Bushwalking Clubs - Brief History

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The first walkers in Australia were the aborigines. They walked through most of the bushlands that covered Australia in their search for food and also established trails between regions for annual migration following food sources and also for trading with other tribes. When the Europeans settled Australia, there were many who ventured into the bush exploring for new lands for grazing. During the nineteenth century, Europeans also explored the bush seeking gold and some even crossed the deserts looking for fertile lands.

While all of the above people passed through the bush, they were there as part of their vocation and not for recreation. The activity of bushwalking as we know it is for the sheer enjoyment of being in the bush and is a recreation activity forming part of a persons leisure time. Clearly, those who first explored the bush were not bushwalkers under this definition and in many cases bushwalking for recreation has resulted from people congregating into cities. Increased wealth and leisure time have also assisted. In each state, bushwalking developed independently and even today, there is little contact between clubs in other states. A national body has been created but little has happened; one of the rare joint activities has been a national insurance policy for bushwalking clubs.

To contact or attend a club meeting, the best place to start is by contacting the state federation who usually can provide a contact list of the member clubs. Another good starting point is the Confederation's web site which includes links to all states and has some clubs contact addresses and links to web pages. Some clubs are also listed in the telephone directory yellow pages in each capital city under 'Clubs-Bushwalking'.



In 1888, the Bright Alpine Club was formed for the purposes of exploring the alpine regions of Victoria. While they certainly did some walking, the club was primarily interested in skiing and commercial development of the high country and could not be regarded as primarily a walking club. The first real walking club, the Wallaby Club, was formed in 1894 in Melbourne. The club runs only day walks and insists it is not a bushwalking club as walking is just a vehicle for serious discussion. Running only daywalks, it could be debated whether it is a bushwalking club but it has been successful as it's still in existence.

The first serious bushwalking club in Australia was formed in 1894, only 4 months after the Wallaby Club started. The Melbourne Amateur Walking and Touring Club was formed for men to go walking (day walking) and touring (which was the 1890's term for overnight bushwalking). For over 20 years this was the only club in Australia that organised overnight bushwalks and it had a large effect on development of bushwalking. Members of the club assisted in the formation of other clubs in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania. In 1929, the club published a yearly magazine, the Melbourne Walker, this was produced yearly up until the 1980's. In 1980, the club changed its name to the Melbourne Walking Club and still operates today with a membership of around 300.

While men had a club for overnight walks (then called tours), there was no such club for women to join, so in 1922 the Melbourne Women's Walking Club was formed. They ran both day walks and overnight walks and by 1930 were running extended trips across the Victorian Alps. This club is still operating and has published a book about their first 50 years.

In the 1930's hiking boomed and many small clubs were created across the state. One club was promoted by a radio station and the walks became so popular that they regularly filled a 14 carriage train! Also in 1934, the Victorian Federation of Walking Clubs (the Federation) was established to present a coordinated voice to the government.

Other major influential clubs are the Melbourne Bushwalkers, formed in 1940, The Melbourne University Mountaineering Club formed in 1944 and the Victorian Mountain Tramping Club started in 1948.

Some of the largest clubs like Maroondah and Bayside were established in the eastern and south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne in the 1980's and now have around 500 members each. Today, the Federation has 61 member clubs representing almost 9,000 bushwalkers.


New South Wales (including ACT)

The first known walking club in the state was the now defunct Warragamba Walking Club in 1895. In 1914, Myles Dunphy formed the first club in the state, the Mountain Trails Club. It has often been incorrectly called the first bushwalking club in Australia which it certainly wasn't (this is a claim made by the Colong Foundation and some other New South Wales groups). Under the influence of Myles, this club became an important voice in the creation of National Parks and Reserves and the conservation movement. In 1927, the Sydney Bush Walkers was formed by some members of the Mountain Trails Club. In 1931, members of the Sydney club visited the Blue Gum Forest and discovered that a farmer was planning to cut it down and burn it. This galvanised walkers to form an 'action group' to raise finances to buy out the farmer. The 'blue gum crisis' also pushed the 9 clubs in New South Wales to form the Federation of Walking Clubs in 1932 - in 1990 the title was changed to the current Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs NSW.

Like Victoria, the 1930's was also a boom period for walking in New South Wales with one walk attracting 8,000 people! With such interest there was a fast growth in new clubs. In 1934, as a result of a membership rejection by Sydney Bushwalkers, the Coast and Mountain Walkers club was formed. This was to become another very influential club in NSW producing sketch maps of significant bushwalking regions. They explored and mapped The Budawangs and the club formed the core group who started the Budawang Committee which has taken over production of maps and books for the region. After the Second World War, more clubs were formed - notably the Sydney University Bushwalking Club in 1946 and the Canberra Walking Club in 1947. The University club did much of the exploration of the canyons of the Blue Mountains.

Bushwalking in New South Wales has continued to expand and today there are around 70 clubs in the Confederation representing about 10,000 bushwalkers.



The first person to become well known for his bushwalking exploits (for recreation) was Henry Judd. He made many trips into the South-West for recreation and visited Lake Pedder in 1871; in 1880 he visited the Mt Anne Range and named Lake Judd and also discovered Judds Cavern. Others may also have walked for recreation in the 19th century but Henry became known as he wrote about his journeys into the bush in a small 32 page book, The Dark Lantern in 1895.

The first real public interest in bushwalking started after World War 1, with various groups of friends venturing along the old tracks left by the surveyors. In 1919, one group called themselves the South-Western Expeditionary Club and followed many of the old surveying tracks and explored some new routes. In 1924 this group created a formal club but by 1926, this small group had dispersed to other states and the club ceased to exist but had explored many interesting routes. In the same period, another club with less ambitious aims started in 1920. The Sunday Trampers ran a one day walk near Hobart every month up until the late 1940's when it disbanded.

In 1929, The Hobart Walking Club was formed. This soon became the major bushwalking club in the state catering for both one day and multi-day expedition walks. It has operated continuously since then and has been at the forefront of walking developments in Tasmania. Club members made important contributions to the exploration of Federation Peak and other ranges. The club has also published many useful walking texts. Up until the 1970's they published simple guide notes to the major walks in the South-West. About every two or three years, they produce a journal 'The Tasmanian Tramp', and at longer intervals also publish 'Safety In The Bush'. Today, this club runs an extensive day walk and overnight walk program and is the states largest club.

In the north of the state the first club formed in 1929 was the Northern Tasmanian Alpine Club which included walking amongst its many objectives – its major focus was on skiing and they were instrumental in developing Ben Lomond as a ski area. In 1946, several active walkers from the Northern Tasmanian Alpine Club and the Melbourne Walking Club formed the Launceston Walking Club. While it started small with only 37 members, it has evolved into the second largest club in the state and has had a large influence on walking track development. They produce a yearly magazine 'Skyline' which was available for sale in the shops for many years but is now an internal publication.

Other major clubs, which have existed for many years, are the Tasmanian University Bushwalking Club (based in Hobart) and the North-West Walking Club (based at Devonport). Also the Deloraine Walking Club, Launceston Ramblers Club, and Pandani Bushwalking Club all run regular walks. The umbrella organisation is the Federation of Tasmanian Bushwalking Clubs.



(history - incomplete, can someone help?)

This is a large state and has bushwalking clubs in most of the major towns. Well known clubs are Brisbane Bushwalkers Club, University of Queensland Bushwalking Club, Brisbane Catholic Bushwalking Club, Bundaberg Bushwalkers Club Cairns Bushwalking Club, Gold Coast Bushwalkers, Toowoomba Bushwalking Club and Townsville NFC Bushwalking Club. Bushwalking Queensland has 21 member clubs and an active web site with much useful information.

 The University of Queensland Bushwalking Club (UQBWC) started in 1950 and made the first ascents of many of the prominent Queensland peaks such as The Thumb on Hinchinbrook Island. One of the clubs founders, Jon Stephenson  was the first Australian to reach the South Pole. The club disbanded in 1997. In 1975, a sibling club, the University of Queensland Rockclimbers was formed by Fred From. After the demise of the UQBWC, the rockclimbing club took over some of the activities of the UQBWC and in 2007 the club changed its name to University of Queensland Mountain Club to better describe its varied outdoor activities.

South Australia

(history - can someone help?)

With a small population, South Australia has 40 clubs listed on their web site - Walking Federation of South Australia. The major clubs are Adelaide Bushwalkers and Adelaide University Mountain Club. In the mid-1990's the clubs grouped together and formed the Walking Federation of South Australia. Unlike most other state federations - individuals can also join the Federation. They can be contacted at PO Box 509 Stepney, SA 5069.


Western Australia

(history - can someone help?)

The major clubs are Perth Bushwalkers (founded in 1969), Western Walking Club, Bushwalkers of WA, Action Outdoors Association (walking is just one of their activities), Over 55's Walking Association, West Australia Family Bushwalking Club, Bunbury Bushwalking Club and University of Western Australia Outdoors Club. There is also an overall organization, the Federation of WA Bushwalkers (Inc) of which the clubs are members. Another group, The Friends of the Bibbulmun Track are not a walking club but do provide much useful walking information and are worth joining.


Northern Territory

In 1974 the Darwin Bushwalking Club (DBC) began after a newspaper advertisement suggesting a meeting in a pub of anyone interested in forming a club. Initially trips were informal affairs and in 1976 the club held its first AGM and elected office bearers. Russell Willis and Alan Moy were the two main stays of the club and many exploratory trips were held as no one knew the best places to visit. Russell Willis was the initial president and in 1979 he handed over the running of the club to others and went on to create Willis Walkabouts (a highly recommended commercial walking operator) - Alan Moy stayed with the club and was still leading trips in 2003.

The other main club is the Central Australian Bushwalking Club which is based at Alice Springs and I know nothing about their history. The Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory provide a lot of information and free advice on walking the Larapinta Trail and should be contacted first if coming for a visit.

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Last updated : August 1st 2019