundred kilos of poo over the years.

Chuckle-worthy though it may seem for everyone who isn’t picking it up, that great big pile of shit has, erm, tainted relations between climbers and basically everyone else, which poses a very unchuckle-worthy threat to access. As well as building countless stairways to the heavens of Bardens, Shipley, Boronia and the Glen, CragCare vollies have returned balance to The Force. And it’s a bloody good thing too, because the BMCC has only invested the puny sum of $200,000 in retaining access to climbing areas, an investment that they rightly prefer people not to shit on.

Seeing that my fellow volunteers outclass me in stone-moving capability, I turn my hand to trench digging, a task I’m good at until the surplus dirt from my efforts has been packed into a previously harmless sandbag, which, once full, wants to break my soul. Fortunately, Big John arrives with morning tea before too much more of this punishment, and I’m verily encouraged to inhale as many croissants as possible. For a time I consider bailing on the masonry gang and joining the Garbage Bag Army, but then I remember how many croissants I ate and decide I’d be better off working off those calories.

Hard work has a way of filling even the most broken soul with joy. I consider it almost CV-worthy when Brad approves one of my stones without correction. The conversation has turned to climbing, and despite my obvious feebleness, I’m welcomed by CragCare regulars and one-off volunteers alike, and the morning flies by. The weather is beyond spectacular, and as the blocks fall into place and the track inches along, I begin to swell with pride as much as herniated muscles. Tomorrow I will awake with bodily sensations that indicate I could only have spent a pleasant evening being run over by a mining truck.

But in a week when my mum’s visiting, I’ll show her down here and point out the site of my induction into the CragCare family. Fondly, I’ll plant a foot on the Stone of Doom, and as my eyes smart with tears, I’ll begin to wonder when the next CragCare day will be.


Tools of the trade. Image by Denby Weller

Tools of the trade. Image by Denby Weller


 Fun facts about CragCare

Founded: 2006
Workdays so far: 44
Total volunteer hours: 7500
Est. dollar value of work: $262,500
Kilos of shit removed: 100
Snags donated: 3000

Katariina Rahikainen is currently organising volunteers with Trish Kidd, Elmar Jerg, Matt Spring and many worthy souls from BMCC and the local climbing scene. To sign up, go to the CragCare Facebook page and click the email signup on the left.

NewSoufWelshians are not alone in having a peak body, all around Australia there are groups and gangs that are just as good hovers of stone and patrollers of poo. Mexicans from down Victoria way lend your might to CliffCare. Banana Benders from the Great North give your time to Australian Climbing Association (QLD). Crow Eaters from SA can add their muscle to the Climbing Club of South Australia. Sand Gropers out West can pledge their time to the Climbers Association of Western Australia. If you’re in FarSouthIslandia aka Tasweigian try the Climbers Club of Tasmania.

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