Bushwalking in the 1920s and 1930s

A collection of photographs from the 1920s and 1930s, depicting bushwalking in New South Wales has recently been acquired by the Library. The collection belonged to Ray (sometimes recorded as Rae) and Peter Page, early members of the Sydney Bush Walkers club.

Harold Chardon, Anice Duncan, Frances Ramsay, Ray and Peter Page, Dorothy Lawry, Win Chardon and Jack Debert at the Royal National Park, 1929
View collection item detail
‘First party over Clear Hill’ including Frank and Anice Duncan, Ernie Austin, Jack Debert and Gwen Adams, c 1929–1935
View collection item detail

Formed in 1927, Sydney Bush Walkers was the first walking club in NSW open to both sexes, and it attracted keen female walkers. Many early pioneers of conservation belonged to the club, including Myles Dunphy, Paddy and May Pallin, Dot Butler and Marie Byles. Sydney Bush Walkers members, including the Pages, helped preserve the iconic Blue Gum Forest and North Era Beach, which became formative parts of the Blue Mountains and Royal National Parks. The Pages’ property ‘Ben Ricketts’, on Jamberoo Mountain, became a base for a community of bushwalkers and conservationists that still exists today, providing bush cabin accommodation for visitors.

Group with Ray and Peter Page, late 1920s
View collection item detail

These photographs are fascinating records of early twentieth century bushwalking, and record walks to places of environmental significance that are now protected in national parks or reserves; for example, Yerranderie Regional Park, the Kowmung River in Kanangra-Boyd National Park, and Wombeyan Karst Conservation Reserve. There are nearly 40 photographs of a notable Sydney Bush Walkers expedition from Jenolan Caves to Wombeyan Caves in August 1928, a seven-day walk through Kanangra Walls, Yerranderie, the Colong and Wollondilly. Ray was one of four women in the group of eight walkers.

Outdoor clothing and camping gear are clearly illustrated in the photographs of this expedition. A large white bundle, presumably the only tent, is carried by different walkers. Most of the women wear long baggy bloomers or shorts, and long socks. At the end of the trip a photograph at Goulburn Station shows Ray wearing a dress, which she must have carried for the entire trip. The lack of suitable women’s clothing for outdoor adventures did not discourage them, as can be seen in the homemade outfits fashioned by enthusiastic bushwalkers.

Indeed, the frequent appearance of female bushwalkers, both in groups of women and in mixed groups is a noteworthy feature of the Pages’ collection. These photographs attest to women’s involvement in bushwalking and camping in the 1920s and 1930s, including longer, more arduous expeditions.

A large photograph titled ‘First party over Clear Hill’ (Sydney Bush Walkers, Easter 1928) depicts what is believed to be the first white Australian bushwalkers to descend from Narrow Neck in the Jamison Valley to Clear Hill. This trip is described in a 1934 Sydney Bushwalker article by Frank Duncan, a Sydney Bush Walkers president and member of the group. Some landmarks in the area are named after Sydney Bush Walkers members, including Duncan’s Pass (Frank Duncan) and Tarro’s Ladder (Walter Tarr, who constructed and installed the original wooden ladders himself).

The photographs of Ray and Peter Page complement the Library’s extensive collection of materials related to bushwalking and conservation, including the papers of the Sydney Bush Walkers club and of individuals such as the Pallins, the Dunphys, Marie Byles and Dot Butler.

Jane Gibian