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‘Natural beauty and grandeur’

1879: Australia’s first national park created — (now Royal) National Park, Sydney

National Museum of Australia
1800 1900
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Use the following additional activities and discussion questions to encourage students (in small groups or as a whole class) to think more deeply about this defining moment.

Questions for discussion

1. Are national parks as important today as they were when they were first created? Give reasons for your answer.

2. Do you agree with the National Museum of Australia that the creation of the first national park in 1879 is a defining moment in Australian history? Explain your answer.


1. Look carefully at all the images for this defining moment. Tell this story in pictures by placing them in whatever order you think works best. Write a short caption under each image.

2. Which 3 images do you think are the most important for telling this story? Why?

3. If you could pick only one image to represent this story, which one would you choose? Why?

Finding out more

1. What else would you like to know about this defining moment? Write a list of questions and then share these with your classmates. As a group, create a final list of 3 questions and conduct some research to find the answers.

<p>Royal National Park, Coast Walk, 2009</p>
Photo: Alex Proimos, CC BY-NC 2.0

In a snapshot

Australia’s first national park, now known as Royal National Park, was created in 1879 just south of Sydney. It was the second national park in the world. National parks were originally created to help solve public health concerns in industrial cities, such as overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. Today’s national parks often focus more on environmental conservation. Australia now has more than 500 national parks covering 28 million hectares (3.6 per cent of Australia).

Royal National Park, Coast Walk, 2009

Findout icon Can you find out?

1. What were the main reasons that Australia’s first national park was created in 1879?

2. Why were people who lived in cities drawn to national parks?

3. What did a growing number of people such as Myles Dunphy begin to do in national parks?

Why did Australia need national parks?

From 1788 it took 70 years for Australia’s population to reach one million people. It took only 19 years after this to reach two million. This was partly because of industrialisation which created overcrowded and unhealthy conditions in large cities such as Sydney. Roads and sewers could not be built quickly enough to meet the needs of the city’s growing population, which had grown to 225,000 people by 1881.

Research task


Use Google Maps to find the national park closest to where you live. When was it created and why? Have you been to this national park?

Google Maps

Leather dog shoe worn on long bush walking trips in the Blue Mountains by the Dunphy's fox terrier named Dextre.

Sydney’s population saw huge changes because of the discovery of gold as well as immigration. The population boom led to many problems, including housing being overcrowded and children being abandoned. These problems were made worse by a variety of epidemics, especially the scarlet fever outbreak in the 1870s.

Parks were seen as a way of fixing some of these problems. People who argued for parks believed that cities with polluted air and dirty water were bad for people’s physical health, and even their morals. The idea that nature could be good for people’s health, argued by some ‘Romantics’, was a key argument for creating national parks.

Australia’s first national park was created on 26 April 1879 and is located on the southern side of the Georges River, about an hour south of Sydney. It was later named the Royal National Park after the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1954.

‘A toil-worn citizen will be able to recreate himself amid scenes of natural beauty and grandeur.’


Letter to the editor, Sydney Morning Herald, 24 April 1879

What did people think of national parks?

When the National Park in Sydney was first created it was thought of as a ‘wilderness’ that could be improved so people could go on picnics. The early creation of the park involved damming its rivers, laying new kinds of grass, creating new buildings and planting thousands of trees from around the world. These additions were recorded in postcards of the time. The park was enormously popular, especially after rail lines were built. The number of visitors grew from 38,000 in 1892 to 250,000 in 1910.

A small but growing group of people enjoyed the bushland of the park rather than its picnic areas. One of them was the famous conservationist Myles Joseph Dunphy, who would go on to co-found the Mountain Trails Club in 1914. This was Sydney’s first bushwalking club which campaigned for environmental causes throughout the 1930s.

Research task


The National Museum of Australia holds many of the items belonging to Myles Joseph Dunphy, including his climbing supplies and photographs. Which of these items would you use to create a small museum display about Myles Dunphy?

Collection Explorer

Brochure with large red inscription that reads 'Kakadu National Park.' It has an image of an apple shaped swimming pool with two people in it and a girl sitting on the edge. The swimming pool is under a tent covering with tent ends attached to metal posts. There is a red, white and black flag flying from the top of the tent. Houses surrounding the text, tables and chairs under the text.

Within 37 years of the first park being created in 1879 each of Australia’s states had a national park: South Australia (1891), Victoria (1898), Western Australia (1898), Queensland (1908) and Tasmania (1916). Australia now has more than 500 national parks covering 28 million hectares (or 280,000 square kilometres). They allow visitors to enjoy the natural world and also help to conserve Australia’s native plants and animals.


Read a longer version of this Defining Moment on the National Museum of Australia’s website.

Findout icon What did you learn?

1. What were the main reasons that Australia’s first national park was created in 1879?

2. Why were people who lived in cities drawn to national parks?

3. What did a growing number of people such as Myles Dunphy begin to do in national parks?