Since 1788, the Great Eastern Ranges have developed many historical and cultural associations for non-Aboriginal settlers and Aboriginal people. Initially, the ranges presented a seemingly impenetrable barrier to coastal settlers in search of pastures inland. In particular, the Blue Mountains west of Sydney defied multiple attempts to cross the Great ‘Dividing’ Range, before the successful crossing by Gregory Blaxland, Lieutenant William Lawson and William Charles Wentworth in 1813. Many of the major modern highways than now traverse the ranges are thought to follow traditional Aboriginal pathways.
The pastoral way of life subsequently brought by Europeans to the high country resulted in a distinctive landscape mythology that linked horses, people and livestock to the mountains. This is best demonstrated by Andrew Barton (Banjo) Patterson’s famous poem of 1890, ‘The Man from Snowy River’. The poem popularised and romanticised the pioneering spirit and physical setting of the mountain cattlemen and became an important part of oral tradition.
The mythology of the high country is embedded within the broader story of pastoral development in Australia. The network of Travelling Stock Routes spanning NSW and Queensland linked the mountains with other parts of these states, and connected the culture of mountain cattlemen with the droving culture that reached far inland. This culture encompassed Aboriginal as well as non-Aboriginal people, some of whom found employment on mountain pastoral stations and became expert stockmen and drovers.
The ranges provide a reliable source of water, and the exploitation of this resource through water and electricity infrastructure projects also had cultural implications. For example, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme was constructed by more than 100,000 workers between 1949 and 1973, and brought migrants from over 30 countries to work in the mountains.
Communities around the GER corridor were also shaped by other natural resources in the ranges. This included the presence of valuable metals such as gold, which led to several gold rushes during the 1800s that drew thousands of immigrants from across the world. The timber industry that developed in the ranges also had, and continues to have, a significant influence on many communities in the GER corridor.
Protecting heritage in the GER corridor
Many historic sites related to European settlement within the GER corridor are already protected within the national reserve system, such as the mountain huts in Kosciuszko National Park. However, in order to preserve this heritage in the long-term, engagement of the community, especially younger generations, is vital.
The work of GER in reconnecting people with the landscapes, heritage and communities of the GER through education and engagement will form an important part of this. GER seeks to expand its partnerships to include more groups that have expertise and on-ground programs that will contribute to protecting heritage values across the GER corridor.