We are writing to provide you with our submissions in relation to the Draft Plan of Management „(The Draft Plan)” for the Kosciuszko National Park „(the Park)”.
We are a non-profit organisation based in Perth Western Australia, with most of our members being either Polish or of Polish origin. Our aims include the promotion of community awareness regarding the life of the explorer Paul Edmund Strzelecki „(Strzelecki)”, and in particular, the role that he played in the early history of Australia. We also have members and supporters in other States of Australia and overseas.
In making this submission we are seeking to provide additional information which does not appear to have been taken into account in the preparation of the Draft Plan. Information which we consider is very important, and in particular in relation to the cultural heritage of the Park, and also in relation to the possible dual naming of the Park, and/or Mt Kosciuszko. As well, we have some concerns about how the exploits of Strzelecki, and another Polish explorer are covered in the Draft Plan.
We acknowledge that a significant amount of work has gone into the preparation of the Draft Plan. We therefore do not take issue with many of the recommendations that are included in the Draft Plan, particularly those dealing with such matters such as zoning, recreational use of the Park, and also the conservation and protection of the Park’s environment.
Although many community groups and „stakeholders ” were consulted in the course of the preparation of the Draft Plan, we are very disappointed that the Polish community was not amongst the groups that were involved in the consultations. The Draft Plan, albeit very briefly, refers to the role that was played by two Polish explorers in the exploration and the naming of the highest mountain in Australia, and from which the Park takes its name, that of Mt. Kosciuszko (p.73). Accordingly Poles in New South Wales and in Australia generally, have strong historical and cultural connection with the Park and in particular with Mt Kosciuszko itself.
We consider that the Draft Plan appears to downplay the significance of the role that Strzelecki played in:
We therefore set out below some background information concerning these matters, and which we consider is important to the understanding of the historical and cultural heritage of the Park.
Strzelecki was in his time, one of the few people who spoke out against the destruction of native flora through burning, against the increase in the amount of land given over to pasture, and against the uncontrolled grazing of ever increasing herds of cattle on that land. Strzelecki saw that there was a great opportunity for the exploitation of the natural resources, on the East Coast of Australia namely those resources (minerals) beneath the surface. He also advocated that there should be a rational exploitation of water resources.
Strzelecki was one of the few Europeans in early Australian history who had respect for the Aboriginal people of this land. He had written, and spoken out about the plight of Aboriginal people, something that did not win him many fiends amongst the early settlers in Australia.
In his published work Physical Description of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, 1845. Strzelecki wrote that:
…„there remains yet to be adopted one measure … to listen and attend to the last wishes of the departed, and to the voice of the remaining few: "Leave us to our habits and customs, do not embitter the days which are in store for us, by constraining us to obey yours, nor reproach us with apathy to that civilisation which is not destined for us;
…relieve the hunger which drives us in despair to slaughter your flocks and the men who guard them. Our fields and forests, which once furnished us with abundance of vegetable and animal food, now yield us no more; they and their produce is yours. You prospect on our native soil, and we are famishing.”
(as quoted by L. Paszkowski, cited above)
We therefore believe that the name „Kosciuszko” has a major historical and cultural significance, to all Australians, and that this cultural heritage should be reflected in the Management Plan for the Park.
Inspiration for the Name „Kosciuszko”
In a letter written from Launceston on 1 August 1840, Edmund Strzelecki wrote:
„The highest peak in the Australian Alps
… with its everlasting snows, the silence with it is surrounded, I have reserved and consecrated as a reminder for future generations upon this continent, of a name dear
… to every friend of freedom and honour – Kosciuszko.”
(Cited in Paszkowski. L., Sir Paul Edmund de Strzelecki: Reflection on His Life - Australian Scholarly Press, Melbourne, 1997 page 111).
Such a dedication is a very stirring one, and has, in our view, as much relevance today as it did in 1840, when it was first proclaimed. This dedication by Strzelecki of Australia’s highest mountain to the name of „Kosciuszko” reflects values that many Australians today can, and should identify with, regardless of their race or colour.
Tadeusz Kosciuszko in whose memory Strzelecki named the highest mountain in continental Australia, was not only a Polish general and patriot, but he is also a significant historical figure, who was greatly respected and admired in many countries. Some sense of the person that he was, and the values that Kosciuszko represented, can be gained from the gesture made by him in leaving his American estate to be used for the emancipation of American slaves, and towards their education.
In the 19th century, Kosciuszko was considered to be a symbol to others as a person of culture, democratic values, bravery, a fighter for freedom, and a man of broad horizons. Again, we would suggest that such values are equally relevant in today’s 21st century Australia.
We consider that there seems to be a push to marginalise, and possibly do away with the name „Kosciuszko ”, which has been associated with Australia’s highest mountain for over 160 years. This may have something to do with the general lack of knowledge and understanding, in the Australian community generally, of the historical and cultural significance associated with the name „Kosciuszko ”.
We consider that the Management Plan for the Park needs to address the issue of how to celebrate and to increase the public knowledge and awareness of the very important historical and cultural significance of the name „Kosciuszko” which has been given to the Park, and the highest mountain within it.
Portrayal of Strzelecki in Draft Plan
Of particular concern to us in this regard is that the Draft Plan, immediately after giving a brief account of the discovery, ascent and naming of the highest mountain by Strzelecki, and without any transition, immediately goes on to describe the adverse effects that European settlement had on the Aboriginal people of the area.
We agree that European settlement displaced Aboriginal peoples from their lands, and introduced diseases to which Aboriginal people had no immunity, and that it therefore had a very serious adverse effect on them and on their culture. However, from the way that this particular section of the Draft Plan has been written, it could be construed that there was a link between Strzelecki and the significant and adverse impact of European settlers on Aboriginal society.
That such an interpretation could be placed on the passages in the Draft Plan that we referred to above is, in our view, reinforced by the rather mild treatment that is given to the role of the „wave of settlers ” who followed the explorers including Strzelecki.”
We would therefore strongly suggest that in the preparation of the final Plan, the section of the Draft Plan referred to above, which includes the discussion about Strzelecki should be amended so as to correct the possible misconception which appears to have been created by it.
European Cultural Heritage and Education
Poles have played a significant role in the European exploration of the Snowy Mountains, and the Polish community in Australia is very proud of this. We consider that this is part of Australia’s rich multicultural history.
Taking into account the matters that we have discussed in the earlier part of this submission, we would submit that public education plans for the Park should recognise the need to increase public understanding and awareness of the valuable contribution that Strzelecki has made to our cultural heritage, and should include this as one of its key objectives.
Of particular relevance in this regard is the contribution of Strzelecki in giving Australia „Kosciuszko”, as an example of noble values and ideals that we should all seek to aspire to. These values include the respect for the rights of all individuals to freedom and education, regardless of their race or colour.
Aboriginal Connection with the Summit of Mt Kosciuszko
We consider that the passage in the Draft Plan which describes Strzelecki’s ascent on Mt.Kosciuszko, may be somewhat misleading. On page 73, of the Draft Plan, it is stated that:
„Initially led by two Aboriginal guides Strzelecki ascended and named the highest point in the mountains.”
Historical information confirms that the Aboriginal guides actually had no desire to ascend the hard to get to area near the summit, and that they set up camp in an area lower down the mountain, which they considered to be more suitable for a campsite. Strzelecki, who was meticulous in documenting his explorations, has made no reference, in any of his writings, to any Aboriginal campsites on or near the summit of Mt. Kosciuszko.
Therefore, we consider that a strong conclusion can be drawn from this that there was little, if any Aboriginal activity either on the summit of Mt Kosciuszko or in the areas immediately below it.
In all of the circumstances, we strongly believe it is not appropriate to dual name either Mt Kosciuszko itself, or the Park named after it. This is due to the significant cultural heritage attached to the name „Mt Kosciuszko” by all Australians. As well, for thousands of Australians, Mt Kosciuszko is a „place of pilgrimage”. Another reason against dual naming either the Park or Mt Kosciuszko, is that there appears to be not a single Aboriginal that could be associated with the Park as a whole.
Appropriate recognition could, and should be given to significant Aboriginal heritage areas in the Park. We would submit that such recognition could be accorded by either dual naming or assigning Aboriginal names to particular places and/or areas within the Park with which there is a clear link to Aboriginal culture.
We would see dual naming of the Park and/or of Mt Kosciuszko as being a first step to the possible removal of European names altogether from places that are of major cultural significance to all Australians. These places also have international recognition and significance. We therefore consider that any change to the name of either, „Mt Kosciuszko” or of the Park, would be inconsistent with the concept of a multicultural Australia.
We would therefore submit that the following matters should be addressed as part of the Management Plan for the Park:
Should you have any queries concerning any of the matters raised in this letter please do not hesitate to contact us.
Adam M. Dzieciol
For and on behalf of the Management Committee,
and Members of Mt Kosciuszko Inc.