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Warrumbungle National Park, John Renshaws Pkwy, Coonabarabran, NSW, Australia

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List National Heritage List
Class Natural
Legal Status Listed place (15/12/2006)
Place ID 105853
Place File No 1/03/201/0001
Summary Statement of Significance
The Warrumbungle National Park forms an extensive and spectacular geomorphological site, and the bold volcanic landforms are unrivalled anywhere else in Australia. The landscape of spires, domes, plugs and dykes is uncommon in Australia, and the sharp rise of the landform from the surrounding plain to heights of more than 700 metres contributes to the aesthetic drama.
The Warrumbungles represent one of the best examples of a number of central shield volcanoes along the east coast of Australia, and have a wide array of outstanding volcanic features, including domes, plugs, dykes, sills, lava-flows, tuff layers, and horizontal and vertical columns. Some of the spectacular and well-known volcanic features of the Warrumbungles include the Breadknife, a narrow 90 metre high dyke that stretches for half a kilometre; Bluff Mountain, a trachyte dome with a near-vertical face 250 metres high, and Belougery Spire, a plug that illustrates horizontal trachyte columns.
The Warrumbungles are in a transition zone between the arid western and wetter coastal zones, and are of significance as a refugium in inland south-east Australia that supports exceptionally high numbers of species when compared to most other inland places in southern Australia.
Official Values
Criterion A Events, Processes
The Warrumbungles form an extensive and spectacular geomorphological site (Cochrane and Joyce 1986), and the bold volcanic landforms are unrivalled anywhere else in Australia (Yeates 2001).  The volcanic features and landforms illustrate each of the stages in the development of the Warrumbungle volcano, and include an unusual opportunity to examine the inside of a volcano, in addition to parts of the original shield, or external surface, of the volcano, as well as successive layers of lava (Duggan & Knutson 1993, Johnson 2004).
The Warrumbungle National Park displays a wide array of outstanding volcanic features, including plugs, domes, dykes, sills, lava-flows, tuff layers, and horizontal and vertical columns (Duggan & Knutson 1993, Ferrett 2005, Geoscience Australia website 2005, Johnson 2004, Percival 1979, Yeates 2001).
The Warrumbungle National Park is in a transition zone between the arid western and wetter coastal zones, and is of significance as an important refugium in inland south-east Australia. The Warrumbungles support exceptionally high numbers of species, and the place is one of a small number of places in inland southern Australia that are centres of richness for plant and animal taxa (NSW NPWS 1997, ANHAT 2005).
Criterion D Principal characteristics of a class of places
The Warrumbungles are one of the best examples of a number of central shield volcanoes along the east coast of Australia (Yeates 2001, Sutherland 2003 & 2005), and constitute the best representation of exposed volcanic features within the main north-south volcanic line in eastern Australia (Sutherland 2005). The site illustrates an outstanding diversity of volcanic features within a relatively small area that have high integrity.
Criterion E Aesthetic characteristics
The Warrumbungles form a distinctive and spectacular volcanic landscape of spires, domes, plugs and dykes that is uncommon in Australia (Context 2006, Crocker & Davies 2005b, Duggan & Knutson 1993), and the sharp rise of the landform from the surrounding plain to heights of more than 700m contributes to the aesthetic drama. The site beautifully exposes the inside of a shield volcano, and the bold volcanic landforms are unrivalled anywhere else in Australia (Yeates 2001). The integrity and scenic vistas of the features within the Warrumbungle National Park are of outstanding value to the community.
The Warrumbungles represent one of the larger volcanoes that form a north-south line stretching from northern Queensland to southern Victoria. These volcanoes were formed when a stationary super-heated area of the mantle sporadically broke through the crust as Australia moved north, forming a sequence of volcanic peaks that decrease in age from north to south. Volcanoes in central and north Queensland, such as Cape Hillsborough and the Peak Range are between 32 and 30 million years old, while southern sites, such as Mount Canobolas is 12 million years old, and Mount Macedon, an outlier in southern Victoria, is 6 million years old.  The Warrumbungles are dated at between 13 and 17 million years old (Johnson 2004, Sutherland 1995).
The Warrumbungle National Park encompasses the central region of the former Warrumbungle volcano.  Originally, thick trachyte lava welled up from a number of different vents over a wide area, which subsequently became blocked as the trachyte solidified. As the volcano aged, more fluid basalt lava flowed from new vents, alternating with ash and scoria explosions. The later flows filled the spaces between the earlier trachyte domes, and built a large cone rising approximately 1000 metres, with a diameter of nearly 50 kilometres. Ninety per cent of the volcanic cone has since been eroded away, leaving the present-day landforms of plugs, domes, dykes and sills of the earlier eruptions, and erosion has exposed a roughly circular shield volcanic landscape. Examples of trachyte vents that can be seen today include the volcanic neck at Belougery Spire, Crater Bluff, and the lava dome of Bluff Mountain, which collectively form the central region of the volcanic shield (Ferrett 2005).
The volcano went through several developmental stages, which have been interpreted in the layers of rock at the site. Initially, the lavas were very viscous, and high in silica, making them more resistant to subsequent erosion. The trachytes formed either lava domes or plugs, and comprise most of the unique and spectacular features of the eroded volcanic landscape. Four types of trachytes with varying chemical compositions can be distinguished in the area. They can be distinguished by colour differences, which range from green to green-blue, to blue, to white. Later the chemical composition changed, resulting in eruption of hawaiites and trachyandesites, which are today found south-east of the park and surrounding Tonduron Mountain, which is just outside the boundary of the National Park. Other volcanic features of the area include dykes which are vertical sheets of igneous rock exposed by erosion. The spectacular Breadknife, a 90m high natural wall, is a well-known example of this.
The Warrumbungle volcano resulted in large amounts of lava being deposited onto the earlier rock strata. Subsequent erosion has exposed the underlying sedimentary rock known as the Pilliga Sandstone, which is exposed at lower elevations in the central and north eastern areas of the National Park. The Pilliga Sandstone was formed in the Jurassic (around 180 million years ago) when the area was covered by large shallow freshwater lakes. Sand and mud deposited in the lakes were then buried and compressed, subsequently forming the sedimentary sandstones and shales. These were then uplifted to form a system of broad valleys and flat-topped hills similar to some of the present-day country surrounding the Warrumbungles (NSW NPWS 1997).
Fossils have been found in the area. Originally, lakes formed within the Warrumbungle volcano supported a high diversity of diatoms, which were then deposited in the lake floors, and animal and leaf remains have been found to the north-east of the park boundary at Bugaldie (Sutherland 1995).
The moderate height of the Warrumbungles is enough to provide cooler air and lusher vegetation, compared with the surrounding plains (Johnson 2004). The Warrumbungles fall within the Western slopes division , which is drier and warmer than the adjacent Tablelands division, with rainfall of 370 -750 mm per annum falling mainly in summer, moderate winter frosts and little or no snow (Harden 1990).
The vegetation is dominated by eucalypt woodlands, with mallee and shrublands occurring in areas with skeletal soils. The area is relatively species rich, particularly when compared with other inland sites, with up to 620 plant species recorded for the park (NSW NPWS 2001). This is a reflection of the location of the site, situated as it is on the boundary between the western slopes and the western plains, with representative species from each province (NSW NPWS 2001). The area is also within the broader transition zone between the eastern coastal ecosystems and the semi-arid interior. Species that occur on the New England Tablelands also occur here as outliers on the higher parts of the range with moist aspects (NSW NPWS 2001). Species near the southern edge of their distributional range are also found here, such as Eucalyptus trachyphloia, E. crebra and E. melanophloia (Costermans 1986).
The local topographical relief is considerable. Many of the peaks are in excess of 1,000 metres and provide a large contrast to the surrounding plains and hilly country. The hot dry western slopes of the range support predominantly inland flora while the cooler, moister conditions of the sheltered southern and eastern slopes support forests (AHC 1981).
The area contains almost one third of Australia's species of parrots and cockatoos with 23 species, and a total of 180 bird species. There are also twelve frog species, twenty four mammal species and fifty three species of reptiles (AHC 1981, ANHAT 2005, NSW NPWS 1997).
Fauna species in the area include the brush-tailed wallaby (Petrogale penicillata), and five other macopods, the eastern grey (Macropus giganteus), the wallaroo (M. robustus), the red-necked wallaby (M. rufogriseus), and the swamp wallaby (Wallabia bicolor).  Other fauna include koala (Phascolarctos cinereus), greater glider (Petauroides volans), the squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) and several species of bats, including the eastern horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus megaphyllus) (NSW NPWS 1997).
In springtime a variety of flowering shrubs and heathland plants provide colour, including swainsona and indigofora peas, boronias, hardenbergia, fringe-myrtles, clematis, everlastings, mint bushes and hop bush species. Tree species in the range include mugga ironbark (Eucalyptus sideroxylon), scribbly gum (E. rossii), cypress (Callitris enderlicheri) and rough barked apple (Angophora floribunda) (AHC 1981) .
Over 19 Aboriginal sites have been recorded in Warrumbungle National Park, predominantly artefact scatters consisting of quartz and less commonly silcrete, chert, quartzite and silicified wood (AHIMS, 2005).  Other sites within the park include rock shelters with cultural deposit, axe grinding grooves (in two locations) and a stone quarry (ERM Mitchell McCotter, 1994:5.49; Balme, 1986:168-180).  A wooden boomerang has been found on the floor of a rocky cavity known as Burbie Gap Cave, while a piece of abraded ochre, together with a cached pebble hammer stone, a grindstone fragment and quartz artefacts have been found in a shelter on Blackman’s Mountain (Balme, 1986:169, 172).  Grinding slabs have been recorded at two open sites along Wambelong Creek.  Archaeological excavations have been conducted at Tara Cave, Chalkers Mountain, where surface artefacts and grinding grooves have been recorded.  The deposits included ochre nodules, and suggest occupation from about 4,800 years ago (Fox, 1996:51).  Tara Cave area is listed on the Register of the National Estate.
Typically the stone tool assemblages from these sites includes debitage from anvil split quartz and flaked quartz debitage in areas of high relief, while workshops or flakes from microblade production are present in sites on lower creeklines as well as within the high country (Balme, 1986:186).
The pattern of occupation includes extensive Aboriginal campsites along major creeks such as Wambelong Creek; artefact scatters at confluences on the branches of minor tributaries in the ranges; sites with stone tools associated with soaks and springs on mountain slopes; artefact scatters on ridge crests and mountain tops (including extensive scatters above 620ml asl); and occupation of scarce rock shelters and fissures in valley sides and cliffs. (ERM Mitchell McCotter 1994) While permanent water is available in Wambelong Creek, it has been suggested that use of this area may have been focused on specific food resources for short periods of time (Balme, 1986:180).
The aesthetic qualities of the place arise from the volcanic landform features, the natural vegetation and wildlife all within a small area. Throughout the range are a number of walking tracks that take visitors through the landscape to experience the details and textures of the array of volcanic rock formations, petrified wood, water courses, natural vegetation and also to the scenic view points that provide extensive panoramas (Duggan and Knutson 1993).
A small array of historic features remain in the park from the grazing period and include part of a dingo fence. There are the remains of a sawmill and shafts of unsuccessful gold, silver and diamond mines (NPWS 1997).
Prior to European arrival in the area it appears that two Indigenous language groups bordered the Warrumbungle Range – the Kamilaroi and the Kawambarai, while the Weilwan (to the northwest) and Wiradjuri people (to the south) may also have accessed the ranges (Tindale, 1970).
There is evidence to suggest that Indigenous people occupied the area now known as Warrumbungle National Park for at least the last 5,000 years (Fairley, 1991:78).
The first European record for the Warrumbungle Mountains was by Surveyor-General Oxley in 1818 on his second inland expedition. ‘To the west the land was level, but to the east ‘a most stupendous range of mountains, lifting their blue heads above the horizon, bounded the view in that direction, and were distant at least seventy miles, the country appearing a perfect plain between us and them’ (Oxley in Fairley 1991, pg 82).
The range was named Arbuthnot’s Range, later replaced by Warrumbungle (Fairley 1991).  The name ‘Warrumbungle’ comes from the Kamilaroi language, and is believed to mean ‘crooked mountains’ (NSW NPWS, 1997). 
There are very few early historical accounts of Indigenous people in this area.  In 1818 the explorer John Oxley recorded in his journal that bark huts were to be seen ‘in every direction’ along the Castlereagh River, and noted that freshwater mussel shells were common in the fire-places.  On several occasions he noted that the Aboriginal people were ‘numerous’ and he variously encountered people as he proceeded into the mountains (Fairley, 1991:78 citing Oxley, 27 July 1818, p.253).  George Evans, Oxley’s deputy, reported seeing a number of Aboriginal fires about the base of the Warrumbungle Range. 
Explorers that came after Oxley were Mitchell and Sturt, who in turn were followed by bushrangers and settlers.  Large rugged tracts of forested lands such as the Warrumbungle Mountains were left largely alone, with the exception of selective logging by the early settlers, and much of the Warrumbungles continue to retain their original character.
Evidence of past uses is found in the central valley and edges of the park, which were heavily grazed, and which retain historic relics such as exotic species at the old homestead sites. There are also a small number of abandoned shafts of unsuccessful gold, silver and diamond mines, the remains of a sawmill and a woolshed and evidence of early recreational development including early walking tracks and associated works (NSW NPWS 1997).
The photographer Frank Hurley took 66 images of the Warrumbungles during the first half of the 20th Century and a large image of the ranges dating from the 1970s was taken by Max Dupain and published in the Max Dupains's Australian Landscapes 1988.
By the 1930s bushwalkers and rock climbers had discovered the Warrumbungles, and the first proposal for a Warrumbungle National Park was made in 1936. The proposal was deferred during WWII, and it was not until 1952 that approval was given for almost 2,500 hectares to be reserved for public recreation. In 1953 an area of approximately 3,400 hectares was declared as a national park, and another 2,300 hectares was protected on adjoining lands, and subsequently added into the park. Five huts were constructed along the Grand High tops but Balor Hut is the only one remaining. The present park area is 21,534 hectares (NSW NPWS 1997).
Condition and Integrity
Approximately 80,000 people visit the park annually, and the majority camp overnight in the park. Camping facilities are concentrated in the central area of the park, with the main camping areas at Blackmans Camp and Elongery Camp. A day-use area is located at Canyon Camp. There is a Visitors’ Centre, also located in the central part of the park. An extensive walking trail system links the central part of the park to the spectacular Grand High Tops.
A number of areas in the national park were cleared for grazing in the last century, and most areas are regenerating slowly. Tree planting has been undertaken in cleared areas in the Wambelong Valley.
Recording of the fire history commenced with declaration of the park in 1954. Fire incidence has been low, characterised by small fires caused by lightning, with major fires occurring once every 20 to 30 years. Most of the park has remained unburnt for over 30 to 50 years. Much of the park was burnt in 1937, while large sections were again burnt in 1952 and 1967. A smaller fire burnt out a section in the central part of the park in 1990 (NSW NPWS 2001).
Condition statement as at October 2005.
About 23500ha, John Renshaws Parkway, 11km west of Coonabarabran, comprising the whole of the National Park.
Australian Heritage Commission, 1981. Register of the National Estate listing – Warrumbungle National Park (1980 boundary).
Australian Museum website
Accessed 21 September 2005. Information on rare minerals in Australia
Australian Natural Heritage Assessment Tool (ANHAT), 2005. Analyses of selected plant, mammal, reptile, amphibian, bird and invertebrate taxa at 1% and 2% significance. Department of the Environment and Heritage.
Balme, J.  1986.  The north-central rivers archaeological research project. A report to NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Beck, W.  1989. Warrumbungles Region Archaeological Project: Report on June-July 1989 Field Season. Unpublished report held by Department of Environment and Conservation.
Beck, W., Davidson, I. and Gaynor, P.  n.d.  An archaeological dig near the Warrumbungles. Unpublished report held by Department of Environment and Conservation (C-1399/2).
Brannock, J., 2004. Information provided to the Inspirational Landscapes Study from the Chair of the Qld Heritage Council. Unpublished.
Context Pty Ltd., 2004. Inspirational Landscapes. Unpublished Report to the Department of the Environment and Heritage, Canberra
Context Pty Ltd., 2006 Desk top review: Landscape aesthetics of four National Heritage List nominations. Prepared for the Department of the Environment and Heritage.
Costermans, L., 1986. Native Trees and Shrubs of South-eastern Australia. Revised Edition, Rigby, Dee Why West, NSW.
Crocker, R. & Davies, B., 2005a. Identifying Inspirational Landscapes - Stage 2 Volume 1: Main project report.  Draft report for the Department of the Environment and Heritage, Robin Crocker and Assoc., April 2005.
Crocker, R. & Davies, B., 2005b. Identifying Inspirational Landscapes - Stage 2 Volume 2: Preliminary place reports and assessments.  Draft report for the Department of the Environment and Heritage, Robin Crocker and Assoc., April 2005.
Department of Environment and Conservation, 2005.  Search of Aboriginal Heritage Information Management System, 8 December 2005.
Duggan, M.B., 1989. East Australian Volcanic Geology: Warrumbungles. Chapter 3 in R.W. Johnson (Ed.) Intraplate Volcanism in Eastern Australia and New Zealand. Cambridge University Press, pp121-122.
Duggan, M.B. & Knutson, J., 1993. The Warrumbungle Volcano. A geological guide to the Warrumbungle National Park. Australian Geological Survey Organisation, Canberra.
ERM Mitchell McCotter Pty Ltd, 1994.  Upgrading of visitor facilities in Warrumbungle National Park – Environmental Impact Statement. Prepared for NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Fairley, A., 1991.  A complete guide to Warrumbungle National Park  National Book Distribution, Brookvale, NSW. 
Ferrett, R., 2005. Australia’s Volcanoes. Reed New Holland, NSW.
Fox, P.  1996. Warrumbungle National Park: guidebook The Beaten Track Press in association with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Geoscience Australia website
 Accessed 17 May 2005.  
Harden, G.J. (ed), 1991. Flora of New South Wales. Volume 2. NSW University Press, Kensington, NSW. 
Johnson, D., 2004. The Geology of Australia. School of Earth Sciences, James Cook University, Cambridge University Press.
The Mineral Database website:, database with information on Wilkinsonite. Accessed 20/09/05
NRMA website:, database with tourist information on the Warrumbungles. Accessed 22/11/2005.
NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, 1997.  Warrumbungle National Park Plan of Management. NSW NPWS, Sydney.
NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, 2001. Fire managment plan 2001-2006, Warrumbungle National Park. NSW NPWS, northern plains region. Accessed via the website: on 15.09.2005
Percival, I.G., 1979. The Geological Heritage of New South Wales. A report prepared for the Australian Heritage Commission & the Planning and Environment Commission of New South Wales, Geological Society of Australia.
Percival, I.G., 1985. The Geological Heritage of New South Wales. Volume 1. NSW National Parks and Wildlife, Sydney, New South Wales.
Purcell, Phil  Archaeologist, Department of Environment and Conservation, personal communication 2 December 2005.
Sutherland, F. L., 1995. The Volcanic Earth. Australian Museum, University of NSW Press, Sydney.
Sutherland, F. L., 2003. ‘Boomerang’ migratory intraplate Cenozoic volcanism, eastern Australian rift margins and Indo-Pacific mantle boundary. Geological Society of Australia Special Publication 22.
Sutherland, F. L., 2005. Assessment of the Glass House Mountains for potential National Heritage values. A report for the Department of Environment & Heritage, unpublished.
Yeates, A.N., 2001. An Assessment of Australian Geological Sites of Possible National or International Significance. Volume 1: Rocks and Landforms. Report for the Australian Heritage Commission, August 2001.

Report Produced  Mon Jul 14 14:21:04 2014