Mt Field III: The Pathmakers

Bill Belcher, the first ranger

In 1915, when board members inspected the areas around Lady Barron Falls and Lake Dobson, they used tracks cut by local Bill Belcher. Belcher knew ‘every stick and stone’ of the park (Roma Reid, 1926).

Mt Field Bill Belcher 1934 Tasmanian Tramp Tasmania Archive and Heritage Office copy
Bill Belcher in Tasmanian Tramp magazine 1934, Archives Office of Tasmania

Belcher became the first ranger of the park in 1918, assisted by his wife and living in accommodation in the Russell Falls area.

At that time there were rough foot tracks to Lake Webster and Lake Fenton.

He constructed tracks to the most scenic parts of the park and built the first solid two-room hut at Lake Fenton, hauling materials up the mountain on his horse, Runic.

Mt Field hut Lake Fenton NS3258_1_82_Archives Office of Tas
“Ready for the homeward journey. Lake Fenton, National Park. George B Davies, 13th August, 1923.” Lantern slide, Archives Office of Tasmania.

A considerable amount of Belcher’s time was spent cutting new tracks. They included: a creekside route to Lady Barron Falls; around Lake Fenton; lake Fenton to Mt Field East with a branch to Seager’s Lookout; Mt Field East to Lake Nicholls and Beattie’s Tarn to connect with the track from the Park entrance; Lake Fenton to Lakes Belton and Belcher (Davies, 1989).

A sketch plan from 1922 shows tracks from Mt Field East to Lake Webster, which was used by visitors who came up from Ellendale (see previous post, Mt Field II).

Belcher built (or supervised the building of) a small rest hut below Lady Barron Falls, a rest house at the Park entrance, a shelter on the track to Beattie’s tarn and more huts at Lake Fenton. He dismantled the old Lake Webster hut, and had it transported by pack horse to be re-erected at Lake Dobson (Davies).

By the mid 1930s, Belcher had either built or supervised the building of all the huts at Lake Fenton as well as the cladding of and an extension to the Ski Club of Tasmania’s Twilight Tarn hut.

On their silver wedding anniversary in 1929, Belcher and his wife Emily were presented with an illuminated address, including signatures by many prominent citizens including previous Governor James O’Grady.

Mt Field Belcher Illuminated address cropped NS3195_1_2093
courtesy of the Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office

Bill Belcher was known as a kind man, renowned for his helpfulness to skiers, walkers and all park visitors.

He may even have won a few hearts.

“Mr Belcher, the Ranger, knows almost every stick and stone of our National Park, and is one of the kindliest, best-tempered and wittiest men walking the earth” (Roma Reid, 1933)

Belcher served the park and its visitors until shortly before his death in 1934, aged 62.

Parks and Wildlife Service

In the early years, the park was administered by the Scenery Preservation Board, and 1971 saw the inauguration of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which has primary responsibility for maintaining tracks.

Mt Field Martin Hawes June 1985
Martin Hawes, Mt Field National Park, June 1985 by Peter Mead.

Martin Hawes was the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service’s Track Monitoring Officer from 1992-97 and is now a consultant in the field. In the early 1990s he researched and wrote the 3-volume Walking Track Management Strategy for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. He has worked in wilderness management for over 25 years, specialising in assessing and managing remote-area walking tracks.

Friends of Mt Field

There is an enormous contribution to the maintenance of the park from the volunteer group, Friends of Mt Field. The Friends repair and harden tracks with boardwalk, wood cording, large flat rocks, crushed rock and gravel, directing walkers onto prepared tracks to protect the delicate fauna of the area.

Mt Field East track work
Track work Mt Field East

On occasion, materials are helicoptered in for them. Damaged fauna areas are rehabilitated using hessian. They remove weeds such as holly and broom and clear encroaching shrubs such as bauera from tracks. Recently they cleared the Old Pack Track parallel to the Dobson Road. They paint shelter huts, and perform other maintenance as needed, such as replacing linings, doors and floorboards or filling leaking windows.

Mt Field Friends Belcher Hut Painting West Wall
Friends of Mt Field, painting hut at Lake Belcher.

The work must be hard. But it sounds as if there are rewarding moments.

Saturday, 21 June 2014.  What a glorious day it was, with not a breath of wind and clear blue sky.  Lake Fenton was totally calm and the rocks along the track to the work site were a bit frosty and care was needed during the walk. Several spots were hardened with rock, drains cleared and some new ones added.  While this was going on part of the team trimmed back vegetation, going as far half way along Kangaroo Moor

Saturday, 17 September 2011    We had a great day and I’m very pleased with the work that we all did……Greg

Saturday, 16 April 2011  In the alpine area it was a beautiful calm and sunny autumn day and a considerable pleasure to be at Kangaroo Moor, one of the gems of Mount Field`

(from the Friends website).

Over the last few years the Friends of Mt Field have been working on the track from Lake Dobson to Twilight Tarn, the Field East track and K Col hut. Recently they surveyed the plants of the Wombat Moor woodland mosaic track and put up information signs.

The work all done, Greg, Trevor and Adrian and one of the signs
Friends of Mt Field, Greg, Trevor and Adrian at Wombat Moor

Here’s a little insight

There is quite a science to designing tracks to outwit walkers and discourage them from choosing their own path.

“The corners of zigzags are always a potential problem because of the risk that walkers will cut them, and the difficulty of keeping gradients uniformly below 8 degrees. The higher the scrub, the lower the risk of corner-cutting.

When surveying and designing tracks I try to avoid zigzags as far as possible. Where they are unavoidable, I try to:  minimise the number of corners; locate the corners on flatter ground so as to round them out as far as possible (S’s rather than Z’s!) without exceeding optimal gradient; locate the corners in places where natural obstacles such as high bushes will deter corner- cutting. Where these measures are not possible, it is preferable to deter corner-cutting by dragging obstacles such as fallen branches into the Vs of the corners if possible.”

(Martin Hawes, advice to the Friends of Mt Field, 2008

Eroded section of track View up
Mt Field East roots on track repaired by the Friends of Mt Field.




 References and further reading

Brough, Sheila (1933), “National Park and the Tarn Shelf”. Tasmanian Tramp, 3, p43.

Cannon, John (2010), “Field Work in Alpine Wonderland”. Sunday Tasmanian, 12 Dec 2010. 

Hawes, Martin (1998), “Walking track management strategy for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area”. Hobart, Tas. Parks and Wildlife Service.

Davies, Roy (1989), “Mt Field National Park Development: The contributions of William Arthur Belcher”. Tasmanian Tramp, 27, pp43-48.

Reid, Roma (1933), “We Like Skiing”. Tasmanian Tramp, 1, p30.

Wildcare Tasmania, “Friends of Mt Field”.,  Mt Field.

2 thoughts on “Mt Field III: The Pathmakers

Add yours

  1. G’day

    Is that beautiful presentation certificate still in existence . If so where could I see it ? Thanks George

    On Thu, 24 Aug 2017 at 9:36 AM Tasmania Recherche wrote:

    > Joanna Baker posted: “Bill Belcher, the first ranger In 1915, when board > members inspected the areas around Lady Barron Falls and Lake Dobson, they > used tracks cut by local Bill Belcher. Belcher knew ‘every stick and stone’ > of the park (Roma Reid, 1926). Belcher became the ” >


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