Australian Association for Bush Adventure Therapy

History of the association

Any attempt to summarise ‘history’ raises dilemmas and highlights blind spots. In the case of Australian bush adventure therapy, diverse influences have impacted on the emergence and evolution of the field in various locations. A combination of traditional Indigenous practices, western ideas, and international innovations have all played a part in what today is a diverse and widespread field of practice in Australia.

Ancient history: It is recognised that traditional Indigenous communities have used “bush adventures” in the Australian context towards a range of intentional wellbeing aims for millenia. Evidence suggests that traditional bush adventures have been tailored to meet both the upstream (prevention) and downstream (treatment) health needs of Indigenous communities since well before colonisation.

Recent history: A modern western use of bush adventures for healthy change appears to have emerged as early as the 1950’s in Australia, in response to identified needs and service gaps. It appears that bush adventure therapy emerged predominantly in educational settings, and evolved to be used within community, health, justice, drug treatment, mental health and employment sectors over time
Contemporary Australian bush adventure therapy practices are the result of changing social-cultural-environmental-political contexts, at local, regional and national levels. Literature evidence suggests that key people, ideas, programs, literature, and professional development events have influenced the development of various ‘streams’ of bush adventure therapy practice in Australia.

AABAT: Australian outdoor practitioners working with high needs target groups have met to discuss their work for at least 25 years. The development of a peak body to support these practices has been discussed amongst Australian practitioners for at least 15 years. Over time, as practices consolidated, participants benefited, programs were established, languages were formed, outcomes were measured, practitioners networked, and awareness increased, the benefits of formalising a professional community to support this area of work became clearer.

Time and efforts contributed by a national team of regional representatives led to the incorporation of AABAT in 2008. The establishment of AABAT was seen as a natural maturation process in the professional life of bush adventure therapy in Australia.

AABAT’s original Intended Actions, agreed in 2007 can be found here.

In 2023, after extensive community consultation, AABAT members voted to transition AABAT to a national structure as a Company Limited by Guarantee. The name Outdoor Health Australia was chosen to represent the nationally formalised entity and ‘widen the tent’ of nature-based health practices in Australia. Bush Adventure Therapy remains a key modality under the Outdoor Health Australia tent.

The reader is encouraged to seek out their own local and regional ‘history’, and explore their own connections within the current professional community that makes up Outdoor Health Australia.