Dorothy Butler – the Barefoot Bushwalker

Dorothy (Dot) Butler 1911 – 2008

Dot was an extraordinary athlete and, in particular, a gifted climber –always barefoot.  In 1936, with Dr Eric Dark, she made the first ascent of Crater Bluff in the Warrumbungle National Park.  During World War 2, after accepting a proposal from fellow bushwalker Ira Butler, Dorothy was unable to get a seat on an interstate train from Melbourne to Sydney for the wedding.  So she cycled all the way.

Dorothy climbed in the Himalayas and the Alps, canoed 640 km down the Yukon River in Canada, and cycled through  Ireland, Spain and Cambodia.  She climbed over the arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge – as a member of the ‘Night Climbers of Sydney’.

This indomitable woman founded a number of climbing organisations including the Australian branch of the New Zealand Alpine Club.  In 1969, Dot organized the Australian Andean Expedition to Peru and in 1970 she started a fund for victims of the Peruvian earthquake. It ran for 20 years.

In 1988 Dot was awarded Australian Geographic Society’s Gold Medallion for ‘Adventurer of the Year’.

Dorothy was also an active environmental campaigner.  As an early conservationist in the 1930’s she helped set up the Rangers League to develop public awareness and promote protection of native plants, birds and animals, and was involved in setting up Volunteer Bushfire Brigades. She worked for Sydney Bush Walkers’ many conservation projects which resulted in the creation of various Reserves for Public Recreation. She assisted her friend Marie Byles in having Bouddi officially declared a National Park, and worked with the Colong Committee (the oldest National Wilderness Society in Australia) in the Save the Rainforest Campaign and the creation of the Blue Mountains National Park. In her later years she was involved in campaigns to protect Lake Pedder in Tasmania, the Daintree, Kakadu and the Myall Lakes National Park.

Dorothy continued climbing as she grew older, even though she faced personal tragedy in the death of three of her four children to misadventures in the bush.

Peg Putt (profile to come) has provided this photo of Dot Butler, Alex Colley, Alistair Graham and Peg on a walking trip in the Western MacDonald Ranges in the early 1990s.  Peg said that Alex and Dot, in their 80s, “left her well behind”.



A tribute for Dorothy prepared by the Armidale Bushwalkers said:

Dorothy Butler has encouraged many Australians, who, without her leadership encouragement and sense of adventure, would never have ventured into the bush, to explore and climb.

Have a look at the full tribute to Dot Butler at’s-tribute.pdf

Dot was undoubtedly a leader of expeditions and courageous exploits both here and overseas.  In this, she was emblematic of Australia’s love for the ideals of exploration and conquering, and for visiting and drawing sustenance from time in the bush.  However, whether she was a leader in the conservation movement of her time is less clear.  She was certainly an enthusiastic supporter, who helped her more politically inclined friends in their campaigns to protect areas that were important to bushwalking groups.

Comments welcome – especially from anyone who knew Dot Butler.  Very happy to be corrected on anything above.

References and further reading

Armidale Bush Walkers. Dorothy Butler,The Barefoot Bushwalker, 1911-2008.’s-tribute.pdf. Accessed 21 January 2011.

About Jane Elix

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This entry was posted in Butler, Dorothy, Women leaders in social change movements. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dorothy Butler – the Barefoot Bushwalker

  1. Pingback: Peg Putt | Jane Elix's blog

  2. Tess Grooby says:

    Wonderful story of a life lived to the fullest, what a wonderful person she would have been to meet, talk with and listen to. Have just recommended it to friends.

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