Blue Lake, Kosciuszko National Park. Photograph by John Baker. Image courtesy of the Department of the Environment.
Australia has over 500 national parks. Over 28 million hectares of land is designated as national parkland, accounting for almost four per cent of Australia's land areas. In addition, a further six per cent of Australia is protected and includes state forests, nature parks and conservation reserves.
National parks are usually large areas of land that are protected because they have unspoilt landscapes and a diverse number of native plants and animals. This means that commercial activities such as farming are prohibited and human activity is strictly monitored.
Like zoos, national parks have several purposes. The foremost of these is to protect native flora and fauna. But national parks are also there so Australians and foreign visitors can enjoy and learn about our unique environment, heritage and culture.
Most of our national parks are managed by the States and Territories of Australia; however the Australian Government manages six national parks and a further 13 marine parks.
World Heritage areas
In 2005, Australia had 14 World Heritage areas. These are places or areas that UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has agreed are worthy of special protection because they represent the best examples of the world's cultural and natural heritage. Some of these, such as Kakadu, Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Purnululu National Parks, are jointly managed by the Aboriginal traditional owners as UNESCO World Heritage areas.
The Twelve Apostles, Port Campbell National Park, Victoria. Photograph by John Baker. Image courtesy of the Department of the Environment.
National parks are located in the alps, the deserts, forests, and reefs. They preserve:
- special habitats, plants and wildlife, such as the Wollemi National Park where the dinosaur tree, the Wollemi Pine lives;
- ecosystems that exist no where else on earth such wetlands in the Yalgorup National Park in Western Australia;
- natural wonders, such as the Australian Fossil Mammal Sites in North Queensland;
- areas sacred to Australian Aboriginals such as Mutawintji National Park in western New South Wales;
- places that preserve Australia's history since European settlement such as Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island in South Australia; and
- historical shipwreck sites, areas of importance to local Aboriginals and a wide range of flora and fauna such as Port Campbell National Park in Victoria where the natural wonders of the Great Ocean Road and the Twelve Apostles can be enjoyed.
Some examples of Australia's diverse national parks are described below.
Royal National Park
Australia's first national park, was proclaimed on 26 April 1879, south of Sydney in New South Wales. It is now known as the Royal National Park. It was the second such park to be declared in the world, the first being Yellowstone National Park in the United States of America.
Originally named 'The National Park', it was renamed 'Royal National Park' when Queen Elizabeth II visited it in 1955.
In the early days of the park, it was used more as a place where residents of Sydney could come to relax and amuse themselves than for the conservation and study of native wildlife. A dance hall was even built there as late as the 1940s, and earlier, land was cleared for large areas of lawns and a train line was set up between Loftus and Audley, two towns within the Park.
Flinders Ranges National Park
Flinders Ranges National Park. Image courtesy of the Department of the Environment.
Flinders Ranges National Park is a special national park because it protects a number of land uses and remains: the ruins of early European settlement, Aboriginal rock art sites, and impressive fossil remains as part of Australia's geological history.
The park is home to many unique animals and plants that have adapted to the arid landscape and have evolved as a result of the area's unique geological history. It is the traditional home of the Adnyamathanha people and their culture and history is celebrated and recounted here along with efforts by Europeans to farm the land in the 1880s.
One of the most amazing places to visit in the park is Wilpena Pound. It looks like a huge crater - from a meteorite or perhaps an ancient volcano. In fact it is the remnants of a mountain range that eroded down over many millions of years. It is over 80 square kilometres in size and forms a natural amphitheatre with only one entrance in. It was for this reason that European settlers used to let their stock graze in Wilpena Pound as they could be rounded up easily.
Kosciuszko National Park
Kosciuszko National Park is the largest national park in New South Wales. It contains Australia's highest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko, the Snowy River and popular ski fields. It offers visitors the opportunity to see alpine flora, caves, gorges and historic huts used by mountain cattlemen.
The park is recognised as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Within the park's boundaries are six different wilderness areas including alpine and sub-alpine areas with plants that are not found anywhere else on the planet. Native fauna found here include endangered species such as the corroboree frog and the mountain pygmy possum. The park is one of several Australian Alps national parks.
Purnululu National Park
Bungle Bungle Range, Purnululu National Park, WA. Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia.
Purnululu National Park in Western Australia contains the amazing Bungle Bungle Range, another example of Australia's fascinating geology. The distinctive beehive-shaped landforms seen today have been produced by uplift and erosion during the last 20 million years.
The area has been used by Aboriginal people for thousands of years as a hunting ground, particularly during the wet season when plant and animal life was abundant. It is rich in Aboriginal artwork and contains a number of burial sites. Few Europeans knew of the existence of the Bungle Bungle Range until the mid-1980s.
Purnululu was declared a national park in 1987. In 2002 the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land were granted living areas within the park. The park is run by the Government of Western Australia but the traditional Aboriginal owners contribute greatly to its ongoing management and its relationship to Aboriginal heritage.
In 2003 the park was inscribed by the World Heritage Committee for its exceptional natural beauty and rich biodiversity and inscribed in 2005 for its cultural significance. Joint management arrangements with Purnululu Aboriginal Corporation have led to an increased emphasis on cultural awareness and joint commercial tourism facilities.