- The Ways of the Bushwalker, by Melissa Harper. NewSouth, $34.99.
This up-dated version of Melissa Harper's 2007 history of bushwalking takes account of last summer's bushfires as well as recent government investments in multi-day tracks.
Now and again, the book may still seem to be carrying a little too much baggage - in its academic approach, its concerns about spurious gradations among bushwalkers, and its attempts to link bushwalking to wider social concerns.
Focusing on the period of European settlement, Harper argues that "bushwalking can be traced back to 1788". She means walking for English-learnt reasons like education, recreation, self-improvement or communion with nature, rather than First Nations' treks for food or to sacred sites.
Instead of an escaped convict bewildered by gums shedding bark or maddened by kookaburras' song, her first walker (George Worgan) trundled off with a consoling bottle of "O Be Joyful" tucked in his "snapsack".
Worgan and his myriad successors were not quite in the literary class of American walker naturalists like Thoreau and Muir, or English counterparts such as Stevenson and Wordsworth.
Swagmen have appropriated more space in Australian folklore than trampers. Bushrangers and explorers tried to cross the country on horse, not on foot (until their mounts gave out).
As for walkers with cultural impact, two honourable mentions (neither included in Harper's index) should be noted. Olegas Truchanas and Peter Dombrovskis introduced city dwellers - lyrically, lovingly, wonderfully - to the glories in Tasmania's Southwest wilderness.
After Worgan, Harper proceeds chronologically, finding space for obscure walking clubs and forgotten newsletters, interspersing her narrative with a few engaging characters. Odd folk with silly ideas (like the purity of the Nordic race) jostle with commentators bearing famous names (Hamlet, but William Mogford) and true eccentrics.
Dot Butler, for example, enjoyed walking barefoot in the bush, while Alice Mansfield's tour-guide outfit at Mt Buffalo included knee-length bloomers. An evening at Cradle Mountain, with wombat stew on the menu and opera on the gramophone, is charmingly re-created. Mylo Dunphy is accorded well-deserved praise for his conservation efforts.
Other writers might have injected more romance or drama into this story, or lingered longer in describing the most evocative - or scariest - landscapes encountered by the walkers. Harper does do that well in her account of attempts to scale Tasmania's Federation Peak.
Otherwise, to make a distinction rather than a criticism, Harper's history is solid and comprehensive, not lyrical.