Urban Bibbulmun

In 1972, the original planners of the Bibbulmun Track conceived a Lancelin to Albany walk, and when you look at the overview map of the current Track, taken from the excellent website www.bibbulmuntrack.org.au, the northern terminus at Kalamunda seems an odd place to end what is becoming one of the Great Walks of the World.

Perth remains so tantalisingly close; overseas and interstate visitors would surely appreciate the walk being extended to take in the urban landscape of a major city. It’s not as if Perth isn’t a pretty place to walk through or that there isn’t a green trail (of sorts) already through the Metropolitan area. Bill Bryson’s criticism of the Appalachian Trail in ‘A Walk in the Woods’ includes that the trail ignores urban areas, unlike trails in Europe that pass through villages and towns allowing hikers to enjoy a variety of experiences (as well as better restaurants and hotels).

There is an opportunity to link the Indian Ocean through Perth to the Southern Ocean, and create a trail of as much use to Perth residents as walkers of the Track. It will mean adding a few green ways to make the route continuous, and will extend the track, currently 963 kilometres from Albany to Kalamunda, to over 1000 kilometres depending on the chosen route through Perth.

It also seems odd that the Track has adopted the Waugal as its symbol and track marker, and then ignored Perth. According to Noongar culture the Waugal is a snakelike dreamtime creature responsible for the creation of the Swan and Canning Rivers, as well as other waterways and landforms around present day Perth. And the Waugal reputedly appointed the Noongar as guardians of the land. Legend has it that the Waugal slithered over the land, his track shaped the sand dunes, his body scoured out the course of the rivers; where he occasionally stopped for a rest, he created bays and lakes. Piles of rocks are said to be his droppings, and such sites are considered sacred. As he moved, his scales scraped off and become the forests and woodlands of the region.(quote)

As the Waugal is strongly associated with rivers and lakes like Lake Monger, and is supposed still to reside deep beneath springs, perhaps the route through Perth should literally follow the Waugal.

Western Suburbs councils are researching pedestrian trails, with several paths being considered. One interesting possibility is a Swanbourne/Bold Park/Underwood Avenue/Kings Park route, which follows the path taken by the Noongar people in the days when laws restricted overnight camps to places at least a half mile away from ‘white civilisation’. This allowed for a camp at Swanbourne and another on the highest part of the Underwood Avenue bush site (next to the night soil depot, now the Subiaco Waste Treatment Plant).

A route through Central Perth could enliven the City itself, celebrate the unique landscape of a green city (George Seddon saw Perth as the City in the Forest), and perhaps influence the final planning of open space around Perth Waterfront and the location of the pedestrian linkage to the planned Burswood Stadium. East of the City to Burswood will take in Langley Park, Heirisson Island and its Aboriginal connections. It’s no coincidence that many of these natural walking trails take you though Aboriginal history.

West of the City, the route will traverse Kings Park, hopefully by way of a better link than climbing Jacob’s Ladder. What about a cable car system based on Wellington’s or the one in Bergen, Norway? Through Kings Park, along City of Nedlands’ designated ‘greenways’, Karrakatta, Shenton Park and Underwood Avenue bushland, Bold Park and you’re at Swanbourne. A green path virtually all the way, maybe all the way by adding a few green footbridges to take people over busy roads. And the Southern and Indian Oceans have been linked.

Councils like the City of Perth have issued a number of themed trail booklets: Boom or Bust Trail; Icons of Influence Trail; Convicts and Colonials Trail. Other authorities have done the same, the City of Subiaco Walk Trail, for instance.

Why should Fremantle miss out? As Western Australia’s historic port of entry it’s the logical end point and a trail could hug the banks of the rivers (Helena, Canning and Swan) from Guildford to the Port City, taking people through barely known tracts of riverside beauty east of Perth.

Possibly the original 1972 Lancelin to Albany route concept was planned to skirt Perth, using reserves such as Walyunga and John Forrest National Park. That’s another route to consider.

Perth desperately needs to add to its stock of hotel rooms, and walk trails through the City and suburbs could encourage the growth of bed and breakfast accommodation. CHOGM highlighted Perth’s short stay accommodation shortfall, while the mining/resources boom has reduced long stay accommodation stocks. Perth (and much of Australia) does not have the tradition of guesthouses, bed and breakfast establishments seen in other countries like the UK and Ireland. The reasons include restrictive planning laws, expensive land in scenic spots such as Central Perth and Fremantle making B & B’s unprofitable, while a spread out City such as ours means B & B’s could be built in on cheaper land in outer suburbs but these may not be near scenic places. Walkers’ trails through suburbia could encourage the conversion of larger houses into B & B’s. Other accommodation possibilities for hikers include boarding school dormitories out-of-semester, athletes’ dormitories when not in demand at Challenge Stadium, and DEC camps such as the Ern Halliday centre in Hillarys. A network of cheap and cheerful stays at 10 to 20 km intervals, similar to the distribution of shelters on the existing Bibbulmun Track.

A smorgasboard of tracks, themed or otherwise, allows for choice with one officially being designated as an extension to the Bibbulmun Track. The gain to Perth will be a network of pedestrian links, an encouragement to walk and leave the car at home, to appreciate the scenery and discover new places, to better understand Aboriginal and Colonial culture and heritage and to feel pride in a connected city.

The Bibbulmun Track was opened in 1979, extended and re-routed in 1988. What better way to celebrate its 35th birthday in October 2014 by investing the next two years in planning and implementing an extension through Perth.

(Published in The West Australian 19 April 2012)

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2 Comments

  1. Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Having just pinched your Bill Bryson book on the Appalachian Trail (A Walk in The Woods) for the flight back over east I have discovered a renewed interest in hiking.

    His big criticism of the AT is that it is too focussed on being ‘protected’ from urban areas unlike a lot of hikes in Europe for example where you pass through villages and towns and so get to experience a variety of surrounds.

    It also seems that serious hikers really appreciate passing by a few good eateries and drinkeries as well.

  2. simon kilbane
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Hi Frank,
    Have you had much response to this idea from DEC or DOP?
    Simon Kilbane (UWA)

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] for your reading pleasure. Frank Roberts however has the substance of his commentary piece on his blog here. In 1972, the planners of the Bibbulmun Track conceived a walk from Albany to Lancelin, and when [...]

  2. By Frank Roberts - Aushiker: Bicycling & Bushwalking in Western Australia – Aushiker: Bicycling & Bushwalking in Western Australia on April 22, 2012 at 12:16 am

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