From a genesis of just 10 bushwalking clubs in 1932, Bushwalking NSW has evolved to become one of Australia’s foremost outdoor recreation groups, consisting of 65 affiliated clubs representing the interests more than 10,500 bushwalkers. The Federation of Bushwalking Clubs New South Wales held its inaugural meeting on 21 July 1932. In 1990 the title was changed to The Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs of NSW and further updated to Bushwalking NSW in 2013. Many of today’s clubs are centred around the urban regions of Sydney, Canberra, Newcastle and Wollongong, but Bushwalking NSW affiliated clubs extend state-wide to country areas including the Shoalhaven, Southern NSW, Blue Mountains, Northern NSW, Bathurst and as far west as Broken Hill.
The early days
In the early 20th century, as interest began to swell for outdoor pursuits in natural surroundings, bushwalking clubs began to form in the Sydney region. Some of the earliest include Myles Dunphy’s Mountain Trails Club (1914), Coast and Mountain Walkers (1934), and Sydney Bush Walkers (1927). In the post war period Sydney University Bushwalking Club (1946) and the Canberra Walking Club (1947) were formed. As the Great Depression struck in the 1930s and incomes shrank, people increasingly turned to bushwalking as an inexpensive, healthy form of recreation.
The Blue Gum Forest
Today, with many national parks in existence and the Blue Mountains declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, people sometimes take for granted the preservation of national parks. A Blue Mountains national park was first proposed by avid bushwalker and environmentalist Myles Dunphy in 1932, but it took until 1959 for parliament to gazette the park.
One of the sparks for this movement was the threat to the Blue Gum Forest in the Blue Mountains in 1931. A walking group from Sydney Bushwalkers discovered that the forest in the Grose Valley, which contained trees believed to be hundreds of years old, was about to be decimated by a local farmer in order to plant walnut trees. A famous protest action took place in 1932, with conservation groups forming to raise £130 to buy out the lease and save the forest for posterity.
It was this early conservation movement which led to the formation of The Federation of Bushwalking Clubs New South Wales in 1932. The founding organisations were the Mountain Trails Club of New South Wales, The Sydney Bushwalkers, The Rucksack Club (Sydney, NSW), Workers Education Association Ramblers, Young Women’s Christian Association Ramblers, Rover Ramblers, The Milperra Club of the YMCA, The Bush Tracks Club, The Bushlanders Club of New South Wales, and The Coast and Mountain Walkers of NSW.
Their lofty aim was to “unite all persons and organisations interested in recreational bushwalking, camping and other related recreational activities…and to strive for the establishment, preservation and wise management of conservation reserves, such as national parks and wilderness areas”.
Some archived documents on the history of bushwalking can be found here and in the State Library of NSW.
NSW SES Bush Search and Rescue
In 1936 a party of four young men set off to follow the Grose River. They informed friends that they would return in three days. Eight days later, after an intensive land and air search, they were found almost dead from hunger and exposure. That year the Bushwalkers Search and Rescue unit was formed by the Federation, comprising initially of Paddy Pallin and half a dozen other walkers. Soon each club in the Federation kept a roster of bushwalkers available to carry out search and rescue operations. Not only did they carry out bushwalker rescue, but they helped community efforts such as searching for lost children in bushland.
The Bushwalkers Search and Rescue Squad joined the Volunteer Rescue Association in 1970. When an emergency arose, members of Confederation affiliated clubs would be called out to conduct search and rescue operations. As the requirements of NSW State Rescue Board changed over the years and concerns arose about duty of care and public liability, the Confederation’s volunteer rescue operation evolved to become the Bushwalkers Wilderness Rescue Squad in 1990, a specialist stand alone organisation competent not only in search and rescue, but in vertical rescue, canyon rescue, helicopter work, and swift water operations. The name changed in 2017 to Bush Search and Rescue NSW (BSAR) and again to NSW SES BSAR when they became a unit of the State Emergency Services in May 2018. Today the highly skilled NSW SES BSAR is separate from Bushwalking NSW.
Some archived documents from BSAR history can be found here.
Splendour Rock War Memorial
In 1947 the Confederation decided to erect a bushwalkers’ war memorial, which is recorded in The Bushwalker magazine December, 1947 issue.
“Plans for the memorial to bush walkers who gave their lives in World War Two have been accepted by Federation and a Committee consisting of the President, Tom Moppett and Brian Harvey (both of S.B.W.), has been entrusted with their completion. The proposal to choose and name a suitable peak in the Gangerang Region has had to be abandoned as all peaks worthy of such high dedication already carry a familiar name. The alternative accepted is to affix a brass plate with bold, raised lettering, to Splendour Rock, that magnificent view-point at the Southern end of Mount Dingo. Here, where the eye is drawn to the glory of Kanangra Walls, surely the spiritual home of bush walkers, is a spot beloved of many of those whom we seek to honour.”
The simple bronze plaque commemorating the memory of Bushwalkers who fell in World War II was unveiled by Paddy Pallin at Splendour Rock, Mount Dingo, in the heart of the Wild Dog Mountains, at sunrise on Anzac Day, 1948. Also present was Confederation President Stanley Cottier and approximately 80-90 Bushwalkers.
“Those familiar landmarks – Mt Cloudmaker, the Gangerang Range, Mt Paralyser and Mt Gouougang – a spiritual home of the Bushwalkers – all lie within our gaze from this wonderful viewpoint. We could wonder how often had our fallen comrades gazed in happiness upon this scene that we still enjoy? LEST WE FORGET.” (Paddy Pallin, 1948).
The tradition has been maintained for over sixty years. On Anzac Day, bushwalkers from all over NSW commence a pre-dawn bushwalk in order to attend the commemoration ceremony conducted at Splendour Rock. The NSW State Library maintains a Register of War Memorials in NSW, which describes the site. There is also an additional memorial plaque nearby titled MATES, which was placed by Gordon Broome of SBW.
Bushwalkers known to have fallen in World War II
BRUCE ELDER, Coast & Mountain Walkers R.A.N.
KENNETH GRENFELL, Rucksack Club R.A.A.F .
REG. HEWITT, Sydney Bush Walkers A.I.F .
GEORGE LODER, Trampers Club R.A.A.F .
JAMES McCORMACK, Y.M.C.A. Ramblers R.A.A.F.
GORDON MANNELL, Sydney Bush Walkers R.A.A.F .
MAC NICHOLS, Y.M.C.A. Ramblers A.I.F.
ARNOLD RAY, Coast & Mountain Walkers R.A.A.F.
CHARLES ROBERTS, Coast & Mountain Walkers A.I.F.
NORMAN SAILL, Sydney Bush Walkers R.A.A.F.
GORDON SMITH, Sydney Bush Walkers A.I.F.
GORDON TOWNSEND, Coast &. Mountain Walkers R.A. A. F .
JACK WALL, Campfire Club R.A.A.F .
More information about these men can be found here.
Bushwalking NSW joined the national umbrella organisation Bushwalking Australia at its formation in 2003.
The tradition of caring for the natural environment, campaigning for the protection of precious forests and encouraging the bushwalking community to engage with each other and the broader community has continued into the 21st century. The mission of Bushwalking NSW may be carried out a little differently to those early pioneers, but the passion for wilderness protection and promotion of bushwalking as the ideal outdoor pursuit continues unabated.