History: Founding of the Grampians National Park

The latest Parkwatch, the magazine of the Victorian National Parks Association had an article by Evelyn Feller on the founding of the Grampians National Park as part of their celebration of 60 years of activity.

Grampians National Park – A Victorian Icon

As part of VNPA’s 60th anniversary, Evelyn Feller looks back at the long campaign for a Grampians National Park.

One of the earliest appeals for a Grampians National Park was in a 1912 Argus editorial in response to a deliberately lit fire in the Victoria Valley north of Dunkeld. The editor urged protection for the area before the opportunity was lost. “These things are often neglected or overlooked during the infancy of a country: and then there comes a time, after the land has been alienated, when a lost opportunity is lamented.”

In 1937 the Ararat Shire president Councillor Alex McDonald endorsed a national park to further encourage tourism and protect the area’s unique flora and fauna. He faced counter arguments including that the existing state forest reserve was a de facto national park anyway, and the Forest Commission was better staffed and funded than a ranger and committee of management (as parks were managed at the time). The Ararat Australian Natives Association also opposed his efforts, raising the spectre of careless tourists causing bushfires.

In 1952, frustrated at the lack of progress in developing an agency to manage national parks, the VNPA was formed to lobby for new, adequately funded national parks.

While groups such as the Stawell and Ararat Field Naturalists, supported by Melbourne Field Naturalists, had been lobbying for a Grampians park for many years, their efforts were met with strong opposition from groups who raised concerns about the potential loss of sawmill jobs in Stawell and feared foxes, rabbits and other vermin would overrun the area, increasing erosion and contaminating water supplies. One of the first activities of the VNPA was to counter this park opposition through the local media.

Aside from championing a Grampians national park, the VNPA were involved in other campaigns to protect the Little Desert and Alps. The Little Desert campaign resulted in the formation of the Land Conservation Council (LCC) meaning future land-use decisions could only be made after a comprehensive review of an area’s resources, instead of being made arbitrarily by a minister.

The LCC review of the Grampians area began in 1978, generating an energetic campaign by park supporters and opponents. Locally, Ian McCann of the Stawell Field Naturalists (and author of the VNPA ‘In Flower’ books) was tireless in his efforts to see the National Park come into existence.

For its part, the VNPA formed a subcommittee to produce submissions and critique LCC reports. Members included Geoff Durham, Malcolm and Jane Calder, Janet Coveney and Dick Johnson.

The VNPA’s 1979 submission to the LCC made clear the key impediment to a national park was determining which agency would control the area. VNPA’s submission described the overlapping jurisdictions between the Forests Commission and other agencies resulting in ‘confusion and apathy’. Campgrounds such as Zumsteins and Halls Gap had deteriorated, with limited visitor facilities and opportunities for park interpretation. The submission also described the adverse effects of grazing and lack of supervision of stock. It concluded conservation could best be achieved by an adequately staffed and funded national parks service.

The Grampians Fringe Advisory Association, a group comprised of farmers whose properties bordered the proposed park, opposed the park claiming only very fit walkers would be able to access many parts of the reserve because road access would be restricted. Concerned as well that 1080 would not be used in the park to kill vermin, they organised public meetings to rally opposition to the proposal.

Local sawmillers, the forest industry and Forests Commission were also opposed to a park, concerned about the potential loss of sawmilling jobs in Stawell, where 67 people worked in the industry. But a report for the Conservation Council of Victoria pointed out that in 1978 tourism produced double the revenue of sawmilling.

In addition to writing submissions, the VNPA subcommittee met local naturalist groups and media to point out the economic benefits of the park, as well as attending a forum by the local ALP.

Members of the VNPA wrote letters to educate the public and explain the LCC process, and the VNPA  undertook market research on local concerns. . To counter opposition the VNPA were low key and non-controversial.

Other campaign initiatives included commissioning Jane Calder to write a book, The Grampians-a noble range, documenting the magnificent cultural and natural attributes of the Grampians.

With campaigning by the VNPA and other groups, the final recommendations of the LCC were a great improvement on its initial ones, with a much larger area dedicated to a national park and management by the national park service. However the VNPA was dismayed by the continuation of logging in over 40% of the Grampians (logging finally ended in 1994).

With the Cain Labour government policy in the early 80s in favour of the national park, the Grampians National Park was declared on 1 July 1984 covering 160,000 hectares, measuring 95km from north to south and 55km west to east.

Park supporters celebrated the inauguration of the park with a champagne and Vegemite breakfast in Halls Gap. The VNPA also organised a ‘Grampians Gathering’ with activities and official speeches. Local concerns about the new park were alleviated through involving the public in the development of management plans and ensuring staff were readily available to discuss any concerns.

Improvements such as upgraded walking tracks and camping areas, A Visitor Centre and visitor guides also followed, and the Brambuk Centre near Halls Gap is now owned and run by Aboriginal communities of south-western Victoria.

Today the Grampians National Park is one of the most popular parks in Victoria with over 1.5 million visitor days per year. An 1994 economic analysis showed that the economic benefit of tourism to the area were over $100 million per year, generating 1270 jobs.

In this 60th anniversary year of the VNPA, members are strongly encouraged to visit the Grampians and reacquaint themselves with the wonders of the park. Join the Friends of Grampians Gariwerd (see below) in one of their many activities to help ensure the Grampians remain a really great national park.

Breakout:  20,000 years of human history

Indigenous people have been living in the Grampians area, known to them as Gariwerd, for more than 20,000 years. The Grampians contain about 80% of all known Aboriginal rock art sites in Victoria. Motifs painted in numerous caves include depictions of humans, human hands, animal tracks and birds. Brambuk, the National Park and Cultural Centre, continues to keep alive the culture of the Djab Wurrung and Jardwadjali, the traditional peoples of Gariwerd and the region.

Breakout: Friends indeed – Friends of Grampians Gariwerd

In 1984 the VNPA helped form the Friends of Grampians Gariwerd (FOGG), the first president being Halls Gap resident Val Hastings, an active worker for the establishment of the national park.

With a membership of about 80, the group’s  activities include flora and fauna monitoring,  weedingand working to help locals and visitors to enjoy, understand and appreciate the Park.

Members of FOGG successfully opposed the reopening of the Heatherlie quarry and the privatisation of the visitor centre in the 1990’s.  Members of the group have also served on the park Advisory Committee, and established the accessible Red Gum Walk in the Victoria Valley. Go to  http://friendsofgrampiansgariwerd.org.au/  for more information.

Thank you VNPA and Evelyn for this piece of history. The article was accompanied by some photos of the Grampians and of us monitoring orchids, and one which Thelma supplied of the official opening, which is on our photos page.