Melbourne women to create Australia’s first female-only rock climbing festival

By Angela Heathcote 21 August 2018
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Indoor rock climbing is booming in Australia, but Joanne Lee and Olivia Page are determined to get women outside, tackling the bigger boulders.

FIVE YEARS AGA, Joanne Lee quit her “fancy advertising job” in Malaysia to embark on a five-year-long rock climbing trip all over the world – with Australia the trip’s finale. She got a job at North Walls Climbing Gym in Brunswick, Victoria and began Women Uprising in May 2018, a small-scale, monthly women’s climbing meet-up at the gym. And that’s where she met Olivia.

“[Olivia] reached out when I was looking for women speakers to run mini-workshops for Women Uprising. All I was looking for were people to contribute their skills for the event, but after chatting with her for about five minutes we realised, with our powers combined, that we could actually organise a women’s outdoor climbing festival,” said Joanne.

Like Joanne, Olivia has spent most of her life in the outdoors rock climbing and she’s about to set out on an all-female expedition in the Fiordlands in New Zealand, so this isn’t her first time organising an all-female rock climbing event.

The event would be set in Victoria’s idyllic Grampians region – a well-known rock climbing destination – and would feature workshops, climbing guides and clinics, mirroring the same type of women-only climbing festivals that currently take place in the UK and USA.

The duo have just had their submission for the Victorian Government’s new Pick My Project grant initiative shortlisted, and the next stage is the voting process. Given the positive response to the project already, they’re hopeful. “It’s amazing to see that people are so supportive of the event and most of them have offered help in some way or another,” Joanne said.

Female-only rock climbing events on the rise

Joanne explained that you get a “different vibe” when rock climbing with females. “I reflect on my personal experiences with my best girl-climbing-friend Kate and we’ve had the best time together.

“You banter, spur each other on, get yourself really psyched before a climb and the motivation that you get when with another female is something that can’t be replicated when climbing with a male counterpart. And then there’s the girl-talk!”

It’s important to have a platform where women feel safe to talk about their climbing experiences without being intimidated, said Joanne. “The worst I’ve seen is a guy telling a girl how to climb and showing off moves on a boulder wall even though she is more than capable of solving a problem, but I’ve also heard stories where their male climbing partners will verbally shout at them and bring them down with non-affirmative words.”

Olivia and Joanne are determined to make sure the event is inclusive of all abilities, and with the help of industry professionals, they hope the festival will create a supportive environment that encourages learning and sharing, and also inspire the next generation of adventurous female climbers.  

Rock climber Gwen Lancashire on Serpentine, Taipan Wall in the Grampians. (Image credit: Olivia Page)

Rock climbing, more popular than ever

Joanne said she has witnessed first-hand the influx of new climbers to the gym where she works in Brunswick, with more and more people falling in love with the sport and becoming regulars. Often, bouldering gyms in Melbourne are totally packed out, she added.

But the popularity hasn’t really penetrated the outdoor climbing scene. “[Outdoor climbing] is still really lacking as people either don’t have the resources or knowledge that they need to climb safely outside,” Joanne said.

This is where the Women’s Outdoor Climbing Festival comes in. “I’m hoping that we can keep running women’s climbing festivals year after year. And to have more workshops, more training to up-skill and equip women with climbing knowledge, regardless of indoors or outdoors, throughout the year.

“Hopefully this project will enable women to connect with other women to share their passion, have healthy discussions and encourage more women to climb outdoors.”

If you live in Victoria and would like to support this project, head to the Pick My Project website and vote for the ‘Women’s Outdoor Climbing Festival’.