National Parks now cover much of the higher terrain in the Australian Alps, from the Baw Plateau to the east of Melbourne, all the way across the mountains almost to the outskirts of Canberra.
Those of us who enjoy these parks owe a great debt to the people who argued for the creation of the reserves in the first place, and to the generations of land managers that have looked after them.
While it is a discrete series of parks in Victoria, NSW and the ACT, there is also overall co-ordination of the parks through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the three state and territory and federal governments.
The MoU has allowed the Australian Alps to be managed co-operatively by the various agencies. Treating the Alps as a single bioregion makes a lot of sense, especially in a time of climate change. Yet like all good government decisions, the concept of co-operative management didn’t just appear. It took decades of work by a range of big picture thinkers and visionaries, and engagement in political processes at many levels that saw the creation of the agreement.
The current version of News from the Alps is dedicated to the co-operative arrangement and includes a potted history of the processes that lead to the signing of the MoU.
Whereas in the early stages after European colonisation, the Alps were seen largely as summer grazing grounds for cattle and sources of wood, gold and other materials, the history in the newsleter makes it clear that there was concern about the state of the Alps from the early to mid 1940s.
The history says:
“Baldor Byles, who was an early government research scientist, advocated for the protection of the Snowy Mountains and his report led to the establishment of the NSW Soil Conservation Authority. This was followed by similar efforts in Victoria, forming the Soil Conservation Authority of Victoria in 1940.
Conservationist Myles Dunphy had proposed a vast interstate wilderness between the Cobberas mountains in Victoria and the Grey Mare Range north of Kosciusko. The proposal was revised in 1943, now proposing that the area to be managed separately by state, but as a jointly recognized area.
In 1942 the then Premier of NSW Sir William McKell, took an eight-day horseback inspection to establish a view of the Snowy Mountains – surely a sign of what was of popular concern.
This was a trip reminiscent of those undertaken by John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt in the early part of the 20th century.
In Victoria, Professor John Turner was working with ecologist Masie Fawcett to undertake a wide-ranging botanical survey which involved setting up the famed grazing-exclusion plots in the mid 1940s”.
There were many other people seeking to develop data to inform good land management decision making, and a Royal Commission was held into the condition of the mountain catchments. In 1944, Kosciuszko State Park was established and grazing was eliminated from the park in the mid 1950s. Conservation groups started to campaign for larger protected areas, including a proposal for a continuous park across the high country of the Alps.
In the 1960s and ‘70s the first large series of major alpine parks were established. The next logical stage in the development of the parks system was to ensure there was co-ordination across all the reserves. Prime Minister Whitlam made a policy statement in 1972 about establishing a national park across the Australian Alps.
Co-operative management was finally achieved with the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding in 1986.
The deeper issue of recognising the displacement of indigenous peoples took longer. There is a brief summary of some of the recent process around the recognition and involvement of traditional owners available here.
The rest is, as they say, history. The next time you’re out enjoying the alps, appreciate that the gift we have inherited that has been handed down to us because of the vision and collective efforts of many people over many decades.