Western Australia’s oldest national park, John Forrest National Park was established in 1900. Named after the State’s first premier, it is and remains one of Perth’s favourite day trip and picnic destinations. Now 118 years old, the park is getting a much-needed makeover.
The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions has been funding a project to replace the heritage bridges on the Heritage Trail, and particularly the iconic Jane Brook Pedestrian Bridges located at the base of the Grand Staircase.
During a recent visit to John Forrest National Park, WA Parks Foundation chair Hon Kerry Sanderson AC remarked, “It is wonderful to see the area around Jane Brook being restored, with the rock walls rebuilt, the picnic area transformed with new tables and sympathetic landscaping, and with paths upgraded. This important national park will again become a showcase of how national parks can help us to re-connect with our natural heritage. The work being undertaken by the Department in this first stage of the restoration means that the Park can become a symbolic Gateway to our national parks as the work is completed over the next few years”.
Paul Udinga, Senior Ranger, Perth Hills District, explained, “Major capital works are being undertaken on the deteriorating retaining walls, being re-crafted by local stonemasons, using existing material where possible. Invasive plant species have been removed to expose the magnificent granite boulders which are a feature of the Darling Scarp and one of the main attractions of the park, responsible for shaping the valleys, waterways and dominating the landscape”.
Major roadworks have been underway for a few months now, with a re-alignment and resurfacing of the first two kilometres of the middle Park Road from the Great Eastern Highway. It is planned that these works be completed by the end of August. Further upgrades to Park Road will continue, including a project by Main Roads to install a slip lane on the Great Eastern Highway to allow safe turning into the park. Over the next year, a grand entrance statement befitting WA’s iconic first national park is planned, as well as upgrades to the scenic drive section to the Perth Lookout.
One patron who was delighted to learn that a rejuvenation program is underway at John Forrest National Park was Gwen Poland. At 92 years of age, Gwen holds many wonderful memories of her time growing up on the edge of the park, where she worked in the park alongside her parents for many years. WA Parks Foundation caught up with Gwen and her daughter Glenys to learn about the early days of this iconic WA Park.
When asked about her earliest memories of the park, Gwen shared, “The important things to me were the beautifulness of it all, the naturalness, the wildflowers…. It was a great place to take family. Family picnics were lovely.”
In an autobiographic book, Gwen wrote,
“Dad was 37 when he started work at the park and he did jobs like laying paths, planting flowers and shrubs and some thatching….
“During the Great Depression of the 1930s, many features near the main park buildings were built to provide employment for men who desperately needed work. In 1936, a National Park railway station was built and this made the park easy for people to visit so it became a very popular railway excursion location.
“Dad did much to make the park an important tourist attraction. He set up a program to bring to the park many species of West Australian wildflowers and spent years carefully cultivating them…”
Gwen’s daughter Glenys talked about her memories too, as a grandchild who would stay with her grandparents from time to time and spend hours playing in the park, sliding down the hills on pieces of cardboard.
Ranger Paul shared, “I too have childhood memories of the park, exploring the rock outcrops, playing in the creek line, I think it was these experiences that set me down the path of becoming a ranger. This role has given me the opportunity to work in National Parks all over the State and so it has come full circle with me coming back to where my passion started”.
It is those wonderful childhood pleasures that John Forrest National Park encourages, as Paul points out, “Today the children still enjoy the simple pleasures of being outside and in the natural environment. This is a place that reminds adults that technology and elaborate toys are not required; that playing with sticks or floating stuff down the creek, drawing in the dirt, children using their imagination, will keep them amused for hours.”
Paul read Gwen’s autobiographic book and said, “I hope Gwen will drop in soon to see what we are doing in our recent works to rejuvenate the recreation area; we have achieved a lot in the last couple of years. Starting with the replacement of some of the bridges across Jane Brook where we were faced with the challenge of modern expectations and requirements while retaining the heritage value of the area. Using local stonemasons and through clever design we have managed to meld the two. With the formation of the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions we now have the opportunity to work with the people from Kings Park and utilise their knowledge, skills and advice on restoring the garden beds and making them a feature of the park once again”.
The WA Parks Foundation hopes that many people who have wonderful memories of the past but who have not visited in years will now take time to come back to John Forrest and see the wonderful work that the Perth Hills District team have undertaken thus far to restore the park to its former glory.
Paul said their vision was that by upgrading John Forrest National Park to world-class standards, it will serve as a shining example to visitors of just how spectacular our National Parks are and thus encourage visitors to seek out other WA parks further afield.
The objective of the John Forrest National Park Revitalisation Plan is to reconnect users to the park and to conserve and protect the rich flora, fauna and landscape values of the Park.
There is still much-needed work and the WA Parks Foundation is seeking donations and private funders for specific projects in the park. The Parks and Wildlife Service has been making a significant investment in the basic park infrastructure but additional funding is needed to progress and improve this natural jewel on Perth’s doorstep. To learn how you can support the park project please visit: