Our first national park - remembering Qld’s park pioneers
Author: Neville McManimm
When asked to write on the topic of how we got our first Queensland national park, I pondered it for a day or so and then my mind began to wander. It seems to do that at my age. As a young bushwalker it was my feet that used to wander, but like some things in life, it has gone to my head.
I was once told a tale about how national parks are picked. It was at the bar in parliament house, after a hectic session when pollies had to vote on whether they would accept a pay rise recommended by the independent tribunal. One member said “we have got something, so let’s give the people something”. So he threw a dart at a map of Queensland and where it landed he said, “that is where we will have a national park”. Such tales should be treated with a measure of scepticism.
To me, we got our national parks not just because of legislation passed in parliament, but because we have had, and do have, people who treasure the idea that the stories and beauty around us exist not just for us, but for all the generations to come. This was, and always will be, a continuous battle with those who only see the now in life. This is our goal: to show people the world around us and open their eyes, mind, and heart to the treasures of the great outdoors as they are, unspoilt, without turning them into an artificial theme park for commercial gain.
The first protectors and conservationists in this land were the indigenous Australian peoples. They knew the importance of everything from grass, to trees, to animals, to the layout of the land. All this had a purpose and if we destroy a little part of the environment, it will have a flow on effect. Have you tried to understand the world around you the way they did, and then shown it to others?
The explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell, was the first white man to see and name Salvator Rosa. The beauty of the landscape reminded him so much of the Italian baroque painters style. Have you made the time to see the beauty of the country from a creek bank or mountain top, and wished that others will see the same in years to come?
This is the reason for national parks.
Robert Martin Collins, raised at Mundoolun, near Canungra, saw a lot of our land. He rode on horseback to near Taroom and out west to the Channel Country, from 1873. I and others call him the Father of Queensland National Parks. During 1878, Collins and his brother visited national parks in the USA. This no doubt fired him up for the years to come, in his struggle to get protected land reserves in his home land. In 1886 he climbed Mt Barney, and after riding over the yellow pinch, a familiar locality to many more recent visitors, camped on the Logan and the next morning commenced the climb. Our early conservation pioneers created epic stories well worth your further research.
In November 1895, he and others followed Christmas Creek up to the top of the Border Ranges looking down into NSW. In 1896 he gave a talk to the Royal Geographical Society of Qld, describing that walk. Later that same year he became a member of the Queensland parliament, gaining a new platform to raise the issue of protecting our land as he had seen done in the USA.
During March 1898, he took the then Queensland Governor, Lord Lamington, walking up Christmas Creek. Finally, in November 1906 legislation was introduced into parliament for an Act to Preserve State Forest and National Parks to take effect from 1st January 1907. In March 1908, Witches Falls on Tamborine Mountain became our first official national park.
So in a short version, this is how Queensland got its first national park. We have also had scenic reserves and beauty spots, land usually of smaller area and with far less protection than a fully declared national park.
The scramble was then on for politicians to get parks in their electorates.
In 1908, new parks were declared at Bunya Mountains and Black Fellows Knob overlooking Condamine Gorge, now part of Queen Mary Falls National Park. 1909 gave us Millstream Falls and Cunningham’s Gap National Park.
Sadly, it was after Robert Collins death in 1913, that the Border Ranges he favoured became Lamington National Park in 1915. His dream is fulfilled as generations since, and to come, have and will, enjoy the fruit of his labour.
Romeo Lahey had teamed with Robert Collins to make this dream a reality. Lahey was a young man in his twenties who walked the Border Ranges, taking photos and gaining support from the local electorate on a petition to parliament for a national park on the Border Ranges. This action was successful in securing Lamington National Park, and became a model to create new national parks, deployed by Romeo Lahey and the soon to be created National Parks Association of Queensland (NPAQ) for decades to come. The original petition can be seen at the Qld State Archives, Box Item 864222.
As NPAQ members will know, this was not the last any Government was to see or hear of Romeo Lahey. He and others founded the National Parks Association of Queensland in 1930 and have been the driving force for creating new national parks and ensuring their ongoing protection.
So, Queensland had its first national parks, though not just by legislation - what really gave us our national parks were the people who treasure the ideal that areas should be preserved in their natural state, unspoilt, not for monetary gain for the few, but for the many and for future generations, not just the present. So, don’t slack off! You are there to carry on the dream.