USSHER, Robert Arthur (Bob) 1929 to 22 October 2014

From Shaun Barnett’s article commemorating Bob Ussher in Wilderness Magazine ‘Walkshorts’, December 2014

An Aucklander and long-term Alpine Sports Club member, Bob also served on the Federated Mountain Clubs executive and, perhaps most importantly, was the man behind the walkways concept.

During the mid-1960s, Bob became inspired by the idea of a national length walkway for New Zealand, similar to those that had already been established in the United States (The Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails) and Britain (The Pennine Way). In 1967, Bob presented this idea to Federated Mountain Clubs.  While accepting that it was a highly ambitious goal, FMC endorsed the concept and the 1970s saw walkways committees established around the country. Government supported the concept too, with the Walkways Act passed in 1975. Importantly, this legislation enabled a legal means of access over private land, while also maintaining the property rights of the landowner…

– Shaun Barnett”

The fourth anniversary of Bob’s death occurs when the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park is made topical by recent closures of the Range’s rough tramping tracks.  As well as being on various parks advisory committees, Mountain Safety Council, land search and rescue, and the local Conservation Board, Bob was also a founding member of the Waitakere Ranges Protection Society.

Bob Ussher was an enthusiastic supporter of tramping in the Waitakere Ranges.

He is remembered by his ASC friends for taking an exception to John Pascoe, another New Zealand backcountry notary, when the latter claimed that Ussher’s beloved Waitakere Ranges were nothing more than “a hedge on Auckland’s horizon”.  Bob’s response in Alpinesport, Auckland ASC’s magazine: ‘his (Pascoe’s) name still raises blood pressure.’  John Pascoe, South Island alpinist and historian, had committed the unforgivable; insulting the home base of the largest tramping club in the country, Auckland ASC, of which Ussher had been president for many years and was a life member.

His idea for a length of the country track system was presented by FMC to the Minister of Lands, Duncan McIntyre, in 1970.  The network, a continuous route from North Cape to Bluff, was to be called “New Zealand Scenic Trails”.  Five years later the name was changed to New Zealand Walkways and Parliament passed the New Zealand Walkways Act that provided the legal framework to establish walkways over both public and private land.  The legislation also provided for a quango known as the New Zealand Walkway Commission, now the Walking Access Commission, on which Ussher served as deputy chairman, and 12 district walkway committees.  The Act’s intent was “to provide walking tracks over public and private land so that the people of New Zealand shall have safe, unimpeded foot access to the countryside for the benefit of physical recreation as well as for the enjoyment of the outdoor environment and the natural and pastoral beauty and historical and cultural qualities of the area they pass through.

The quango-busting Labour government in the late 1980s abolished the commission and gave the fledgling Department of Conservation responsibility for administering the walkways and a revised Act.  The move knocked the stuffing out of the walkways network and many walkways soon became in need of some serious TLC, a fact that saddened Ussher who believed that DOC had not administered the Act as assiduously as it should.

Fortunately, Geoff Chapple and the Te Araroa Trust gave the New Zealand-long trail new and vigorous impetus.

Thank you to Joe Scott-Woods of ASC for sharing his club’s information and to Shaun for sharing his article.

Norm Judd

By |2018-10-12T13:21:38+13:00October 12th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorised|Comments Off on USSHER, Robert Arthur (Bob) 1929 to 22 October 2014