History Of Bushwalk Australia

Nik Sands
(Son of a Beach)

During the summer of 2007 a couple of keen fly fisher friends asked me if I'd like to join them on a walk to "The Blue Peaks" in Tasmania's central highlands. I immediately replied in the affirmative, being keen to take up any opportunity for a bushwalk
(one of the first topics on the forums is about this walk: http://bushwalk.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=42&t=7). However, I was a little put out that I'd never even heard of The Blue Peaks, and had no idea what kind of bushwalk it would be. I searched for information on the internet and the only information I could find was the discussion by my fishing mates on a fly fishing forum.

I then changed my internet searching to look for bushwalking forums, so I could post questions about the proposed walk. I found none. At all. I was quite surprised. If there were any out there, they were simply too difficult to find.

As an IT professional, I thought it would be fairly easy to establish a site to fill this void - at least technically. So I downloaded the open source "phpBB" forums software installed it on my own web site, became familiar with how to set up a forums site, and then created a custom theme to set the new forums apart visually from other sites.

At that time, my idea was merely for a Tasmanian bushwalking forum and therefore I decided to name the site 'Bushwalk Tasmania' and registered the domain name, "bushwalktasmania.com" ("bushwalktasmania.com" was already owned by a gentleman in Hobart who was not currently using it, but was also not interested in parting with it).

On the 1st of March, 2007, I re-installed the software from scratch on the new website, configured it with the new name and DNS and the site was born.

That was the easy part.

The next challenge was to get people to join up to a site that was clearly new and had very little content. How do you get people to join a forum with virtually no content? How do you get content on to such a site without any members to write it? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? I attempted to recruit a few friends to join up and encouraged them to start posting interesting bushwalking-related information there. But I didn't have a lot of bushwalking friends and they didn't have a lot of time to devote to the cause and for the first 10 days most of the topics consisted of just me talking to myself.

Then a link to "Bushwalk Tasmania" was posted to the fly fishing forum by one of my friends and about 20 members signed up over the next few days. This was enough to create a critical mass for genuine discussion, and the site began to grow steadily from that time on.

When the site was first established, the logo was a photo of the bridge over the Mersey River near Lees Paddocks with my wife holding our 4 month old baby. After several months, the members suggested that we should have a proper logo. We held a competition in which we received many entries for a new site logo. The winning entry, which is still the basis for the current boot-prints logo, was submitted by "Speculator" and was a good match for the boot-prints rank icons that the site was already using.

The site now had its own identity, and a community of members who were providing useful information to each other and who's questions were getting great answers from knowledgeable and experienced bushwalkers.

In fact within only 6 months of the site first going live, the DNS name 'bushwalkaustralia.com' was registered and redirected to the site, due to the large number of 'mainland' Australians using the site. The site was modified in such a way that when people logged into the site using that new URL, it would have the title 'Bushwalk Australia' instead of 'Bushwalk Tasmania'. I had tried to buy the DNS name, 'bushwalk.com' instead, but the owner at that time said that he would only consider offers over US$20,000 which was something I couldn’t even vaguely consider.

On the 10th of March, 2008, the site had its 1st anniversary bushwalk on which a small number of members walked into Lees Paddocks for a couple of nights, visiting Lees Hut, Wadleys Hut and Ladder Falls while we were there. Anniversary walks in subsequent years have varied greatly in numbers of attendees, and included locations such as Lady Lake (including 40 Lakes Peak), Fergies Paddock (including Mtns Little Hugel and Rufus), Silver Lake (including Pine River) and the Arm River track into Oakleigh View (Pelion) Hut.

These walks have always been a great time to meet up with people who would otherwise be faceless (and 'nameless'?) names on the forum, and it has been great getting to know some of the members that way and to bushwalk with them.

Site member, 'Joe' started up what it now a very popular series of photo competitions on the site in 2008 as a simple monthly poll. It was later turned into an automated photo competitions system with four different competitions running each month, as well as annual photo-of-the-year-competitions, including a back-dated 2007 photo -of-the-year competition to make sure we covered every year since the forums had been running.

As time went on, it was becoming clear that the Tasmanians on the site would soon be outnumbered and that the focus on Tasmania may have to change to a more nation-wide outlook in order to suit the majority of the members. In October 2009, the number of 'mainlanders' outnumbered the Tasmanians in the members list and in terms of active users were far more dominant. When I realised that this was going to happen, I again made enquiries into purchasing the DNS name 'bushwalk.com'. This time the owner was quite agreeable to selling at a price far less than the US$20,000 that had been suggested earlier.

So in November, 2009, the old URLs were redirected to http://bushwalk.com and the 'Bushwalk Tasmania' site name was dropped in favour of 'Bushwalk Australia'. In some ways this was a bit of a sad moment, because the site had outgrown the purpose and community for which it was originally intended, but I was hopeful that it could continue to serve all members well, and to serve the majority of members better than before.

Would you believe that I read every single post to the site for the first 4 years? After that it became impossible to keep up and I relaxed my monitoring of the site somewhat.

Even after reducing the extent to which I was monitoring posts to the site, I realised that my passion for running 'Bushwalk Australia' was dwindling and that I was not giving it the attention it deserved. I was also finding that I simply couldn't devote the time to it that I should do, due to changes in the nature of my job and commitments to other projects. I wanted to make sure that the community that used the site would continue to be well served and I knew that it was time to find somebody else to take on the job. After discussions with a few interested parties over a long period of time, I eventually came to an agreement with Matt from the 'Wildwalks' site to take over 'Bushwalk Australia'. The site officially changed hands in mid- 2012 and a few months later was running on his computers.

My involvement has gradually decreased since then and these days I'm now very much enjoying browsing the site as a 'normal' member. I am very grateful to the members of the site who have posted such a plethora of useful bushwalking information. It is the members who have made the site what it is today. Thanks too to the moderators over the years, from ‘wotrack?’ (the first moderator) and ‘tasadam’ (the first to actually do any moderating and still the most active) and to the others. Their job is a very difficult one and I commend them on doing it so well over the last 6 years and for putting up with me for that long!