Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bushwalking and the Conservation Movement


During the years of the Great Depression the popularity of walking in the Blue Mountains revived. The impact of the motorcar had deflected interest away from the old walking tracks until the general decline in prosperity meant that hiking guides replaced motoring guides as sources of popular recreation and visitors to the Blue Mountains began to rediscover the bush. With the increasing popularity of bushwalking, the early 1930s also saw the emergence of the modern conservation movement.

Myles Dunphy, who began walking in the Blue Mountains before World War I, had been influential in forming the Mountains Trails Club in 1914. The members of this club, and the Sydney Bushwalkers Club founded in 1927, had a different view of walking from ‘tourist’ walkers – the mainly family groups who strolled the well-maintained tracks close to the townships.

Dunphy and the Mountain Trailers marked the beginning of a new era of walking in the Blue Mountains. Their emphasis, while still recreational, was on developing the skills of bushcraft, self-reliance and adventure. Earlier walkers who yearned for such elements as part of their walking experience would tramp the Six-Foot Track, the bridle path opened in 1884 to link Katoomba and Jenolan Caves. The new generation of walkers, the ‘bushwalkers’, left the well-marked tracks and headed into the rougher country, often charting new routes for their comrades to follow.

Public concern for the preservation of the natural environment was sown among the bushwalkers. On the Certificate of Membership of the Mountain Trails Club the following words appeared: “remember a good bushman is a fellow you will surely want to trail with again. You were not the first over the trail; leave the pleasant places along the way just as pleasant for those who follow you.” During the early 1920s, far-sighted Myles Dunphy formulated a plan for a Blue Mountains National Park, which was adopted by both the Mountain Trails Club, in 1922, and the Sydney Bushwalkers, in 1927.

The Blue Gum Forest, a magnificent stand of tall Blue gums growing in the Grose Valley near the junction of Govett’s Leap Creek and the Grose River became the subject of what many consider the seminal conservation campaign. Beginning in 1931, it was conducted by those whose environmental concern was nurtured in the bushwalking and wildlife societies of the time. It generated considerable interest and co-operation, pointing the way for successful future action.

The story of the campaign begins with a chance meeting which occurred during the Easter holidays of 1931, when a group of bushwalkers led by Alan Rigby entered the forest of Blue gums and encountered two men prepared to ringbark the trees. One of the men explained that he had leased the area and planned to replace the Blue gums with walnut trees. The walkers were appalled. Those beautiful gums at the site of Eccleston Du Faur’s 1857 Junction Camp, circled by soaring sandstone cliffs, were to be destroyed. Surely the authorities had made a mistake in granting a lease for this purpose. It was a situation that required some fast thinking so, boiling the billy; the walkers discussed the matter over lunch.

It was proposed to seek time to place the issue before the full membership of their bushwalking clubs. There must have been persuasive talkers in the group for the lessee, assured that it would be to his profit, agreed to postpone the ringbarking for the time being. Returning to Sydney, Alan Rigby got things moving with a full report to the next meeting of the Mountain Trails Club. The upshot of this was a request to the Sydney Bushwalkers to assist in a campaign to save the Forest by buying out the lease and ensuring the area be reserved for public use.

When the sanction of the Lands Department was obtained the first step was successfully accomplished. The most difficult task still remained, to raise the one hundred and fifty pounds required by the lessee, C A Hungerford of Bilpin, to allow him to obtain an alternative site for his walnut trees. Their agreement called for fifty pounds to be paid by November 1931, with the balance spread over the following twelve months.

A Blue Gum Committee was established to co-ordinate the campaign. Donations were solicited and fund-raising dances and socials were organised. In a time of economic depression, meeting the lessee’s terms proved a difficult job. On Sunday 15th November, a meeting of the committee and Mr Hungerford took place to assess the matter. It was held at the site among the mighty blue gums whose future was in the balance. Myles Dunphy, a member of the co-ordinating committee, has written about this important gathering. “The business meeting, about midday, was held in pouring rain; the members of the party sat around in a circle in a space between the trees. Each shrouded in a cape. The weather was unkind, but the great trees standing up all around appeared magnificent – except one fine specimen which lay stretched out close to the riverbank, a victim of the lessee’s salesmanship. No doubt it was felled to give point to the necessity for saving the trees.”

The meeting resulted in new terms being settled which required payment of a reduced total of one hundred and thirty pounds by the end of December. The committee channelled its energy into a renewed effort and a donation from the Wildlife Preservation Society allowed an immediate deposit to be made. With the assistance of an anonymous loan to supplement the amount already raised, the deadline was met.

The united action of the bushwalking societies and numerous other supporters had secured a beautiful piece of bushland for public use. The Blue Gum Forest was notified as a public recreation reserve on 2nd September 1932 and a management trust appointed. In 1961 the area was absorbed into the Blue Mountains National Park.

In 1931, the same year that the Blue Gum Forest campaign was being waged, Miles Dunphy formed the National Parks and Primitive Areas Council (NPPAC). Adopting the slogan "Progress With Conservation" and made up of representatives of all the major bushwalking clubs of the time. The Council set about promoting Dunphy’s plan for a Blue Mountains National Park. In August 1934 it published a four-page supplement to the Katoomba Daily in which the idea was presented in detail and Dunphy’s beautifully drawn map of the proposal was reproduced. Six thousand of these supplements were distributed throughout the Blue Mountains and Sydney.

It still took more than two decades before the plan achieved any kind of reality. The Blue Mountains National Park, comprising much of the central part of the original plan was gazetted in September 1959. Over the next twenty years, as a result of intense campaigning on the part of conservationists, further large areas of the Blue Mountains region, including Kanangra-Boyd in the south and Wollemi in the north, were dedicated as national park. By the end of the 1970s, the vision of the early bushwalker-conservationists had been vindicated and most of the areas covered by the NPPAC proposal had been secured for public recreation.

Images
1. Bushwalkers in the Blue Gum Forest 1957, Blue Mountains City Library, Local Studies collection.
2. Image of the Blue Gum Forest 1957, Blue Mountains City Library, Local Studies collection.

Reference
Blue Mountains Heritage Study 1982, Croft & Associates in association with Meredith Walker for Blue Mountains City Council.

John Merriman
Local Studies Librarian
2010 Blue Mountains City Library

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