Tuesday, 29 December 2015

National Parks

Pet Peeve time ...

An email today from a friend who is exploring Lane Cove National Park, which is in suburban Sydney got me thinking about one of my pet peeves. Although I've lived in Australia almost all of my adult life and absolutely love it here, there is one thing about this country that really gets my goat, and that's our concept of what constitutes a "national park". My reference to Lane Cove National Park has probably alerted you to where I am going with this.

Don't get me wrong! I am immensely proud of the truly amazing natural places in Australia that are protected and honoured with national park status. One example is Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, where I made the following images ...

The mighty Uluru
Uluru at Dusk
The mesmerising Kata Tjuta
Other majestic examples readily spring to mind, especially Kakadu in the Northern Territory and, here in Tasmania, our very own Southwest Tasmania National Park. All three of these parks are on Australia's World Heritage list, as is the amazing Great Barrier Reef - which, interestingly, is not listed as a national park.

What I do struggle to come to terms with is the way we put parks like Lane Cove and Terrick Terrick (a charming place, but a National Park? Come on!) into the same category as those breathtaking and iconic environments. Here in Tasmania, places like Hartz Mountains National Park and Maria Island National Park are both lovely but, on a world scale, not truly worthy of the title. It seems to me that we demean the notion of what a national park is about when we bundle landscapes that might have a local attraction - and which one might visit in passing -  together with places that are of such value people travel from around the world to visit them.

This takes me back to the idea of the national park, in fact the invention of the national park, which may be America's best idea. (If you have never seen the Ken Burns documentary, it is a beautiful production and well worth a look.) Yellowstone National Park, the world's first national park, was enacted in 1872, an event that helped the world see itself in a different way.

In some ways I think we Australians have got a little too carried away with this idea, and in other ways have not been committed enough to the grand vision of what a national park should be. The fact that we have over 500 national parks displays a commitment to preserving our natural environment: at the same time that fact clearly shows we don't distinguish majesty from mediocrity when it comes to identify places worthy of the title. In fact I'd argue  that we don't truly have any national parks - other than those that have World Heritage Status. Why? Because we don't have a national body with a unified vision and funding stream to administer national parks.

I think it's a pity that we don't seem to be able to manage this distinction. They seem to be able to do it in Canada. Have a look at this video that features footage from thirteen of British Columbia's provincial parks ...

A couple of other stunning examples that I have visited include the Bugaboos and Mount Assiniboine, all of these in B.C., and not deemed significant enough to merit national park status. Mount Assiniboine, can't make the national park standard, but it does get a guernsey as part of the World Heritage Canadian Rocky Mountains Park.

Unfortunately, I can't us changing the way we view, administer and fund national parks in this country: which is our loss - and a serious threat to the environments that parks are meant to protect. Here in Tasmania we've even had a government - as recently as last year - try to get a bit of World Heritage chopped off so it can literally be chopped up.

So, I've got that off my chest. What do you think? I'd love it if you left a comment ...