Forest-Based Recreation - An Overview

Mike Leonard (bio)

For tens of thousands of years people, and the natural environment that covered the continent now known as Australia, had a relationship that is perhaps best described as ‘intimate’. Natural landscapes provided food and shelter, medicines, cultural settings, spiritual nourishment, and an environment to relax in.

At the end of the 1700s Britain initiated a movement of people from other lands, initially into the south-east of the continent and, following the discovery of gold in the mid-1800s, this human migration became a flood.

The new arrivals invariably found themselves in a strange, and even a somewhat threatening environment. Muted green and grey landscapes, plants and animals previously unknown to science, soils often considered poor, a seemingly erratic and uncertain climate, and frequent floods and bushfires in many locations. The notion, among the newcomers, that such settings could, in Victoria, be places for relaxation, or for recreational pursuits, took time to evolve.

By the later-1800s groups such as the Bright Alpine Club, established to ‘explore the alpine regions’ around the township were forming; and associated accommodation houses were appearing. In 1894 Australia’s first walking fraternity, The Wallaby Club, was formed in Melbourne. Having done three trial walks before deciding to go ahead with a club, which would be all male, the founders declared the new club was:

" ... an assembly of good fellows, fond of walking – not in the athletic sense, but as a means of reasonable outdoors enjoyment that would be conducive to health, conversation and good companionship. As the public park in Athens formed the original Academy of Greek philosophers, so the open spaces in the bush lands around Melbourne were to be the habitat of the purposed club ... "

Four months later, a ‘Melbourne Amateur Walking and Touring Club’ was also established. 1

As access to the State’s forests continued, over the decades, to improve, so presumably did the options for forest-based recreational pursuits. Resisting forest alienation, securing and providing wood for a rapidly developing community, and trying to manage landscape fire remained key corporate priorities for the FCV however.

By 1947 the FCV was to find itself, for the first time, involved in alpine area management at Mt Buller, specifically catering for snow-skiers. Other alpine resorts on State forest would follow: Mt Baw Baw and Lake Mountain in 1959-60, and Mt Donna Buang in 1962-63.

The upheavals associated with the Second World War were, arguably, to contribute significantly to profound changes in society, both in Australia, and well beyond. By the 1960s, in south-eastern Australia, economic activity had rebounded and, in many parts of society optimism was in the air.

As Australia continued to urbanise, a modern environmental movement had also begun to emerge. Meanwhile, the term ‘gross domestic well-being’ was joining ‘gross domestic product’ in the popular lexicon, and recreational use of forest areas had begun to grow rapidly.

For governments, and their bureaucracies, they were challenging times. And this of course was true for the FCV. In 1970 a small, Melbourne-based Recreation Branch was formed by the Commission. Within a year its brief was widened considerably and it became the Forest Environment and Recreation Branch. By the late-1970s, three of the six FCV field divisions had specialised ‘recreation officers’ attached to them, and many field districts were devoting increasing resources to establishing and maintaining recreational infra-structure. Victoria’s iconic ‘Alpine Walking Track’ had come into being, and the notion of a ‘recreational opportunity spectrum’ 2 that had been developed by the USDA Forest Service, was increasingly underpinning related forest planning. 3

1 The Scroggin Eaters: A history of bushwalking in Victoria, to 1989 - by Graeme Wheeler. Federation of Victorian Walking Clubs (Vicwalk) Inc. Published 1991. 275 pp.

2 A continuum of land types that was used to characterise recreation opportunities in terms of setting, activity, and experience opportunities. The spectrum contains six classes: primitive area, semi‐primitive non‐motorised area, semi‐primitive motorised area, roaded natural area, rural area, and urban area.

3 Roger N. Clark and George H. Stankey (1979) - The recreation opportunity spectrum: a framework for planning, management, and research. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 32 p