Nowra Route Names

Rob LeBreton, one of the original developers of Nowra and co-author of the current guidebook, writes about the recent push to change offensive route names at the area. (Please note that none of Rob’s routes have been flagged as offensive.)

I opened Instagram this afternoon (24/6/2020) to see dozens of posts calling for the offensive route names at Nowra to be changed. It’s not the first time it’s been called for but it circulates a lot more quickly in this day of social media. To get a couple of things up front, I would like to see some of the routes renamed. Many of the route names were designed to be offensive, but probably not in the way they are being seen as offensive today. I would like to see climbing continue to become a more inclusive space. I am not here to speak for anyone else or tell them what to do, people can make their own choices and decisions.

I would like to see some route names changed. Those that are blatantly racist, sexist, promote sexual violence, homophobic, etc, have no place in climbing or society. I would like to think that with consultation we can work with the first ascensionists to see these names replaced. I come from a tradition of the first ascensionist naming the climb; it’s part of the new routing game. An attempt was made in the 2011 guidebook to clean up some of the names and it was met with a lot of resistance by the community because it was done unilaterally without any consultation. It was also done with a view to get rid of rude words rather than to address the underlying messages in some of the names. This afternoon there were calls for the routes to just be changed on The Crag. I think this would be a big mistake. These calls for route names to be changed come from a place of compassion, understanding and inclusivity. An authoritarian approach does not promote this, it sends a message of aggression and exclusion, let’s change them through consultation and education.

I would like to see climbing continue to become a more inclusive space. When I started climbing in the mid-’80s it was almost exclusively a white male domain but not one that typified the Australia of that time. Coming from a very white suburban background, climbing opened my eyes to the diversity that truly exists in our society. I spent time with people who educated me far better than my schooling had. The conversations I had and the friends I made opened my mind, challenged my thinking and gave me the foundation that forms my world view today. Climbing then was a counter culture so I spent time with people of various sexual orientations, different belief systems and those who had chosen to reject the status quo of society. It broke me out of my bubble. By the early ’90s, when Nowra was being developed, there was a greater, but still low, number of women regularly climbing. With the advent of climbing gyms, the climbing population has become more ethnically diverse and this has spread to the crags. When Villawood first opened the clientele were predominantly European Australian, now at any time you enter the gym you will see a wide variety of cultures represented. We have groups to promote inclusivity for LGBTQIA+ climbers and we have an Australian Paraclimbing Team. I hope this will continue to evolve.

Context is important. I am not apologising for any of the names and as I said at the beginning I would like to see some changed. I would have liked to see some change back in the’90s. One example of context is “Don’t Tell The Priest But It’s A Boy”. This was named when the first ascensionist had his first child. There were members of his family who wanted to follow their Catholic tradition of having the boy circumcised. He was against this. Viewed in 2020, it’s easy to see how this could be seen as a reference to the systemic abuse of children, particularly males, by Catholic priests. Many of the route names were derived from rap music. For many of us it was the first time we had seen African Americans as something other than the amusing sidekick in a movie or TV show.  It gave us black role models, strong role models from whom we found inspiration. Inspiration to stand up for what we believed in, to be ourselves and to fight the power. I know climbing is trivial in the broader scheme, but I’m also talking about areas outside of climbing. Because of this music I read about people like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Charles Perkins. I learned about inequality in the US and here. Naming climbs from lyrics in the songs was an homage to these influences. Of course, they can be viewed differently now.

I’m happy to see this discussion being aired. Let’s discuss it. I’m sure my opinions can be picked apart and challenged. That’s okay. But please don’t assume that the people that named these routes were misogynistic neanderthals. Comments saying that those who named the routes should all be ashamed of themselves and calling for the heads of the first ascentionsts are both ill-considered and unhelpful. These people are my friends and I believe they are good people. I may not agree with everything they say or do but we are all  part of the same tribe. Let’s remember that we are a community.
Rob LeBreton

6 thoughts on “Nowra Route Names

  1. ray

    I beg to differ – some of the people really were misogynistic neanderthals but I am hoping they have some regrets about that (being older and wiser). I do agree they should be given first dibs at revising the names.

    A bit more education: re the comments on circumcision – Circumcision is a Jewish thing, not a Catholic thing. In fact Catholicism, which really over the last few centuries is really a European thing, would have strongly resisted circumcision (so as to not be thought Jewish). So I am guessing while the climb “Don’t Tell The Priest But It’s A Boy” might have the history you suggest , I’ve got my doubts. If it did, its based on ignorance.

    And speaking of education: climbing at Araps you definitely can get an education if you are at all inquisitive – eg various routes on the Organ Pipes for music theory, and Greek mythology with climb names like Orpheus and Eurydice. Nowra not so much (well maybe you get to learn which is the correct order for numbers 21,22,23 etc)

  2. Marion Walker

    Thanks Rob
    You are in a brilliant position to call for calm as I feel you know all sides so well and You also havenarional and international respect. Great response, great article.

  3. Not Easily Offended

    Wow – virtue signalling is back at Nowra. Great rational response in this article to this on-going issue by the way.

    New climbers (or old climbers for that matter) don’t have the right to dictate route name changes, however feel free to lobby the first ascentionist and see if you can change their mind – I recommend doing this politely and via a private communication channel (i.e don’t try to name and shame people, it is a horrible practice).

    Also remember that when you ask yourself – ‘Am I really offended?’ and you can’t get away from a ‘YES – I AM’ – there is an easy fix – just don’t go to the crags/or climb the routes that make you feel this way – or just don’t use a guidebook – as only some of the route names are graffiti’d at the base.

    P.S: I love NWA and pretty sure they aren’t changing their song titles any time soon, when they do might be a good time to change some route names at P.C.

  4. Rachel Simoni

    I appreciate you taking the time to write this and voice your understanding of the inappropriate nature of these names. We all seem to agree that this is not the culture we want to promote going forward in the climbing community.
    Raither than just talking about it, can we see some actionable items, so we can get back to climbing?

    Canada is having similar issues, this article might shed some light,

  5. Brian Rattenbury

    Rob was correct up to a point. He was my second child. It was christened not circumsized and l was taking a shot at the catholic religion. i don’t apologize for the name. As for people getting offended, so what, these people will always get offended by something, today climbing route name tomorrow street names. Where does it stop?


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