History of the Bunya Mountains

Geologists

The Bunya Mountains was formed about 30 million years ago probably as a remnant of an old shield volcano.  Over eons, basaltic lava flows cooled and solidified into basalt which has eroded and weathered – eventually forming the deep red-brown and black earths of the Bunya Mountains today.

Aboriginal History

For many thousands of years, large groups of Aboriginal people gathered at the Bunya Mountains to take part in what was known as the bonye bonye festival (Waka Waka language) coinciding with this natural event.  Custodians of the Bunya Mountains and the Blackall Ranges invited people from as far south as the Clarence, Moonie & McIntyre Rivers over the Maranoa and down the Dawson, Boyne & Burnett Rivers, to join the gatherings.  The Bunya festivals were regarded very highly by all mobs as opportunities to socialise, engage in ceremonies, law-making and resolving disputes.   Whist the aboriginal people did not actually stay on the mountain itself – they did camp in various areas around the base of the mountain range (e.g. Black Camp Hill on the north branch of the Myall) and ventured up to the mountain by day.   Bunya nuts were gathered daily from the forest. Trees were initially climbed by the tree owners using cut vines made into a hoop plus notches cut in the bark.  The nuts were poked down using broken off branches.  Soft, juicy, immature nuts were eaten raw while the mature nuts were roasted.  Alternatively kernels were pounded into meal and roasted into a kind of cake that could be stored for several weeks.  Unshelled nuts were often buried in netted bags in the beds of creeks for later consumption. Whilst Bunya nuts were an important food source, bunya nut feasts were supplemented by meat.   Women and children collected small animals and fallen bunya nuts etc. while the men hunted the larger animals, including wallabies and kangaroos.

Expansion of European settlements, along with increased logging activity and clearing for grazing and farming disrupted the large gatherings, making it difficult for visiting Aboriginal groups to travel along their traditional pathways.  The last great ‘bonye bonye” festival is reported to have been held in the late 1800’s.

European

In the late 1830’s Andrew Petrie, Moreton Bay settlement superintendent of works became the first European to record samples of the Bunya Pine (Araucaria Bidwillii).  In the 1840’s and 1850’s, spurred on by reports of explorers like Ludwig Leichhardt, European settlement spread rapidly across the Darling Downs.  The forested foothills of the Bunyas soon caught the attention of timber getters who arrived to log red cedar – a valuable species.  When cedar ran low, other rainforest species including crows’ ash plus hoop and bunya pines were harvested.  Trees were initially felled by 2 men using a cross cut saw.   Bark was removed and the log hauled to its destination mostly by bullock teams.

Over 25 sawmills operated on or around the Bunyas during this approx. 100 year period.  From the 1860’s timber cutters established small sawmills and in 1883, the Great Bunya Sawmill by Myall Creek began widespread harvesting of Bunya pine.  In 1023 Lars Anderson built a 670m steel railway that carried logs down a 250m hillside.  Remains of the rails can be seen near the top of Maidenwell Road.   Some of the many chutes used to roll the logs down the mountain can still be seen in Russell Park – Carbines Chute and chute No. 3.  From Chute No. 3 you can look across to the opposite spur and see Chute No. 1.  The last sawmill closed in 1945.

The freehold land at Bunya Mountains has also been used for farming.  Over the last 100 years beef cattle have been raised and a dairying operation operated for a time.   Potatoes & other vegetables have also been grown.

Today Bunya Mountains is a peaceful retreat for approx. 30 permanent residents and gives 200,000 visitors/year unique and life changing wilderness experiences.

Opening Bunya Mountains

A Timber Reserve of 12,150 ha.  was declared in 1881 and 20 years of lobbying by various people resulted in Bunya Mountains National Park of initially 9,112 ha. being gazetted in 1908.  This is the 2nd oldest National Park in Queensland and the first of substantial size. “It would be a disgrace to allow this beautiful spot to be alienated or otherwise lost to the public” were the words of Inspector of Forests GL Board in 1903.

For nearly 100 years (1840’s to 1940’s), Bunya Mountains was home to timber cutters, saw millers, bullock drivers and others – all associated with the timber industry.   All came and went with the fortunes of timber.  Some stayed forever – there are a number of graves marking the accidental passing of some of our early visitors. Whilst a number of selectors included parts of the Bunya Mountains in their faming lands, the first permanent resident of Bunya Mountains was Allan Stirling (senior).  He built a 2 room “house” for himself and wife Nell who were married in 1925.  A few years later he upgraded to a larger and more comfortable home better suited to their growing family.

In 1919 the building of the first road to the Bunya Mountains was approved. The Soldiers’ Road provided a means for the people of Dalby and District to be able to visit Bunya Mountains by car.   Formerly it was horseback or foot.   Funding was obtained for returned solders armed only with a pick and shovel to start building the road which was officially opened on May 28th, 1921.

Funding ran out at Munro’s camp. In 1923 Peter Garrow (Dalby Mayor) formed the Bunya Mountains Club with 60 paying members.  The club lobbied Govt and continued to raise money and with volunteer labour completed the road to Mt Mowbullan in January 1926.  By the next year the road was extended to Dandabah (the Lucerne Patch).   Hard work and foresight and a lot of help by a large number of people made Bunya Mountains accessible to more people.   The road was upgraded and widened in 1960 and some 15 years later sealed with bitumen.

On the Kumbia side of the mountain, the Bunya Mountains Road Club was formed in 1927 to organise and provide funds for road building. Kingaroy Council agreed to provide a surveyor and do the earthworks if the club members did all the clearing.  After much hard work by locals including a lot of fund raising, a number of teams including Charlie Winter and his boys, hand cleared the rainforest.   They were helped at the top of the mountain as they were able to utilise the old logging trails that transversed the top of the mountain range. The Dalby & Kumbia Roads joined up in 1931.  The Kumbia Road was the first road on the mountain to be sealed.

In 1954 the people of Maidenwell and Wengenville began their push for a trafficable road to Bunya Mountains.   The new road utilised a private road that the Clappertons (early selectors) had years earlier constructed to service their logging operations.  By 1967 (with a kind donation of land by Allan Stirling) the road was completed, linking up with Bunya Mountains Road.

Russell Park – a gift to the People

WA Russell attended an auction of all the lands on the South-Western side of the mountain including sawmilling sites up to and including Mt Mowbullan and bought the lot.  In 1927 he handed over the gift of this new park of 1100 acres to the Mayor of Dalby, Victor Drury saying this was a gift to the people of Dalby and districts.  “The only reservation I have made is that there is no charge to be made at any time for admission and that the people have free access at all times”.  This Park was named Russell Park.

WA Russell also had 10 acres surveyed off as the site of the future Mowbullan Guest House which was completed in 1930 and is still standing today.  WA Russell died suddenly in 1932.   To acknowledge his great gift. a drinking fountain (with engraved plaque) was built at Munro’s camp serviced by a nearby freshwater spring.

Walking Tracks 

In 1983 a grant was obtained through the Natural History Association (formed in 1976) to build a walking track from Munros’ Camp to the top of Carbines Chute.  Neville Ludke and 4 others built this track using only hand tools.

Another grant was obtained and Neville and his work gang constructed another walking track.  This one started in the picnic area below Mowbullan Guest House down to the top of Chute No. 3; across Little Mowbullan to Cunjevoi Falls and back up the hill to end at the base of Fishers Lookout.  Walking track maps are available at Bunya Mountains Accommodation Centre Office. Large signs with walking track details are also situated at the 3 entrances to these tracks.

Mowbullan Township

During the 100 years of logging, Bunya Mountains was a busy place.   In 1913, The Bunya Park Estate Company which owned 6000 acres (2,400 ha) on the top and western sides of the mountain decided to survey about 150 acres (60ha) to the west of Mt Mowbullan.  Streets were surveyed and named after early pioneers.  In all 134 x ½ acre (2000sq.m) allotments were surveyed. The allotments were advertised for auction in the Toowoomba Chronicle and the auction was held in Dalby in 1914 – attended by 130 people. Top prices were 35 – 40 pounds/allotment and 78 lots were sold.  Today Mowbullan Township is a quiet and attractive area on the southern side of Bunya Mountains Road – running mostly off Tolmie Street.

Bunya Mountains Titles and Bunya Mountains Rainforest Estates   

In 1974 Frank Unwin purchased Frank & Irene Langton’s property at Dandabah opposite the camping area.  He had a vision of building a school camp where children could experience the magic of Bunya Mountains and realise the importance of valuing and preserving our wilderness areas.  To raise the money for this project, Frank developed Bunya Mountains Titles Estate.   Registered in 1984, the 75 x 2000sq.m. lots utilised existing cleared land as did the bitumen access road.  The 66ha of rainforest was protected as “common area” by strict covenants similar to those governing National Parks.   Bunya Mountains Rainforest Estate with its 39 x 2000 sq.m allotments followed in 1994.   

Today many of the magnificent homes on the private Estates, Mowbullan Township, Bunya Mountains Road and Bunya Avenue are rented on behalf of the owners by Bunya Mountains Accommodation Centre.     

National Park

Walking Tracks

The first visitors to enjoy Bunya Mountains used the old cedar tracks which ran along the full length of the mountain range with branch tracks to the chutes and spurs.  There was also a well beaten track down to Festoon & McGrory  Falls as well as Big Falls.  The National Park at that time was under the control of the Forestry Department.

In 1938 Alf Moor was given the task of planning and surveying the tracks to Festoon and Big Falls.  After World War 2 finished, track building resumed.  Successive Overseers and their teams completed various parts of the tracks until by approx. 1970 there was over 32km of walking tracks available to our visitors.   A final track was added after 1970 – it ran from Dandabah over the ridge to link up with Paradise Falls Car Park and the Big Falls circuit.

Thanks to the hard work and dedication by many Forestry Staff over an approx. 35 year period, visitors to the mountains can enjoy with relative ease all the beauty and magnificence that Bunya Mountains has to offer.

Our National Park Rangers today still work hard to keep our walking tracks in good condition.  It is a constant job to clear fallen trees and brush-cut the sides of the tracks to allow us to walk relatively unhindered through Bunya’s wilderness rainforest.

Camping Grounds

Prior to the 1960’s, the few who camped at Bunya Mountains did so in a small area in front of Cedarvale (the Bunya Mountains Natural History headquarters).   National Parks and Wildlife Service recognised the need for a dedicated camping area and approached Allan & Nell Stirling to donate the “Lucerne Patch “to them.   In 1971 Allan & Nell Stirling donated all the land from Bunya Mountains Road including the rainforest along Bunya Avenue and the large cleared area formerly known as the “Lucerne Patch” to the National Parks & Wildlife Service.  In all this generous gift totalled 45 acres (18 ha.).  The Lucerne patch was re-named  “Dandabah” and the remainder of the land the “Allan Stirling Memorial Park”.

Dandabah Camping Ground and the subsequent Burtons Well and Westcott Camping areas have been enjoyed by countless thousands of campers since.

Picnic Areas

Are to be found at Dandabah, Westcott and Burton’s Well. Dandabah has electric BBQ’s; Westcott and Burton’s Well have fireplaces with firewood supplied.

Bunya Mountains Natural History Association

Was formed in 1976 to support the National Park and help interpret Bunya Mountains to visitors by offering guided walks, slide shows and campfire talks.   There have been numerous contributions to the mountain by this Association.  Some of these include commemorative plaques, signage along the 3 approach Roads as well as restoring the Russell Fountain at Munros’ Camp.  Their headquarters now is “Cedarvale”.  This cottage was built in 1880 and generously donated to the Association by Jim & Jean Sorley of Bell.  Members dismantled it and re-erected it on land owned by Helen Stirling (which now includes the General Store, Café, Restaurant and Motel Units).   Bunya Mountains Natural History Association has organised the Veterans Picnic for many years.  Veterans of Bunya Mountains come together to share stories and recollect the Bunya Mountains of the past.  For many years a Junior Ranger program inspired in teenagers a love of nature, wilderness areas and Bunya Mountains.

Today Cedarvale holds valuable information and history associated with Bunya Mountains.  It is open to the public every Saturday between 10am and 2pm – manned by volunteers.