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Survey of Bush Users of the Blue Mountains, NSW & Yarra Ranges / High Country, VIC

Valentine Smith APM, CEO/Founder of MiPerNet and Samantha Kiss, Private Investigator/Owner of Enigma PI have joined forces to conduct ‘Footprints in the Wilderness’ (FITW).  As part of the project we are undertaking a survey to better understand the various users of the bush; who they are, their reasons for visiting, their basic survival equipment, any incidents of being lost or missing, and their interaction with other bush users. We have developed two sets of questions. The first set are generic questions asked across all user/visitor groups.  The second set are targeted questions, specific to a particular user/visitor group.  
*Please note that the project may later be extended, however this initial survey is restricted to The Blue Mountains of New South Wales and the Victorian Eastern Ranges.

Approximately 70% of the Blue Mountains LGA is incorporated into the World Heritage National Park. The Blue Mountains LGA covers over 350,000 acres or 1,400M2.


Just 60kms from the centre of Sydney to the foothills of the Blue Mountains, this LGA spans roughly 70km from East to West along the Great Western Highway. With a population of around 80,000 people, across almost 30 townships, the Blue Mountains receives 4 million visitors a year. 

The Blue Mountains contains hundreds of walking tracks and highly sought after locations for canyoning, rock climbing and camping. It is also a very desirable location for sightseeing, daytripping & backpacking.

The close proximity to Sydney and easy accessibility to bush, often makes people underestimate the Blue Mountains wilderness and gives them a false sense of safety.



*To look for a person whose location is not known. May include the Missing (those who have been reported without intel), the Overdue (those who left with intent) or the Lost (those who have been reported with intel)

  • Approximately 100 persons require bush search efforts per year

  • Most search efforts result in the person/s being located within 12 hours 


*Misadventure event with known location. Person/s unable to exit.
Intervention required. Most rescues are required due to injuries

  • Approximately 100 persons require bush rescue efforts per year

  • Most rescue efforts are for bushwalkers, persons with Dementia, or despondents.

  • Approximately 20 vertical rescues are also required per year

Number of disappearances per year, whereby the person/s are not found = less than 5%

Number of outstanding cases per year, whereby the person/s are not found = less than 1%

Within thirty minutes of travelling East from Melbourne you will start to see hills and trees, at first it may be the Dandenong Ranges, but then there is a subtle plunge into higher ridges and vast tracts of giant mountain ash with an understorey of three-metre-tall tree ferns.  This is the Yarra Ranges, which start approximately 60 kms North East of Melbourne; seventy-six thousand hectares of tree covered forest reserve and national park.  But the forest does not end here, instead it transitions as it spreads wide and North to the New South Wales border and beyond, with the Victorian side known colloquially as ‘The High Country’.

Home to legendary tales of whip-cracking mountain cattlemen and the winter playground of millions of ski-loving visitors, the High Country is a beautiful sometimes mysterious place where the bush will please, nurse, and immerse you into its captivating lure.

If we ignore the surveyors measure and instead follow the trees and ridges, the combined Yarra Ranges and High Country at about 7000 square Km’s is akin to the size of Wales, whilst the difference in permanent residents is not so similar, with just 12,000 High Country folk, versus over 3,000,000 Welsh.

However, we must not forget the four million annual visitors to the High Country, with the vast number being the almost one million parkas, puffer jackets and leather upholstered 4 WD’s attracted to the alpine ski resorts.

We must also recognise that there are an estimated forty thousand licensed deer hunters in Victoria, pursuing a growing population of 750,000 to 1,000,000 deer, most of which are moving amongst the Yarra Ranges and High Country.

This lumbering juggernaut of vehicles, people and even deer is expected to grow, with a forecast 5.2 million High Country visitors expected in 2025.  

Much like The Blue Mountains of New South Wales, and recreational wilderness everywhere, the more visitors there are impacts on the number of missing and lost persons.  Add the ingredient of extreme cold, snow and other influences and you can guarantee tragedies, and sometimes even without the weather considerations, human collision and conflict.

Day trippers, deer hunters, cross-country skiers, hikers and others have all contributed to the ranks of the lost and missing.



*Caveat: Due to an inability to determine the exact boundary of the Yarra Ranges and The High Country the figures provided is an approximate only and applies to the Victoria Police East region, which incorporates the alpine areas.


The Victoria Police Search and Rescue squad (VicPol SAR) is the premier responsible agency for SAR operations in Victoria.  This highly professional and dedicated squad of search specialists are called in to all protracted bush searches, they coordinate the often massive numbers of volunteer searchers, including Bush Search and Rescue (BSAR) and the State Emergency Service (SES).  

It is difficult to know the exact number of searches conducted in the Eastern part of Victoria, which is again due to the blurry geographical boundaries of what is ‘The High Country’ and the Yarra Ranges, and the variants of the types of bush SAR operations.  However, what is known is that when VicPol SAR are called in, it is likely that the subsequent search will involve coordinating and directing operations into an often inhospitable leech infested dark ocean of trees, gullies and undergrowth akin to a damp cold jungle.


Each year in Victoria several people become lost or missing in the Eastern Ranges, most cases are resolved quickly by local police resources before the State SAR specialists are operationally and physically involved.  Some are resolved in an hour or so, others can take days, weeks, months, and even years.

A small number perhaps 5% require an escalated effort of search, and sadly from these, a few, perhaps 1% or 2% of all cases, are never found, or are found deceased.  The knowing of what caused of influenced this small tragic statistic is often relegated to the annals of mystery akin to the bush that they journeyed into, to the jungle of the unknown.  


For the four years 2018 to 2022 there were 623 SAR type activities in the Victoria Police Eastern Region, which included 31 in the Alpine area, which is classified as operations above 1200 meters, and at any time of the year.


What is the main reason as to why you go into the wilderness/bush of the Blue Mountains, Yarra Ranges or High Country?

Reasons for being lost

How often do you generally encounter other bush users in the Blue Mountains, Yarra Ranges or High Country?

 Have you ever been lost/missing - momentarily or otherwise?

Lost or missing
other bush users
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