Several years ago I was privileged to make contact with Stuart B. Hart, a former SA Director of Planning and Chairman of the State Planning Authority. In July, 2002 Stuart wrote an excellent and detailed account of the origins of the Heysen Trail and has granted me the privilege of re-counting events below, as they occurred at the time. Stuart’s detailed account is entitled “The Heysen Trail – The First Steps”.
This detailed account of the history of the origins of the Heysen Trail was written by Stuart Hart, South Australian Planner of the Day, who has generously granted permission for its publication in the interests of all members of the walking community throughout the world.
Establishing the trail over a period of 24 years epitomized the truth of the adage that any major project is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration.
“The first steps of a young child are difficult; the first year or two of the Heysen Trail were perhaps the easiest of its formative years. There were many difficult steps on the long and arduous path that lay ahead. Establishing the trail over a period of 24 years epitomized the truth of the adage that any major project is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration.
In 1969 Warren Bonython, then President of the Nature Conservation Society of South Australia, presented a paper to a seminar on the Adelaide Hills. He said that there was scope for the creation of long walking trails in the Adelaide Hills and suggested that routes should be determined and any existing rights- of -way kept open. The Minister for Local Government, the Hon. C. Murray Hill, was impressed with the idea.
At that time I was the SA Director of Planning and Chairman of the State Planning Authority. Our offices were in the recently demolished Police Headquarters building in Victoria Square. Warren came to see me on 28 October 1969. It was a bright and sunny day and from my 7th floor office window we could see the hills to the east, extending round to the coast at Marino. As we talked the concept evolved of one long trunk route from Cape Jervis to Mount Hopeless in the Northern Flinders. The National Fitness Council of South Australia with Albert Simpson as its Director was already starting a network of routes in the hills near Adelaide suitable for one-day walks.
The terms of reference referred to a walking and riding trail … even at that first meeting the minutes record that walking and horse riding ‘are not completely compatible’ and the idea of combining the two was eventually dropped.
The State Planning Authority, aware of the Minister’s interest, established a Long Distance Trail Committee to report on the concept. The Committee had its first meeting on 14 May, 1970. The Surveyor General George Kennedy was Chairman with Warren Bonython, Albert Simpson and myself as members. Warren Bonython became Chairman from 1971. The terms of reference referred to a walking and riding trail as it was thought that the horse riding fraternity would give support. However, even at that first meeting the minutes record that walking and horse riding “are not completely compatible” and the idea of combining the two was eventually dropped. One item stresses the need for the whole trail to be a first class project.
The Minister’s initial press statement (Advertiser 4 December 1969) suggested “Flinders Way” as a suitable name. The word “way” was used in Britain as in “Pennine Way”. Warren Bonython and Albert Simpson thought “track” was more Australian.
There was Milford Track in New Zealand but here in South Australia “tracks” were used by vehicular traffic, e.g. Birdsville Track. “Trail” was used in the USA e.g.Appalachian Trail. Commemorating Sir Hans Heysen was thought to be a brilliant idea as his interests spanned both the Adelaide Hills and the Flinders Ranges. The committee at its fourth meeting on 20 August, 1970 adopted the name “The Heysen Trail”.
Enthusiasm was high. Warren Bonython was out and about checking alternative routes. Maps were prepared, design standards compiled, operating procedures discussed and legal complexities investigated. Some of the planning staff voluntarily spent a gusty weekend in the Deep Creek-Newland Head area. The Army assisted during exercises in the Flinders Ranges.
Some councils were favourable but some, echoing the concerns of landowners, were hostile.
Despite the extremely heavy planning workload and acute staff shortages, matters relating to the trail were included in the duties of a staff member. Those involved over those first years included Andrew Lothian, Alan Withy, Greg Perkin, Bob Teague, Hague Showell, David Brodeur and Basil Thompson. Ian Robertson designed the attractive winding and undulating trail marker. Attention was given initially to the Cape Jervis-Mylor section. A brochure was prepared and discussions began with district councils and the emergency fire services. Some councils were favourable but some, echoing the concerns of landowners, were hostile. The trail would be a fire hazard, stock would be disturbed, gates left open and litter proliferate. One suggestion was made that all walkers should be registered. Problems relating to insurance and landowners’ liability for injuries sustained on their properties would arise. Removal of uncertainty regarding insurance problems still needs attention today.
The acquisition of the route and its subsequent management were of great concern.
Negotiations with individual landowners could not be undertaken with certainty until these matters were resolved. It was thought initially that the State Planning Authority had the powers and resources to establish the trail providing the trail was delineated in the appropriate development plans then being prepared. Eventually it became clear that proceeding under the Planning and Development Act was going to be cumbersome and fraught with difficulties. Separate legislation was required. Considerable work was done on a “Recreation Trails Bill” with the expectation that it would be introduced in 1976, but it did not appear then, or subsequently. Undoubtedly the strong land owning interests in the Legislative Council would not have allowed it to go through, particularly if it contained compulsory land acquisition powers.
There had been public interest in the project from the outset but there was nothing on the ground. Something had to be done, so work began in 1975 on a section of the trail near Adelaide, all on publicly owned land. The Governor Sir Mark Oliphant opened the nine-kilometre section at Cleland Conservation Park on 1 May 1976. Mr. David Heysen was present. This high profile section did help to maintain public interest and reinforce the Government’s commitment.
The Committee conducted user surveys and attempted to establish further sections despite lack of staff and continued legal doubts over the use of the use of the State Planning Authority’s powers. The Government transferred responsibility for the trail to the Department of Tourism and Sport in 1978., the Department already having taken over the National Fitness Council’s network of trails near Adelaide. It was agreed that the Heysen Trail would retain its distinct identity, but the Authority’s Long Distance Trail was no longer required.
The Committee met 39 times over eight years, Warren Bonython remaining Chairman for almost seven years. The original concept coming from a person so highly regarded and experienced made the project seem feasible and worthy of support. It was endorsed initially by Liberal and then by Labour governments. The Committee had several changes of membership, Terry Lavender becoming a member in November, 1976. He had been involved in establishing the National Fitness Council’s trails in the Adelaide Hills and was transferred to the Department of Tourism Recreation and Sport in 1978 with the responsibility for developing trails.
Terry Lavender was the right man, in the right place, at the right time. In his book “The Last Post, or how to build the Heysen Trail in 400 years or less” he vividly describes the meeting with Minister Tom Casey where the future of the Heysen Trail hung precariously in the balance. Terry writes with wry humour of the many years of negotiating with landowners, public meetings and public service bureaucracy. The Premier, Mr. Lyn Arnold, officially opened the whole trail on 4 April, 1993 and Terry Lavender was honoured for his work with the award of the Medal of the Order of Australia in January, 1994.”