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Good news, Hartz Mountain National Park and other tracks are open!


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Mt Field


Outlaws and mountain dwellers

Trappers and snarers from the hills around Monto's Marsh (now Ellendale) were probably the first Europeans to traverse the rugged mountain country of the Mt Field region. Bushrangers and other outlaws were also known to have hidden out in the wild country behind Bushy Park in the 1840s. They survived by plundering neighbouring farms and by selling kangaroo and possum skins.

[Capt. Fenton of 'Fenton Forest'] came upon a perfect mountain establishment, almost within his own boundaries his sheep afforded the outlaws food, his heifers milk, whilst his working bullocks complaisantly offered a means of turning up the soil. The place ... must have existed several years, as there was a considerable number of kangaroo and opossum skins ready for market and the hut was constructed with all the care and attention bestowed upon a permanent abode.

(Burn, 1840)

A rough pack-track from Ellendale was the only access to the high country prior to 1910. Visiting naturalists and explorers used this trail with the trappers acting as guides. In 1869 the eminent botanist Baron Von Mueller made a week long trek to Mt Field East. He recorded a number of plants including Eucalyptus urnigera (urn gum), E. coccifera (snow gum) and E. gunnii (cider gum). The botanist Leonard Rodway also recalled having Christmas camping-out parties to explore the mountains as early as the 1850s.

Tourist promotion 1880s - 1916

The scenic beauty of Russell Falls and the potential for tourist promotion led the Government, in 1885, to create a 300 acre reserve around them. Such places of natural splendour became popular with the middle-classes in the late nineteenth century. The falls were one of Tasmania's premier tourist attractions. One enraptured correspondent wrote in 1885:

How shall I describe this waterfall? Painter and poet together would fail to convey more than a shadow of its sublime grandeur ... take it for granted Russell's Falls in their degree are incomparably beautiful stamped with a bold individuality of picturesqueness, strikingly romantic, and a wealth of vernal setting, purely Tasmanian and to be seen nowhere else.

The close proximity of the Falls reserve to Hobart and the development of an extended railway network in the early 1900s made it an easily accessible holiday spot. Marriott's guest house was established at the southern entrance to the park by 1911. Accommodation houses also sprung up at nearby Westerway and Tyenna to cater for visitors.

Whilst many day-trippers were content to view the area around the falls, others went exploring further afield. In 1907 an adventurous party from the Tasmanian Tourist Association (including 4 women) undertook an expedition to the Mt Field Plateau. From the high ground above Lake Webster the party members admired the awesome and expansive view. One was stirred to write:

It seemed as if one could never finish finding some new attraction in nature's beauty on which to feast the eye.

Release of trout 1898

Trout fishing in the lakes around Mt Field has been enjoyed by enthusiasts since the first release of trout fry in 1898. The Fisheries Commission and Tasmanian Tourist Association, together with keen naturalists Morton and Rodway, organised the expedition. Three thousand fry were collected from the breeding grounds at Plenty. They were transported by wagonnette, then foot to Lake Webster where they were liberated. The lake was named after an official of the Fisheries Commission and a hut erected to accommodate anglers. Other Mt Field lakes were stocked with trout in subsequent years.

'A people's park'

Tourist associations, sporting clubs, scientific bodies and a number of prominent individuals, such as William Crooke, Leonard Rodway and Henry Dobson, were all influential in creating the Mt Field National Park in 1916. It was one of the first such parks created in Australia. Its roots lay in a growing international movement towards the reservation of places of outstanding natural beauty and value.

The official opening of the 27 000 acre park was performed in 1917 by the Governor, Sir Francis Newdegate. The occasion aroused much public interest. New entrance gates and a rustic rest house acted as a backdrop for the proceedings.

The opening speech gives some insight into the reasons for the park's establishment:

By this reservation a typical example of Tasmanian forest will be retained in its natural state, in order that generations yet unborn may see for themselves what virgin Tasmania was like ... it is also to serve as a sanctuary for the flora and fauna, so as to guard against total extinction in some cases threatened ... Again, the park will be a scenic and pleasure resort not only for Tasmanians themselves, but for the countless thousands of tourists who will visit our island as time goes on, and its charms become more widely known and appreciated. In this respect it may truly be said that the park will be a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

Early management of the park involved providing tracks, shelter-huts and other visitor facilities. A pack-track was cut from Russell Falls to Lake Fenton, remains of which can still be seen today.

Mt Field was named after Barron Field, an early judge of the NSW Supreme Court. He was a keen amateur naturalist and in 1819 presided at the first sitting of the Supreme Court.

Bill Belcher - the first park ranger

Bill Belcher was Mt Field's first park
ranger, from 1917 until shortly
before his death in 1934

Local resident Bill Belcher was appointed the first ranger of Mt Field National Park in 1917. He had had a long attachment to the area and 'knew the Park like a book, ...no fog could lose him'.

Roma Reid referred to Bill 'as the Ranger who knows every stick and stone, and is one of the kindliest, best-tempered and wittiest men walking the earth'. A keen angler and skier himself, Belcher was renowned for his helpfulness:

If your ski-straps break, go to Mr Belcher; if you run out of sugar, go to Mr Belcher; if you don't know the way, ask Mr Belcher to take you; if you are thirsty, go to Mr Belcher, he will make you a cup of tea.

(Reid, 1926)

A ranger for nearly 17 years, Bill was responsible for many of the early works carried out in the park. Materials for hut and track construction were laboriously carted to Lake Fenton and beyond by his fabled horse Runic.

Bill's wife enthusiastically assisted in the care of the park and its visitors. With changing ideas on the environment and park management the role of rangers today is quite different to when Bill Belcher was alive.

'Romantics of the mist'

Bushwalkers, Mt Field, 1921

Bushwalkers, Mt Field, 1921
(Archives Office of Tasmania)

Skiing as I first knew it seemed to me an Olympian pastime with a spirit all beauty, a world of snow stained unimaginable hues by the setting sun, or flashing with crystals in the unearthly light of the moon a world of blizzard driven snow and terrifying wind of wonder and fear, of struggle with the elements, painful climbs and rare sweeping runs a world inhabited by heroes and heroines who were my friends.

(Ida McAuley, 1937)

Mt Field became the first popular centre for winter sports in Tasmania. Skiing and ice-skating were promoted in the 1920s by T. Emmett of the National Park Board. The first attempt at ice-skating on the Mt Field lakes and tarns was by members of the Board in 1922.

Members of the National Park Board at Lake Robert in 1922.

Ice-skating at Lake Robert,
1922. (Tasmania Library, State
Library of Tasmania)

The pioneers of skiing at Mt Field were a daring breed. They ventured out into the highland snow country, often with home-made skis and sticks. The popularity of this pastime led to the formation of the Ski Club of Tasmania in 1926. One of their first projects was the building of a hut at Twilight Tarn, which still exists to this day. It was a welcome sight after a full day's excursion along the old pack-track with supplies and equipment.

Compact and home-like, and smoothly roofed with white, it shelters under the lee of a wooded hill. The first comers see it at twilight across an unspoilt stretch of snow. The tired stragglers are greeted with a comforting orange glow from the windows. The midnight travellers find it quietly asleep under the moonlight.

(McAuley, 1931)

The huts at Lake Fenton were also heavily booked during the winter months to cater for the growing number of winter sports enthusiasts.

The opening of the Lake Dobson Road in 1937 greatly improved access to the skifields. A post war boom in skiing led to larger scale developments on the ski slopes, including the erection of ski tows and lodges. Of the new style of skiing McAuley lamented:

The Gods were no longer the Gods of Valhalla, but those of skill and technique. It was a world of waxes, binding and steel edges, of team badges and coloured shirts, where the noble fears had vanished in favour of more petty ones of disgracing one's side or making a fool of one's self. The people who inhabited this world were more clever and more skilful in their skiing, more industrious on their practice slopes, more beery and cheery and sportsmanlike than the romantics of the mist, but there was less among them, so it seemed to me, of real mountain craft and friendship.

(McAuley, 1937)

Age of the motor car

Local unemployed workers were used to build the road from the park entrance to Lake Dobson in the late 1930s. Conditions for the men were poor, with frequent complaints about the sanitary arrangements. It was severely cold in winter, and wet weather continually hampered proceedings and caused losses in pay.

A motor shed was built at the Lake in 1941, along with new huts. The completion of the road meant that pack horses were no longer needed in the park.

Ease of access to the lakes also opened the way for the development of the Lake Fenton water supply scheme in the 1930s. It was a mammoth undertaking. The scheme involved cutting a tunnel to carry water 1 000 feet down the mountain from whence it was carried in pipes to the northern suburbs of Hobart. The water scheme and a gauge house were officially opened on 27 April 1939. Further works included the damming of the lake in the 1950s to increase the water level.

Recent years have seen extensions to the park's boundaries and a change in management focus in line with the principles of ecological balance and minimal impact usage.