History of Walpole-Nornalup National Park
From a small park proclaimed in 1910, Walpole-National Park has grown to a a reserve of... more » national significance. It features iconic attractions including the Tree Top Walk in the Valley of the Giants and it is part of the magnificent Walpole Wilderness.
Proclaimed for Conservation
In 1910 Minister for Lands and Agriculture James Mitchell had a 'grand vision for development in the south-west' which included agriculture, timber production and dairying. With that in mind he visited the Nornalup area and with his ministerial party in tow they rowed up the Frankland River. So impressed was Mitchell by the beauty of the river and the surrounding forest, that he made an on the spot decision to set aside the area for conservation. The area reserved was named Nornalup National Park and would later grow to become what is known today as Walpole-Nornalup National Park.
The Bellanger family were the first Europeans to settle in the area permanently, arriving at the mouth of Nornalup Inlet in March 1910.
Major changes came to the area in the 1920s as settlers arrived looking for good land for agriculture. The Group Settlement Scheme was set up by James Mitchell and was intended to create a flourishing agricultural community that would provide livelihoods for migrant men and their families. Group 116 at Tingledale was one of the first such establishments in the area. Twentythree families arrived in 1924 to start the mammoth task of clearing the huge karri trees to farm the land. Group 138 at Hazelvale followed in 1927.
In 1926, Newdegate Island and the unnamed island at the mouth of the Frankland River were declared class ‘A’ reserves and added 15 hectares to Nornalup National Park. In the same year, Tom Swarbrick was granted land at Rest Point on the western shore of the Walpole Inlet. The original camping area at this point was called ‘The Rendezvous’.
The following year, Tom Swarbrick was appointed as the first ranger to Nornalup National Park on a part-time basis. Tom was reported to be a man of considerable strength of character and integrity. These traits proved essential in finding a balance between running a successful tourism business and ensuring the protection of national park values.
Tourism really took off in the area in the late 1920s with more and more people coming to experience the magnificent forests and the beautiful scenery of the inlets and coastline, as well as try their hand at fishing. As the locals came to rely on income from tourists, preserving the land in national parks for all to experience became increasingly important. Additional guesthouses were opened by the Thompson, McIntosh, Swarbrick and Burnside families.
Hard labour and fire
In 1930, as part of the continuing Group Settlement Scheme, unemployed married men were moved from Perth to establish a settlement on the bank of the Walpole Inlet. The settlement was originally called Nornalup but the name was changed to Walpole in 1934.
It had inauspicious beginnings with the settlers living in bush pole shanties at the main camp while blocks of 120 acres of forested land were allocated to each family by ballot. Then began the backbreaking task of clearing the land for agriculture.
Not only did the settlers have to clear the mammoth trees from their land, they also had to erect fences for stock and build themselves homes. The task of clearing the land of its giant trees, combined with the infertile soils, lack of farming skills and the hardships of the 1930s depression were too much for most to bear. Only a third of the original families stayed on and eked out a living from dairy or beef cattle.
The forests of Nornalup National Park were devastated in 1937 in what became known as Black Wednesday. Tinder-dry forests combined with intense northerly winds were a disaster waiting to happen when lightning struck the forest near Northcliffe. The blaze spread rapidly southwards, consuming everything in its path. By the time the fire reached Nornalup National Park, the crown fire was 12 kilometres ahead of the ground fire and showed no signs of abating.
The settlers fought hard to save their possessions and property but many lost everything. This was the last straw for many families who retreated back to the city. Stark reminders of the fire can still be seen today in the dead ‘stags’ of karri trees that tower over the forest.
Conservation management and growth
The 1950s brought a new era of forest management to the Walpole area with the appointment of the district’s first resident forester, John Rate. In addition to his duties as a forester, Rate was appointed Honorary Ranger of Nornalup National Park. It was thanks to him that the park got its first full-time ranger, Lionel Gunson, who was also the first full-time ranger to be appointed in Western Australia. The Nornalup Advisory Committee was formed to provide local input into management, resulting in a more strategic approach to conservation management in the park.
In 1972, the park experienced a huge expansion from 385 hectares to 15,865 hectares. Much of the land from Long Point in the west to Conspicuous Cliff in the east was now protected.
At this time, Nornalup National Park changed its identity and became Walpole-Nornalup National Park. Tourism took over as Walpole’s main source of income in 1995 with the closure of the timber mill and the downturn of the logging industry in the area. The lure of the big trees was strong and more and more tourists were visiting the area to see the majesty of the karris and tingles. less «