Photo is “Browning Falls”, now Russell Falls, by Anson Bros around 1890, courtesy of the Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the scenic area around Russell Falls was already popular with Hobart residents.
Some were completely enraptured, and driven to write in language that was … well perhaps it belongs to a different time.
“Painter and poet together would fail to convey more than a shadow of its sublime grandeur … Russell’s Falls in their degree are incomparably beautiful stamped with a bold individuality of picturesqueness, strikingly romantic, and a wealth of vernal setting, purely Tasmanian and to be seen nowhere else.” from Parks and Wildlife Tasmania
(This wasn’t the only time the area was to inspire passionate language. Some years later, the editor of The Mercury was moved to propose that Mt Field National Park be protected “with flaming sword” – see below.)
1885 saw the establishment of the Russell Falls Reserve, under the (rather less poetically titled) Waste Lands Act of 1863. This was Tasmania’s first nature reserve.
In 1893, the Tasmanian Tourist Association was formed to promote Mt Wellington, Russell Falls and the Hartz Mountains. Russell Falls was put on a postage stamp.
In the early 1900s Hobart was rich with romantics and nature lovers, just as it is today. A railway was opened to National Park and people began flocking to the area, attracted by reports of waterfalls, tall forests and beautiful scenery. Sightseeing, walking and fishing were popular activities. The area was loved by artists, writers, poets and naturalists and gradually there grew a movement to preserve the area.
“Well worthy of the exertion”
In 1907, a party from the Tasmanian Tourist Association, including 4 women, walked from Ellendale to the Mt Field Plateau, reaching Field East and beyond. They began in pony traps, walked through “a veritable fairy bower” of ferns, and climbed until 8:10 am, when they allowed themselves a five minute rest. At 10:15 they brewed some tea, then explored the high country and a hut at Lake Webster. One of them described:
“Lake Fenton, placidly shining like a beautiful mirror framed in rugged hills. … Lake Seal was visible at the foot of a rugged mountain, the height of which was best judged by still showing, even on that hot day, the finger of winter’s severity in the shape of large patches of snow, which glistened and scintillated in the rays of the sun.” Mt Field National Park website
The walk was “about twenty miles” (more details on Mt Field NP website).
Here is a photo of the Field East track today.
When you consider the height of these mountains, the rudimentary nature of the paths in 1907, and the kind of equipment they must have had, you’d have to agree that’s a spectacular achievement.
In 1912, conservationist, keen angler and schoolteacher, William Crooke, founded the National Parks Association, campaigning for the area to be set aside as national park. Also active in this movement were The Royal Society of Tasmania, Tasmanian Field Naturalists’ Club, University of Tasmania, Hobart City Council, Fisheries Commission, New Norfolk Council and Australian Natives Association (Luckman, 1953).
In 1913 the National Park Special Board had two hundred pounds from a Commonwealth Grant and recommended providing fireplaces for visitors and stocking the streams with fish. They resolved that strong efforts should be made to preserve the park in its natural state, with precautions to be taken against bushfires and vandalism (from the Marriott family memoirs).
A National Park
Before the park was proclaimed, Mr Crooke was asked to outline on a map the area he wanted to preserve. He expressed caution, saying he was wary of asking for too much and causing a public outcry.
Mt Field National Park was established in 1916, to be managed by the National Park Board with representatives from the above groups and others. It was one of the first national parks in Australia.
The park was opened with a Vice-Regal ceremony in 1917. The secretary of the board, Clive Lord, had designed a silver key in the form of a gumleaf which he handed to the Governor to unlock the gate.
The Governor, Sir Frances Newdegate, said the park was established:
“in order that generations yet unborn may see for themselves what virgin Tasmania was like … it is also to serve as a sanctuary for the flora and fauna, so as to guard against total extinction.”
The editor of The Mercury wrote passionately about the new national park:
“We want — Australia wants — these things opened for reverent use and inspection, for the joy of men and women and children, for study and musing and healthy holiday. …
The only creatures to be driven out of the Park and kept out with flaming sword is the utilitarian, who would indiscriminately chop trees, spoil waterfalls, dig up rare plants, kill live things and spoil and ravage and destroy everything for a money profit.” The Mercury, 15th October 1917
In 2013, Mt Field National Park was added to the World Heritage register. Last year, 2016, saw its 100th birthday.
References and further reading
Gossage, Edith and ‘a descendant of the Dann family’ (1984), “Pioneers of the Park and Edith Gossage’s Memoirs”. http://marriott.50webs.com/pioneersfpkpg.htm
Kleinig, Simon (2008), Jack Thwaites: Pioneer Tasmanian Bushwalker & Conservationist. Lindisfarne, Tas. Forty Degrees South.
Luckman, Jessie (1953), “Mt Field National Park: Historical Notes”. The Tasmanian Tramp, No 11.
MacFie (2005), “Crooke, William George (1846–1920)” in Australian Dictionary of Biography. http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/crooke-william-george-12869
Tasmanian Tramp, No 11, December 1939, Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office.
Bester, David (ed) 2016, “The People’s Parks: A Mercury Special Feature”, The Mercury, 6th May, 2016. http://media.news.com.au/mercury/features_pdf/parks_centenary.pdf
The Mercury (1917) “National Park. The Opening Ceremony. Speech by the Governor. Presentation of an Address” The Mercury 15th October 1917 in Trove