For tens of thousands of years people, and the natural environment that covered the continent now known as Australia, had a relationship that is perhaps best described as ‘intimate’. Natural landscapes provided food and shelter, medicines, cultural settings, spiritual nourishment, and an environment to relax in.
At the end of the 1700s Britain initiated a movement of people from other lands, initially into the south-east of the continent and, following the discovery of gold in the mid-1800s, this human migration became a flood.
The new arrivals invariably found themselves in a strange, and even a somewhat threatening environment. Muted green and grey landscapes, plants and animals previously unknown to science, soils often considered poor, a seemingly erratic and uncertain climate, and frequent floods and bushfires in many locations. The notion, among the newcomers, that such settings could, in Victoria, be places for relaxation, or for recreational pursuits, took time to evolve.
By the later-1800s groups such as the Bright Alpine Club, established to ‘explore the alpine regions’ around the township were forming; and associated accommodation houses were appearing. In 1894 Australia’s first walking fraternity, The Wallaby Club, was formed in Melbourne. Having done three trial walks before deciding to go ahead with a club, which would be all male, the founders declared the new club was:
"Let us regard the forest as an inheritance, not to be destroyed or devastated, but to be wisely used, reverently honoured and carefully maintained. Let us regard the forest as a gift, entrusted to any of us only for transient care, to be surrendered to posterity as an unimpaired property, increased in riches and augmented in blessings, to pass as a sacred patrimony from generation to generation."
Baron Ferdinand von Mueller - Suggestions on the Maintenance, Creation and Enrichment of Forests (1879)