Deconstructing RNP – 4 – National

Bruce Baskerville’s  1994 paper “Talking about National Parks” calls on the 1987 book of Paul Carter “The Road to Botany Bay: an essay in spatial history.”

Baskerville wrote:

“Carter has commented on the use of ideas about strategy and military manoeuvring as a metaphor of exploration. A strategy, in the sense of imposing the preferred time, place and conditions for encountering the Other, was used by the park-maker to translate a space into a conceivable object that the mind could possess long before the park visitors began to arrive.

Both the particularising element ‘national’ and the class-name ‘park’ are figurative and non-factual. The name National Park brought into being an object of invented spatial and temporal co-ordinates within which history could occur.”

This process establishes a field of discourse within which ‘significant’ people can communicate without having to deal with questions about who or what has been excluded.

Baskerville notes, vis-à-vis the “language of commons in NSW”, that:

“The situation with national parks is similar, although the absence of commoners meant that the invention of a language took place between the park-maker and a small group of gentleman trustees. Whereas the class-name ‘common’ required the presence of commoners for language-making, the class name ‘park’ reflected a different intention, an intention that has perhaps been hidden by its strategic coupling with the particular ‘National’. “

Some of the gentlemen involved in the formation of the then National Park included NSW politicians who occupied positions close to the core of the cluster of norms which made up the colonial ‘state’ apparatus.  The exclusion of First Peoples from any meaningful role in NSW life was well established by that time (only a 100 years after initial colonisation in 1788).

In addition to the policies of past Governors there were the newly established practices of many colonial gentlemen, who built their lifestyles, reputations and fortunes on lands of dispossessed First Peoples. The resulting ‘unconscious-in-culture’ was in keeping with the notion of terra nullius.  The land was deemed to be ‘empty’.

It is striking how the concerns of such educated people are for the protection of ‘native’ flora and fauna, and not for the ‘native’ people.

Dr Geoff Mosley’s forthcoming historical account of the Royal National park and the Australian conservation movement carefully details the role of a very small number of significant players in seeking to transform the initial conception of the then National Park from recreation to conservation.

There has been a steady removal of non-indigenous people’s camping and holiday recreational activities from the Royal National Park during the second half of the 20th century. There are now two places for camping, where once there were many.

The pictorial record shows how places like Garie were once extremely popular holiday camping venues, with a sort of canvas town appearance. Now there are gates locked at night. People and parks? Hmmm.

In place of trustees we have a professional bureaucracy (members of a state department with its own internal culture as well as charged with administering state policy). They  operate with a privileged notion of ‘nature’ which denies the role of their own culture in relation to country.


People may ask exactly which ‘nation’ it was, in 1879, that NSW authorities had in mind when they reserved land for sale for the purposes of a National Park?

Baskerville’s paper throws some light on the meaning of the word “national” at a time when NSW was a colony of Great Britain. He recounts how the word ‘national’ was used in the 1830s and 1840s in connection with a National system for schools as a general category in comparison with distinctions made on the basis of religious affiliation:

“The word ‘National’, in this context, was an attempt to subvert the apparent permanency of sectarian differences by defining people according to their place of residence rather than religious belief.”

“The meaning of the word ‘national’ has undergone a subtle change between the 1850s and the 1870s. It now contained some idea of an equality of opportunity, regardless of denomination or residence, in attaining a basic education, an education shaped by a ‘national’, rather than a sectarian, curriculum that would promote the ‘national’ development of the colonial community.”

Baskerville says, of the invention of a national park: “The particular name ‘national’ was associated with characterisation of a place as publicly accessible, owned by the state, and free of sectarian divisions.”

Looking ahead, what happens to National plus Park when “Royal” is added to the name of this construct which sits over the living country of Australia’s First Peoples?  A Royal National Park which lacks even a dual-naming title just as the whole of its practical and intellectual history during the 20th century has lacked any spirit of bi-culturalism.