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Julius Wilfred (Wilf) Hilder (1934–2011)

by Malcolm Brown

Early in life, Wilf Hilder decided that walking, discovering the landscape of Sydney and the Blue Mountains and all its secrets, was not only his life but that he should pursue it regardless of official barriers. He once led a group of walkers, some new and inexperienced, on a direct compass line between East Hills and Campbelltown. When the Holsworthy military complex got in the way, he led his group right through it, past tank traps, obstacle courses and artificial mine fields. Then they came across a parade. The bewildered commander gave them a dressing down and had them marched out the front gate.

He also insisted on a right to walk through the Warragamba catchment area, bringing him into frequent clashes with rangers. In the process, he established a bushwalker corridor between Mittagong and Katoomba.

Hilder once said he never disobeyed ''No trespassing'' signs because when he approached them, they were always pointing in the other direction, so he never saw them.

Julius Wilfred Hilder was born on June 14, 1934, the son of a ship's captain in the merchant navy, Brett Hilder, and his wife, Mathilde Nass. His introduction to the bush came early, when Marion Griffin, wife of architect Walter Burley Griffin, set up a playgroup at Castlecrag and took the children into the wild. The allure of the bush was to remain with him forever. Hilder went to Christian Brothers, Chatswood, then St Patrick's College, Goulburn. He started bushwalking as a teenager.

Hilder trained as a compositor and then joined the NSW Lands Department. The position suited him admirably. He found places that had not been named. He explored the Sydney hinterland, including the Blue Mountains, the Colo River and Wollemi National Park. He revived the Warragamba Walking Club. Hilder discovered passes and routes into areas previously deemed inaccessible, as well as Aboriginal tracks and forgotten colonial routes. Some of his log books, such as from the Three Peaks Walk in the Blue Mountains, have been retained by the Mitchell Library.

In 1965, Hilder married a maths teacher, Margaret Conway. They went on to have three children, though the marriage ultimately ended in divorce. His exploration continued. In the Colo River Valley, looking for evidence of a survey route for a proposed railway, he discovered Perkins Caves, where a Mr Perkins, possibly a surveyor's assistant in colonial times, had painted his name. In 1968, Hilder rediscovered a pass that had originally been found by a mine surveyor named Wall and it became Wall's Pass. With fellow walker Jim Smith, Hilder opened up the Lindemans Pass Walk that linked Wentworth Falls to Leura. In the Colo River Valley, he discovered an old surveyor's access track and named it after a friend, Bob Turner. In 1986, again with Smith, he rediscovered Bruce's Walk, initially a maintenance track for an intended power line, proclaimed a walk, then forgotten.

Hilder initiated the thematic place names across a dozen 1:25,000 topographic sheets. He provided all the musical names of the upper Wollemi, such as ''Yodelers Range'', and all the railway names around the Wolgan Valley and Newnes, including ''Rail Motor Ridge'', ''Derailment Hill'' and ''Firebox Ridge''. A member of the Geographical Names Board, he researched mining and convict names for the Ettrema, Tolwong and Caoura sheets, which were then endorsed by the board. For areas around Yalwal, he devised names for features taken from the first settlers as shown on the original Parish Map.

When the army wanted place names on some of the proposed 1:100,000 sheets, Hilder happily obliged. He used a lot of names recognised by bushwalkers but hardly expected from officialdom. As a result, the 1:50,000 Royal Australian Survey Corps map compiled in the early 1970s had names such as ''Growee Gulph'', ''Falsetto Gap'' and ''Blue Yodel Park''. He called an area around Lithgow ''Pagoda Country'' and that gave the name for the Pagoda Track.

Hilder, who was a freemason for many years and member of the grand lodge, served terms as president of the Sydney Bushwalking Club and the Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs NSW. Along with Paddy Pallin, he had an excursion from the Sydney hinterland and pioneered Nordic skiing in Australia, which he described as bushwalking on skis. He contributed some interesting chapters to such bushwalking classics as Pigeon House and Beyond, and Fitzroy Falls and Beyond. He wrote a book, published by the Springwood Bushwalking Club, that described hundreds of day walks right around Sydney. Hilder fitted into his busy schedule Scottish dancing and cycling and collected the history of the railways of the Blue Mountains.

Wilf Hilder is survived by Margaret, children Nicole, Matthew and Rebecca, sisters Beatrice Yell and Tania Hilder, and two grandsons.

Original publication

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Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Hilder, Julius Wilfred (Wilf) (1934–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


14 June, 1934


29 June, 2011 (aged 77)
Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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