PTTK  in Australia

Why PTTK?

In 1873, in Cracow, the Tatra Society was founded. At that time Poland was partitioned by Austria, Prussia and Russia. Cracow and the beautiful Tatra Mountains belonged to Austria, more precisely Western Galicia. The Tatra Society was established by Polish academics and other intellectuals who devoted most of their time to exploration of the range, culture of górale (mountain dwellers), nature conservation, arts and safety. The Society’s contribution to the Polish culture was enormous. After Poland gained its independence (1918) the Society changed its name to the Polish Tatra Society.

In 1906 the Polish Country Lovers Society was formed in Warsaw which belonged to Russia at that time. This society’s activities initially took place in the part of Poland that belonged to Russia and after 1918 spread to other lowlands of Poland.

After the Second World War the Soviet Union imposed the communist system in Poland and the people could not decide what organisations they could have. Instead the authorities decided in 1950 that the Polish Tatra Society (dealing with the mountains) and the Polish Country Lovers Society (covering the great Polish lowlands) is merged and its name is Polskie Towarzystwo Turystyczno-Krajoznawcze (PTTK). The headquarters was located in one of the palaces in Warsaw and the organisation’s aim was to bring tourism to the masses. Workers Unions not being able to fight for employees’ rights included mass tourism into their programs. Group and mass activities were given priority. Individual hikers had to struggle to get access to their mountain huts where unions organised holidays for their (compulsory) members.

But the process of organising tourism by thousands of voluntary guides - country lovers, particularly those organising uni students’ activities, was not fully controlled by the party authorities. Also, an interesting thing happened. The majority of the organisation accepted the tradition and values of the Polish Tatra Society. The constant complaints about the obstacles preventing individual hiking in Poland from functioning normally and the great educational program of the Society (it included uncontrolled local history research and presentation) created atmosphere for change. I was one of the authors whose publications in “Polityka”, “Kultura”, “Życie Warszawy”, “Światowid” and other papers influenced many members and the public.

In 1980 Solidarity was born swelling to 10 million. It was a union whose aim was to replace the compulsory, party controlled, organisation. And that included tourism. Most of Polish hikers supported Solidarity but they did not want to change one union patron for another. They wanted to be fully independent. It is a little known fact that in 1981 a PTTK delegation went to Gdansk to have a debate with Lech Wałęsa’s deputy Bogdan Lis regarding future of tourism in Poland. Lis accepted that tourism should not be part of the democratic, independent trade union.

In June 1981 a PTTK Congress was held in Warsaw with participation of 700 delegates, one representing a thousand of members. It was the first PTTK Congress not controlled by the Politburo. I had the honour to be elected the first vice-chairman then and until granted a one-way passport, was responsible for hiking in Poland. I signed my resignation at the Okęcie Airport on 7 November 1982, just before the departure to Australia.

My plane landed in Melbourne first and took off above the Snowy Mountains. Then from Sydney we flew over the coastal ranges and I could see Mt Warning caldera and Mt Barney. A few days later I did my first mountain trip on a borrowed bike with my two-year-old son on my back. A month later I joined the Ipswich Catholic Bushwalking Club which introduced me to the surrounding areas.

After purchasing Ford Falcon XT (1968 model) all South East Queensland was within my reach. Gradually I climbed nearly every mountain around. Most of them are free of tourists. I came from the country were mountains are overcrowded.

In Poland I fought against the mass tourism. In Australia I started organising hiking groups nearly 20 years ago, initially with some Wacol Migrant Hostel residents. We extended our territory to the North New South Wales exploring Broken Head cliffs and Torrington gem fields. In the Sunshine Coast Hinterland we found a Tibetan monastery. We always go to new places where we have not been before and try to have our picnics at new locations. Our bush eatery is a social event. It usually includes some performance; once it was a concert by an orchestra conductor/composer. Every trip brings some adventures.

Recently I went to Poland and visited my old organisation. The General Secretary immediately raised the idea: “Why not to have a branch in Australia”. “Why not” responded participants of the trip. We could obtain Polish hiking badges and distinctions for our climbing achievements. And, we could also publish our contributions in PTTK’s magazines in Poland.

That’s why PTTK. The 131 years old organisation is having its link with Australia. Our PTTK is of Polish origin but over the years our group became international. So, it is a multicultural branch of PTTK in Australia, Brisbane. Members from other states are welcome.

When we once climbed Mt Barney there were two local hikers sitting on the summit slabs. I gave my usual explanation about the surrounding area to the group and one of the Aussies asked: “Are you a local guy?” The answer was “No, I am from Poland.” On another occasion, when we conquered Mt Maroon by the Southern approach a young couple at the top listened to our conversation about the interesting route and the boy approached me with a question: “How much would you charge for taking us down with your group?”

PTTK did not charge them. That’s how PTTK contributes to Australia.

If you wish to try with us find when we meet the next time. It is all here.

Janusz Rygielski

 

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