Bushcraft is a popular term for wilderness skills in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The term was popularized in the southern hemisphere by Les Hiddins (The Bush Tucker Man) in Australia as well as in the northern hemisphere by Mors Kochanski and recently gained considerable currency in the United Kingdom due to the popularity of Ray Mears and his bushcraft and survival television programs. It is also becoming popular in urban areas where the average person is separated from nature. The phrase bushcraft is often misused. It's origin is from skills used in the bush country of Australia. More commonly the phrase 'wilderness skills' is used as it describes skills used all over the world.
Bushcraft is about thriving in the natural environment, and the acquisition of the skills and knowledge to do so. Bushcraft skills include firecraft, tracking, hunting, fishing, shelter building, the use of tools such as knives and axes, foraging, hand-carving wood, container construction from natural materials, and rope and twine-making, among others.
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of bushcraft is "skill in matters pertaining to life in the bush".
The word has been used in its current sense in Australia and South Africa at least as far back as the 1800s. Bush in this sense is probably a direct adoption of the Dutch 'bosch', (now 'bos') originally used in Dutch colonies for woodland and country covered with natural wood, but extended to usage in British colonies, applied to the uncleared or un-farmed districts, still in a state of nature. Later this was used by extension for the country as opposed to the town. In Southern Africa, we get Bushman from the Dutch 'boschjesman' applied by the Dutch colonists to the natives living in the bush. In North America (where there was also considerable colonisation by the Dutch) you have the word 'bushwacker' which is close to the Dutch 'bosch-wachter' (now 'boswachter') meaning 'forest-keeper' or 'forest ranger'.
Historically, the term has been spotted in the following books (amongst others):
- The History of Australian Exploration from 1788 to 1888 by Ernest Favenc; published in 1888.
- My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin; published in 1901.
- Campaign Pictures of the War in South Africa (1899–1900) by A. G. Hales; published in 1901.
- The Explorers of Australia and their Life-work by Ernest Favenc; published in 1908.
- We of the Never-Never by Jeannie Gunn; published in 1908.
- The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders by Ernest Scott; published in 1914.
Canadian wilderness instructor Mors Kochanski published the "Northern Bushcraft" book (later retitled "Bushcraft") in 1988. He has stated on numerous occasions that book title was an explicit reference to Graves' work.
The dictionary definition of bushcraft at Wiktionary