FILLING THE WESTERN ALPS GAP
Extending the Alpine National Park to Baw Baw
by Geoff Mosley
The concept of a continous alpine national park stretching from the Great Divide west of Canberra all the way to Victoria’s Baw Baw Plateau was first outlined nearly forty years ago when the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) produced its viewpoint publication on the High Country. Unfortunately, while this vision has mainly been realised, there still exists a major gap in the west with the alpine reserves of the Baw Baw National Park and the Mt Skene Natural Features and Scenic Reserve being isolated from the Alpine National Park to the east.
It is ironic that the aim of national park contiguity in this western area was to become an unintended casualty of the division of the area into two Land Conservation Council (LCC) study areas (Alpine and Melbourne) because the LCC’s basic aim was to recommend the best use of public land with a strong emphasis on its protection.
The ACF was not the only body to advocate an alpine national park extending to Mt Baw Baw. The idea was further developed in the 1974 Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) 1974 publication The Alps at the Crossroads written by Dick Johnson and by the ACF again in its 1983 book Victoria’s Alps An Australian Endangered Heritage by Harry Nankin. Significantly, the Australian Academy of Science in September, 1977 submission on the LCC’s initial Alpine Area Study argued that the Alpine National Park should be co-existensive with the Baw Baw National Park in the Melbourne Study Area stating that it regarded contiguity of land area (especially of the main sub-alpine areas and their intervening valley systems) as being an essential part of the Alpine National Park proposal.
While this was an undeniably sound view the various groups in practice had to respond to the separate proposals developed by the LCC for the two study areas. The VNPA, for instance, developed a proposal for a Central Highlands National Park covering the western part of the gap area. A Baw Baw National Park which had been recommended by the LCC first study of the Melbourne Area was proclaimed in 1979.
The Alpine National Park was established with a western boundary at Mt McDonald in 1989. Still further west, the Mt Skene Natural Features and Scenic Reserve, initially recommended by the LCC in its Alpine Investigation of 1979, was subsequently given a boundary extension to Mt Sunday. Although managed for nature conservation as recommended the reserve is yet to be proclaimed.
The time is now ripe for the grand project of a continuous alpine park to be resurrected and completed. Not only could this extended Alpine National Park incorporate Mt Skene and Baw Baw and two other scenic reserves at Mt Useful and Macalister Gorge but it could also link up with the Yarra Ranges National Park a reserve which resulted from the LCC’s Melbourne Area District 2 review. The consquence of this is that there would also be the possibility of a continuous protected area all the way from the Brindabella National Park west of the capital to the Kinglake National Park north of Melbourne.
The boundaries for this extension proposed shown on the accompanying map are of course tentative . They build on the earlier proposals of the VNPA and the ACF with the aim of creating a park in this region worthy of the area’s outstanding scenery and environment which includes the major valleys of the Barkly, Black, Jordan and Thomson Rivers .
The national park extension would also provide increased protection for the catchment of the Lake Thomson, Melbourne’s main water storage (commissioned 1984), and for the route of the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) which already connects these isolated alpine areas with the Alpine National Park to the east. The land is mainly State Forest containing many Special Protection Zones (SPZs) free from logging but without the security of tenure which national parks have. The elimination of logging from throughout the proposed park extension would bring many public benefits including increased water yield.
As a first step the core of this proposed park extension including the route of the AAWT and the associated SPZs has been nominated for the National Heritage List, The area rightfully belongs in the Alpine National Park and in the meantime should be managed as though it were.
G. Mosley 2/3/08