Every now and again, a once-in-a-generation book on a specific topic is published.
Kosciuszko: A Great National Park (Deirdre Slattery and Graeme L. Worboys, Envirobook 2020), isn't one of those. Rather, this encyclopaedic 433-page tome is a once-in-a-century exposé on Kosciuszko National Park (KNP), NSW's biggest and with 2 million visitors every year, arguably most-loved national park.
"It was an absolute privilege to co-author it," reveals Worboys, a Canberran and Honorary Associate Professor at the Australian National University's Fenner School, who explains the lengthy gestation period for the new release.
"When I arrived at KNP as a ranger in 1973, I looked at the shelves and searched the libraries for something which could tell me the full story about the park, but there was nothing," he recalls. "I thought one day we could assist the next generation of rangers and park managers by putting this all together."
Both respected experts in their fields of park management, Slattery and Worboys could easily have fallen into the trap of drafting a highly technical text targeted at their peers, but instead they've skillfully presented the history, science and challenges facing the park in an informative and engaging way, suitable for the general reader.
Think KNP and most of us think of the wide range of outdoor opportunities it affords us, from hiking among the wildflowers and mountain biking along the Thredbo River in summer, to skiing and snow shoeing the rugged back country in winter.
What Kosciuszko does especially well is put into perspective our obsession of treating KNP as a giant playground by explaining the reasons for the very existence of the park, which was first given protection status in 1944.
"KNP owes its origins to an ecological disaster and severe erosion in Australia's most precious water catchments ... caused by 120 years of grazing and burning off and excessive, unregulated stocking rates, particularly during extreme droughts," explain the authors.
Slattery and Worboys highlight the change in community attitude since the park's establishment. "The story we present tells how Australian society transformed its view of its most important water catchment from one of use for exploitative industries to one of conservation."
There's not one single aspect of the heritage-listed park that's not covered - from its rich indigenous heritage, the struggle to prioritise the protection of native animals, plants and fragile ecosystems in an era of entrenched utilitarianism, to the increasing threat of disastrous bushfires. Each section, meticulously researched, has adequate explanation for the layperson to grasp the issue, but not too much detail to unnecessarily bog you down, and if you want to undertake your own fact checks, you can follow up with extensive references listed at the end of each chapter.
While Kosciuszko chronicles the natural wonders of the entire 700,000-hectare park, it does underline the true alpine part of the park, which accounts for less than five per cent of this area. A zone the authors explain is "rare and fragile with endemic flora and fauna and unique landforms" and implore "must always be protected."
Kosciuszko also shines the spotlight on many individuals who have played pivotal roles exploring and working in the area now covered by KNP, some of whom pre-date the park's existence.
People like Stewart Ryrie, who in 1839, was commissioned to document the landscape of the Monaro, and who after exploring a deep snow patch on the Ramshead Range, turned back, probably 3-4 kilometres short of the then unnamed and unknown highest peak which was hidden from his vantage point.
"Perhaps if Ryrie had just gone half an hour further west .... we would today call Mt Kosciuszko by an Aboriginal name, as this was his preference for place names."
Food for thought, especially in a time when there is momentum for places to revert to their original names.
Then there's Clement Wragge and his weather observatory (1897-1902) atop Mt Kosciuszko, where his remote workers "bathed in Lake Cootapatamba, walked their St Bernard Dogs ... to Mount Townsend and Blue Lake and skied and tobogganed off Mt Kosciuszko on occasional fine winter days". A different era indeed.
While "the cost to society of inappropriate development" especially in an area of "priceless natural landscapes" is a recurring theme throughout Kosciuszko, Worboys views climate change as the main threat to the park's future.
Firstly there's the obvious impact on tourism. "In the not too distant future there won't be a snow resource to be used commercially so we need to think how the tourism industry is restructured, because it's so important for the local economy," he explains.
"Secondly, we are going to witness major ecological changes, the movement of the vegetation up the mountain, and the drying which means some of our country's most productive catchments will deliver less water, impacting on all the places downstream reliant on this water.
"Finally, if you get hit with sort of fires we got last season, reburning a lot of the park, there'll be a point where the current vegetation won't cope anymore," warns Worboys.
Kosciuszko is lavishly illustrated with maps and photographs, many the authors' own, but also those of conservationists, historical collections as well as artistic representations.
Kosciuszko is an all-embracing and at times impassioned account of the struggles to create, and challenges to maintain, one of our country's premiere national treasures. Not only should a copy of Kosciuszko be on the desk of every park ranger in KNP, but it should also be in the bookshelf of every Australian who cares about special places.
- Kosciuszko: A Great National Park is available at www.envirobook.com.au for $74.99.
CONTACT TIM: Email: email@example.com or Twitter: @TimYowie or write c/- The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick.
Long way to the top? Not before 1982
Since the banning of grazing, one of the most controversial decisions made by managers of Kosciuszko National Park was to close the Kosciuszko summit road, where from 1909 until 1982 private vehicles could drive to near the top of mainland Australia's highest mountain.
One of Graeme Worboys' first jobs in the park was to deal with the regular weekend traffic snarls on the final approach to the car park at Rawson Pass. "It's interesting that back then so many people wanted to drive to the top," he recalls.
"A generation ago, acceptance of the closure of the summit road to vehicles demonstrated that people do not always insist on putting themselves ahead of nature if they can see and value the reasons not to do so. In fact, the walk now enhances the experience of the summit for walkers, who do not have to contend with traffic and car parks."
Some readers may also recall the stairway which led from the car park at Rawson Pass to the summit. "Those stairs were a mistake," confesses Worboys. "They were added in the days before environmental impact statements were generated and that track went right through the area of the rarest plants found in KNP," he explains, adding "another of my jobs was to re-plan the summit area".
"This involved removing those stairs, rehabilitating the damaged area and constructing that elevated metal track that now 120,000 people a year walk on from Thredbo Top Station."
Did You Know that prior to 1909, when the summit road to Mount Kosciuszko was completed, visitors were guided to the roof of Australia on horseback by guides including James Spencer and Robert Harris.
WHERE IN THE REGION?
Clue: Coast-bound. Bonus points if you can tell me when the first message was painted on this rock
Degree of difficulty: Easy
Last week: Congratulations to Susan Coates who was first to correctly identify the location of last week's photo as the back of the newsagency at Mawson Southlands Shopping Centre. "I walk past it nearly every day and have always wondered why that particular front page of The Canberra Times is on display," says Susan who just beat Conrad van Hest of Holder and Jodie Barton of Googong to this week's bragging rights.
Even the current owners of the newsagency have "no idea" why the giant-sized front page from July 28,1980, featuring an article on the death of the deposed Shah of Iran, is on display in the window. Someone must know.
Last week's clue of 'Douglas' referred to Sir Douglas Mawson, the Antarctic explorer after whom the suburb, gazetted in 1966, is named.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and suburb to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday June 6, 2020 win bragging rights. Tickets to Dendy Cinemas will once again be given as a prize when the cinemas reopen.
Eagle-eyed Shay Simpson recently stumbled upon this wooden face on the ridge line track heading north from Davidson Trig in Red Hill Nature Reserve. Do I detect the hint of a smile? Maybe it's due to the fact that after a 10-week hiatus we are now able to explore our region again. Stay safe.