Australia's system of conservation reserves is inadequate to conserve continental biodiversity. Reserves are small, isolated, and unrepresentative of continental ecosystems to the extent that entire groups of organisms, such as nomadic and migratory birds, are poorly conserved. The reasons for the inadequacy of the reserve system are historical and embedded in politics, emotion, and ideology. To illustrate these ideas, I describe my experiences in dealing with the politics, emotion, and ideology of reserve selection and management from the late 1960's to the early 1990's in New South Wales first as a member of the Scientific Committee advising the Minister of Lands and then as a member of the New South Wales National Parks Advisory Council. An emphasis on pristine landscapes and wildness compromised recommendations for the development of the New South Wales' reserve system. My account of events as I experienced them may be of interest to persons tracing the history of reserve selection in Australia and of value to those seeking a better system of reserves for the conservation of Australia's biota. Not everyone will agree with my views, but creating a reserve system capable of conserving Australia's biodiversity requires a new vision for conservation. There is evidence that this is happening, with increased scientific involvement in reserve selection, design, and management, but politics, emotion, and ideology continue to dominate Australian conservation efforts.