The land that is now protected as Mount Field National Park is part of the homelands of the Big River nation of Tasmanian Aborigines. They knew this place when it was buried in glacial ice, and later as rainforests and eucalypt forests flourished. Cave sites, ochre mines, hand-stencil art, rock engravings, and stone tool quarries provide a glimpse of their extraordinary lives here.
From the 1830s, the first white people here were trappers and snarers in the high country, arriving via a packhorse track from Ellendale. Soon after, bushrangers and escaped convicts hid in the country around Bushy Park.
In 1869, eminent botanist Baron von Mueller visited Mount Field East, guided by local trappers. Von Muller first described the snow gum, urn gum, cider gum and cushion plants from the meadows around Lake Fenton. Botanist Leonard Rodway also explored the area from the 1850s (Rodway Range is named for him).
Russell Falls was originally known as Browning Falls after its discoverer. Around 1884 it was subsequently changed to the name it is now know by, Russell Falls. In 1885, Russell Falls was declared the State's first nature reserve – and so proud were we, that we featured it on the British colonies' first scenic stamp series in 1899.
By the early 1900s, a railway line extended to the park, with a guesthouse built in 1911 at the present day park entrance to accommodate visitors. Sightseeing, walking and trout fishing were popular, with trout formally released into the park's lakes in 1898.
On 29th August 1916, Mount Field (known until 1937 simply as 'National Park') and Freycinet became Tasmania's first national parks. While the park received its name from Judge Barron Field (an early judge of the NSW Supreme Court), the driving forces behind its creation had been William Crooke, Leonard Rodway and Henry Dobson. It was Crooke's vision that the park be “not merely a reserve marked on the map, but a thoroughly valuable and useful and popular feature of Tasmania for residents and tourists alike".
In 1917, the first ranger, William Belcher, was appointed. He held the position for 17 years and knew the country like no other. Belcher was responsible for cutting the first track from the park to Lake Fenton, along with many others, and the building of several huts – aided by his fabled horse Runic.
The 1920s heralded a new era. Encouraged by E T Emmett (Director of the Tasmanian Government Tourist Bureau and founder of the Hobart Walking Club), Mount Field became Tasmania's first centre for skiing and ice-skating. The newly formed Ski Club of Tasmania's first construction was a ski hut at Twilight Tarn in 1926. The hut took a day to reach along the old Pack Track. The opening of a mountain road to Lake Dobson (completed in 1937 by local unemployed workers) made exploration of the high country significantly easier. In 1941 ski huts were built at Lake Fenton, and post World War II, ski tows and lodges were built at Mount Mawson.
The new road also paved the way for the development of the Lake Fenton water supply scheme (completed 1939), which included the excavation of a tunnel to carry water down the mountain, to be piped along the Derwent Valley and into Hobart. Today, 20% of Hobart's drinking water comes from Lake Fenton and surrounds.
In 2013, Mount Field National Park was incorporated into the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (declared 1982).
Today, Mount Field National Park receives in excess of 200,000 visitors per year. William Crooke will be pleased that his vision has been well and truly realised, and pioneer ranger William Belcher can rest assured the park is still being well cared for.