Nature conservation

Biodiversity Reform

Australian Alps - regional history

Aboriginal occupation

The Australian Alps Bioregion was the traditional home of two Aboriginal groups. The Walgal people occupied the northern part of the bioregion near Kiandra in what is now Kosciuszko National Park, while the Ngarigo people lived in the region around the highlands (HO and DUAP 1996).

Many of the Aboriginal groups in the southern part of NSW gathered in the Australian Alps Bioregion in the summer months on an annual pilgrimage to the Bogong and Snowy Mountains. Here, the men participated in a feast of bogong moths (Agrotis infusa) that were to be found in abundance on the rocky outcrops of the mountains (HO and DUAP 1996).

The traditional lifestyles of the local Aborigines, including the annual Bogong moth feast, were disrupted from the late 1820s when graziers brought stock into the area and are considered to have ceased by 1850 in this and nearby bioregions (HO and DUAP 1996). Diseases brought in by the new settlers infected Aboriginal communities, diminishing their population in this bioregion and across NSW (HO and DUAP 1996).

European occupation

Due to the pressure for grazing land, squatters with cattle occupied the Australian Alps Bioregion and surrounds by the 1820s, moving outside the 'limits of location' set for the colony at the time (NSW NPWS 1991). Almost all areas, from the base of the Alps to the coast, were already occupied by squatters on land suitable for grazing both sheep and cattle (HO and DUAP 1996).

It was not until the 1860s that the settlers realised the potential of alpine grazing and stock were moved up into the alpine areas during summer and returned to the valleys in autumn. Sometimes this practice ended in disaster when winter set in early (HO and DUAP 1996), resulting in loss of both stock and men (NSW NPWS 1991). This practice led to the introduction of snow leases, which ran from 1889 until 1957 when their impact on the vulnerable alpine environment was recognised and the leases were abolished.

By then, the stock routes for cattle and sheep were well-trodden and the stockmen's huts which can be found along the route are now important heritage items in the area (HO and DUAP 1996). In 1859, the discovery of gold at Kiandra, northeast of Cabramurra, rapidly stimulated a gold rush. Many miners arrived in Kiandra in the winter of 1860 in readiness to start mining in the spring. It was at about this time that skiing was introduced at Kiandra by gold miners from northern Europe (NSW NPWS 1991). Of course, skiing has remained an important part of the social history of the bioregion and a popular tourist drawcard to the present day.

During its peak, the Kiandra goldfield supported 10,000 people, including several hundred Chinese miners. The Kiandra goldrush lasted until early 1861 at which time miners moved on to the next prospering fields (NSW NPWS 1991). The Chinese miners brought with them their traditional ways, using yokes to carry equipment through the harsh alpine country. Several remained in the bioregion, some establishing stores which lasted until the 1900s.

While gold rushes moved around the countryside with each new discovery, small-scale mining continued in the Australian Alps Bioregion from 1905-1930, becoming more profitable with the introduction of hydraulic sluicing and dredging (NSW NPWS 1991). Remnants of gold, silver and tin mining occur in what is now the southern end of Kosciuszko National Park.

The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme altered the bioregion considerably from 1949, both physically and demographically. Construction of the scheme began at Adaminaby in the South Eastern Highlands Bioregion (Department of Immigration). Several towns in the Australian Alps Bioregion, for example Khancoban and Cabramurra, owe their existence to the scheme, which brought around 100,000 people to the area over a 25-year period (Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme).

Kosciuszko National Park, which occupies most of the bioregion, was gazetted in 1967 but had been recognised under the Kosciuszko State Park Act since 1944. In 1977 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recognised Kosciuszko National Park under its Man and the Biosphere program as an 'International Biosphere Reserve', one of only 2 in NSW (UNESCO - Kosciuszko Biosphere Reserve).

Land use is restricted to sheep and cattle in the rugged areas (HO and DUAP 1996) and has resulted in an important wool, mutton and beef industry in the bioregion and surrounds. Dairying was important for a time in the 1890s but this lasted only until the 1920s. Although the region was subject to some drought and low wool prices in the 1840s and again in the 1880s, the great drought of the late 1890s did not affect the bioregion. Rabbits were not such a problem here as in the west.


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Page last updated: 18 April 2016