The National Park Experience: Personal reflection on why our parks must be valued

AUTHOR: SUSANNE COOPER, COUNCILLOR, NATIONAL PARKS ASSOCIATION OF QUEENSLAND

PHOTOGRAPHY: SUSANNE COOPER

Our tiny yacht – the only way to access the off-shore island national parks.

Our tiny yacht – the only way to access the off-shore island national parks.

In 1985, we returned to Queensland with two small children after many years living overseas. Where to go for family holidays? With so many national parks within a few hours’ drive, the answer was easy.

Typically we would head for somewhere with water – either rocky gorges with great swimming holes in clear rivers and creeks, or the coast. Kids are always attracted to water, and it’s a great basis for a fun, rewarding holiday. From our campsite, we would often take a small backpack with lunch and a book, and walk along a track to a great swimming spot, taking time on the way to stop and observe things of interest. After a great day at the swimming hole, we’d come back to light the campfire and sort out dinner. No need for a wash – the river made us clean enough.

We spent many years sailing out in our tiny yacht to the Keppel Bay Islands National Park, and camping on a small, uninhabited island. As we booked the whole island on the national park website (it only takes 6 people!) we had the memorable experience of having it to ourselves. Magic!

On top of Mt Greville.

On top of Mt Greville.

The thrill of exploring coral reefs, seeing stingrays, dugongs, and diverse shorebirds in glorious solitude has always stayed with us. Importantly, our kids actually enjoyed rationing water and other supplies while camping there; it was all part of the adventure and fun. And enjoying the total freedom and simplicity that being away from crowds and other visitors brings.

We’ll never forget watching the night sky while snuggled in a sleeping bag on the beach, chatting round a campfire while some curious beach stone-curlews came in for a closer look, or looking up at sunset and seeing a mother dugong and her baby frolicking just off the beach.

We also explored many places close to home, often taking visiting friends from the UK, USA and NZ. I’ll never forget one day climbing Mt Greville in the Moogerah Peaks National Park just outside Brisbane with two friends who had just arrived from UK, when we spotted on our walk a python, goanna, kangaroos, plus many magnificent birds. Their excitement of seeing in their natural habitat animals that had previously only belonged in the realm of TV and books was such a thrill and an enduring memory of Australia’s unique fauna.

Camping in glorious solitude on Conical Island (in the Great Keppell group).

Camping in glorious solitude on Conical Island (in the Great Keppell group).

I find that these all these experiences are permanently etched in our kids – now adults with children of their own.

More recently, I have explored many wilderness and remote areas in more distant national parks, including the Kimberley and Kakadu. The combination of ancient landscapes, memorable rock art, stunning biodiversity and a true sense of being immersed in wilderness makes me want to explore these areas even more. I don’t feel a strong urge to visit many iconic (and busy!) parks overseas; there is so much to experience here.