Issues for Bushwalkers  

Bushwalking Access Issues - "Walking Free & Unimpeded?"

The below copy is extracted from a paper titled "Walking Free and Unimpeded?" presented by then-President Ian McDonald at the Tracks & Trails Conference on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, March 2008. Click here for the full version pdf document.


"The members that make up Bushwalking WA (Federation of Western Australian Bushwalkers Inc) is a relatively small proportion of 63,500 people in WA who go bushwalking, and an even smaller part of the 617,000 people who go walking. Despite a full support for formal trails such as the Bibbulmun Track, many of our members find that their best walking experience is on informal routes. These routes usually lead to features that are worth visiting in their own right, or are simple explorations to pick up the lay of the land, often to pick up detail that is missing from maps.

These informal routes are described in Australian Standard, AS 2156.1 as Class 5 and Class 6 Routes. Very briefly, for those unfamiliar with this Standard, a Class 1 track is engineered for large numbers of people and can be expected to have many facilities and much signage. It can accept wheelchairs. In contrast, Class 6 routes have no engineering at all, have no facilities, no marking, and follow substantially unmodified terrain.

The people who use Class 5 and Class 6 tracks are small in number. They have navigation and map reading skills, and superior bushcraft skills. They are substantially independent of outside assistance and it is most unusual for them to expose themselves to situations that are beyond those capabilities.

Bushwalkers with these skills ought to be able to go very nearly anywhere they want to, however often they can't for a variety of reasons:


Due to the the aridity of the Western Australian countryside, bushwalkers are limited, by their physical strength to carry the weight of the required water, to a maximum of about 36 hours between water sources. The prudent bushwalker planning a multi day walk would want to guarantee the presence of potable water before starting the walk - usually by using a motor vehicle.

Bushwalking WA has requested the establishment of a water source for people attempting the coastal traverse in the Fitzgerald River National Park. Road closures due to rain may make it impossible to check for potable water, making the walk available (in these conditions) to either the super fit who can carry a lot of water, or the foolhardy. This is an ongoing negotiation that is not yet finalised.

Vehicle Access

Motor vehicles are occasionally banned from bushwalking areas for a variety of reasons, some of which are in the interests of bushwalking, and some not. Few would disagree that on heavily used tracks vehicles are inappropriate and detract from the bushwalking experience. Likewise, in dieback affected areas motor vehicles can spread the disease to areas not affected.

However motor vehicles can sometimes considerably enhance bushwalking.

  • In arid countryside a motor vehicle can prove water supplies.
  • Strategically located cars can provide an escape route in the event of mishap.
  • Some trails, especially in karri country, are not opened by maintenance burns and don't get enough foot traffic to keep them passable. And motor vehicle activity helps to keep the track viable.
  • There is a misplaced 'wilderness' notion that locks out motor vehicles regardless. This is particularly apparent for the Stirling Range Ridgewalk where walkers are forced to trudge five kilometres along a sandy firebreak track, beside open farming land, because of 'wilderness' notions.

Locking motor vehicles out of the bush is likely to lead to less bushwalking rather than more.

Fire - Danger & Impassable Bush

Australia's first colonists arrived some 40,000 years ago or even more. They managed their bush with fire. They had many factors to consider, but there were two paramount messages. If they didn't regularly burn their bush: it would get too thick for them and they quarry to move through and they would starve; and the debris would build up on the forest floor and they would perish in next wildfire. Both these facts are still true, and they both still limit bushwalkers.

In Western Australia there are several groups of people who are charged with conducting maintenance burns. We give our thanks and appreciation to these hard working men and women, and wish that they could be given enough resources to get all the burns done that they know should be done.

Lack of Leaders

Despite the walker's skills leaders are required to organise the when and where and who, the transport, sites for any overnight stays, fuel, water supply, access permits, etc, etc. Clubs never have enough leaders.

Several incidents where there have been injuries and deaths incurred in commercial bushwalking activities in WA have reinforced, in the mind of land managers, the need for regulation. Despite the excellent safety record of the bushwalking clubs there is the perception among many of our leaders, who are all volunteers, that they will be caught up in an 'industry' wide push for certification. Certification under existing regulation is expensive and time consuming, and many of our leaders will be deterred and may decline to lead. It could become more difficult to recruit new leaders.

Destruction of Trailheads

Bushwalking sites, of necessity often being in areas remote from habitation are poorly served by public transport, making the use of private motor vehicles almost essential.

Safe discrete vehicle parking is required at trailheads. Many Class five and six routes commence at existing picnic areas and roadside stops, and have no easily identified 'start'. Progressive removal of picnic areas as happened at Boulder Rock and is happening at Windsor remove walk route opportunities.

Drinking Water Catchments

Perth is perched on the coast, between the Darling Scarp and the sea. The Darling scarp area has much good land for bushwalking. Further east, beyond the Darling Scarp and its bush, there is cleared and mostly privately owned farming land. The Darling Scarp bush is substantially the only area within an hours drive of Perth that offers good opportunities for bushwalking. It is also the only area where the creeks and rivers are substantial and run fresh; and it is important for water supply. The fresh water rivers in this bush have been dammed and fallen under the influence of water supply authorities, who manage their interests zealously.

For about 60 years prior to 1994 bushwalkers had an unwritten agreement with the water supply authorities that allowed traditional bushwalking activities in al catchments. From 1994 to 1999, there was a written agreement that allowed activities in Reservoir Protection Zones, while activities continued as before in the rest of the catchments. From 2000 all activities were banned in Reservoir Protection Zones, and traditional activities were progressively restricted to designated trails and campsites only, despite in all this time, both in Western Australia, and anywhere in the literature for the whole world, there has never been a case where bushwalkers have endangered public water supply.

These authorities are rightly very concerned about the potential for the water to be contaminated, especially by pathogens, and for these pathogens to find their way into the human population, with disastrous results. When drawing attention to the risk of pathogens WA authorities commonly quote the case of Walkerton in Canada. What happened at Walkerton, a town of 4800 people in western Ontario was indeed a disaster. In spring 2000, a farmer spread cattle manure on the ground above a well-head which was being used to draw drinking water for supply to the town. Un-seasonal rain washed the manure into the water supply. The well was badly situated, in geological strata susceptible to surface contamination. The filtration and chlorination system was not operating properly. The routine water-sampling programme was not being done properly - in fact much of the test data was falsified. By the time contamination of the water supply was identified, and a 'boil water' edict issued, some 2400 people had become ill, some very seriously, and seven people had died. Most of those who died were children. Walkerton was first and foremost an engineering and management failure. Bushwalkers couldn't imaginably be dangerous as that farmer spreading cow manure. And if there was a dangerous activity taking place we may even note it long before anyone else does.

The water supply authorities in Western Australia quoted the Walkerton incident as justification for their policy banning all traditional bushwalking activity in drinking water catchments except on designated tracks and designated campsites.

All Perth's drinking water is at least filtered before consumption. Apparently turbidity in water can adversely affect filtration performance, and allow pathogens to pass. (At this point I should mention that pathogens are common in catchments; carried by native animals such as kangaroos and emus, and feral animals such as pigs, dogs and cattle. There are major highways passing through the catchments. There are mines and forestry operation in catchments. There are towns in the catchments.) We are assured that bushwalkers can cause turbidity by trampling vegetation. Whatever trampling our members might do pales into insignificance when compared to the impact of bulldozers used on occasions by the same authorities to thin vegetation to increase run-off into the reservoirs, or what tree felling machinery and trucks engaged in forestry operations might do.

After much debate with water supply authorities, much help from other Government Departments such as the Department of Sport and Recreation, and the Department of Environment and Conservation, pressure from other recreation groups who were also being disadvantaged by water protection policies, and finally intercession by the Minister, we have been told by the Water Corporation on 19 March 2008, that traditional bushwalking is allowed any where in catchments outside reservoir protection zones and anywhere in catchments on designated trails and designated campsites, conditional upon the re-write of the Department of Water Policy 13. substantially in accordance with the Department of Environment and Conservation guidelines laid down in Policy 18.


Key members of Bushwalking WA have researched & negotiated some restoration of what was a historic and safe use of the most accessible bush within practical day walk distance of Perth. It is hoped that these restrictions will not discourage future bushwalkers from the pursuit of valuable and enjoyable exercise in appreciation of our wonderful forests, wildflowers and wildlife."

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