Mankind’s immeasurable impact on planet Earth through the reckless exploitation of natural resources has reached a point where many are running out.
The demand for these resources grew enormously with the industrial revolution in the 1760s to 1849s, when nothing was off-limits. However, concerns grew over the wasteful destruction of landscapes, and the rapid disappearance of natural ecosystems, with animals like bison, whales, and elephants hunted to virtual extinction for meat, tallow and ivory.
By the mid-1860s, visionaries like naturalist Ferdinand Hayden, began to lobby for the first ever national park, Yellowstone, in the USA. Hayden had visited the area with a survey team, and later led an expedition of discovery, a report on which helped convince the U.S. Congress to withdraw the region from public auction.
Finally, in March, 1872, President Grant signed The Act of Dedication, the law that created Yellowstone National Park.
John Muir, American naturalist and conservationist described Yellowstone as follows: "However orderly your excursions or aimless, again and again amid the calmest, stillest scenery you will be brought to a standstill hushed and awe-stricken before phenomena wholly new to you”.
Australia followed, creating the world’s second national park in 1879, now the “Royal”, south of Sydney. Of course, like many early national parks, it was about providing spaces for public recreation, rather than for conservation.
I recently experienced my own John Muir moment while visiting the Lamington National Park, just north of the Queensland Border, seated beneath a ‘monolithic’ Brush Box, carbon dated to over 1,500 years.
Lamington’s visionary was Robert Collins, MLC, who was inspired by the Yellowstone Park concept when visiting the USA in 1878, and began a vigorous campaign for the area’s preservation.
In 1900, as a direct result of Collins’ “constant representation”, the Queensland Surveyor General noted: “these lands be ultimately reserved as national park and sanatorium”. This finally led to the park’s dedication in 1915.
With so many of Australia’s unique fauna and flora facing extinction, we desperately need other visionaries. We can all be part of that by supporting conservation efforts.
Published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Clarence Valley Independent ,September 14, 2022.