The site might be taped off and signs might warn of ‘dangerous cliff edges’, but a very different image of Gibraltar Falls has circulated online, particularly on social media platform Instagram.
Two people have lost their lives at the popular waterfall lookout near Namadgi National Park in less than a week, prompting Canberra’s tourism agency to pull all marketing material of the site and its picturesque rockpool.
Patrick Prevett, a 22-year-old Queanbeyan man, was visiting the waterfall with his sister and friends on Saturday afternoon (18 February) when he slipped from the rocky outcrop near the top of the waterfall. He was pronounced dead at the scene after emergency services, who found him unconscious in the water, were unable to revive him.
The site was closed indefinitely from last Sunday (12 February) while the ACT Government assessed the signage and safety barriers in the wake of a death six days earlier.
On 12 February, 19-year-old Australian National University (ANU) student and accomplished rower Thomas Livingstone also slipped while scrambling across the rocks in front of the waterfall. ACT Parks and Conservation rangers and passers-by provided first aid until emergency services arrived, but he also died at the scene.
In an interview with ABC Radio today (20 February), ACT Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development deputy director-general Geoffrey Rutledge said the series of incidents had been “a shock across the service”.
“We have many swimming holes in our parks,” he said.
“We don’t consider Gibraltar Falls a swimming hole.”
Original signs at the area urge visitors to keep to the official tracks while warning of a ‘dangerous cliff edge’. And two weeks before the first incident, the ACT Parks and Conservation posted a warning to its Facebook page urging visitors not to swim in the rockpools or waterfall.
“Just a reminder that it is not advisable to swim or walk on Gibraltar Falls (despite what you might’ve heard from friends or online),” the post read.
“Gibraltar Falls is an excellent picnic spot with amazing views from the lookout. However, the cliff edges are extremely dangerous. Serious accidents have occurred here when people have ignored the formal tracks and signs. If you’d like to see the falls while also enjoying a swim, just head to Woods Reserve.”
However, in September 2022, the government’s tourism agency Visit Canberra collaborated with online publication Broadsheet in an article promoting Gibraltar Falls as one of Canberra’s top spots to enjoy during the warmer months. References to Gibraltar Falls were removed from the article today.
“If sunbaking next to a natural infinity pool at the precipice of a majestic waterfall is your idea of fun (it sounds pretty good to us), then we’ve found the spot,” the listicle stated, under the subheading ‘Cool off on the edge of Gibraltar Falls’.”
After directions about how to get to the Falls, the article says: “It does get busy on hot days, so consider going early or late (try sunset for the perfect Instagram shot).”
A spokesperson for Visit Canberra told Region that, like many of the ACT’s nature reserve sites, the popularity of this site could be “for a range of reasons, including people seeing it on social media and wanting to visit”.
“For the time being, Visit Canberra has removed material relating to Gibraltar Falls on its website and social media channels.”
Meanwhile, Mr Prevett’s family describe him as a “kind-hearted man who had so much life in front of him”.
“His passing has shattered the hearts of so many family and friends,” they said in a post.
“His family are so proud of the man he was and the life he was building … His passing has shattered the hearts of so many family and friends. No family should have to organise a funeral for their son, especially at the young age of 22.”