Nature NSW – Spring 2021

Garry Dunnett, Executive Officer

A few weeks ago Kate and I walked down to the causeway across the Woronora River.  To the side of the steep track we noticed a beige-clad figure peering intently at what looked like an old stump.  This was in the long-ago days before lockdown, so rather than scurry past Kate asked what he was photographing.  I have no idea why she’d assume that anyone acting strangely in the bush would be a photographer. 

The mystery figure explained that he was a retired surveyor interested in the historic heritage of Royal National Park and that the post was part of the fence line marking the original park boundary.

I should mention that the track is located on lands that were added to the National Park (as it was originally known) in 1880, a year after the original declaration in 1879.  The lands, later separated by the railway line, were excised twenty years later in a land swap with Jibbon Headland. 

I was more than a little surprised to stumble across anyone who was aware that the area was part of the National Park more than a century ago, let alone documenting the physical remains of that fleeting status.  Continuing the surprises, he mentioned that he’d been approached earlier by a fellow named Brian Everingham, who also knew a bit about Royal National Park.  Shortly after Brian reappeared and we had a collective nerd out about all things Royal.

Coincidences are nothing remarkable.  What I do find remarkable is the nature of his interest- something as mundanely functional as a 140 year-old fence line.  Fence posts may have their charms, but I suspect what sits underneath is a fascination with the waxing and waning of the boundary, the evolution of what we now know as Royal National Park.  Incidentally, if anyone wants to do a deep dive into this topic have a look at Dan Lunney’s article Integrating History and Ecological Thinking: Royal National Park in Historical Perspective.  

Understanding the history of our national parks is incredibly important.  A park’s history is not just about the buildings and historic sites it contains.  It includes how the proposal to protect the area came about, and the advocacy that led to government granting it legal protection.  Parks are not magically gifted, they come from generations of conservationists recognising the special qualities of landscapes and advocating for their protection.  NPA should have no small pride in the dozens of new park proposals we’ve prepared and seen to fruition over the last six decades. 

The history of our parks sits at the centre of the debate currently raging about the future of Kosciuszko National Park.  The NSW Government’s outrageous development proposals, and their lack of sensitivity to the fragility of the alpine landscape, are only made possible by wilfully ignoring the history of Kosciuszko National Park.  Instead of considering why the current Plan of Management set limits on development and permissible uses, the Snowy Mountains Masterplan treats Kosciuszko as a blank slate ready for commercial exploitation.  Decades of experience, research and adaptive management mean nought if we allow Governments to ignore the history of our protected areas. 

The proposals confronting Kosciuszko National Park are unquestionably a potential turning point for our national parks.  However, as long as NPA and our fellow eccentrics care about those century old fence posts, we have history on our side.

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