The park area since colonisation
Explorers, miners and timber getters led initial movements by Europeans into the areas now encompassed by the park early in the 19th century.
During the 1830s European squatters spread from the Goulburn area south along the tablelands and from further north along the coast to the Bega area. There was little settlement in the area that now forms the park, but grazing by domestic stock, both sheep and dairy cattle, has occurred in parts. Initial pastoral interests saw scattered settlements evolve, centred on station houses.
Several towns including Nimmitabel, Bombala, Eden and Bega were established in the 1840s, serving as points of supply for surrounding districts.
Produce from the tablelands was transported to the coast for shipping. Early transport routes cross the park in various places, several of which were later developed to take vehicles. The main routes are Big Jack Mountain Road, the Cowbail, Postmans Track, Mountain Road, New Line Road and other roads in the same area, and Brown Mountain Road.
The first bridle trail, sometimes called the 'Mountain Hut Road', climbed over Big Jack Mountain and was in use from 1832 onwards. Later the need for a route suitable for wagons was recognised. The original route was modified and the Purgatory was constructed. This remained the only route for wagons until the Cow Bail was established.
The Cow Bail Trail runs on or close to its original alignment. It was originally a stockman's route and was upgraded in part by Benjamin Boyd in 1843 to provide a direct link between his coastal development at Boydtown and his Monaro properties. Older parallel alignments can still be seen and features including chimneys and cuttings along the trail illustrate construction and use of the road.
The Postmans Track was the main route for the transport of mail from the Monaro in the 1800s. Government Geologist, Rev. W B Clarke noted the original track in 1851 as the extremely rugged track used by the postman. Records show a weekly packhorse mail service ran until 1875 carrying mail from Cooma to the coast via the Postmans Track. The current alignment probably only follows short sections of the original route.
The Brown Mountain route, established in 1860 as a bridle trail, was upgraded in 1889 to take vehicles, following local lobbying. Coaches began using the road almost immediately. The Brown Mountain road and Piper's Lookout are significant because of their association with early motorised travel between the coastal plain and the Monaro.
Gold was discovered in the district in 1852, although mining activity was limited until 1890 when payable gold was found near Pambula. Parts of the Towamba, Pambula and Nungatta goldfields covered the park. Goldfields were broad gazetted regions centred on identified lode areas and extending across lands that offered similar prospecting potential. The main mining areas were largely outside what is now the park but pits and shafts dot the landscape in a number of areas, particularly in the eastern part. As well as gold, small amounts of silver, copper and other metals were extracted.
Incidental mining sites included Tingys Plains (1896) in the Coolangubra section, Stoney Creek (unknown dates) in Yowaka section and McCarthys Creek (1967) in the Tantawangalo section. Molybdenite, a strategic mineral used in weapons manufacture, was mined in the Yowaka Section during both world wars and in the Coolangubra section at Mines Road. The mining remains have yet to be systematically recorded.
Logging of the forests now in the park has occurred since Europeans first settled the area. In the late 1800s timber getting became the dominant industry of the district. Initially small operations began for local supply of firewood, building materials, railway sleepers, mineshaft supports, eucalyptus oil and other products. Changes in the early 20th century led to the decline of many of these smaller operations as the timber industry changed and developed to supply sawlogs and woodchips to national and international markets.
History of the park
The park was formed in 1997 from several earlier national parks and areas of state forest. The former parks were Genoa, Tantawangalo, Bemboka Yowaka and Coolangubra national parks, all of which were reserved in 1994. Genoa National Park had been formed from two earlier parks: Nalbaugh gazetted in 1972 and Nungatta gazetted in 1973. Additions in 1998 brought the area of South East Forest National Park to 115,177 hectares.
The 1950s and 1960s saw a growing interest in the conservation values of the south-east forests. Several areas now in the park were identified as of particular conservation interest and were protected in forest reserves in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Protests and conflict over forest management practices, the scale of woodchip operations and the loss of old-growth and wilderness values became common in the 1970s. The junction of the Forestry Commission diversion trail and the original Wog Wog forest trail was the site of a major confrontation between conservationists and forestry workers in the 1980s. The Coolangubra Protest site witnessed a symbolic battle over the issue of logging and development of old growth forests in south-east NSW. These protests were instrumental in raising awareness of forestry issues in Australia. This awareness lead to the declaration of several national parks over former state forest areas and eventually to the reservation of the South East Forest National Park.
A major reason for the park's creation was protection of a range of high fertility old-growth forest ecosystems. Thirty-two per cent of the old-growth eucalypt forest in the region is within the park and many old-growth ecosystems in the park are poorly represented in other conservation reserves. The park is an area rich in its diversity of flora and fauna, and is vital to long term conservation of regional biodiversity. Several areas are particularly rich in arboreal mammals and hollow-nesting birds, while others are important habitats for threatened animal species.
The park covers a large and diverse area with significant geological, biological, cultural, landscape and recreation values. It also forms part of a system of conservation reserves along the great eastern escarpment of southern NSW and eastern Victoria. National parks and nature reserves protect large stretches of the region's coastline and hinterland including Ben Boyd, Mount Imlay, Wadbilliga, Biamanga, Mimosa Rocks and Bournda national parks and Bournda, Bondi Gulf, Coolumbooka and Nadgee nature reserves. South East Forest National Park adjoins Coopracamba National Park in Victoria to the south, Wadbilliga National Park to the north and Bournda Nature Reserve to the east.