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Author Archive | Leonie Bell

Sutherland Bushwalkers turn 50

This year Sutherland Bushwalkers celebrates its 50th anniversary and has published a commemorative pictorial club history to celebrate the milestone.

The new 50th anniversary book cover

It would be difficult to determine when the club commenced, as it started with a very informal gathering of like-minded people. Most of them worked at the Atomic Energy Commission at Lucas Heights or were connected with various Scouting and Rover groups in Sutherland Shire. The first activity of the group was a bushwalk from Yadboro up the Kalianna Ridge into the Monolith Valley and to Mount Owen on the Australia Day weekend, in January 1969.

In these very early stages it was an all-male association simply because of the common AAEC and Scouting link, but it didn’t take too long before a few more friends and wives were attending the activities.

Activities in the late sixties were arranged very casually when one of the group would write a brief description of an outing and then send it to all the others. Early activities included caving at Colong and Tuglow, walking the Budawangs, the Blueys and Kanangra, canoeing the Kangaroo and Shoalhaven. About two-thirds of the group had reasonably good bushwalking experience but there were virtually no caving, canoeing or other bushsports skills. Even so, this provided a good basis for real adventure and enjoyment of the bush.

By mid-1969 the group had expanded to about thirteen ‘members’ and some felt that a title would be appropriate. One name, ‘The Intrepids’ was considered to be a little irrelevant. About May 1970 the group chose the name ‘Sydney Bush Ramblers’. However, by the end of 1969 the casual group was still without any formal structure, club officers or regular meetings.

With the numbers gradually increasing to twenty-one by March 1970, a sketchy program of eighteen activities was compiled for that year.

1970s Some of the founding members: Maurie Bloom at left is still a club member, Jim Stevens, Mark Rice, Graeme Carter, Don Rice

During 1970, membership increased slowly through friends and personal contacts and by August there were about twenty-eight on the club list. During one bushwalk, the group met some members of the Catholic Bushwalkers who suggested that they should consider affiliating with the Bushwalkers Federation (forerunner of Bushwalking NSW). Little was known of the organisation, so they send a delegation to a Federation meeting to learn a bit more about their requirements for affiliation.

As a result, the first club general meeting of thirteen people was arranged in September 1970 to discuss this issue and to decide if it was worth joining. It was now just on two years since the original eleven decided to go bush. By the end of 1971 club membership had increased to 42 and regular meetings were held at the Caringbah Scout Hall, where they remained until a brief spell in 2006 at Kirrawee Soccer Club building, before relocating to their current home of the Stapleton Centre in Sutherland.

Sutherland Bushwalkers Committee Meeting, Jacaranda Scout Hall, 16 April 1984 with Murray Scott, Anthony Jackson, Graeme Carter, David Coombes, Arnold Fleischmann, Chris Terry, Beryl Young, Don Rice, Gisela Fleischmann

The club attracted many inquiries for membership during the early 1970’s but most were not interested in a club based in the Sutherland Shire and it became frustrating for the Club Committee to deal with inquiries from people who were not joining. The problem was that the Club’s name contained the word ‘Sydney’, creating confusion with the Sydney Bushwalkers Club, and also an expectation that Sydney was the club’s location. At the Annual General Meeting of February 2, 1977, the club officially became Sutherland Bushwalking Club.

Today Sutherland Bushwalkers membership holds steady at around 300 members, mostly from Sutherland Shire and the Georges River area. They conduct around 230 activities per year, attracting approximately 2,300 participants in bushwalking, cycling and kayaking in the Greater Sydney Region, around Australia and throughout the world. Bushfires and Covid-19 may have disrupted plans for anniversary celebrations, not to mention the temporary cessation of the activities program in 2020, but the club is once more enjoying friendships created through Covid-safe experiences in the bush.

Tips for growing your club

The topic at the recent Bushwalking NSW AGM was ‘How to grow your club’, providing an insight into how one club substantially grew from 50 members to over 300 over a period of a few years. Some of their ideas are paraphrased below. For more information and suggestions on club management see http://www.bushwalkingnsw.org.au/club-management/

You can listen to the audio which inspired this post. (Works on Chrome and Firefox. Apologies for the rough recording – with patience you will hear the gems buried within!).

Soft management

Allow the committee to handle the running of the club, rather than having boring and contentious general meetings where members wrestle over every last detail of its operation. Reserve member’s meetings for socializing, educating, talks and slide nights etc. Give the committee the authority under the club’s constitution to handle the day to day affairs of the club, including making decisions, finances, policies and procedures.

Focus on activities- not committee meetings. The committee should meet the absolute minimum times per year that is needed to organise the club program and fulfill its legal requirements. Under new Incorporated Associations law it is permissible to hold electronic meetings e.g. Skype, conference calls and committee voting by email.

Design the committee structure around roles. Don’t have inactive ‘ordinary’ committee members. Each committee member should have a defined purpose and role. You may need to change the constitution to do this.

Ensure that committee members change regularly by limiting the number of times a member can stand for a particular role. This prevents stagnation and burnout and brings fresh ideas onto the committee agenda.

Make it easy to participate

Clarify processes and procedures and document them so that others know what they should do and how to do it. e.g. how to join, how to become a leader, how to arrange an activity.

Remove obstacles from member and visitor participation e.g. paperwork.

Put your documentation and programs on your website so that everyone can access the information.

If members show an interest in a particular activity or idea or have a suggestion to make, ask them to lead the activity or implement the idea.

Don’t wait for people to volunteer; ask them to do something and give them assistance to carry it out. e.g. buddy potential leaders.

Feature program changes and late-notice activities on the website and encourage members to check it regularly.

Promote the club

Give members club business cards to hand out to interested parties, rather than bulky, old-fashioned leaflets.

Ensure the club website has a current design and feel and is easy to navigate.

Make visitors feel welcome and ask them to return.

Don’t get hung-up about age

Understand your Target Audience. Some clubs are youth oriented, such as university bushwalking clubs, some have all age groups in their membership, while others are composed of 50+. Don’t worry that your club has no members under 50 years old. People’s lives have a natural cycle. After they have had children and the demands of raising a family are most over, then they will start to look for new activities as they enter their fifties. Target these people for membership. The most important point is that you cater to their needs and continue to attract new members in that age group.

It is natural to have a turnover of membership or around 15-20% annually, so don’t worry when people resign. It is more important that you replace departing members.

Members don’t have to be locals. Having intercity, interstate or international members can open possibilities for club holiday activities utilising local knowledge.

The program

A diverse program, with a broad range of activity types and grades, will attract a diverse range of members, increase membership and increase activity participation.

Consider posting your program on the website so that both members and potential visitors can see the latest activities on offer.

Most clubs now email the program rather than printing and posting. Consider offering a monthly emailed program instead of the traditional quarterly. This means the Program Secretary’s duties are spread evenly across the year rather than clustered in a couple of months. It also means leaders don’t have to commit to an activity 4-5 months in advance, Late notice activities can be easily added to the website or sent out as an email alert.

Be social

Joining a bushwalking club is not just about outdoor activities. It is also about socialising. It’s okay for a bushwalking club to run purely social events with no walking involved. Create opportunities in the program for members to socialise, such as; planning for coffee at the end of a bushwalk, restaurant nights, attending fun events. The result will be increased group cohesion, increased membership, a spirit of volunteerism and higher participation in bushwalks.

Bushwalker Magazine archives

The Bushwalker magazine has changed a lot over the years. Before the advent of desktop publishing the magazine was a photocopy of a simple typed document, perhaps with a sketch or two. Keith Maxwell has been scanning old Bushwalker magazines from the 1970s onwards. They have now been uploaded to our website and offer a fascinating glimpse into the past.

When this ad featured in the December 1977 Bushwalker, the Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs of NSW comprised 33 clubs. See how Paddy Pallin’s ads and bushwalking clothing fashions have changed in the last 40 years, in this illustration of a well-dressed bushwalker.

Or check out the inaugural Wilderness Visitor’s Code of Behaviour from February 1978.which was prepared by Dr Sandra Bardwell, after the Australian Wilderness Conference the previous year. It was created, “To encourage the preservation of the physical and intangible qualities of wilderness areas and their enjoyment by travellers on foot, ski, or in hand or sail-powered boats.”, because “In wilderness man is a visitor who neither remains nor leaves any trace of his presence.”

We would love to add more archival newsletters to the website. If you have copies of any issues of the Bushwalker that are missing from our website please contact Kirsten admin@bushwalkingnsw.org.au

Find out more about our history at http://www.bushwalkingnsw.org.au/bushwalker-archives/