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Camper perceptions of wilderness vs measured biophysical impacts: Comparisons on Wunambal Gaambera Country in the Northern Kimberley

Lawrence, Katherine (2018) Camper perceptions of wilderness vs measured biophysical impacts: Comparisons on Wunambal Gaambera Country in the Northern Kimberley. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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‘Wilderness’ is conceptualized in a variety of ways, yet a fundamental dualism between ‘humans’ and ‘nature’ is often prominent in many wilderness ideas. Generally, from a biophysical perspective, wilderness refers to ‘pristine’ natural areas, remote from large population centres, modern technology and their impacts. Recreationists, especially campers, often idealise and seek wilderness to escape from their increasingly structured lives. However, anthropogenic biophysical impacts and management infrastructure for campers may detract from the attributes key to a camper’s ‘wilderness’ experience. This study investigated the relationship between camper perceptions of wilderness and biophysical impacts at a pair of remote managed and unmanaged campgrounds on Wunambal Gaambera Country in the Northern Kimberley, Western Australia: Mitchell Falls campground (managed) and Walsh Point campground (unmanaged).

Rapid assessment methods quantified biophysical impacts at the two sites. An onsite, self-complete questionnaire was distributed to all campers at each campground to quantify the desirability of twenty attributes associated with campers’ ideals of wilderness, as well as perceived wilderness quality of the campground they were visiting.

Biophysical impacts were present at both sites, with a higher litter count and greater vegetation damage at Walsh Point. Attributes aligning with ‘nativeness’ and an absence of human impact were consistently desired by campers from both sites; yet Walsh Point campers desired solitude and an absence of management more than Mitchell Falls campers. Hence, ‘strong purists’ were more prevalent at Walsh Point, and ‘moderate purists’ dominated at Mitchell Falls, indicating that different types of campers were attracted to each site.

Despite these purism types, and the extent of biophysical impact at Walsh Point, the site received a higher average wilderness rating than Mitchell Falls, indicating that campground biophysical impacts were not significantly associated with perceived wilderness quality at either site. Artificial noise, particularly the helicopter noises at Mitchell Falls, influenced campers’ perceptions more than biophysical impacts did. This study demonstrates the complexity and often paradoxical nature of the relationship between camper perceptions of ‘wilderness’ and campground biophysical impacts.

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
United Nations SDGs: Goal 15: Life on Land
Supervisor(s): Hughes, Michael, Fontaine, Joe and Prince, Michael
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