Myles Joseph DUNPHY (1891–1996),

Regarded as the father of conservation in NSW

In looking through land titles for Patonga we came across the name Myles Joseph DUNPHY who had purchased in May 1934, Lot 5 in Bay Street.  The title described Mr DUNPHY as being an architect from Mortdale.  

Some further digging identified that Mr Dunphy had been an influential figure in the bush walking groups of Sydney. This in turn makes sense that Mr Dunphy retained the property until November 1960 when it was sold to Colin ZWAN.  The bush walks around Patonga are extensive and beautiful.

It is with a little pride that we note he kept a little piece of Patonga near to 30 years but why the statement that he “was regarded as the father of conservation in NSW” and also in some quarters credited as “the father of the National Parks systems”.

From NSW Teachers Federation page.

Myles Joseph Dunphy, was a resident of Oatley, and as a marathon bushwalker he galvanised the bushwalking conservation movement into articulating a vision for legislative protection of the environment. He spent a lifetime walking, mapping and calling for national parks to be established.

He had a particular passion for the Blue Mountains and this led to the creation of the Blue Mountains National Park in 1959. In 2000, the Greater Blue Mountains National Park became a World Heritage Area.  Dunphy’s maps were the guide for most bushwalkers and his skill is evident in the image below.

Sample of Dunphy's sketches
Sample of Dunphy’s sketches from Dunphy Collection at NSW State Library

Dunphy was an architect and was appointed as a full-time teacher for architectural engineering and later architectural history at Sydney Technical College in 1922. Later, this section of TAFE would become part of the University of NSW. For his work in architecture Myles was awarded Life Fellowship of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects in 1970.

In 1914 Dunphy, with his friends Roy Rudder and Bert Gallop, formed the Mountain Trails Club. Membership was by invitation only and required a stiff initiation ritual of a twenty-mile (32 km) walk.

Dunphy’s association with formal walking clubs reflected his search for a recreational area free from the constraints of urbanisation. He later wrote that people needed a space to rid themselves ‘of the shackles of ordered existence’, and this belief sustained his approach to conservation.   Perhaps Patonga provided this space as it does for so many people who have homes here.

Dunphy mobilised the “bushwalking conservation” movement that rose to prominence in the 1930s during the Depression with the popularity of bushwalking as an inexpensive sport.

It was Dunphy and his bushwalking colleagues who in fact coined the word “bushwalking” when they formed the club, The Sydney Bush Walkers.

Dunphy in Bushwalking kit C 1912
Myles in bushwalking gear 1915

As the Mountain Trails Club did not admit women as members, in 1927 the Sydney Bush Walkers club was formed, with Dunphy as a foundation member. Through this club, he focused on protecting bushland from development. He helped to negotiate the purchase of the lease of the Blue Gum Forest on the Grose River in 1931-32 to save the area from being logged. Similarly, an area of the Garawarra coastline in Sydney’s south was reserved as parkland in 1934 after Dunphy directed a lobbying campaign aimed at the under-secretary for the Department of Lands.

In 1925 Myles married Margaret Peet and shortly after bought a dog which he called Dex.  In 1929 son Milo arrived.   Dunphy quite often trekked with his wife, Margaret, son Milo and dog Dex.

Margaret Peet & Myles Dunphy C 1922-1925
Margaret Peet & Myles Dunphy C 1922-1925

Dex was known to have his own boots and on one trip from Oberon to Kanangra they even pushed Milo in a pram.

Dex and his boots
Dex and his boots
Kanangara Express
Kanangara Express

In 1933 Dunphy had helped to form another group, the National Parks and Primitive Areas Council, which sought the reservation of scenic areas for recreation. He looked enviously on the development of national parks in the United States of America and hoped to encourage similarly protected environments in New South Wales for bushwalkers. As secretary of the NP&PAC, in 1934 Dunphy publicised a proposal for a Blue Mountains national park that had been submitted in 1932, but it was not until 1959 that lobbying resulted in a government gazettal of 155,676 acres (63,000 ha). This park was only a quarter of the size envisioned by Dunphy but with subsequent additions, such as the Wollemi National Park in 1979, the eventual Greater Blue Mountains Park fulfilled his original proposal. Other parklands, for example the Warrumbungle National Park in 1953, were created as a result of NP&PAC lobbying and his maps. In 1967, with the establishment of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the lobbying role of the NP&PAC diminished but Dunphy served on the Blue Mountains National Parks Trust and in his retirement successfully fought the Geographical Names Board of New South Wales, of which he was an honorary counsellor, to retain the names he had chosen in the Blue Mountains region.

He was appointed OBE in 1977 and was given the Fred M. Packard International Parks merit award by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources in 1982.  He was active in promoting conservational issues until his later years.

Myles Dunphy aged 93
Myles DUNPHY aged 93 in 1984 article

Myles believed the preservation of nature was crucial for the wellbeing of modern society. He recognised how dangerous big business could be for the environment in its pursuit of profits. He opposed the privatisation and commercialisation of scenic, majestic and beautiful natural places.

Myles believed that pristine natural landscapes were too important to the nation to develop, log or mine. He believed they belonged not only to his generation but for future generations. People needed wild, beautiful places to maintain their mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing.

Myles Dunphy’s brilliance was that he was able to articulate and promulgate an alternative vision for the land. Instead of “conquering”, “exploiting” and “clearing land for improvement” he and his strong network of bushwalkers wanted national parks and wild places conserved, appreciated and walked. That is why many came to call him the “father of the conservation movement”.

Memorials include Dunphy’s Campground (Southern Blue Mountains area); Myles Dunphy Reserve at Oatley; a Display of the Dunphy collection at the National Museum of Australia; The Dunphy Award from the Nature Conservation Council for the most outstanding environment effort by an individual.

Myles Dunphy was also active in war historian Charles Bean’s post-World War I Parks and Playground Movement that demanded governments put aside the protection of open space, playground and sporting areas. Locally, all this work is under threat with the review of Crown Lands that proposes to “divest” of public lands and “assets”. Many local communities like Patonga are concerned to hold onto their public or community spaces as local government seeks to commercialise them.

To hear him speak you can access an interview with Myles Dunphy by Maryanne Quinn as part of a program of oral histories for the Blue Mountains.


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