Mountains of science

A thematic interpretation strategy for scientific sites of cultural heritage
Report to the Australian Alps Liaison Committee
P. Macdonald and J. Haiblen, December 2001



Scientific research is as much part of the cultural history of the Australian Alps as the well-recognised history of the gold miners, mountain cattlemen and dam builders.

These latter histories have received considerable attention in recent years with the ‘Man from Snowy River’ films and the Mountain Cattlemen’s rallies in downtown Melbourne, along with the 50th Anniversary celebrations of the Snowy Mountains Scheme and its published history. Their activities have left historic relics in the Australian Alps National Parks that are easily recognised by the visiting public. Interpretive centres and published materials cover these historic themes.

What of the scientists?

Their commitment and activities have not been broadly recognised and their stories are left untold to Australians generally. Those who visit Mt Kosciuszko may be aware of Clement Wragge’s meteorological station but are unlikely to know of the work done by scientists to expand our knowledge of the very ecosystems they are passing through.

These scientists and their research have their ‘stories’ and there is the romanticism of the hard life against the elements while seeking knowledge of the mountains. In some cases there are even relics of their work. These relics are not as obvious as the structures from other human activities in the mountains. The scientists themselves do not wave a flag for their history. All these factors allow the scientists’ stories and places to blend into the background.

We don’t celebrate this important scientific history which will continue to inform our knowledge of the Alps. Unlike the dam builders, gold miners and the mountain graziers the work of scientists in the Alps is a tradition that will continue long into the future. We need to recognise their historic contributions, protect their research sites, and tell their stories so that their history is valued in the community.