Bushwalking Access Issues - Walking Free &
The below copy is extracted from a paper titled Walking
Free and Unimpeded? presented by Ian McDonald at the Tracks
& Trails Conference on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, March 2008.
Click here for the full
"The members that make up the 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
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
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.
The Federation 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.
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
- In arid countryside a motor vehicle can prove water
- 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
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
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
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
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
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 the Federation 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."