From Rambling to Elevated Walkways: Piecemeal Planning Histories in National Parks

O’Rourke, Timothy | Sully, Nicole | Chaddock, Steve

Ngā Pūtahitanga / Crossings: A Joint Conference of SAHANZ and the Australasian UHPH Group

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From the late nineteenth century, ramblers, trampers and bushwalkers have been instrumental in the creation of national parks. Their advocacy combined interests in nature conservation with recreational pursuits, heralding the two competing and often contradictory purposes of national park estates. In Australia, protected wilderness areas were invariably repositories of sacred sites linked by networks of walking pads across landscapes shaped by millennia of Indigenous occupation. From the mid-twentieth century, new infrastructure was required in national parks to cater for the growth in tourism. In Australia, the state-based system of “national” parks resulted in an uneven approach to both the creation of protected areas and the design of infrastructure for the hosts and guests. This approach was in marked contrast to the United States, where the Mission 66 program – approved by Congress in 1955 – resulted in a decade-long programme of expenditure on infrastructure that established the reputation of their national park system, and ensured a systematic national approach.

This paper examines the piecemeal history of planning for bushwalkers in Australian national parks through a comparison of competing interests – the minimal needs of the self-sufficient rambler with infrastructure that caters for diverse tourism experiences. Australian case studies illustrate a contested but changing approach to planning for pedestrians in protected areas, from the making of tracks by volunteers and depression-era work gangs to elevated walks through forest canopies. A historical analysis highlights the changing attitudes to tourism and conservation challenges, now informed by greater knowledge of ecology and the belated recognition of Indigenous ownership and pre-colonial land management regimes. Threats to the biodiversity in protected areas suggest that a planning approach, which combines multiple disciplines and interests, will increasingly elevate both the bushwalker and tourist in their experience of nature.