a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
|BROWSE the site for other works by this author
(and our other authors) or get HELP Reading, Downloading and Converting files)
SEARCH the entire site with Google Site Search
Title: Along The Track Author: Robert Henderson Croll * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1402831h.html Language: English Date first posted: November 2014 Most recent update: November 2014 This eBook was produced by: Colin Choat Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE
Due acknowledgments are made to the Proprietors of The Argus and The Australasian, The Herald, The Age, Adam and Eve and Table Talk Annual, all of Melbourne, and The Home (Sydney), in which journals some of these articles first appeared. I thank the Victorian Railways Department for permission to use the picture "A Bush Track," the Commonwealth Development and Migration Commission for "A Red Gum Depôt on the Murray," and the friends who lent me the other photographs reproduced.—R H Croll.
A LITTLE ANTHOLOGY OF AUSTRALIAN LANDSCAPE
I. EASTWARD (1911)
II. BEDS IN THE BUSH
III. TO THE BOGONG HIGH PLAINS
a) The Fainter Track (1915)
b) Dungey's Track (1929)
IV. BATHS IN THE BUSH
V. THE HOMING PACKHORSE
VI. THE BUNGALOW ON FEATHERTOP
VII. SWITZERLAND WITHIN OUR GATES
VIII. BLAZES: THE LAMPS OF THE BUSH
IX. CHRISTMAS BY THE WAY
X. THE ENCHANTED GORGE
XI. FOOD—AFTER A FASHION!
XII. THE CARAVAN: WOMEN ON THE OPEN ROAD
XIII. "FROM OBERON IN FAIRYLAND"
XIV. SOME WAYS TO WELLINGTON
XV. THE SECRET LAKE
XVI. THE WAY THE MURRAY GOES
XVII. THREE CITY STROLLS
a) Through the Park
b) The Leafy Way
c) Across the Top
XVIII. THREE ONE-DAY WALKS
b) Box Hill—Tally Ho—Mitcham
XIX. SWAGGING IT—THE WAY AND THE WALKER
1. A BUSH
2. THE BOGONG HIGH PLAINS IN WINTER
3. A WOOLLYBUTT RIDGE
4. THE CAVE OF THE NGRUNG A NARGUNA
5. OBERON BAY
6. A RED-GUM DEPÔT ON THE MURRAY HOMEWARD
"The way's one and the end's one,
and it's far to the ends of the Earth."
Every man to his taste! If I could fall in with a jolly young god in creative mood, just about to open a branch of the Paternal business, what a world we could make for walkers! He would seat me on Kosciusko and give me vision, and I would select the purple patches from our Australian landscape which he would bring together as a mechanic assembles the parts of a machine. It might be only a baby world which would result, but how choice a child!
Seas there would be, of course; enough ocean to give colour and movement, changing blues and greens and purples and flashes of foaming white, which contrast and combine so finely with the skyline when seen from a long curved strip of cool grey sand. Always and ever must a lady swell lift the live water into waves of jade or ultramarine. With what irresistible might they advance; how tremendous is the thunder of their ruin! From the crash and roar a fury of hissing bubbles runs to your feet, and slides back smoothly as the next comber curls over in mile-long confusion.
Mountains, too, there must be, and lesser hills by the score, each distinguished in its appropriate way, a river or two, many creeks, creeping shyly through a tangle of green or racing like children down steep places, at least one lake, and a little snow-plain that is hidden high on a peak in Victoria.
How hard it is to choose as the moving pictures of memory show on the mental screen. One sage has said, "It is all good when you're out in it." Even the "perishes" he has done seem pleasant to the walker in retrospect. I find myself handing to the god for inclusion that long stretch of soft sand from Cape Everard to the mouth of the Snowy River, remembering only the joy of conquest and not the salt rivers, the thirst, the shrieking angry gale, the flying sand, the weight of the swag. "You never know what pleasure is until you've tasted woe!" The tiny spring that joins the sea
...where the lobster spawns
In cool Cape Conran's weed,"
most obviously had been spilt by Hebe as she served her nectar to the immortals, and the parched and weary swagmen made suitable oblation.
Of the choice things of heaven and earth the first to be taken must be the view from Sublime Point, above the Bulli Pass. Keep the top road, only interesting because of its flora, turn down the narrow forest way with no hint of the wonder to come, and as that panorama of perfection takes your sight you will want to remove your shoes, as one standing on holy ground, or to disrobe like the worshipper in Klinger's To the Beautiful in Nature. No detail may be omitted: the sheer rocky drop to the tropical jungle, the massed growths of palm and fig and turpentine tree and supple-jack and the rest, the dolls' houses that form the settlements, curving sands and jutting headlands, and, holding all together, the restless blue of the sea, cunningly relieved by its snowy edging of surf.
A few national parks may be added. New South Wales shall yield the pattern of her delicious combination of wild woodland and well-ordered ways, Victoria, the greater part of her secluded sanctuary known as Wilson's Promontory. Particularly would I rape the Promontory of its Oberon Bay, where assuredly the sponsor watched fairy revels in the moonlight, of its forest of banksias at South West Corner, of that cheeriest of torrents, Roaring Meg, and, above all, of the proud, stern rock which holds aloft the lighthouse and vainly seeks to glimpse again its lost Tasmania.
I have said there must be mountains, and mountains there shall be. Kosciusko because he dominates all; Sydney's Blue Mountains because there is nothing else like them; the mighty Bogong standing savagely aloof from all others; Wellington the benign guardian of Hobart; Cobbler the Hunchback, for the outlook his strange semi-detached peak affords and the frantic waterfall which issues from his worn sides; that range of fantasy, the Grampians of Victoria, made up, it would seem, of the frames of monsters who lived in the nightmare days before the Flood and from whose decomposition has sprung a unique flora; the Buffalo because it is the Buffalo. They compel admiration, these giants, without caring whether that crawling insect, Man, regards them or not. It is the smaller hills who are friendly—
The high hills are haughty,
They stand against the blue
An count themselves a cut above
The likes of me and you.
But the little hills lean down to us
And pass the time o' day,
An tell the gossip of the tracks
And give their views away.
There is Mount Lofty, for instance, and its range of sister hills at the back of Adelaide, full of an intimate, pleasant charm, with no disturbing grandeur. Even the railway which has climbed up from the Murray level shall be included—this in gratitude for those morning peeps down terraced slopes to deep valleys and the sea beyond which the Melbourne express connives at. And Arthur's Seat must not be missed, if only for the charm of its Wonga Paddock, any more than its humbler neighbour, Mount Martha. Both have missions to fulfil: no one who has climbed their slopes will ever again malign Port Phillip Bay.
Port Phillip Bay!—yes, it is down for reproduction no less than Port Jackson, the harbour of Auckland, and those attractive waters which wash the feet of Wellington at Hobart. To one the charm of wide expanses lifted like a shield, edged with indescribable tones of pink and green, to another the glory of a mountain background, to a third the surprises of winding channels searching into a rocky coast, a never-closing feast of detail. Ecclesiastes has noted that "all the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full." I would have those river mouths, whether sweet to the very high-water mark, or losing themselves in the salt long before, or sheltered behind bars of sand which only now and then they get strength to break. Seldom is a river's final stage, that point at which it "runs somewhere safe to sea," without interest. That the walker may have to devise ways and means to get across these mouths but adds interest to a journey. And good as they may be in exit, all rivers should improve as one tramps nearer to their source until it stands revealed in a nook of the ranges. A river or two, did I say? I could name a score whose claims may not be denied. Water is the Great Essential of the swagman: let them all go in.
But it is creeks, baby rivers, that intrigue me most. Little Dinner Creek in Croajingolong, tiniest and most grateful of running streams; numberless Stockyard and Stony and Sandy Creeks, even a Dry Creek, libellously so-called,—I would miss none. Some for their names, if for no other virtue, shall sing through the scheme as a scarlet thread shines in a green fabric. Araluen, full of soft lights and tender tones; the Dandongadale, like a peal of bells; and how many more that chime in the chambers of the mind. The wooded ranges with their towering timber and alluring pads that glance back invitingly as they vanish into the green shade, the fern and musk and beech gullies which nurse the springs of these creeks, the fish and all creatures which use the waters—nothing must be lost.
The greater lakes I would class with caves; they do not hold me. A lake, like a jewel, requires a setting. That is what makes the charm of Tarli Karngo Nigothuruk, the hidden tarn of Mount Wellington in Gippsland. Climb 5,000 feet and you stand on the edge of the basin, slip down 2,000 feet on the inside and you reach the margin of the waters. Solitude abides there; it is the home of ancient Peace. Swim in its quiet depths and you shall feel the Bunyip stir beneath you; sleep on its tiny beach and all the fairy tales of your youth become true. Not that lake only, but that lake certainly, shall be part of my new world.
But so much has been missed. Well, that can be made good. Eternity knows no haste, and the time of a god is eternity. Rest assured that all shall be as the walker would have it. There shall be wood and water and the wherewithal to fill the body with strength and the soul with content. And night shall come and the underleaves of the gums shall light up in the glow of the camp-fire; and stars shall be hung in the tops, and a cricket shall call and a mopoke moan as you snuggle your tired limbs into your bed of leaves. What more would you have?
"The Swag and the Billy again—
"One thing," remarked the surveyor, "you'll get plenty of crayfish at Cape Conran." He mouthed Brady's lines:
"Come south'ard where the lobster spawns
In cool Cape Conran's weed."
"You can pull them out with your hands," he declared.
None of us had heard of Conran till he pointed on the map to where its blunt projection breaks the sweep of the Ninety Mile Beach extension. It was Cape Everard we were after, the Everard that was Captain Cook's "Point Hicks" up to the time when a generation that cared nothing for tradition renamed it in honour of some local celebrity. A lighthouse stands guard there now, the last before you come to Cape Howe and turn the corner for Sydney. An ex-keeper of that light had extolled the charms of the spot, its isolation and its beauty, until we were keen to pay it a visit. He knew no better place anywhere. "Push a quarter of a mile inland and you'd swear you were the first man to get there. It's the loneliest shore light on the Victorian coast. Ships keep too far out for signals, and it's nearly a hundred miles to the nearest telegraph wire. If a wreck happened we'd have had to ride the old horse thirty miles to the Cann River and another fifty to Orbost before Melbourne could know. Yes, it was quiet all right!...If you want to see animals in their native state, take a walk there. Dingoes? Any number!...And snakes," he added, thoughtfully, "the place is crawling with them!"
Snakes are no particular draw, but the rest was attractive. So we sought the surveyor. He knew exactly how to go and how to return, as did an astonishing number of other people, we discovered. Eventually we found ourselves setting out from Cunninghame one evening on foot, each with a sleeping bag and a load of food, and the leader armed with a map marked by the surveyor with such useful directions as "water here," "tucker here," and "turn-off to the palms." It was "a wonderful clear night of stars," but under the tall green timber the darkness lay so dense upon the land that the road became a thing of touch only and not of sight. Bungah Creek, spreading across the track, brought a halt till the abbreviated footbridge, both ends overlapped by the waters, was reached by wading and left by the same means. Then from a rise we looked suddenly on to stars beneath us—we had reached Lake Tyers and it was midnight.
Sand makes a bed that induces sound sleep even though the resident fox come and blow in your ear to find out if you are as dead as you look. He chose the botanist for his experiment and there is no evidence that the scared beast is not still running.
Orbost and its Snowy River flats, wealthy with pigs and maize, were the reward of the next day's march along the forest road—Orbost on Christmas eve, alive with people filling stockings in the name of Santa Claus. They're a kindly folk in this capital of the east. We learnt a new way to "the palms," and gathered much that was fresh concerning our route. "Don't miss Cape Conran on your way back," was insisted on. "That is, if you care for crayfish." The Cape, it appeared, is Orbost's picnic spot, a land of all delights where even oysters grow, and crayfish are the commonplace. "One party brought home twenty dozen last Christmas," we heard. Carrying a roast leg of mutton (described in retrospect as "large as veal and tender as lamb ") and many other appropriate gifts and purchases, we made for some good trees out of the township, dug hip-holes in the tough soil, and soon slept the sleep of the tired. Presently a bird began to sing, and then another. That was how the botanist described it to the scared camp, but there was some difference of opinion. To most of the listeners the sounds suggested a musical evening in the final summer resort of the wicked. Mr. Donald Macdonald has published many notes from bush folk inquiring the origin of these very noises, and he has sheeted the offence home to Ninox Strenua—the Eagle Owl. The terrifying duet came from directly overhead—harsh grating groans that seemed to tear the soul in their passage, shrieks of torture, screams of deadly fear, moans as of a passing spirit. With the sun shining, some of that may be discounted, but as truth lies not in exactitude of detail so much as in correctness of impression, it will serve. One of the more widely travelled of the party made it clear that the song of Ninox Strenua could not possibly be mistaken for that of the nightingale.
Gippsland ends at Orbost, despite the geographies. Thereafter, eastward, it is Croajingolong, familiarly shortened to 'Jingolong (the first 'g' as in bring). The only palms that grow "wild" in Victoria are in 'Jingolong, and they are all in one patch on Cabbage Tree Creek. They are the Illawarra or Cabbage Tree Palm so common over the border. Patriotic Victorians have been known to speculate as to how so many specimens could have reached New South Wales. Scientists (with less parochial leanings) confess themselves puzzled to account for this Victorian community, completely isolated as it is from all its relatives. That brave old botanist, Baron von Mueller, who was better entitled to the name of explorer than many of the more widely advertised claimants to the title, made two trips to Cabbage Tree Creek as far back as 1854. Blacks drove him out the first time, but he was back twelve months later. When we reached the spot, as a side excursion of six miles, no natives could have been visible even if they had still held possession, for after a wrong turning and adventures with a swamp, we arrived in the velvet gloom of a cloudy night. Nothing was distinguishable; it was as pitchy dark as the Chaos of Hans Sachs, where even the cats ran against each other. Morning showed a tropical tangle on the banks of a blackfish creek, out of which rose the graceful stems of the palms with their feathery tops. Several looked about one hundred feet high. They stand in what is now a Government reserve, and are guarded by a tribe of the most pointed mosquitoes in the State.
Bush hotels have an unenviable reputation. Half a day beyond the Cabbage Tree a little hostelry gives the lie to the general belief. Its very name is attractive "The Bell Bird," and as it nestled in a curve of the road with for background the mass of vegetation that hides the creek, it looked what it was: the comfortable house of kindly people. Oddly, this was one of the few creeks where there was no sound of the bell-bird, that charming olive-green creature whose prosaic and sole occupation appeared to be the picking of a white scale off the gum leaves, with pauses for the utterance of the single note, "tink!" which is his contribution to the family chorus. We soon learnt that one might find water without a bell-bird, but never a bell-bird without water.
The great enveloping forests of hardwood are relieved at every creek by growths of Lilli Pilli and Kanooka, and some glorious trees of the Victorian Waratah, twenty feet high, flourish at the Bell Bird. Who shall say that the scientist is not also, at times, poet? Who ever named the Waratah Telopea ("seen afar off") and added Oreades to distinguish the Victorian variety, was no dry-as-dust. Milton's nymphs of the mountains, the Oreads, are fittingly associated with these lovely shrubs. Almost as beautiful as the gleaming red of the waratah blooms were here the young leaves of the gums. "Silver-top" the settlers call the prevailing rough-barked eucalypt; aptly, for its higher branches show white and clean. Whole hillsides burned with the glory of its leafage as with "woodland altar flames." 'Jingolong's one highway cuts through the green growth; little else has been done by man to destroy Nature's work. Only an occasional clearing was seen before the Bemm River crossed the track.
Not so many years ago one of the rare settlers then beyond the Bemm River met with an accident. The few neighbours started out with him for Bairnsdale—a ninety mile ride. The Bemm barred the way, dark and forbidding, and at that time deep. Such an obstacle might have turned townsmen, but not the resourceful bush folk. Giant trees tower above the stream, one of these was felled to reach the opposite bank, adzed flat for foothold, and the helpless man was safely carried across. The makeshift still stands, near the site of the bridge that now conducts the main Genoa Road over the stream. This is a new well-graded track that cost many thousands of pounds. The pity is there are not more cleared ways for the men and women who, lionhearted, are hewing a living out of the wilderness.
Further down the Bemm is a ford, mostly usable. It was a bitter winter morning when one of the keepers from Everard had his first experience of crossing here. He had spent the night at a house near by, but had made no inquiries regarding the river. All the others he had had to swim: this he took for granted. The white frost crackled underfoot as he rode to the bank. Black and threatening ran the water and it was only by noting the tracks that he could be sure of the crossing place. Shivering, he stripped to the buff, remounted, and drove the horse in. "It pains a man at times to miss his pain" so the poet sings; the rider's emotions were badly mixed when he found the water nowhere more than a couple of feet deep! And as he dressed in haste he was aware of the joy of his host of the night before, who had witnessed the sight from afar.
Our camp was pitched in a snaky clearing of the sword-grass. Overhead the solemn eucalypts swayed together whispering and watching, and a lovelorn boobook, lured by the botanist, moaned us to sleep.
"Croajingolong" is synonymous with "forest." Nowhere was the great procession of the trees better than at this point. After a week of bush walking one felt he was a spectator at an unending march of giants holding aloft green banners. How many kinds of timbers were present only the botanist knew, but all were aware that at the Cann River another was added to the list in the blue gum (globulus).
While the Bemm is a morose-looking stream, sullen and dark, its neighbour the Cann, sixteen miles away, is sandy-bottomed and bright. But the Cann can be as cruel as the Bemm looks. Floods made the rich flats that now produce the golden crops of maize, and a river, like a man, is hard to break of old habits. In the winter the whole country is often awash. The lighthouse keeper on one occasion had a horse drowned as he rode for the mail. When the waters went down the carcass was found high and dry on a tree, and the man had a stiff climb to recover his mackintosh still on the animal's neck.
The character of the country changes as the main road is left at the Cann for the track that turns off for Everard. It twists through the gums and banksias, gradually getting fainter until sharp eyes are required to follow it. Reedy Creek is five miles out, and, at nine miles, dainty little Dinner Creek intersects the way. Surely there is no smaller creek in active operation! Two feet wide by as many deep, it is crossed in a stride and might easily be passed unnoticed. But its tiny bed was full of sweet, cool, sparkling water—particularly welcome on that hot day, and gratefully remembered as the best water of a journey on which water was often the scarcest of essentials. It was the last, too, before the lighthouse, a sweltering stretch of twenty miles to, and along, the beach. Grass-tree flats, swamps, wooded hillocks, and a steady increase in the number of coastal growths marked the approach to the ocean. A final climb over steep hummocks showed a sea as empty as the sky, a desolate beach relieved only by a huge dead seal, and, seven miles away, the top of the lighthouse tower.
Cape Everard would hardly be dignified by a name elsewhere than on that great stretch of sand that edges smoothly almost the whole of the eastern coast from Port Albert to Mallacoota. It is imposing only on the principle that amongst the blind the one-eyed is king. The light stands well above the triangle of reef on which the Southern Ocean beats unceasingly. Towards the sunrise lies an endless line of baylets broken by low headlands, amongst them the "remarkable point" mentioned in Cook's Journal of April 19th, 1770, "which rises to a round hillock very much like the Ramhead going into Plymouth Sound, on which account I called it by the same name." Westward the sandy beaches extend for long miles without interruption. Stone quarters shelter the lightkeepers and their households—three families in all—and stone walls keep back the greedy sand that is ever on the move where the native shrubs and grasses have been destroyed. The hummocks further back are crowned with growths of pittosporum and banksia, the latter a carnival of "blue mountain" lorikeets in the flowering time. Some nice soil, enriched by goat droppings, and kept moist by a spring, maintains a vegetable garden that is amazingly prolific. Two hundred goats leave the near-by enclosure each morning to wander miles in search of choice feeding, making tiny pads through the scrub, dinting the beaches with their sharp hooves, and returning at night to the protection of the fold. They mean milk, butter, fresh meat, mats, and numberless other things to their owners.
It is truly a lonely place. The nearest settlement is thirty miles away; only twice a year does the Government steamer look in with provisions. Snakes crawl out of the undergrowth, warm themselves on the walls, and drink at the drip of the pump. Dingoes wail in the bush or prowl on the beach for ancient fish and other toothsome morsels. Yet the station is popular with the staff. The traffic passes afar off, wrecks are unlikely, officialdom, in the absence of a wire, cannot worry often, and living is cheap and good. As at all far-out lights and remote places, a stranger is given the welcome of a prodigal son. The fatted kid is killed, and everything done to make him sorry to leave.
This was our turning point. Five miles further are "the two rivers" (the Thurra and the Mueller) to which a flying visit was paid. They deserve an article to themselves. We saw the New Year in with our kindly hosts to the jangle of kerosene tins and cowbells strung from the lighthouse tower, and six hours later the level sun was projecting our shadows before us as we headed westward on the return journey.
As a foil to the shadowed week in the forest it was to be a beach walk all the way back, a scheme which looked not only possible but easy. There appeared to be no particular obstacles, and the vital question of water seemed answered by the fairly frequent creeks that are marked on the map. Here let it be said, however, that this is one of the worst beaches on the Victorian coast for the walker. The sand is soft and breaks at every step, and there is hardly a level piece in a hundred miles. For a few miles the angle is not uncomfortable, but a day's march leaves the feeling that one leg is longer than the other. It is a dangerous looking beach; the sea makes fierce snatching rushes up and down its slopes; instead of a comfort the rivers are a menace. If they are running into the sea, they may be uncrossable, and if they are bar-bound, they are salt. In that event fresh water must be hunted for, and sometimes carried a whole day.
A head wind sprang up early on that first of January. It rose rapidly to a gale and then to a hurricane which never slackened for twenty-four hours. At face level the air was full of the stinging particles or fine sand which form the surface of the beach; our legs took the ceaseless fusillade of the heavier grains. Under this sandblast the blackened billies renewed their youth and by afternoon shone as new. The living weight of the wind, the want of water, the shelving beach, and, worst of all, the breaking sand, made the day's journey a sixteen miles to remember. Tamboon Inlet, the first of the rivers, came as a relief halfway with its shelter from the wind, but there was no fresh water and a long return trip had to be made to the last spring noticed. Bar-bound, it formed a fine lake and there was abundance of fish. The river-mouths generally were very attractive to an angler and their seclusion should keep them so for many years.
Towards sunset three men suddenly appeared on the skyline. They were at the edge of Sydenham Inlet, the largest of the Lakes that pit this coast. With its system of marshes it covers an area of about twelve miles by six. It is the home of wild fowl. Ducks, swans, pelicans cormorants and other expert swimmers, cover the waters, and the shallows are alive with waders. The fishing is particularly good. Commanding all is Morgan's comfortable little hotel, on the north bank, near where the Bemm River enters, for this is where the Bemm reaches the sea. The strangers were from Morgan's. They had a yacht on the lake and were waiting for the wind to drop. Billies were filled from the freshwater spring hidden in the hummocks and soon a fire roared in a sheltered hollow and camp was made. From their sleeping bags the walkers admired the philosophic bushmen, who, having no blankets or other night gear, threw together a screen of branches, and lay contented between it and the blaze. Long before daylight it was "all aboard" and the boat was jumping as she headed up the channel.
Twenty-four hours at Sydenham, the final kindness from the Morgans of a ferry across to the west shore of the lake, and a tiny cattle-pad was found that wandered in the right direction through a scrub that was often tea-tree, often banksia, and sometimes pittosporum and gums. Little flocks of the funereal cockatoo made the way noisy. It led to Stockyard Creek, fifty yards long from its source behind the hummocks to its point of disappearance in the sand, an oasis fringed with trees and alive with tits and honeyeaters. Then over the sand-ridge to find the slaty nose of Pearl Point in view and three dingoes coming full-trot down the wind. A sturdy dog led, followed by a half-starved wife and a three-quarter-grown pup. At sixty yards the leader saw us, stiffened for a second, and was in full flight the next. There were oysters on the Point and indications of crayfish that whetted the appetite for Cape Conran, now only a few miles away. Dock Inlet, another of the sea-creeks that hide in the coastal sand, was three miles on, and in four more the high bank of Yerung Creek showed. A lovely sheet of water, to whose placid bosom was given the final touch of peace by the presence of a swan and her cygnet, floating "double, swan and shadow."
Again fresh water was lacking and it was a dry party which set out next morning for Conran, now only four miles away. In addition to crayfish, Cape Conran has a reputation for "plenty of good water." We had pictured a cape with a definite headland and were dismayed to find a sea-front of some two miles of wave-worn granite. One of the tiny springs was at last located and a mid-day breakfast prepared and enjoyed. Then it was hey, for the crayfish! There was a cheer as the leader produced a carefully treasured bottle of vinegar from his swag. "Here's a claw!" said somebody, and all hands scattered to the pleasant task of getting the lobsters. We spent the day at Conran and the result is best summed up in the words of the doctor of science: "It's a splendid place for crayfish; what a pity there's none there!"
Maybe the recent camps, of which there was abundant evidence, accounted for the shortage. Certain it is that every artifice failed to raise a "cray."
It is grass-tree country in to Marlo, a township that must easily hold the Australian record for density of mosquito population. The Snowy is here a wide and handsome river but it, too, often suffers from the common Gippsland ailment of a bar. Still was the sand difficult to walk on, so difficult under a hot sun that the sliding hummocks were climbed and a track found on the land side. Separated from the sea by just the width of the hummocks run the twenty miles of Ewing's Marsh, skirted by clumps of tea-tree and eucalypts. It is at present a pasture for cattle in its drier parts, but surely someday to be drained and dotted with farms. The day was close and drowsy and fresh water hard to find, but the edge of the marsh was firm turf and, stimulated by threat of storm, the party swung along at four miles an hour. Night came and the rain fell in torrents. The road turned to a creek. The swag under the all-enveloping rubber sheeting, gave each walker a ludicrous resemblance to an organ grinder. "Da monk'" was the only essential missing.
Ahead lay Lake Tyers and the completion of our circuit of some two hundred and fifty miles. Civilization was close at hand: happy thought, we would seek a lodging for that evening. Everyone warmed to the idea. The outdoor life had been enjoyed to the full—the "bed in the bush with stars to see," the camp by running creek or restless ocean, the freedom from the conventional—but indoors had its charm on such a night. "Civilized" baths and meals and beds suddenly appealed to all. "A good hot dinner with vegetables" soliloquized someone in pleasurable anticipation. "And a decent pudding!" added another. "What price a pillow!" came joyfully from a walker who had never taken kindly to rock substitutes. A light shone wetly from a window and was reflected in the dancing pools of the roadway. A dog stormed from a kennel. We stamped on to a verandah, full of pleasing expectation. A lady appeared with a lamp. "Good evening," we chorused genially. She looked at us critically and her eye was cold. "We don't serve liquor here!" she remarked, and closed the door again.
Then was it borne home to seven city men that not a University degree, a legal practice, a house in "the lane," nor a post in the Civil Service, is proof against sixteen days of "back to Nature." They realized that they were unshaven, down at heel, travel-stained and tattered; the mark of the tramp was upon them, and they were judged accordingly. It was the price of liberty, and not one of them grudged the payment for such a glorious feast.
"Bed in the bush with stars to see."
A bed in the tree-tops sounds absurd, outside of Peter Pan. And even Barrie's genius cannot carry it off to grown-ups; they tolerate it with a smile as a pretty fancy and evade the sharp questions of youth. But I for one have known it, and it was in no Land of Make Believe, but in this sober State of Victoria.
He who travels much with the swag knows strange beds. And as the specialist greatly develops by use the particular sense he most requires, so the swagman gains the camp eye. With the day drawing to a close he is constantly on the watch for the suitable sleeping-place, so constantly that the effort becomes sub-conscious. Water is the first essential of a camp; given that, he looks for a few feet of level for his blankets or sleeping-bag, and a bit of shelter if weather threatens. On this evening we had come across an old well in the tea-trees which bordered the long beach, and we had filled the billies in passing. Sand hummocks rose high on our left with every now and then a gully opening through as though a creek had once run there to the sea.
Up one of these we tried. Its sides were soft drift, of the kind that feels so comfortable in the hand, and becomes so hard when you sleep on it. We knew it well, and admired it not at all. Moreover, the angle was too great; by morning we should have been feet lower than where we started. On the crest of the rise was too breezy, at the bottom was a certain dampness. Then came the vision. Half-way up were the broad, leafy heads of a group of tea-trees, buried to their necks in the shifty hummock. No trunks appeared, only some three feet of the topmost branches. It was easy to step off the higher slopes of the sand on to these natural mattresses, so tightly packed as to be almost solid, and there, under a wonderful sky of stars, we spread our beds and slept more softly than on any couch the bush had yielded to that date or has yielded since.
Not that the swagman is, in modern parlance, "fussy" as a general thing about where he sleeps. I speak of the amateur swagman, of course. The fresh air of the open, the relaxing muscles after a long day's tramp, the soothing murmur of a near-by creek—these induce sleep, however hard the bones of Mother Earth may be beneath him. But he grows cunning with experience, and it is not long before he sleeps, because, maybe, of those other things, but also because he is comfortable. He learns the value of the judicious hip-hole and how to line it to advantage; he finds that ten minutes' cutting of bracken will yield a more satisfactory return than the most elaborate bed of such trash as dogwood. He will learn, too, that gum-tops spell peace and sweet slumbers, while the wattles generally are better left to decorate the spring. On the coast the elastic scrub known as cushion-bush will be always chosen after one experience. With cushion-bush beneath him, a low break-wind on the right quarter, a clear night and a singing sea, the swag-man, like Emerson, "envies not the luxury of kings."
Untoward happenings occur at times, as when a dingo (or a fox, it was hard to tell which by the tracks he left), put an inquisitive nose into the hood of a sleeping-bag while the owner slept the sleep of the first night out, on the delta of a Gippsland river. But that was unusual, and the number of night disturbances, other than those occasioned by such small deer as mosquitoes or fleas, suffered in the camps incidental to over z,000 miles of tramping in Victoria during the past fifteen years, could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Snakes are a bogey, and, just like bogies, they are rarely seen. More rarely still is a reptile met with at night. Only one really effective snake scare have I had after dark. It was near the Bringenbrong Bridge, on the Murray, and as we sat round the camp-fire under the drooping willows a frog shrieked near by in an unusual and tragic sort of way. "Snake!" said Charlie, the guide, and the talk at once turned to that topic, which has been popular with mankind ever since the expulsion from Eden. Each story was more "creepy" than the last. Then we went to our beds, spread out on the high bank above the water. How long afterwards it was no one knows, but two horrific yells, the yell of genuine fright, came out of the darkness, "A snake! A snake!" and as one man the camp sat up and demanded matches. Through the babel rose a sudden sound of beating; a cautious camper was whacking the ground all round him with a fern frond. "Hullo, here's a frog!" called another, and the original disturber of the peace began to realize what had really happened. He had been lying in the warm night with his chest bare, and a wandering frog had leaped plump on to his naked throat. A frog is a cold and clammy thing; the snake stories had done the rest.
Only when you lie on unyielding substances do you realize what an awkward shape man possesses. To repose on your side with any ease means that two outstanding protuberances, the shoulder and the hip, must be conciliated. A high pillow (usually a log or a stone covered with some article of clothing) will ease the strain on the shoulder, and a small hole to fit the hip will keep the other from troubling. But on the floor of a lighthouse where once I slept, or on rocky surfaces, the hiphole is impossible. The veteran will then lie on his back, but even he will feel the pressure on his bony frame. It is recorded of a party of lads that they camped in an old hut for two nights to escape some rough weather. The floor was of boards, which had been put down when green. Their edges had turned up, and proved sharp enough to mark the youngsters' bodies through their thin blankets. It was hard to find ease in any position. "The first night," said the chronicler, "we lay north and south, the second we tried east and west, the third day we played draughts on one another!"
Two nights out of doors I recall because of their bitter cold. They were clear and almost windless. One was spent on the beach at Dromana, the other on the flat crest of Mount Howitt's 5,700 feet. Each was at Christmas-time, and in both cases the usually comfortable enough swag was found ridiculously inadequate. Of the two, the seaside cold was the more searching, mainly because it had not been properly provided against. On Howitt we knew no liberties could be taken, so boughs of that poorly foliaged tree the snow-gum, the only growth available at that height, were put under and over the sleeping-bag, and a waterproof sheet covered all. In the morning a layer of ice made the sheet look like glass, and just like glass it crackled and broke as it was lifted. A night on Freeze-out, near Mount St. Bernard, was also rather more than "fresh." It suggested indeed that Freeze-out was well named. But for sheer discomfort, however, a recent camp on Kosciusko must take the palm. Rain, fog, wind, and a sodden scrub were bad enough, but we were also above the timber line, with all that that implies in the way of temperature, and not a stick could be had that would hold up a shelter. Wet all night, with an outlook limited by the mists to a few yards even in the daylight, can it be wondered that we gave three hearty cheers for the sun when he struggled through next morning. Camp Misery, we named that unhallowed spot.
Against those failures (not really failures, any of them, in retrospect, whatever they seemed at the time) stands the record of numberless golden nights in which it was good to be alive, in which nothing could go wrong, and one felt that civilization is a stupidity and man a degenerate since those days
"When wild in woods the noble savage ran."
We lean too much towards softness and the stale air of bedrooms. A glowing camp-fire in the open, a bed of bracken, stars tangled in the tops of the tall green timber that towers above you, a mopoke far enough away for his melancholy vespers to be wholly soothing, a mate close by sucking his pipe, and saying just those things that fit such a time and place, the happy crooning of a creek in the ferns at the foot of the rise—what better things are there in life? If these cannot content you, you must keep to the cities: the bush is not for you.
"And higher yet and higher
I want to climb, until
The trees give place to bushes
Wind-shorn, and struggling still
For foot-hold on the corrie
Steep-sloping to the sky;
I want to reach the summit
And watch the clouds race by."
Climb a mountain, and you naturally expect to arrive at a definite point or ridge. Climb the Victorian Alps, and as likely as not you find yourself on a plain, and a plain of no mean acreage. The newcomer is bewildered as his head rises above the edge, and he sees level miles of pasturage, generally dotted with cattle, where he expected the common rocks and mixed angles of an ordinary hill top. Such a plain is deep in snow-grass, stippled with violets, and large mauve and white daisies, and in some places bright with a particularly handsome dwarf prostanthera, the tiny foliage of which is almost hidden by its profusion of flowers. That is a summer view, when the air is of a clearness rarely known to lower levels, and the many tiny streams and pools (the headwaters of the rivers "downstairs") shine like bits of fallen sky. Winter is another story. All is smooth white "far as you can look or listen," save where the snowpoles raise ghostly heads. You understand then why the trees have failed to climb this far, or at best, have established only a few furtive colonies in sheltered hollows. The snow-gum is a sturdy creature, as it needs must be to survive the winter storms of these heights. Its growth is largely horizontal, for the weight it bears in the cold season turns the branches outwards. A fine old specimen near Mount Cope, on the Bogong High Plains, is about thirty feet high with thrice that spread. Its smooth, fat, green stems curve and twist in such Rackham-like lines that you look sharply at its roots to catch the possible fairy.
These "high places" are attracting attention as tourist resorts. The present generation may not, perhaps, see residential accommodation in such generally inaccessible parts, but there is no reason (save possibly a financial one) why the tourist should not view this country even now. The old mining tracks, to-day the pads of the cattlemen, are often in good condition, and they could be improved at a very small expenditure. Mostly they are not difficult to trace. Some still show the ancient blazes of the men who opened them out, old axe-marks that the trees have almost absorbed. If the signs are no longer conspicuous to guide, they serve other purposes well; from one scar, sunk well back into the tree, peered a nesting robin. A few rough houses, weather-proof, with some wooden bunks, could be placed at intervals for night shelters, or arrangements might be made to improve and utilise the musterers' huts (as for instance, Tawonga Hut or Wallace's on the Bogong Plateau), which exist wherever there are cattle, and are only occasionally occupied.
The views are noble and spacious, as well might be expected from such rare altitudes. There is but little higher country in Victoria, and all around are tall peaks and deep valleys. The plains of Mount Howitt are some 5,700 feet above sea-level, the Dargo High Plains cannot be much lower, and those that stretch from Mount Fainter (whose twin peaks rise 6,160 feet) are well over 5,000 feet. If one cannot actually "survey mankind from China to Peru," the outlook is yet sufficiently impressive. From Fainter (so little known even by name, yet the fourth highest peak in the State) there is an enthralling spectacle. Its cairn stands on the edge of a gulf at the bottom of which, somewhere, must run a branch of the Kiewa River. But it is far out of sight. The opposing wall is formed by Mount Feathertop, 6,306 feet. Bogong, greatest of our mountains, towers 6,500 feet on the other side. Everywhere is a huddle of hills, most of them well over 5,000 feet, coloured in every shade of blue, fashioned in every shape, sitting "like giants at a hunting." Faint and far, on an horizon that is seventy miles away, the regal form of Kosciusko shows like a dream mountain.
And how to get to the high plains? It is possible to ride, as a Parliamentary party recently did, and the stockmen do invariably; or to walk, as a very few parties of nature lovers have done. Vehicular conveyance is impossible. Whether the tourist trust to his feet or to the legs of a horse, he will find a pack animal useful. It is indispensable on the longer trips, for all food and bedding must be carried. Take, for example, an actual tour of the Bogong plains, recently done on foot.
The ascent was begun from Tawonga, a village lying like a tiny stone at the bottom of a majestic bowl whose sides are mountains. To reach it had involved a nineteen miles walk from Bright. There is no store but provisions had been ordered for delivery there, and packhorses and a driver were waiting. Three miles up the Kiewa Valley, with its comfortable farms, the eager, rather shallow river was forded, and a narrow track discovered that takes the first spur in a breathless rush very disconcerting to town legs. It left little leisure to admire the two dollar-birds that, disturbed, rolled gloriously down the sky, but the stunted gums were noted because of the shade they afforded. From the ridge Mount Bogong showed across the valley, huge and beautiful, clothed generally in timber, but with a few bare bluffs forming precipices high up. There is a track over Bogong, but it is said to be overgrown at present. Probably the best way to reach the head of this mountain king is from Granite Flat (otherwise Snowy Creek) in the Mitta Valley, forty-five miles by coach or motor from Tallangatta. That in itself would make a fine tour, and variety could be added by pushing on another nine miles to Lightning Creek, where a little hostelry, known as the Austral Alps Hotel, sits picturesquely on the bank of one of the best-stocked trout streams in Victoria.
The crest of the ridge did not mean level going. Steadily rose the path, well-defined and wide enough for a loaded packhorse, but often the surface was bad for man and beast. Decent foothold alternated with stretches of loose stones and baby boulders; the gradient, generally pretty fair, became at times worse than bad. These conditions lasted for a day and a half, for it took the walkers that time to cover the fifteen miles (estimated distance by track) from Tawonga to the top of Mount Fainter. That could, of course, be reduced greatly by using horses for riding as well as for packing. All the way was charged with interest.
Bogong, as it changed with the varying points of view, was an unending delight, and the valleys were full of seductive mystery. Overhead would float that mighty bird, the great Australian eagle—Audax, the bold,—with, perhaps, his mate, no less noble in her majestic stretch of wing. At about twelve miles a natural clearing in the snowgums gave unsurpassable views of the Buffalo—that day a fairy range made up of cobalt and lapis lazuli and ultramarine, and every blue from the faintest to the deepest. The charm of that outlook could not be overstated. Three miles more and the high plain begins. The first view gives no blow to the eye like the sight of the great flat on the top of Mount Howitt, which is so astonishing to the climber from the Howqua because it is so suddenly seen in almost its entirety. The last half-mile to the cairn on Mount Fainter is a gradual slope, free of timber, permitting an outlook across undulating country that dips to the east, and is banked on the south by a ridge that ends in Fainter's second peak. This provides a fair hint of what is to follow, for the general character of the plains is well indicated. Water (that first essential in all bush travelling) had been neither plentiful nor particularly good up to this point. At eight miles there is a spring, and at ten miles another trickle rises on a saddle marked by an old cattle-yard, and the remains of a hut. The latter place is known to cattlemen as "The Springs." Both require notice boards if they are to be of use to tourists. In one hollow, between the points of Fainter, is good water near a straggling group of snow-gums. Thereafter, the streams are numerous.
The track passes half a mile from the cairn, and perhaps 200 feet below it. Over the ridge ahead winds a long procession of what look like abbreviated telegraph posts—the snowpoles that point the way where trees are absent, and tracks overgrown for want of use. Several belts of timber occur; and continually the outlook varies, constant only in its charm, until a curve to the left and a drop of some hundreds of feet bring Tawonga Hut to view. It is used only when the cattle are to be brought away at the beginning of the winter, and when they are returned for summer pasturage. A good stream drops in cascades near by.
Now the plains commence in earnest. Long, rolling downs stretch to an invisible edge, beyond which show the tops of detached peaks and ranges. In such a summer as that of 1914-15 the place is alive with sheep and crows; the sheep making up on the good feed which they had lost on their native lowlands (sometimes as far away as Hay, in New South Wales), the crows attending to the burial of the dead. On a natural rise sits the shepherd with his dogs, steeped in sunshine and ease, watching his sheep nibble down the near slope and up the opposite side, idle, save when it is necessary to send the dog to keep his charges from going quite out of sight, or when they are returned to the yards in the evening—for the sheep are "folded" for safety every night.
From the edges one looks down into "the Pretty Valley," lying smooth and placid, threaded with watercourses, bounded by high hills, a harmony in tender greens; or into "the Rocky Valley"—"a bonzer place," said the guide,—"like a cemetery;" or down the wooded gorges of many rivers. Mount Jim, nearly 6,000 feet above the sea, but only too feet higher than the track, and Mount Cope, 6,015 feet, are passed. From the latter is obtained what is probably the most extensive of all the views, and to get it involves no more than 350 feet of an easy climb. By the aid of the map and the compass many of the countless peaks are identifiable.
Ten miles from Tawonga Hut is Wallace's Hut, and six miles further is Fitzgerald's. Given good weather, this is the choicest portion of the plains, as it is the last of them. For the track now dips into a snowgum forest, then sharply downward through some magnificent woolly-butts (Eucalyptus Delegatensis), and finally emerges at the Big River bridge on the road from Glen Wills to Omeo near Glen Valley. Here is civilization, and the return may be made via Omeo and Bairnsdale; or by way of Glen Wills, the quaint old village of Sunnyside, Lightning Creek, Mitta Mitta and Tallangatta—a route that gives inspection of the fine river flats of the Mitta, and may be travelled by coach most of the way.
The way is one, the end is one,
And still the track keeps running on
From change to further change.
No haste there is, no haste at all,
Forever loveliness shall call,
Blue stand the distant range.
—R. H. C.
To me a finger-post, unexpectedly seen in an out-of-the-way place, has an irresistible appeal. It has much the same effect as a map had upon Robert Louis Stevenson. If the track to which it invites be not followed, the pointer stands forever in the mind like an indicator, saying: "This way, and no other, leads to the Land of Heart's Desire;" and the mists of years make its imagined passage seem ever more desirable.
There was a sign which greeted us in the Wonnangatta Valley, at the foot of Mount Howitt, where a notice might as reasonably have been expected as a creekbed in Collins Street. One crossbar mentioned that downstream was "Wonnangatta 2 miles," the other pointed at the great mountains from which the stream emerged and mocked us with the tantalising statement, "Harrietville, 60 miles"—tantalising because only a well-equipped party, stout of heart, and with more time at its disposal than we possessed, could have hoped to tackle successfully the crossing and the traversing of that little-known Barry Range which stands like a wall at the head of the valley. That track remains terra incognita; every day it gains allurement in my mind.
Another board which beckoned insistently was noticed long ago in the Ovens Valley. It bore the legend "Dungey's Track," and it set us wondering what kind of country it would have us travel. It stood some three or four miles from Bright on the Alpine road to Omeo. Later another post with that name on it was observed, but this, still on the Alpine road, was about forty miles farther on. What had the pad been doing in the miles between? What winding creeks had it traced? What hillsides climbed or "sidled?" What adventures had it survived as it explored the unknown? Always I meant to find out, but not until recently did the opportunity come.
The cattle-men will tell you that this horse-pad to the high plains was named after Detective Dungey, who, it is said, used to roam the ranges looking for the elusive cattle-duffer and other offenders. Whoever originated it showed rare taste and discrimination; its ways are ways of pleasantness and its variety is endless. In the beginning its lines were determined by utility, the natural fall of the country here presenting the easiest gradients, but by fortunate chance they embrace also some of the most picturesque views in a locality famous for its scenic features. The upper reaches of the Kiewa River are like the Irishman's famous stream, "shtiff wid trout." I know no Victorian river with quite so many of these sporting fish. Two of my companions caught nineteen before breakfast the first morning out.
Unobtrusively the track dodges off the coach road a mile past Germantown. Snowy Creek joins the Ovens near by, and it is up the valley of that creek that you must go for a good many miles. Incidentally, how many Snowy Creeks are there in Victoria? In the Alpine country the name is used almost as much as are Stony Creek, Sandy Creek, and Stockyard Creek in other parts. Steadily height is gained, one of the advantages of this way to the now popular Bogong High Plains being the ease of its gradients. Little creeks come running in, the narrow valley closes, and there is more than a hint of tall peaks in the steepness of the sides. If I had the naming of sections of the track I would call one "The Path of the Painted Trees," and another "The Lane of Lost Leaves." Gayer than anything that art dare attempt, a smooth-boled gum, sometimes as a single tree, more often in groups, colours the bush with splashes and stripes of brightest crimson, soft creams and bewildering greens, painted up and down the shapely stem. Young bluegums stand like illuminations, so bright are their leaves of clouded silver. Where these globulus or maidenii have grown they have dropped huge adult leaves upon the ground in scores, some as much as twenty inches long, some extraordinarily broad.
At seven miles from Germantown, and ten miles from Bright, the track rises to Symond's Gap, a saddle commanding views of Bogong the Mighty, our greatest Victorian Peak. Here begins a long siding across steep hillsides, which feed the Kiewa. Very fine was the native Veronica, a Pimelia flowered profusely, and the slopes were gay with many other blooms. The river ran swiftly far below, and gradually the track dropped to meet it at a little hut known as Lawler's. "Started one morning and slept in that night," was the builder's history of this hut when we met him on the plains.
Interest grew as the march was resumed. The valley was still narrow. Engaging glimpses were obtained of Mount Fainter, looking in on the one hand, and Feather-top on the other, while all the time the Kiewa hurried in and out of attractive pools in full sight below. Hut Creek was a reminder that here was once a crushing battery, and presently was seen the Machinery Spur, down which, incredibly, the plant was brought from Baldy (Mount Hotham) to this difficult position. The full tale is an epic yet to be written. Some river flats afforded a change of going, a tall, thin waterfall shone and shouted on the left, the Diamantina River was crossed, and Blair's hut, a well-built, roomy structure, was reached as evening fell. A mile or two before Blair's the original Dungey's track had left us. It passes on by way of Dibbin's hut, on the Cobungra, to rejoin the main road at Rundell's.
Next day provided the finest views. It was the last of the upward stretch, and it gave the most climbing. From above Blair's hut, where the Kiewa was finally left, the outlook was superb. Feathertop, aquiline and stern, the most impressive mountain in Victoria, stood in imposing grandeur just across the valley, its great stature fully revealed; the famous Razorback looked its best as it stretched back to meet Mount Hotham; and Mount Loch, facing the far-away Omeo road, showed as the crest of an immense spur rising to the left.
Belts of woollybutts, those eucalypts of the high places, were passed, and the smooth, green, twisted stems of the snowgums took their place. The air became subtly changed, and the clear spaces between the gums were carpeted with snow grass, much of it bearing a delicately toned heliotrope flower head. A tiny tarn, set in a frame of lush green weed and black basalt, was noted at the base of a cliff; the path wriggled past some rocks, and our feet were on the Bogong High Plains, with their long lines of snowpoles setting the direction.
Years ago, I prophesied that these spacious uplands, well watered, full of charm, with an average elevation of well over 5,000 feet, would some day form a health resort and recreation ground for Victoria. Their popularity has grown, and in the last vacation numerous parties made holiday there. The cattlemen's huts—there are at least six—form convenient centres, the use of which may readily be obtained from the owners. Soon a public shelter, erected at the expense of the tourist committee, the ski club, and the Melbourne Walking Club, will be available. It should help to make winter excursions almost as popular as the summer excursions deserve to be.
"Let a fellow sing o' the little things he cares about..."
Many are the quaint baths we have come across, and used, in wandering with the swag off the beaten track. Most of them have been open air, but some, as at Mount Lookout, were under cover, and none the less remarkable for that. It had rained all day as we climbed to Aberfeldy, on Lookout, and a change of clothes in the hotel, perched on the almost-deserted summit, was most grateful. But first we found the bathroom. I stood in the bath itself under an innocent-looking sprinkler affair, and my mate, unnoticed by me, pulled a cord. If a pile-driver had been released the result could hardly have been more astonishing. A whole creek fell upon me from the reservoir overhead. Its weight and strength were overwhelming; it paralysed sensation; for a few moments I comprehended what it was like to drown. Then the puller let go, the torrent ceased as abruptly as it had begun, and I gasped my way to a towel, feeling as if I had been skinned. But the very vigour of it was a tonic; the dinner that we ate that night witnessed to its virtue.
Much more wonderful were a couple of baths in the Dandongadale River, one just before it pours over the top of Mount Cobbler, the other well down the side of that nobby peak. The setting alone would mark them out from other bathing places. In the first place they were some 5,000 feet above sea level. There the baby stream has cut deep pools in the conglomerate, and slips from one to the other over rock made smooth as glass by long years of water polishing. The game was to swim to the lower lip of a pool, and from it slide full length and head first down the slippery slope to the next basin. Friction was reduced considerably by the thin skin of water that went with you along the channel connecting the pools. It was an undignified proceeding, but in that rarefied atmosphere everything seemed jolly. A little farther on, and the stream tumbled over the mountain's edge in a leap estimated to be 500 feet. Two of our party climbed down with cameras to where the prodigious fall ended. Being hot, and finding a patch of level ground, they stripped and had the impudence to use this great natural wonder as a showerbath. The slightest movement of the air thinned the long ribbon of water hanging above them to the fineness of a gossamer. It wavered out of existence altogether at times, but it would gather again and thunder down with power. Then it was a case of arms up to guard the head, and a hurried retreat to get breath.
The sunlight sparkled there and nothing was concealed, but a certain dip at Toolangi was invested with all the mystery that black night under thick foliage can afford. It was a long, dusty fourteen miles from Yarra Glen before we reached the Yea River, libellously known there as the Muddy. Hurriedly we kindled a fire and placed the billy in it before seeking a wash. Beyond the circle of firelight the shadows stood like a wall. Once unclad, we groped over sticks and stones to the edge of the stream. A low bank seemed to dam up the current. Quite by accident we had stumbled on a small weir. Halfway out on this we crawled and stopped. Original chaos could not have been blacker. Then beneath us we saw faint stabbings of light, and realized they were star reflections in still water. How deep was the pool and what might it not contain? Holding hard to the barrier, each set his teeth and slid feet first into the inky mirror. I, for one, have seldom felt greater relief than when I found it had a bottom. A slimy, oozy bottom it was, too, but the depth was not more than four feet. A quick splash in the icy fluid and we were out again, garrulous with relief, and raising the choruses of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas to an offended bush as we dried and dressed, and prepared our meal.
It was on the south side of the same Divide that we shared a swim with some scores of leeches. It ended with a group suggestive, according to the point of view, of living statuary or a scene in the Zoo, for we formed a circle and picked one another clean of the hungry bloodsuckers. German Creek, between Bright and Tawonga, was another watercourse where these animals swarmed to an extent sufficient to ruin the bathing. But the greatest blood-letting our walking party every had was at the mouths of the gully leeches of the Tangil Valley last Easter. Rain provided the bath; we were wet through, and the trees and the scrub were blurred masses of moisture. From leaf and twig and grass-blade, and every point of vantage waved leeches, seeking for something living to attach themselves to, and taking instant advantage of the passerby. Visitors are rare in that secluded part, cattle seldom pass that way, animal life generally is scarce—what they live on from year to year is hard to surmise. They had evidently been fasting a long time when we came into their lives. Never have I seen anything so ravenous. We pulled them off, not in dozens, but in hundreds; we bled from a score of wounds, and we took undiscovered specimens to bed with us, to waken in the night and deal with them.
Of pleasant waters I like to remember the Buchan River, where the weeping willows made green tents under which we lay in our sleeping-bags at night, and the dappled sunlight turned the water into a place of magic as we took our many dips in the warm daytime. There we had swimming with us the "Gippsland crocodile," otherwise water lizard, otherwise physignathus, a mild-eyed replica of the goanna, but with apparently none of that reptile's rapacity and suspicious outlook on life. Physignathus seems easily tamed. Sitting at the riverside I have fed him with beetles within a few minutes of a first acquaintance. One all but ate out of my hand. That was a well-grown specimen, but the little fellow we caught again and again in the Macallister (he did not want to leave us, seemingly) was quite a baby, and I still regret that we did not bring him along to the Melbourne Zoo. An interesting point about this "crocodile" is that he swims altogether by tail action, much as a man propels a boat by an oar over the stern of it. The front legs are pressed close to the sides, the hind legs trail in line with the body.
Pleasant, too, are memories of cool plunges in the waters of the Howqua River, draining the slopes of Mount Howitt, of the Wonnangatta, on the far side of that mount, and of many another delightful inland stream; of dips deep down toward the seaweed gardens waving on the floors of rock pools on our outer coast; of souses in the rousing surf of the long Gippsland beaches. Hardly less grateful to a hot and tired body has been the billyful poured over us by a friendly hand when the stream, sometimes a mere trickle down a rock face, has proved too small to yield a wash in any other way.
Their special circumstances have made two bush baths etch themselves indelibly upon my mind. The first was in the Otway Forest. We had heavy swags, and when the temperature ran up to 108 degrees, we took refuge in the Clarey River. Thick scrub, tall timber, and high banks shaded a shallow pool, and we stripped and dwelt in its freshness, coming out only to eat a meal. The north wind roared overhead but troubled us not, and the final touch of peace was given to the scene by the presence of a white-shafted fantail brooding serenely on her wine-glass nest and regarding us with untroubled eyes. Not till evening had cooled the parched air did we leave our liquid home. We had spent practically a whole day in the stream.
The second contrasted strongly with that bath of peace. Tramping one Easter along the coast near Hastings, we walked into the artillery practice of a camp of gunners. They were some miles inland, and were shelling the shore. In a pause, while we judged they were changing position, we attempted to pass across the danger zone. Half way over and all seemed well. Then phe-e-w! something whistled overhead and hit the sea with a phut and a splash. They had begun again and were sending over solid stuff to find the range. "Run!" said a war veteran with us, and we ran. The day was hot, the sand was soft, the packs weighed us down. There was nearly a mile to go. As we ran I noticed the soil was pitted with bullets. "Phe-e-w!" Over came another, much closer this time. I did not think I could run any faster, but at that I managed to squeeze out a bit more pace. A little farther on and we could see the danger flag marking the edge of safety. By it stood a sentry. I shall not readily forget his amazed face as he became aware of the handicap coming charging down on him. "How on earth!" he began, and at that moment, to a rattle of distant poppings, the battery opened behind us and the headland and the beach we had just passed went up in dust under a rain of shrapnel. With lungs bursting, our faces flaming with heat and excitement, our clothes sodden with perspiration, we solemnly undressed and walked into the ocean. That, I think, was the most grateful bath I ever had.
"The Commissariat cam-uel, when
all is said an' done,
Is an idiot and an ostrich and
an orphan child in one."
"Tankle-tonk, tonk, tonk!" That is the sweetest sound, better than a bird-call even, that a tramper can hear when he wakes in the early morning on some lonely hilltop, miles away from everywhere. It means that his packhorse, that beast of moods, has not left for parts unknown, under cover of the dark. For a long tour on foot the packhorse is invaluable, but his price is that of liberty—eternal vigilance. He makes possible the long trail on which no food can be bought, his sturdy back carrying weights which no human being can carry, but he is as true a homer as any pigeon. "With each remove he drags a lengthening chain." He takes every opportunity, covert and open, to return to his native stable.
Mahomet was truly a wise man. He said: "Trust in God; but tie your camel's leg."
As you make camp at the end of a day's march, he stands patient. One by one you loosen and drop the long surcingles and the miscellanies which make up his load. Finally the pack saddle is dumped. He shakes himself vigorously to ease his muscles, and at once reaches out for the nearest mouthful of grass. Where are the hobbles? You find them, fix a pair on his front feet, hang a tankling horsebell on his patient neck, and turn to other jobs. Invariably he begins to feed, with a "tonk, tonk, tonk" as his head moves rhythmically for each mouthful, and an occasional "tankle-tankle-tonk" as he shakes the flies from his face, or lifts clumsily his manacled feet over a log. If he is old at-this game he edges all the time toward the way he came, making a flying start, so to speak, for a break-away at night. He is helped by the fact that while at first you are acutely conscious of his bell-ringing, it presently becomes a commonplace, and you can no more say when it ceases than you can name the hour at which the birds cease singing as the daylight dies. You settle down to the camp-fire and the pleasures of a smoke and a yarn till bed calls. Then it's: "Anybody heard the horses lately?" and a dead silence while all listen. An owl wakes and utters the melancholy "Mopoke!" which he conceives to be singing, but no bell sounds. "Heard him a while ago," says someone. "He might be lying down," suggests the optimist. Saying appropriate things, you start out in the velvet black toward where the beast was last seen. Logs trip you, you find the entrance to a wombat pit, and finally you stumble over an uncertain white blotch which rises with a groan and clanks a bell in your face. He was lying down, after all. Relieved, you bless him and retreat, to find, in the morning, possibly, that Cossack, despite his manacles, is nowhere to be heard or seen. You trail him, no difficult matter with his tied feet making deep prints in the earth, and with luck you find him, and are back to camp again by midday. Incredible are the distances hobbled horses can travel in a night. On Lake Mountain it took a mounted man till mid-afternoon to find and retrieve three of them; from Oberon Bay, at Wilson's Promontory, a pair crossed long, sandy beaches, the double indentation of the plunging feet marked deeply in the shingle, waded rivers, broke down a barrier laid across the track to stop them, and climbed ridges of unbelievable steepness before the pursuer overtook them. Always after such an escapade the animals behave with exemplary resignation, and as they travel farther from home, in altogether strange country, the attempts to break away usually become fewer.
Packhorses are as varied as human beings in temperament and makeup. I have had some which, like Henry Lawson's, "would follow like a dog;" some, like the flea-bitten grey Cossack, which were so wise that they could judge to a hair whether the load would or would not go between a pair of close-growing trees or past a projecting rock; some which would blunder at anything and show about as much intelligence as a sheep. An old brown crock to whose halter I was attached as we made the long ascent of Mount Bogong used to keep going as in a dream. If I stopped to look at the view he kept right on and squeezed me between his pack and anything handy, a tree or a siding, as he tried to push past. Along the interminable switchbacks which lead to the summit of Cobbler, my "commissariat cam-uel" pulled back hard on every upgrade, almost hauling the leading-rope out of my hand, and on the downward slopes he came well forward, trod on my heels, and leaned his hairy chin on my shoulder while he blew on oaty breath past my ear. His strong suit was becoming jammed between timber; if he had been a camel he would certainly have tried the eye of a needle. Where he stuck, he stayed. Twice have I seen packhorses bolt. The first time was on the last 500 feet of Bogong, going up from the Little Snowy Creek side. With the certainty that they could not go far wrong on the big whaleback summit, the horses were turned loose ahead of us. From admiring a snowfield we turned just in time to see the team silhouetted on the skyline and to witness a remarkably fine exhibition of kicking. A pack on one of the beasts had slipped going up the steep grade and had worked down under its middle. It was engaged getting rid of the irritant. Unidentifiable objects rose and fell against the sky like the stock-in-trade of a juggler practising a new trick. With one final buck the straps parted and the animal, relieved, "passed in music out of sight." A second occasion was on the level road near the junction of the Dandongadale and Buffalo rivers. The three horses were in frisky mood. They trotted ahead of us and all went well till one apparently challenged the other two. From a trot to a canter was a quick transition; the next stage was a gallop with packs swaying in ludicrous fashion. The swags began to fly and the sporting members of the party were offering odds about who would lose his swag last and so have the shortest carry. That bolt went a couple of miles before it arrested itself, the heavily-laden horses whose packs refused to budge pulling up from exhaustion, the other for companionship.
I have spoken of the packhorse's desire for home; the other side of the picture is when he feels lonely and will not leave the camp. He seems to sleep very little. Sometimes between the midnight and the dawn he wakes, shakes himself vigorously, and proceeds to feed as close to you as he can reasonably get. Lying on the ground, with no more protection than a sleeping-bag, his trampling sound, alarmingly near, and his never-ending bell, would waken the deafest. I picture such a camp on the Moroka, just below that Mount Wellington, lately brought into much prominence by the Governor's visit. We lay about the ground, and between our beds and round about us went the horse with the bell, threading in and out like a lancer doing a fancy figure to music. Everyone shammed sleep in the hope that someone other than himself would rise and deal faithfully with the nuisance. How long we lay I cannot say. Suddenly, with a remark which for comprehensiveness I have never heard equalled, a weary form arose, a stick was hurled, there was a leap from the horse and a crash, while everyone shrank up small, and peace was again at her ancient business of soothing the world, our camp included.
Picture a bungalow set like a swallow's nest on a ledge some 5,000 feet above the common level of our world. On all sides are snow-gums, many of them bleached by death to a skeleton whiteness. In front the land drops with startling suddenness; from the windows you see nothing but ranges of high mountains across a gulf many miles in width. At the back the view is of ridges rising higher and ever higher to where Mount Feathertop holds a proud head clear of all such trivialities as timber.
It is an astonishing place, this bungalow. The stranger has probably walked the seven miles—the steadily ascending seven miles—that climb out of Harrietville, or he may possibly have come by way of that fascinating ridge known, with some justification, as the Razorback—nine miles on the thin edge of things! It doesn't matter; all tracks lead more certainly to this solitary house than ever roads did to Rome.
A spring burbles near by. It was probably the determining factor in fixing the site of the dwelling.
No snow is showing just now, but everywhere are signs that snow sets the keynote of the general life, and that winter is recognized as the true king of these regions. A toboggan leans against a shed wall; inside are so many skis that the facetious visitor may be forgiven who suggested that the place might appropriately be renamed The Harem.
Without, the views are superb. Within, to the tired traveller anyway, the scene may be still more entrancing. A dining room facing the sunset, spacious fireplaces, twenty-four beds with spring mattresses and unlimited blankets, an amazingly well-equipped kitchen, and, miracle of miracles! a hot water system supplying two bathrooms.
The winds may howl on Feathertop, and the storm may threaten; they hold no terrors for the tramper who has reached this haven.
He must bring his own food; that is all that is asked of him, plus the ability to cook it. A caretaker is in charge in these summer months. He sees that order is maintained and he collects the small fee charged for a bed. Otherwise the temporary lodger may easily deem himself the owner.
But how does the caretaker live, perched on this lonely height, his nearest neighbour in the valley five thousand feet beneath him?
That is where Bill and the packhorse come in.
Bill is a spotted dog. He looks to an unprofessional eye, a mixture of the known kinds of dog, with perhaps fox-terrier predominating. The packhorse is what the schoolboy called his collar; a "pale black." For the purposes of this act the two animals may be regarded as one, for Bill does not move without his equine mate, and the horse is lost without Bill.
The caretaker runs out of supplies. He walks down to Harrietville, picks up the daily papers and a stock of food; the packhorse is loaded up, and the three start up the winding path to the bungalow. The man leads, the horse walks soberly behind, grabbing an occasional mouthful as he goes. The dog investigates the bush after the manner of his kind.
Duly the procession arrives. The horse stands to be unloaded; Bill has a doze. "Home, Bill!" says the caretaker, and tosses a pebble at the pair of them. Bill looks up at his cobber. "Woof!" says he, and off they go down the long slopes unattended, alone, apparently as happy as the proverbial Larry.
Two hours or so later Bill is going about his lawful occasions in the street of his native village, and the old packhorse, tail busy with the flies, is waiting outside the store to have his gear removed. A perfect partnership. Year in, year out, they go and come together, always together, equally reliable, whether man-accompanied or not.
I wonder what they yarn about when there are no bothering humans with them! And I wonder still more what is going to happen when one of the two has to take that long long final trail that each and all must travel alone!
Amongst the earliest things I can remember in print are some old woodcuts showing St. Bernard dogs rescuing travellers in the snow. Big, shaggy fellows the dogs were, each with a flask of creature comforts or a rug bound to his neck, and we marvelled, as children, at the wonderful instinct, or as wonderful training, which led these kind-faced beasts to do their deeds of mercy.
The snow was always deep, the wayfarer always in the last stages of exhaustion, the dog always just in the nick of time. A wave of emotion fixed for ever the sentiment that the good monks of the great St. Bernard and their dogs stood for all that was amiable and self-sacrificing in life.
It is an iconoclastic age. I have had to jettison the belief that the St. Bernard dog is invariably a noble animal, inspired in every one of his works by a blind devotion to the service of man. A friend showed me scars on both his arms as the result of an introduction to one of my canine heroes—an entirely unprovoked attack, by the way!
There survives, however, the tradition of St. Bernard Hospice as a place of refuge for the snowbound pilgrim, and, despite my maltreated friend, the records show a truly remarkable number of rescues effected by the dogs of the old monastery, built so many hundreds of years ago on that dangerous mountain pass between Italy and Switzerland.
More than half seriously I suggest that we may soon need the St. Bernard breed here in Victoria. I have just revisited our own St. Bernard, and everywhere about that great huddle of ranges, of which the Hospice is so convenient a centre, are signs that our so long-neglected snowfields are surely coming to their own. Ski-ing and other winter sports are steadily growing in popularity, and the motor car makes it possible even for city people to reach the big hills, or at least come within striking distance of them, with a minimum expenditure of time and the maximum of comfort.
Accommodation is the great trouble. The demands on the Hospice last year far exceeded its resources, and the indications are that the requirements will be much greater this coming winter. It is easy to visualise a great chalet standing on the spot, a plateau carved out just below the crown of the mount, where the old building for so many years known as Boustead's, now cuddles in against the cliff wall. Snow lies here for many months, and even this warm Christmas time it was showing as collars or as splashes on the not far distant points, some of them the highest in the State, of Bogong, Feathertop, Hotham, Loch, Wills and others.
At present the Hospice on St. Bernard is the nearest shelter, actually in the deep snow, which the tourist can reach by road from any of our bigger cities under the winter conditions. His car may not be able to go quite the whole way in the season, but from the point where the drifts become impassable he may be conveyed by means more appropriate to Alpine conditions.
Once at the top he finds himself in a country "clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful." The high road to Omeo, along which he has travelled, has become as a rumour, blurred and indistinct, its cuttings mere rounded mounds, its levels merged into the universal vagueness. Vegetation generally is represented by irregularities of surface or lovely stalactites drooping like fringy shawls—they hang from the tops of the stunted gums. The telephone wire gathers incredible masses of the powdery stuff and sometimes breaks under the strain. The great peaks are dazzling in their purity as they stand solemnly about.
Unlimited are the fields for Alpine sports. The summit of Mount Hotham, smooth and treeless, with fascinating slopes and gradients of every degree, is only six miles away, following the curves of the road. Nothing could be better for the skieur. Immediately beneath the crest there issues the Diamantina spring, one of the headwaters of the Kiewa, and from here may be attempted what must be a truly wonderful run, the tracing of the far-famed Razorback.
This leads to Feathertop's fine slopes, from which may be had, across the gulf of the Kiewa's western branch, a perfect view of another great ski-ing ground to be—the Bogong High Plains. Closer to the Hospice are several "nursery runs" and other clearings prepared specially for snow games. At the Diamantina there is now a strong, well built hut for the convenience of travellers who find themselves benighted or weather-bound on these exposed heights. It was erected by the Country Roads Board, whose thoughtfulness in this matter deserves public acknowledgment. All reasonable conveniences have been supplied, and a box of emergency rations, to be used in case of need only, rests on the table.
In a sheltered nook nearer the top of Hotham stands another Roads Board house—a substantial dwelling of many rooms and many beds, where temporary board and lodging may be obtained in special circumstances as at an ordinary guest house. Ten miles further on Rundell's accommodation house is also open, so there are no long stages without shelter.
Great is the traffic over this elevated thoroughfare in the summer time. Every year its charm is becoming better known, and motorists, cyclists and walkers pass in procession whenever a vacation is long enough to permit of the excursion.
An exceedingly popular tour with the tramper is the round from Harrietville over Feathertop and the Razorback to the Diamantina, and down again via St. Bernard. The stages are easy—a seven miles' climb to the Bungalow on the ridge of Feathertop, an approximate nine miles along the Razorback to the hut at the Diamantina, five miles of main road to the St. Bernard Hospice and thirteen, all down hill, back to Harrietville.
The city man can take train to Bright, and a car service will make the sixteen miles along the Ovens Valley to Harrietville, a matter of no more than another half hour. The walking trip may, of course, be done in reverse order. In either case the tourist may leave Melbourne in the morning and be on a mountain summit that evening.
St. Bernard is the mother of rivers. A hundred feet below the Hospice gush out the cool waters which become the Ovens, flowing away to help feed the Murray; at the back are the beginnings of those two fine watercourses, the Dargo and the Wungungarra, both destined to reach the Gippsland lakes. The Buckland, too, originates close by, and, not so far away, but owing more to Hotham than to St. Bernard, is one at least of the several springs which, united, form the west branch of that well-stocked and well-fished trout stream, the Kiewa.
Standing on the ledge at the Hospice the main view is along the valley cut by the Ovens over a period of countless ages. Deep, deep, it is, and the eye falls down the steep wooded slopes to rise again gratefully as it is arrested by the delicious blue of the Buffalo. I find it hard to be moderate in expressing admiration of the Buffalo plateau as seen from any point along this range. Its skylines have a distinction all their own in Victorian scenery; it stands aloof and bold, clear of the other great mountains; its blue is constant, yet varies in tone with every change of light; when a white mist lingers about its crags and gullies it becomes a realm of magic, resting quiet for the moment on our gross earth before floating on again into space.
Quite intimate with St. Bernard, just across the road in fact, is Mount Smythe, and within easy walking distance, say a couple of miles or so, the double peak of The Twins lifts clear of the timber and furnishes a full panorama of views. A road, slowly being resumed by the wild, leaves the main thoroughfare nearby for Dargo and the old deserted goldfield of Grant, once a town of many thousands of inhabitants, now without one.
In the eaves of the Hospice there are robins brooding in skilfully hidden nests, a pardalote has burrowed into the bank at the rear of the dwelling, pipits run to and fro across the cleared upland. Summer or winter this is a good place—it is easy to be at peace with the world in such a spot.
"Ever the blazed trail beckons,
And ever the way is new."
Blazes are the lamps of the timbered country. Stand at night at a tramway junction in a Melbourne suburb, particularly one on a height, and you will see before you an almost perfect image, in fire, of those long successions of axe cuts which run through our forests from end to end. The rows of lights which loop and curve, rise and fall, twist and turn, defining faithfully the windings and contours of the streets they serve—those lights mark the way of the traveller from the inner congestion of the city to the less thickly peopled parts, and lead him back again. In just such fashion do the blazes dip to the streams, skirmish round the hillsides, mount to the heights, and trace the ridges, serving the same end, but with greater seriousness, for they may be the sole lines of communication between settlement and settlement.
A difference is notable. The one is a guide by night, the other by day. Blazes belie the apparent meaning of their name; they do not shine or glow, or sparkle. None the less they are obvious, and generally at a glance, to those who have grown to rely upon them. The walker, the rider, who must keep in touch with these markings over long distances, becomes wonderfully expert at picking them up. He develops a blaze eye. To the city walker who would see the back country, the blazed trails are invaluable. He cannot always be steering by compass in mountainous parts which may involve him in desperate passes; nor can he always find actual tracks; they are soon overgrown when out of use. Once a beaten path existed from Observation Spur, beyond Marysville, along the ridge to Lake Mountain. As we looked for signs of where it joined the main highway we met a roadmender. "You'll find the track on a map if you've got one," said he. "It's the only place where you will find it!" Had that track been blazed we would not have spent as much time in the next few days picking a way through thick undergrowth. "I am told there are people who do not care for maps," wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. "And," he added, "I find it hard to believe." Maps certainly are fascinating things; they tempt you to dwell reminiscently upon the parts you have already made your own, and they invite you to speculate what lies hidden in the territory you have not yet touched. I know no finer time-waster than a map. One of the most provocative of local publications of the kind is that entitled "Map of the Eastern Portion of the State of Victoria, showing mining tracks cut by the Department of Mines." It was issued in 1909. Red lines zigzag across it in such profusion as to lead one to suppose that it is easy to penetrate any part of that wild country, that even the inaccessible is accessible. But the plan is now really a record of blazes rather than of open ways, and even the blazes are vanishing. Nature is never idle at her age-old job of restoration.
In forty years the Mines Department spent 80,000 on the surveying and cutting of these tracks. They are numbered well into the hundreds. All of them were designed to help the seeker after Victoria's now departed asset—gold. The work was systematically done. As a preliminary measure a surveyor went out, seeking the easy gradients, the low saddles, the simplest means of crossing the streams, the route which presented the fewest natural difficulties. He probably returned by another course in his endeavour to select the most direct line, and yet avoid obstacles. He blazed as he went, and he noted all details necessary. Then a contract was let. The specifications generally provided for "blazing, clearing, side-cutting, crossings, corduroy, culverts, bridges, approaches, finger-boards, and all other necessary work," and the tenderer was told that he would know the route by a large triangular blaze, the letters M.D., and the number of the track, all of which were cut into the sapwood of trees at the terminal points. He would further have to guide him rough bark blazes on adjoining trees, single stakes put in every quarter of a mile, and double stakes at every mile. His contract was to clear the scrub and timber away in "straight reaches of as great a length as is consistent with adherence to the blazed line," and it is astonishing to learn, when one remembers the thick forests, that "every tree within three feet of either side of the clearing" had to be marked with "two large triangular blazes." These were to be cut, bark deep, at least five feet above the ground, and to "face in the direction of the track."
Finger boards, not smaller than eighteen inches by twelve inches, of three-quarter inch planed timber, painted white, and with the required legend neatly written on them in three inch letters, had to be erected by nailing, not less than ten feet above the ground, to a suitable tree or a post, wherever necessary. I shall not readily forget the shock which a signboard of this kind gave us, a party of walkers, as we emerged into the Wonnangatta valley after crossing Mount Howitt. It was the first we had seen, and it stood in that wilderness looking as much out of place as a swag and billy would on the Saturday morning "block" in Collins Street. The official blaze, it will be noted, is cut in the shape of a triangle. But it does not keep that shape. The weather distorts it, the tree grows and twists it about, the living bark will sometimes almost completely cover it, given time enough. So a blazed and cleared trail, after the lapse of years, may be no more open than any other part of the forest, and the old axe-cuts may be represented by scarcely discernible dimples on occasional trees. Sometimes the cut has eaten into the timber, and a hollow has formed which has eventually extended to the ground. Occasionally a blaze was lettered. A "T" which can still be seen on a portion of the horse-pad from Warburton to the Baw Baws indicates that this was in early days the Tanjil track.
Most of the old pads, as has been said, are being lost from disuse. The principal reason for maintaining them has vanished now that the gold has gone. Those which exist are in the main kept open by the cattlemen who follow their windings taking stock from far-back stations to market or moving the beasts to the high plains in the spring, and back again to the valleys in autumn. The map of the mining tracks is spread before me as I write. Which route would I take if I had
Withal, as large-a charter as the wind,
To blow on whom I please?"
The Alps call loudest. What of the Buffalo, that alluring tableland, the summer attractions of which are not half well enough known? It is true there is no crimson line to follow there—a motor road is the evident way—but the adventurous may still find a thrill by entering at the back door, the means being a couple of little-used pads which rise out of the Buffalo River valley, and wind through country rough enough to suit the most ardent admirer of the wild. Or the paths may be preferred which creep along the ridges of St. Bernard and Hotham, and give access to the crest of picturesque old Feathertop. But I think that of them all I would most gladly be on the winding way which traces back the Howqua (that finest of our mountain streams) to the foot of Mount Howitt's huge bulk. From the thickly timbered valley the track twists and curls, ever climbing, until it breaks over the edge of the Howitt plain, green with snowgrass just now, and stippled with alpine flowers. The altitude is nearly 6,000 feet: the air has a quality almost intoxicating. Around stand sister peaks, no less great: between them are blue depths, wonderful to see.
No blazes are on this upland, for the timber has been left behind. Snowpoles take their place, short standards which look like the skeleton of a telegraph line. Over the far edge plunges the track and down the villainously short zigzags—"they sometimes zag before they zig," said a distressed walker—which lead to Basalt Creek and the Wonnangatta Valley. There it is possible to see a house again (on an average of one in twenty miles), but never a bridge, so it is a case of wading every time the river has to be crossed. Blazes are again the guide. Where the Moroka comes in from Mount Wellington they beckon upstream, but they soon prove hard to follow. This is the ancient Tamboritha track; as it crosses Arbuckle it branches to Wellington, most varied of all Victorian mountains with its long grassy plain, its mighty outcrops of rock and its hidden lake.
But the invitation of the Moroka may be disregarded. Then will come more wadings, a high ridge or two to climb, a tiny settlement to wonder at, and the comparative civilization of Dargo is reached with its motor road connecting with the distant railway. "And so home," as Mr. Pepys would say, only to see the blazes beckoning again whenever a map is touched, and to feel a call which it is hard to disregard.
The townsman who would see the outback country cannot afford to neglect the week or ten days' break from business which forms the Christmas-New Year holiday for so many. Thus it has happened that a party of half-a-dozen ardent walkers has consistently missed the usual home festivities of that season for the last fifteen years. How much longer the members can keep it up no one knows, for the family demand grows louder and more insistent each year. Meanwhile these nomads are still gathering experience, as they have done for so long, of Christmas out of doors. Incidentally, they have learned what the festival means to the lonely homestead sitting far removed in its little clearing, from even the outposts of civilization, to the still lonelier lighthouse, to the stockman and the hatter, and generally to the dweller at the back of beyond. Christmas dinners have been eaten in all kinds of circumstances and have been composed of all kinds of materials, and the New Year has been welcomed from beds pitched in most unlikely places.
Food to some extent distinguishes Christmas for the amateur swagman as to his stay-at-home brother, though of course not to the same degree. Both have a liking for plum pudding, and both know it as a heavy diet. Only the tramper, however, who has one in his nosebag, really knows how heavy it can be. Even the packhorse (when we have been lucky enough to possess one) has seemed relieved when that fine old relic of the past is done with. The pudding is always eaten at the first excuse that presents itself. We have devoured solid plum duff of the most approved pattern—cold, of course,—lying on the bottom of a pitching boat as she fought a way across Corner Inlet to the Promontory, we have served it as a second course to newly caught crayfish on the Otway coast, we have had it in a midnight train making heavy weather into Tallangatta, we have quarrelled for it with the flies on mountain tops and river banks from Mallacoota to Albury, and we have blessed its succulence on the slopes of Kosciusko. Cheerfulness has usually been its only sauce, and very good the combination is.
The pudding is about the only luxury the walker cares to burden himself with, and then mainly because of sentiment. Every ounce tells when you are "waltzing Matilda," and, after all, plain food is best. Meat and bread, some bacon, some butter, rice, oatmeal, and the inevitable tea, sugar, and condensed milk—these are what count in the long run. The wayside onion, potato or berry (blackberries are often plentiful at the end of December), are always adopted if they are unattached, and many little odds and ends that would be despised at home help to give welcome variety to the menu when on the track. Woe betide the bearing fruit tree encountered after a week's enforced abstention from vegetable foods. I have seen a party of Melbourne citizens competing with a farmer's pigs in Croajingolong for the ripe cherryplums he obligingly knocked down from his trees. And if the porkers won the race in three cases out of five, it was not for want of trying on the part of the humans!
It may sound odd to some city dwellers to hear of snow porridge, but more than once we have found ourselves, during the holiday period too, with snow all about our camp, and no running water handy. So the billies have been filled with the powdery whiteness and refilled and again filled as the mass has kept melting. There is some difficulty in judging how much snow is required to produce a full billy of water. It was my turn to prepare the first meal on one such occasion, and I fear I overdid it, for later that afternoon a walker was heard to remark that the only decent drink he had had that day was the porridge for breakfast!
A Christmas meal remembered gratefully was marked by an extravagant stew. Some fresh meat (a piece cut from some undetermined portion of the beast) had been secured that day in passing through a tiny township. It was sliced into fair sized pieces and supplemented with the final fragments of a round of corned beef which had lasted the party for about a week. Some onions and potatoes (also gathered at the little village), a bagful of broken biscuits, half a pound of stale bread, a bottle of bovril, a lump of bacon, salt, pepper, and several scraps of other food, a little oatmeal, and a half cup of rice, all these went into the big billy. Everything that could be fairly used was sought, and the camp agreed that nothing seemed to have been left out except the candle ends. It was a good stew, a bush bouillabaisse. There was perhaps a thought too much water. Not until after the third helping was there any criticism, however, and it went no further than a suggestion that a sponge would have been a help in the eating of it.
Bush hospitality is famous. It increases in quality as the distance from the city lengthens. At this season it is at its height. I have seen an old lady on the Wonnangatta welcome a crew of unshaven strangers as though they were all prodigal sons, and she their scriptural father. We have entered a remote Gippsland lighthouse at midnight, the "nosebag" down to the last ration, and have been received with every comfort the station could muster. That is the common habit of those kindest of all people, the back-country folk, and here and now I should like to bear testimony to their unexampled generosity. The hotel-keepers, whose business it is popularly supposed to be to let no traveller pass without unfairly lightening his pocket, discover themselves human in the little towns off the beaten track. At the hotel of one such, after a good meal indoors (for we had come far and were short of food), the New Year commenced remarkably enough at eleven p.m. instead of the usually accepted hour of midnight.
We sat in the big kitchen with its homely chairs and sofas, and told the city stories our hosts were avid to hear, and we listened with interest to their chronicles of the district. We decided to see the New Year in. But tired Nature, tired by the long, long tramp that day and soothed by the processes of digestion, prohibited our sitting up. She would have us lie down and sleep. One by one we dozed off, till a hardy spirit rose and suggested that for the purposes of this act the New Year should arrive at eleven o'clock. It was then eleven. The suggestion was received with applause, and the premature birth was celebrated with due and proper ceremony.
We have witnessed the dawn of a new year from the edge of a plain, set up like a table 6,000 feet above the common level of the world; we have called the appropriate greeting from sleeping-bags stretched at the edges of snowfields (how few seem to know that most Christmases, there is an abundance of snow within a day's train journey of Melbourne) that gleamed like diamonds in the early morning sunlight; we have wakened to the roar of breakers on the lonely dingo-trodden stretches of the Ninety-mile Beach; and once we thought we were still in a bad old year, very bad indeed, when we discovered that our hastily chosen stopping place, selected in the dark, was the "tip" of a small country town.
Great is the power of the wonderful season. Leading a packhorse into Glen Wills (it was skewbald, by the way, and we were naturally hailed as the advance guard of a circus), I heard the thin tinny bleat of a toy trumpet, and, turning a corner, discovered a group of four little bush children. Father Christmas had come to them, even as he comes to all good city boys and girls. And everywhere we have been we have seen the pleasant signs that mark the time of peace and good will.
Christmas is a great institution, and I feel moved to add, especially out of doors.
"The searching feet of change
Have never found it out."
Surely enchantment guards the spot. It sits, at this moment of writing, cool and green and inviting, a veritable haunt of ancient peace, in the heart of a countryside wholly disfigured by bush fires. Logs are crackling or reduced to ash, the tall trees stand as pillars of cloud by day and of flame by night, where the autumn grass should be yellowing, the landscape is a desolate blackness, and the distances are lost in a blue haze of smoke. No more striking contrast could be pictured than that between the tortured outer world and the repose of this water-worn, tree-lined gorge. Yet the distance separating the two is but a matter of a few vertical yards.
The place boasts the impossible name of Dead Cock Creek. Just about fifty years ago Dr. A. W. Howitt (those two great public servants, Howitt and Von Mueller, between them left very few of the out-of-the-way parts of Victoria unvisited), came to it in the course of a journey by bark canoe down the Mitchell River. He has hidden a most readable account of the trip in an old geological report. Then, as now, the fires devastated the surrounding hills; then, as now, they failed to penetrate to the creek beds. On the evidence of the timber, I should say a fire has not at any time, or say, for a hundred years, obtained a hold there. Geologically speaking, I understand the gorge is young (I use the term with due respect to science), but the trees appear to be nearly as old as such trees may be.
As Howitt entered it from the river level to work inland, he could escape by no other means than climbing, and it was only after felling a tree to help him over a barrier of rock (across which the water flowed), and continuing for some distance up the creek bottom, that he succeeded in finding a place from which he managed to reach the general level of the surrounding land. Our approach was made from the maize flats of Lindenow, and we found ourselves, at twelve miles, gazing down to the tops of the gorge timber on the one hand and into the Mitchell River, far below, on the other. We stood on the rubbly point just above "where the brook and river meet," and, like the maiden of that poem, we, too, had "reluctant feet," for the drop before us was steep and the path rough. The swags we carried (for we meant to camp for some days) were anything but a comfort at this stage.
Directly we left the hilltop a new world was discovered. The track at once dives through and under vegetation quite unlike anything "upstairs." The outposts and sentinels are currajong trees, holding perilous footing on the very edge of where the unscalable rock wall drops sheer for a hundred feet and more. A little lower also are many giants of this family, leaning out at easy angles from the slope, and sending wonderful columns aloft. The live timber generally gives an impression of great, but healthy age. How old the biggest of the trees are could not be guessed. One mighty currajong towered up (we calculated) some seventy-five feet.
A line run round his smooth trunk, just clear of the ground, gave a circumference of fifteen feet four inches. His first branches, up about forty feet, could not have been less than five feet round. With what noble serenity he took the air, standing above his neighbours in the assured calm of greatness.
But we were to see too many large trees to "marry them all with a tape measure," in Wendell Holmes's phrase. "I call all trees mine that I have put my wedding ring on," was his remark, "and I have as many tree-wives as Brigham Young has human ones." Here he would have altogether worn out his tape line. Working down in a shade through which the sun wove dappled patterns, the most remarkable trees were the white-flowering pittosporum (undulatum) of our garden hedges, now covered with its resinous pods of gold, glossy green lilly pillys (Eugenias), and kanookas, but there were many other growths also, most of them of a wonderful size, and all bound together and hung with long coils and spirals of five distinct species of climbing vines. Finally came the flat, rock bottom of the creek, dry save where a sheltered hole or two still retained a little water.
The view here was unusual. On either hand rose the gorge walls, not more than sixty feet apart, in part clothed with vegetation, and in part composed of a brilliant red rock. From the sides sprang trees whose upper branches mingled, giving an effect of long arches and the most delightful vistas. To look down stream was to have the picture completed by the high cliff on the other bank of the Mitchell; up-stream, the eye was led on and on by ever-diminishing openings, until the green lattice-work barred all further vision.
It was a thirsty day, and we turned to the river. The going was good underfoot, for we walked on broad rocks laid down like tables, often with pebbles inset—a veritable "pudding-stone." They were piled in confusion at the water's edge, and helped to dam back a great pool, more than a hundred yards long, and of considerable depth, which mirrored to the last least detail the green-clothed hill at whose foot the river ran. While our billy boiled and a "salamander," or "Gippsland crocodile" (known to science as Physignathus), eyed us curiously from a sandbank, we swam amongst the reflections and shattered them into a thousand pieces.
Then it was: Where to camp? The sand, under a close canopy of bushes, tempted us, but a cave was known to be somewhere up the creek, so up the creek bed we wandered. A four-foot black snake, doubtless driven down by the fires of the higher places, gave us "furiously to think" as he poured his handsome body, glistening black with red edges, into a safe cavity between two rocks. He may be there yet, for we saw no more of him. In Bull Creek, however, which empties into the Mitchell some 300 yards away, we killed his replica, and within twenty yards another reptile still bigger. The last was the most beautiful thing of its kind I have seen. That was our full tally of snakes.
A tinkling of bell-birds suggested water, and, sure enough, well-shaded by overhanging growths, we found some isolated pools, from which eventually we were to draw a meal of mountain trout and a fine eel. Above the second pool a rock barrier, thirty feet high, stretched from wall to wall, and apparently, forbade all further passage. It must make an attractive waterfall when the stream runs. On the right the water has undercut the cliff to a depth of about forty feet and for a length of 150 feet, forming a habitable cave, dry, and practically waterproof. In this ngrung a narguna (home of the stone devil) as the natives named it to Howitt, we lived for five days, and a comfortable home it proved. Blocks of stone fallen from the roof provided seats and tables, ledges of the back wall seemed made for storing provisions, and the easterly aspect of the opening allowed the glorious moon for last Easter to flood it with light every evening.
It was a place of mystery by night, and of constantly changing beauty by day. We climbed the cliff by a wallaby track, and pursued the watercourse for another mile, to where a cave of stalactites and stalagmites, some so old that they have come together from roof and floor, completely barred the way. We admired the extraordinary growths of pittosporum, sixty feet high, and umbrageous to an amazing degree; the kanookas that pushed eager heads 100 feet towards the sky (great creatures girthed like giants); shady myrtles of an unbelievable bigness; and the swings of creepers which began in the earth, climbed to the treetops, came down in long loops like ships' cables, and ascended again out of sight. And we had a vision, now dimly through thick timber, now clearly in more open spaces, of high, stark cliffs, golden-red in the level sunlight, towering over all. It was good and new and wonderful, but ever we came back to our cave, lured by its unfailing charm and entertained by its domestic happenings.
Three graceful young trees rose beside it at the foot of the waterfall, and one stood in the edge of the pool. In these and the gums high up was a constant traffic of bell miners. Such pugnacious little birds they proved, and with many a note other than the metallic "tink! tink!" which has given them their name. They seem strictly gregarious; feeding they were always together, and when they came to drink or bathe, as they so frequently did, they came in rollicking, noisy groups that behaved just as children would in such circumstances. It was a delightful sight to see a dozen or more of these olive-green sprites in a row at the water's brink, dipping and raising their beaks in unison. No matter how occupied they were, or how remote from the pool, they always had leisure to devote to a visitor, and we saw birds as large as the red lory and the bower bird attacked so vigorously as to be glad to seek for water elsewhere. The only creatures left unchallenged were the three "salamanders"—father, mother, and baby—who lived close by, and shared the pool with them.
Martins twittered in the holes of our ceiling; the diamond sparrow's "witti-chew" came faintly from the tall timber far above us; bower birds uttered their throaty calls and sometimes showed themselves for a moment; once a heron came down the length of the gorge with the wind behind her, looking like a bolt from a cross-bow; three eagles soared high overhead; wonga pigeons beat their hollow drums; king parrots and the red-wattle bird vied with one another in noise; a stray butcher bird made melody like a woodland flute; gangangs and black cockatoos dropped stealthily bitten pods as we passed, or grated harshly as they flew; and a lyre bird saw to it that all the music of the bush was "broadcasted." Those were not the whole of the birds we noted. Two absentees must be mentioned—there was never a magpie's song, and we heard no
"Boobooks moan lone vespers in the dusk."
Despite the dreams that should have come in such a place, we saw nothing of the original owner, the nargun, described as "all stone, but his breast and his arms and his hands," who lurked in caves to devour people, and against whom all weapons were useless. But one night we woke to a dreadful scream, which drove all sleep away. Near at hand in the gorge followed a blow as though a blunt axe had struck hollow timber. "Hough! hough! hough!" went the flail-like beat until a dozen or more had been struck. Then all was silence.
In the morning we saw no sign of the mysterious visitor. The sun shone, the birds sang and disported; the evil spirit had been exorcised.
An old proverb has it that "God sends the meat, the devil sends the cooks." Sometimes the back-blocks tramper, living on what he can gather as he goes, questions the complete wisdom of that saying. Being usually his own chef, he agrees willingly enough with the second part, but he has more than a passing doubt about the other; the food "sent" to him is often far from hinting a celestial origin.
It was surely anything but a heavenly influence that suggested to two of us, boys in the Strathbogie ranges, that the native porcupine was good to eat. I recalled that somebody had said "it tastes like duck," and Jim suddenly remembered that he had been told the correct way to slay and bleed the poor beast. In that unhappy hour we came upon a fine specimen shuffling his harmless way through the leaves and grass, and straightway we pounced upon him. If the earth had been soft, so accomplished a digger might even then have beaten us, but it held, and so did the ant eater, for it took vigorous work with a couple of sticks to turn him over. That exposed his Achilles heel—otherwise, his long, soft nose. Boys are savages. I am ashamed now to recall that we killed him. We were both truly curious about the flavour of his meat. But I personally don't know to this day what Echidna tastes like, for, after carrying the prickly carcass a good many miles and blessing it all the way, neither of us would tackle the job of skinning it.
Porcupines aside, the swagman is well advised who does not attempt to live on native game, but carries what he needs, and renews it as the bush township or settlement affords opportunity. If he is his own pack horse, his cooking outfit is usually a couple of billies and nothing more, except when he'll press a piece of twisted fencing wire into service as a gridiron. The billy can be used for most purposes, from porridge to stews. Which reminds me of our cook's Waterloo on one trip when he found dried apples in the pack.
He was a remarkable cook in many ways. One of his weaknesses was verse writing, and he usually had a manuscript or two about him which we had to read. It proved quite a good means of keeping us away from his cooking fire. "Fritters to-night, boys!" was his announcement, as he opened up the apples. He didn't know that they swell when wet, and he filled the billy to the brim. An hour later, when we returned from a dip in the creek, the camp seemed covered with apples. Half cooked, still warm, the little flat circles stippled all the immediate landscape, and the billy on the fire looked like part of a conjuring trick as seemingly endless billows of good food rose out of its interior to topple hissing into the blaze beneath. The fritters were all right when they did arrive, but it is still unsafe to mention dried apples to that cook.
Foraging as an art is rendered easy in the back country by the unstinted hospitality of the settlers. They are often embarrassingly kind, loading up the traveller with the best they have, and looking hurt when payment is offered. I recall a cattle station well up the Macallister River, where five of us walked in from the wilderness to try to buy some food. "Where are your horses?" asked the squatter, as he poured out drinks. "We're walking!" I can see his astonished face yet. "Walking!" he cried. "What a (something) game!" When we left him we had mutton, both raw and cooked, bread, butter, jam, milk and sugar, and he rode after us later with potatoes. No charge, of course.
In such circumstances it is not merely the influence of the Christmas season; the generosity is native to the soil.
Of one good forager we used to declare that he never drew a blank. So uniformly successful was he, even under the most difficult conditions, that legend (always too good to be true) records that on one occasion, when he had been sent to a nearby farmhouse with a billy and sixpence, he returned with a quart of milk, a dozen eggs, a pound of butter and half-a-crown change!
One of the real gains of back-country tramping is the philosophy it induces. If food is plentiful, you live well; when it is scarce you learn to do with the little that is going and to joke about it. A couple of well-known city men, a solicitor and a prosperous contractor, find pleasure in telling of the dish of cold boiled rice to which they were reduced towards the end of a long coastal tramp. They were on the outskirts of civilization again when they sat down, in the shade of a hedge, to eat the not-too-appetising mess. Behind the hedge stood a cottage, and from it presently appeared a benevolent-featured old lady. She gazed upon them sitting there, she marked their only food, and then, to their fearful joy, she came forth and handed them a shilling.
Commonly the amateur swagman lives well, and he needs to, for the appetite he develops is beyond all town experience. Who would eat a whole crayfish "to his own cheek," in the city? But I have seen five walkers sit down to five crayfish they had newly caught and freshly cooked, and the edible remainder would not have fed a healthy cat. In town, too, the bread must be fresh; commonly the staff of life on a long trip is carried through from the jumping-off place, and may be ten days old before it is finished. Appetite usually overcomes any tendency to criticise. On a tramp which lasted three weeks the bread ran out altogether, and two loaves found in an abandoned camp at Cape Conran were adopted with enthusiasm. They were old enough to suggest the prehistoric; they were hard enough for anvils; but they were eaten and, moreover, enjoyed.
Up on the side of a Victorian mountain, far removed from habitation, there is a pudding mine. We had eaten an alleged cake with some gusto, cheerfully chopping off the cindered parts, but when the cook, who had been engaged in secret rites for a night and a day, produced three plum puddings he had made in the cattleman's hut by our camp and had cooked in a kerosene tin, it was hard, for once, to look pleased. They were pallid, evil-looking balls, suffering badly from anaemia. Clammy beads of perspiration bedewed their slimy faces, and hunger left us as we looked. But how to dodge eating them without offending the cook? He was proud of them. He said they were Christmas puddings. We temporised and carried them on to be eaten "to-morrow." That night, when the cook slept, a burial party went forth bearing burdens, and came back empty-handed. The cook watched us darkly for the next few days. He thought we had had a secret feast from which he had been excluded. Then he broke into speech: "You're a funny lot o' coves," he said. "You must be blooming money boxes. I put four threepenny-bits in each of those puddings!"
"I can eat crow; but I don't hanker arter it!" remarked the American. There are many things in the bush which could be eaten, and which were approved as edible by our black brothers, but which the white man's palate rejects. Snakes, for example, and the suety-looking wattle grub, and those repulsive (in the mass) moths known as the Bogongs. By the way, hunters who have lived exclusively on kangaroo and wallaby meat (when trade was permitted in those furs) have told me that they used invariably to suffer from skin troubles, but that, I fancy, must have been due, not so much to any quality inherent in the marsupials' flesh, as to lack of vegetable foods. Fish, there are, of course, in practically every stream, but at the end of a long day's march the swagman is little inclined for the generally difficult job of first finding bait before wetting a line.
No, it is more profitable for the tramper to carry what he needs than to trust to what he can catch of the denizens of our wilds. Shooting is out of the question, for a gun is too heavy to form part of a swag, and the nature lover, in any case, cannot reconcile himself to using an instrument which frightens all living things so that they hide from his sight. All our creatures, anyway, are better alive than turned into food.
The irreverent youth christened it the Suffragette Circus. It certainly bore a colourable resemblance to the chariot of an advance agent for some be-tented Aggregation of Marvels. There was a rusty tone about the van that was shared by the pair of depressed-looking horses, Ginger and Darkie. The former had some spirit and despite his appearance he discovered himself in the course of the journey to be a grafter, but Darkie betrayed no interest in the outing, and only pulled when he must. No van was ever so packed as this one when the eatables, the beds and their six owners were aboard. The driver (the sole male) looked aghast at the monumental pile, but he got it in—somehow.
"Now, all you want in the way of home comforts," said the irreverent one, "is a few pot plants and a deck chair or two." That was his parting shot as the caravan rolled away, buckets and billies dangling from below, four lamps hanging on the side bracket, and parcels oozing from every pore.
It was Eastward ho! That evening, the party wrestled with tents in the dark at Lilydale, and settled down to the uneasy sleep of the first night out. The flippant youth would have been gratified had he overheard the comments of two residents who passed the camp—"By gum! Here's a circus!" And at Launching Place next day an inhabitant sought to know when they were "opening."
Leaving town had attracted some attention. Half-adozen girls perched at precarious angles in such a vehicle took the popular eye. "It will be all right in the country," was the consoling reflection. The driver hoped so, but seemed apprehensive as he listened to the chatter of hilly roads and creeks to cross. He was a city man, and knew better what his horses could do in Chapel Street than on "the Divide," or up Frenchman's Hill. His gloom was deepened when further on Eileen and her parcels were added to the load. Eileen is twelve stone, and her luggage included the bread for three days. However, by all talking together the packs were readjusted and the trip was resumed.
Several of the girls were justly proud of their walking powers. Two had been on foot from Warrnambool to Queenscliff, from Bright to Bairnsdale, and on many another lengthy tramp. "The long white road" from Lilydale was as their native heath, and thereafter there was ever (save at meal and bed time) a division of the party into walkers and resters in the van. Three boasted at the end that they had walked 220 of the total 260 miles of this pilgrimage.
Little Joe was gazing in his wonted benignity upon Warburton as they passed through. The Yarra is always beautiful here, for it is yet young and in its green-edged bed it has no thought of the polluting city that awaits it further down. Rushing, hill-born tributaries feed it from either side, including that sturdy stream, the O'Shannassy, now being diverted to augment Melbourne's Water supply.
The dust of the road turned Darkie to the same shade as Ginger, and the fine powder settled impartially on all. Grateful was the camp opposite M'Mahon's, and more than grateful the dip in the river. Sleep was still a coy thing to be wooed by the more timid. "What's that?" would whisper one of the two bedded in the van. Cautious investigation possibly revealed a grazing cow, and a subdued duet of relief invariably followed. "Oh, go to sleep, you people," would come from one of the two tents, and peace would spread her wings and brood upon the camp.
"Early to rise," was the motto. When dawn was standing tiptoe to see over the hills there was often someone moving. The cooking pots went on the reviving fire, the driver saw to his horses, and there was a merry stir and a gay tumult in the quiet bush. The business of the day had begun. Half-an-hour before the caravan started the walkers were well on their way. When they were overtaken they gave instructions where to stop for lunch, and they followed behind to retrieve the belongings that the van shed generously under the stimulus of the ruts and fallen trees that enlivened the road. A renegade frying pan tried hard to escape. In one day it was retrieved no fewer than three times.
Beyond M'Veigh's (Walsh's Creek) the track to the top of the Divide was blocked repeatedly by logs, and the walkers easily gained on the chariot. Bush fires had marred temporarily the beauty of all this country. No water was found for nineteen miles, and then it was livid of hue and rank of taste. The remains of the lovely forests compelled admiration here, and from Matlock into Wood's Point. The decayed and almost vanished village of Matlock, said to be the highest in Victoria, clings to the top of the range and commands a view of mountain and valley that is lovely indeed. With the advent of seven strangers, the population increased by over fifty per cent. Night fell with heavy rain, and from the shelter of a deserted schoolroom, "high on a lonely hill," they saw the clouds far below them, and heard the thunder shouting beneath their feet. It was "the windy morn of Matlock," when they woke, but the sky was clear and the day pleasant as the downward path was taken that leads into quaint little, worn-out Wood's Point, full of reminiscences of diggings and "the good old days." Crushing batteries marked the onward way, and tiny cottages with gardens of geraniums and other homely flowers showed occasionally by the lightning flashes, for another storm broke before Gaffney's Creek provided shelter. Indoors the clash of the elements took on a very different sound, and only added to the comfort of the snug Commercial Hotel.
In the morning, the party, as experts in "washing," supervised for a while the work at the Rose of Denmark mine, and entered the tunnel, but the road beckoned and Ten Mile was made that night. All this side of the Divide looked well. Jamieson and the other tiny settlements gave a picturesque note to the landscape. Darlingford came in time for camping, and an empty schoolroom saved the usual pitching of tents. Annette, proof against all weather, slumbered outside as usual. With the blessed gift of ability to sleep well in any circumstances, she recked nothing that Ginger shook off his moorings in the night and cruised about her. The others heard his trampling, his sighings, and his inquiring sniffs at her recumbent form and pictured her lying there in dread. "Oh, how awful the horse was last night," was the chorus that greeted her in the morning. "The horse?" said Annette, blankly. "What horse?"
An old man, long-bearded, white-hatted, casting seed with his right hand from a bowl under his left arm, suggested strongly a well-known Biblical parable. No one was surprised to find that one of his names was Joseph, and that the creek by which he lived is known as Jerusalem. Altogether charming were the old men of this district. It was another who responded to a request for fruit with "Come inside, you pretty girls," and refused to accept payment for the quinces and walnuts he showered upon them. He was a Scotchman, he said "born in Belfast," he added, with a twinkle. Everywhere the country folk were glad to talk, and many were the questions as to the object of such a trip. "Are you going on a pickernick?" was the inquiry of a small child who was given a lift to school. Another asked where they were going. "To Melbourne," she was told. "What! You going to Melbourne in that cage!"
The Goulburn's grey-green mirror had been followed for many miles, but it was sadly blurred with earth brought down by recent rains. Where it is spanned by the Eildon-bridge a beautiful camp was formed on the night of 30th March.
Twice the Acheron was crossed next day on the route to Marysville, via Taggerty and Buxton, the Cathedral Peak the most conspicuous object much of the time. Both horses had felt the climbing and the rough roads severely, and at the pretty township of Marysville they were outspanned for twenty-four hours. With unabated vigour the walkers took the opportunity to visit some of the "lions" of the place, including the picturesque Steavenson Falls.
That night the timid pair in the van woke clutching each other. They had grown accustomed to the melancholy moan of the boobook, the chump-chump of feeding horses, the sough of wind in the tall timber, the thousand and one noises of the night in the bush. This was something new. "Oh! Oh! What is it?" wailed Winsome, as an invisible thing clawed up the inside of the cover of the van. "O-oh!" chorused both, as it fell from the roof on to their bed. A hurriedly lit match showed a possum departing hastily by the front door.
Leaving Marysville, the homeward track was fairly entered upon. Narbethong marked a lunching place, and Fernshaw provided a spot for afternoon tea. Fires had been busy across the Blacks' Spur, with somewhat curious results. Most of the vegetation of the uplands had been swept away, and their loveliness destroyed. But this opening out had given clear views of unsuspected gullies, whose lush growths have resisted the flame and remain things of beauty. A night was to have been spent under canvas just outside Healesville, but, for the last time, rain forbade the pitching of the tents, and a boarding house was found not too fastidious to take in the somewhat bedraggled caravanners. The horses were quickened by the homing instinct next day, and made light of the thirty-nine miles to town. Just a fortnight after the start the travellers disembarked, sunburnt and rather dishevelled, but well, and stored with memorie of stream and mountain, forest and open country, that they will not willingly let die.
What the bishop said of the strawberry may be fitly applied to this delightful nook, so snugly tucked in on the western side of Wilson's Promontory. Doubtless, God could have made a more attractive bay, but doubtless He never did. Beauty and romance combine in its title, for it bears the name of that Oberon, king of the Little People, who wrought such powerful magic on a certain Midsummer Night of which the whole world has heard, and beauty and romance unite in its shape and position. Appropriately enough there is a Titania Creek not far away. Behind the bay lie a hundred thousand acres of brown moorland and craggy hills, shaded valleys and tidal or freshwater creeks, the whole (let us be thankful) reserved for all time for the enjoyment of the people of this State. The first glimpse of the shining waters of Oberon Bay is full of charm. You have come from the Darby River by way of Leonard Bay, its singing sands responding with a sharp cry to each impact of the foot, you have waded the Tidal River, pausing long enough to admire the endless procession of the fish as they come skirmishing in from the sea and back again; you have traced the smooth curve of Norman Bay, itself an appetising spectacle, and you have struggled up the vertical 900 feet of the Bad Saddle (well named), which is really a shoulder of Mount Oberon. There you have paused, one good reason being the views, the other that a spell is grateful after the villainous gradient of the water-worn gutter which masquerades as a track on the side of the Saddle. Through the timber to the south shines blue water laced with white foam where it breaks into Little Oberon Bay, and just beyond, so bright that the sun seems to be always shining on them, sparkle the broad beaches of Oberon itself.
Bent like a bow from headland to headland runs a full mile of gleaming strand. So gentle is the slope that at the ebb it is probably 300 paces from the high-water line to where one could paddle. No safer bathing could be imagined, yet the rollers coming in are the full-grown offspring of the Southern Ocean. Out at sea several islands help to give distinction to the view, but what really stamp this secluded sanctuary with character are the two peaks which stand sentinel-wise at the ends. Norgate, to the south, some 1,400 feet, is thickly clothed in tea-tree, honeysuckle, and other coastal growths, and its slopes carry many beautiful wild flowers. At Christmas time the ridge was stippled with a pattern of scarlet heath, blended with fringed lilies, yellow and white everlastings, bluebells, and most noticeable of all, great beds of pin-cushions (Brunonia), surely the most charming blue the bush affords. The view seaward and along the broken coastline is of the kind that one would hope to have always hanging on the walls of memory. I know nothing quite like it elsewhere. In the halfmoon bays, with their definite horns, there is a suggestion of the south coast of New South Wales, but the islands provide a fresh note. From Shellback, the first that greeted you as you came down the long sands of Shallow Inlet from Foster or Fish Creek, the eye wanders to Norman Island, the Glennies and the Anser group, resting finally, from this vantage point, on the striking cone of Rodondo, well away to the south and east.
Mount Oberon, the northern sentinel, is higher than Norgate. Its sides look steeper, and some remarkable rocks, projecting at perilous angles near the crest, break the clean lines threateningly. It, too, is well clothed in shrubs. The blackening of its base by a recent fire throws up into lovely relief a fresh output of small flowers, the clean azure of the Wahlenbergias in particular shining like a jewel in the sombre setting. Close against the foot of the mount is the creek known, astonishingly, as Growler's, and rather more than halfway along the beach from here towards Norgate comes in Fraser's Creek, spreading flatly across the sands after breaking through some high hummocks. There is abundant choice in camp sites. If sand is objected to, a move inland of less than a mile will give the shelter of honeysuckle and tea-tree, with the Fraser close at hand, and access to long stretches of irregular, open country, criss-crossed with tracks leading away to the lighthouse, to Sealer's Cove, and, by many-branching paths, to Lilly Pilly Gully and the Darby.
But the charm of Oberon Bay does not end with its shape and colour, its matchless beach, its position and outlook. It is charged with the magic of the unexpected. Exploration never ends, for there is always something fresh to investigate. A current must set in from the strait to the bay, for never was such a foreshore for flotsam and jetsam. Every tide adds to the amazing variety of objects washed up. Bottles and boxes are in the majority—bottles of every shape and use, from a marking-ink container to a fanciful creation which may still hold a faint odour of the liqueur it once knew; boxes exotic and local, dropped apparently from every liner and every tramp in the Seven Seas. A whole thirty-foot boat lies all but hidden near high-water mark, no more than a foot of her gunwale showing as an outline, her hold choked to the top with firm-packed sand, and her long-silent engines (if they still remain) well buried in the drift. What a joyous task youngsters would make of digging her out—a Penelope-like task, for each tide would probably fill the excavations again! In the farthest little creek is driftwood enough to build a ship, some of it a hundred yards and more from the sea edge.
Round the corner are remains of at least two more wrecks, some of the fragments so huge, yet thrown so high upon the rocks, as to make one marvel at the strength of ancient Ocean. The softer banks of the bay are remarkable for the way in which they break into sudden pot-holes and rise as quaint towers, the latter often fretted into sharp points and projecting ledges. The scrub from inland is fighting desperately for foothold, and there are signs that it is winning. Meanwhile it gives shelter to much small life. Doubtless, from its recesses the fox, and possibly the dingo, look out upon you as you pass, for the wind-smoothed sand shows dog-tracks a-plenty. Two sets of antlers found here suggest that deer wander this way at times, and the cloven spoor of goats is common. Bird tracks, the dainty toe-marks of lizards, the smudgy blurs made by snakes, and the unmistakable footprints of wallabies are all impressed on this virgin sheet. Good shells are not rare, and kitchen middens, marking where the black man feasted, "when wild in woods the noble savage ran," are plentiful and still worth prospecting, for the tools and weapons, the flakes and flints of an age of stone.
All through the tea-tree and honeysuckles the wattle-birds shout and squabble and build their homes; funereal cockatoos, in little flocks flap their brilliant wings across the valleys, and make the air discordant with their grating cries; bronze-wing pigeons feed upon the Styphelia peaches; the coachwhip bird and his wife utter their arresting calls; white-shafted fantails hover and flutter, their happy gush of song breaking out between whiles; from every patch of bracken comes the music of that "superb warbler" the blue wren; black-faced cuckoo shrikes call softly "karrak-karrak, karrakkarrak;" and both here and at the Darby mouth the English blackbird has established himself, and nightly sends the sun below the ocean's edge to the melody of his flute.
Oberon Bay will some day be better known.
The stars are bright on Wellington...
I sit within my city walls,
And, dreaming, hear a voice that calls,
That calls me back to Wellington.
—R. H. C.
Mount Wellington shows on the map of Victoria like an ear-drop hanging from the main Gippsland mountain system. The blank spaces round it suggest that there is still something to learn about the locality, despite its use to-day by the cattle-man and its earlier exploration by the gold-seeker. As a matter of fact, settlement hardly touches it. I walked that way recently and in eight days of tramping saw no human being other than the members of my party. Legend has it that a wild man, an unfortunate of doubtful mentality, lurks about the tops, showing himself only to an occasional stockman and bolting for a hiding-place as soon as seen. It may be so, but we discovered no trace of him. Only a dingo stood to gaze at us curiously (he and his clan serenaded us that night), three long-tailed brumbies pranced away from the far edge of the big upland plain, and grazing cattle, brought from the lowlands for the summer feed, completed our tally of the larger animal life.
How little Wellington is known, even in its own State! Speak to a Victorian about this fine mountain, 5,363 feet in height, and he will assume, as a matter of course, that you refer to the much smaller hill which overhangs Hobart. It is all a matter of accessibility. You are at the foot of the Tasmanian peak as you alight from the steamer or the train; to reach the Victorian mountain calls for quite a journey on foot or horseback after the conveyance from the city drops you at the nearest point, say, Maffra or Tinamba. It has many attractions, including that rare enough thing even on our highest peaks—a clear view right round the horizon, and that greater phenomenon—a lake held up like a cup 3,00o feet above sea level, yet still some 2,000 below where the crags tower up to form the highest point.
"Not the quarry, but the chase; not the laurel, but the race" sang the poet, glorifying the true sporting spirit. So with Wellington; the getting there is even better than the being there. Several routes offer; none is easy. You may trace back the Avon River (which farther down passes by Stratford town), crossing and recrossing the stony fords that link up the deep pools, until beautiful little Stockyard Creek, murmuring under tall white gums and groves of Christmas bush, becomes the guide and leads to the foot of the long, long rise which lands you, panting, amongst the arrogant outcrops of the Gable End. Or you may take the wetter way of the Macallister, wading and again wading that stream until you accept soaked boots as the correct thing, and you stride into running water as naturally as do the "salamanders" or "Gippsland crocodiles," which are so plentiful in that countryside. One January a party of walkers, coming down stream from the lake end of Wellington, waded this river forty-five times in two and a half days, before reaching the highroad at Licola. Only once, however, was the crossing a deep one. Then it was found advisable to strip and carry our clothes over on our heads. Custom made the watery going seem easy after a time; frequently a man would stop, with the river swirling around his knees, to have a drink, and once I saw a member of the party, moved by the beauty of the scene, pause in mid-stream to declaim an appropriate verse of poetry. From the top reaches of the river a spur lifts this track along a dry stretch to the final altitude.
Still a third way, perhaps the most difficult of all to find and follow, demands that you shall first of all sample that remarkable motor road which connects Dargo with the railway at Stratford. We were told on a recent trip that its fifty miles cost £21,000, and that an allowance of £1,200 a year is provided for its maintenance. I do not know whether the result has justified the expenditure from the point of view of utility; from that of scenery and "thrill" the road is a great success. The motorist finds himself, soon after leaving Briagolong, running round a series of ledges, much as an ant might, and enjoying (more or less enjoying) the prospect below. It consists mainly of a precipitous descent to the Freestone Creek, whose pools mirror the steep, tree-clad hills which close the view. There is no room, save in a few places, to pass another vehicle, and as the car swings round the narrow, sharp-angled corners it is well to sound the horn briskly and trust that your luck will hold. We took a char-a-banc through there last Christmas. In those wilds it looked like a town hall which had broken loose, so utterly foreign was it to its surroundings. On one of the descents a bushman was met with cattle. As he and his horse disappeared over the edge of the siding to recover his scattered beasts, we called: "A Merry Christmas!" Across his shoulder he flung a grim: "Thanks! Any more of these damn things on the road?"
By long gradients, ever climbing, the summit of a range is reached and crossed and a tired chauffeur relaxes before setting the car's bonnet on the downward slope, which ends in the one street of Dargo. Dargo is a township of walnuts. One tree, planted forty years ago, is of fabulous proportions, and yields nearly enough annually to entitle it to an income tax assessment. Others, notably a group near the hotel, are also huge things, covered, just now, with the green-cased nuts. "How on earth do you get them down?" was a natural query as we gazed at the towering stems. "We don't," said the local authority, "the green coverings split on the tree when ripe and the nuts fall out. They stay on the ground until we're ready to gather them."
But the thrills of the journey are only beginning. Have a good lunch to steady you for a dozen miles of probably the most picturesque nerve-test in Victoria. You retrace your road for six miles. At that point stands a shed labelled by some humorist "The London Stores," and known the countryside round, without a smile, by that name. There our leviathan nosed a cautious way into and along a twelve-mile thoroughfare which, as the showmen used to say, has to be seen to be appreciated. At present it ends at Spaulls' on the Wonnangatta, but it is eventually to reach Talbotville on the Crooked River, and, possibly, some day, even far-off Harrietville. Once committed to it, there was no withdrawing. It was much too narrow for turning, or for passing another conveyance, and fresh in our memories was Dargo's prediction: "You'll never get round the corners."
We did; but there was no margin. Confidence in our driver meant much when we found ourselves, as at Gibraltar, the loftiest point, looking over the edge of the car almost straight down for nearly a thousand feet to where the river hurried along its shingly bed. At the inner edge we could touch the rock face by stretching out a hand; the "flower in the crannied wall" swept our hats as we passed, and we had to stoop to escape the pendant branches of the gums. Beautiful and picturesque and wild was the outlook. A clearing or two smiled up at us from the river flats; otherwise all seemed primeval forest. On the far side
"The hills, like giants at a hunting, lay
Chin upon hand,"
while over their crowns, at certain favoured spots, looked in the big mountains.
The surface is good as far as Spaulls'; in a few months the good going will be extended another wonderful mile or two; later it will touch Talbotville, nine miles ahead, where now no wheeled vehicle can go.
At Spaulls', if you are for Wellington, you mount your horse or pick up your swag and start off on foot. It is worth while calling at Talbotville. The population is seven, all told, and the storekeeper, who has seen the mining-fields of the district fall away to nothing, claims with truth that he owns two townships. A ridge between the Crooked River and the Wongungarra prepares you for sterner things. The next ridge, separating the Wongungarra from the Wonnangatta, rises interminably, but over it, too, you must pass, for your route is up part of that blazed trail which hugs the latter river for twenty miles before ascending the zigzags of Mount Howitt to reach Mansfield.
Now you are on the very outskirts of settlement. Eaglevale Station, deserted years ago, and at present standing in a yellow field of that "greatest landowner in the north-east," St. John's wort, is about to be experimented with by a returned soldier. A couple of miles farther up is the home of Mr. Harry Smith, who has lived there for forty years, and after that—the wilderness. At six or seven miles the Moroka brings its load of waters in from Wellington to swell the Wonnangatta, and, as we reached the junction, a leatherhead, sitting on a tall tree, seemed to call, "Moroka! Moroka!" The route up the tributary is shown on the old mining maps as the Tamboritha track; rather less than twenty miles of its up-grade brings you to an obscure turn to the left along a thickly timbered ridge. Here is real trouble, for the trail vanishes. With a guide we passed safely, lunched on Knock Up, crossed Pretty Boy (a little snow-plain) and came out on top of Wellington, some five miles from Miller's hut (which is used only when mustering the cattle), and at the far end from the famous lake.
On top, as I have said, there is much to see; spare at least three days for it, and, if you would know solitude, spend a night by the edge of the mountain tarn Tarli Karng. The way is hard to all these out of the way places, but the reward is great if one of them is Wellington.
The black men called it Tarli Karngo Nigothuruka—the little lake of Nigothuruk. Even to them it was a creature of mystery, so seldom seen that few of the generation which greeted the coming of the European knew it as other than legend. So high does it hang in the encompassing hills that it may be likened to a cup of jade in the hands of a giant, but no helpless young thing of the wild was ever hidden by its anxious mother with more jealous care. It is Nature's love-child, secretly conceived and cunningly concealed that none save the shy bush creatures should ever discover it.
To this end the Great Gippsland forests stretch their dense masses on every side of the parent hill, now known as Mount Wellington, and break in green waves against its huge buttresses and rocky walls. They pour over the top, and cover each sheltered portion of the wide, undulating tableland, their trees growing tall and strong, and standing close-ranked where the springs of the uplands have cut protective valleys, and dwindling to stunted growths and solitary bushes where the winds get free play, and the winter snows lie deep. To this end were devised the mighty watercourses which compass the mount as a moat protects its castle, their active streams still digging the thousand feet gorges deeper and ever deeper. And to this end was Tarli Karng placed 3,000 feet above the plains, and 2,000 feet below the levels of the summit.
From that summit the views are noble and expansive. Wellington stands like a sentinel at the outpost, marking the end of the alpine system of Victoria. Beneath, on the one hand, stretch the flat lands, stippled with townships—Maffra, and many more. Beyond them the eye travels to the distant beaches of Lake Wellington, its wide expanse faintly blue on a sunny day. On the other sides are mountains, and still more mountains, huge bulks of varied shape, out of which spring the beautiful rivers which water Gippsland before joining the great series of lakes. All Victoria seems placed under observation; only does the mountain's own quiet pool escape notice. From but a few points is it possible to catch a glimpse of the waters, and one may picture the incredulity of the first man, hunting down an ordinary gully, and stumbling on this wonder.
There is no royal road from the habitable lands to where Tarli Karng rests in the bosom of the hills as a child on the breast of its mother. The winding and elusive cattle-pad follows an Avon River the like of which Shakespeare never dreamed, and, gaining altitude in its passage over Ben Cruachan, wanders along high ridges until it attacks the steep slopes of the Gable End, a rocky scarp of Wellington. Up this it pushes in a breathless zig-zag to end on a grassy flat that is the top. It is nectar to drink of the little creek which is so busy just there, and very heaven to stretch out, close to the sky, and gaze like a god upon the common earth spread far beneath. The summit is a large irregular plateau rising to the pinnacle on which that industrious person the scientist has set a cairn of stones nearly 6,000 feet above sea level, and, falling in the very heart of the hill, the 2,000 feet to the surface of the lake.
The walls of its basin are steep and shingly, and they slide sharply down and down until they vanish in the deeps. A tiny trout, peculiar to this water, moves in schools in what should be the shallows, and snakes guard every yard of the rocky edge and show little fear of man. The slopes are wooded all the way, except where a practically unceasing landslide a few yards wide prevents every growth. Dancing and sparkling with more elan than ever the waters possessed at Lodore, a healthy creek comes hurrying out of a gully at one end, the only restless thing in all that abode of Peace. In what far-off age did the monstrous barrier at the other end fall into place? Did the white feet of a glacier steal down the slope the while she dropped slowly, but with Nature's infinite patience, her load of stones across the waterway? Or did there come a night when there was a noise like the clash of worlds, and the overhanging cliff fell in thunder from its place and choked the valley for ever? Before this barrier the gathered waters are 150 feet deep; behind it drops the original creek bed, with a stream which is the leakage of the rocky bar, set about with "fragments of an earlier world." In times of heavy rain the surface of the barrier must be awash, but this has not been so often as to prevent the silver wattle from covering it with dense thickets, or to despoil it of the slowly gathered soil in which they stand rooted.
To swim in that twenty acres of reflections is to discover new sensations. So must a mite feel floating in a stately jar of crystal. To gaze upward is to know oneself suspended in mid-air; to think downwards is to feel some spawn of the Kraken, some forgotten monster of the past, reaching blindly up to draw the intruder for ever from the dear light of day.
Night and mystery come to the valley hand in hand. The sun is early lost, and the dusk falls soon. Outside the shifting radius of light given out by a camp-fire flickering on the liliputian delta of a baby stream, the dark mass of the hillside showed fitfully, stepping forward with menace when the blaze brightened up, retiring as the blaze fell, but ever seeming to oppose retreat. In front gleamed the water, full of stars, full of glamour, a faery lake from which an arm might brandish Excalibur, or the dread bunyip arise. The Cross rested like a decoration upon the shoulder of the opposing cliff, and was doubled on the bosom of the lake; overhead strode Orion, coming from the east on his eternal quest of the Pleiades, Sirius burned with unexampled brilliancy in his wake. The peace was not of earth; never a sound broke the quiet, until, in perfect keeping with the spirit of that lonely place, a boobook raised his melancholy voice, and none answered him. Sleep came "dropping slow" on such a night, but at last the edge of wonder was dulled and the drugged eyes closed. The guardians did not slumber. At the darkest hour a harsh call came from overhead. "Ah-ah, ah-ah-ah, ah-ah, ah-ah-ah!" it said, and all was still again.
Morning was a different tale. No finer bird chorus ever greeted the day than is heard from the trees and shrubs round Tarli Karng. And when the sun showed, round and jolly, in the cleft of the eastern valley, and a little breeze ran trailing its toes across the water to the sound of a gentle lapping, nothing remained but a sense of the joy of living and of living in this holy spot.
"The world forgetting, by the world forgot."
[I am indebted to Mr. W. F. Waters for the following.]
"Many, many moons ago, so many that they could not be counted on the fingers and toes of all the Warrigals in Gippsland, a hunting party from the Bundaurut Tribe, whose territory lay in the watershed of the Macallister and its tributaries, were hunting on the slopes of Nap Nap Marra (Mount Wellington), when they found in a gully near the source of the waters, a lump of yellow stone which they highly prized, and which we know as gold. This valued stone up till then had been found only in pieces ranging in size from that of the tip joint of a possum's tail to lumps as large as the foot of a big wombat. It was customary to hammer these lumps into a disk, then to pierce a hole in the middle, and by hammering to enlarge the hole until a man's hand could be slipped through it and the circlet or bangle of gold worn on the arm. These bangles were highly prized, as in exchange for one of them, a man could obtain four plain looking gins, two good looking ones or one real beauty. Sentiment was seldom allowed to stand in the way of a good bargain.
"The joy of the tribe at finding this huge lump of the precious stone therefore knew no bounds. At a gathering of the tribesmen to discuss the removal of the stone, some feared to carry it off lest the vengeance of the 'Debbil Debbil' should fall on them, but other counsels prevailed, and it was eventually decided to carry it off at all costs.
"Winter had set in, and the ranges were covered with a mantle of snow, so nothing could be done for a time, but when the suns had melted the snows on Nap Nap Marra, and the floods in Nigothoruk had abated, camp was secretly shifted to within half a day's journey of the stone.
"On the night before the stone was to be carried off, a great corroboree was held and at dawn next day the joyous tribe set out with the intention of bringing in the stone to the camp.
"It was so heavy that seven men had great difficulty in carrying it. It was not large enough for more men to help in the carrying, but all helped in turn.
"Progress was slow, and it became evident that camp would not be reached that night, and when the rumblings of distant thunder gave warning of a stormy night, the old men, the women and the children were sent on to the camp to the shelter of their wurleys, the able-bodied men deciding to camp with the stone in the valley where night found them, and to reach the camp of the tribe next day.
"Night brought with it torrents of rain, accompanied by thunder and lightning, and as the hours passed, the storm became worse. Never in the memory of the oldest man in the tribe had there ever been such a storm.
"At times above the howl of the wind and the crash of falling trees, the wails of the frightened women and children could be heard declaring that the Debbil Debbil was angry and was about to punish them.
"At the height of the storm, a vivid flash of lightning struck the camp. It was followed by deep rumbling sounds, and the earth quivered.
"Only three young gins survived, and when the first streaks of dawn revealed the desolate camp and their dead companions, they fled to find the men camped with the stone to tell them the news of the disaster to their tribe.
"When they reached a high point overlooking the place in the valley where the men had been camped the night before, they saw to their horror that part of the mountain's top had slid into the creek, and had buried men and stone together under a mighty mass of rocks.
"In their flight from the dreaded mountain, fear lent wings to their feet. They lived only long enough to bear the tale to a neighbouring tribe, and so the vengeance of the Debbil Debbil was complete.
"The members of that tribe immediately cast away all their gold ornaments, fearful lest the vengeance of the Debbil Debbil should fall on them, also, for they could see that the yellow stone was the Debbil Debbil's own, and would carry bad luck with it. From that time, the Bundaurut never again wore gold ornaments."
Thus the legend, and underneath that barrier lie the remains of the unfortunate tribesmen, with possibly the largest nugget of gold the world has ever seen.
"Great steamers, white and gold,
Go rolling down to Rio,
(Roll down—roll down to Rio!);
And I'd like to roll to Rio
Some day before I'm old!"
The Murray has no deep-sea chanties sung by brown sailormen along its waterways, nor has it any steamers such as "roll down, roll down to Rio," but there is little need to apologise for it on either count. People wise in these things tell us that the system—the Murray and its two main tributaries—has a total navigable length of 3,212 miles, which would make a respectable journey even on an ocean liner, and that record is beaten by only three other river systems in the world—the Nile, the Amazon, and the Mississippi. As for steamers, who, once knowing them, would exchange the homely charm, the friendliness, of the Ruby, or the Marion, for all the gilt and glitter, the pomp and circumstance, of those pretentious palaces which float like towns across the seas? On them one may feel as lost and lonely as a wanderer in a strange city; on a Murray steamer one is sure within two days that one is part-owner. So much a partner do you feel that you are interested in every happening, however small, however great. You lend your moral support to the ticklish action of steering the vessel through the narrows of a lock, and you may take a place in the queue as the firewood for the engine is passed by hand from the river bank to the deck.
Many men, many minds. It is possible to obtain a score of individual statements of the nature of the Murray, all of them different, all of them right. The truth is that in its long wanderings the river suffers many changes. Go some day to Tom Groggins, just below the high peaks and rocky gorges of the Kosciusko range, and see what a fierce mountain torrent it can be in its youth, obliterating its fords in sudden impetuous floodings, cutting its way through the mountains as a saw cuts through timber. View it later where its more even flow winds across level plains that quiver under hot suns; watch it dive into deep forests or spread in shallow swamps and billabongs peopled by water-birds and lovely in their untroubled calm; feast your eye upon its occasional cliffs of amber and old gold and red ochre and brown and white, cliffs with often a trembling tree perched perilously upon their sides to add still another note to the many-hued picture. Know all these, and the much more that there is to admire and wonder about, and you must agree that the Murray possesses a full measure of that "continuity and change" which Stevenson declared every good river should "labour to combine." Gone certainly is a great deal of the wildness Sturt knew on that adventurous trip of his some ninety-six years ago, the first excursion down the Murrumbidgee, and so to the Murray mouth. Civilization has stepped in, with the customary consequence that the native has stepped out. To-day much of Sturt's journey may be accomplished by the curious in comfortable vessels, well-found, which trade up and down for many hundreds of miles.
A favourite winter and spring trip is that from Swan Hill, in Victoria, to Morgan, in South Australia, nearly 700 miles by river. No more restful experience could be imagined, yet the observant eye has always something new to engage its attention. When the merits of this outing are fully recognized by the nerve-strained city folk a new fleet will have to be provided. On a certain Tuesday morning we left Melbourne shivering under a cold cloud, and joined the Ruby where she lay by the Swan Hill bridge. In that short journey of nine hours we found summer. The pallid cuckoo called, willows were in leaf, the sun had power. As we sat at dinner that evening in the saloon, with its many windows commanding or reflecting river views, we were aware of the crew hard at work, as busy as ants, loading goods of many kinds, wire netting for this settler, sawn timber for that, food supplies for another, articles of every shape and kind, all to be dropped at little settlements and lonely camps, at wharves and sidings, somewhere in the long miles of twisting waterfronts that lay before us. The loading continued till midnight; at dawn we gazed from our bunks at a seemingly limitless procession of river bank that slid past like the film of a moving picture.
Trees! There was surely no end to them. Tall trees, squat trees, straight trees, trees holding their branches high as if wading and frightened to get their dresses wet, trees that leaned over till their leaves were spread on the current—everywhere trees! Bright waterlanes shone between the mottled trunks, for the usual winter overflow had left placid lakes wherever the banks were low. Hardy redgums stood knee-deep in the shallows, filling the pools with their reflections. They floated "double, tree and shadow." One bold fellow crowned a low bluff round which the stream swilled strongly. He looked like a challenging sentry. We took the challenge! The two steersmen, sweating at the great six feet wheel on the top deck, failed to pull the boat round, and, crash! We took aboard a big limb that smashed the iron railing round our promenade, and bored a three-foot gap in the planking. No one was much alarmed; the damage was high above the water line; only the romantic could discuss shipwreck with land so close. We emerged from the tangle with the galley chimney twisted "nor'-nor'-east by west by south," as a keen observer remarked, and a new topic for discussion. But settlements began to appear, higher land showed cultivation, sheep and cattle grazed on grassy paddocks, and a small house was passed, from which emerged a friendly family, the children in their nightshirts, to wave to us. We tied up to the bank, and added two goats and their kids (going all the way to Adelaide) to our very mixed cargo. Later we pulled in to drop some goods, again to pick up wool. Shearing was in full swing, and bales of that rich harvest which is to bring £50,000,000 to the Commonwealth this year were seen stacked at points of vantage in increasing numbers. Now we wanted wood for our engines, and all hands went ashore to play a game of "passings." A line was formed, a log was lifted by the end man on the bank, and was passed from hand to hand along the gangway until the last man dropped it into place on the deck. We travelled by night as by day, our powerful headlights fashioning a fairyland as they disclosed the sleeping trees and their soft reflections.
Mildura! Here we stayed for a day, and ate oranges and wondered at this remarkable triumph of man over wild nature. Renmark later was to be admired for the same causes, a city founded in a wilderness. A number of other towns, smaller but thriving, were also visited. We had long passed the point at which the Murrumbidgee added its great body of water to the main stream. Now we welcomed the Darling, with its load gathered as far back as Queensland, and turned up to Wentworth to discharge most of our cargo. Wool again, and a shearing shed in operation, where we saw some of the 25,000 sheep being shorn. We timed one shearer—an even four minutes from catching the sheep to turning it out completely undressed and shivering in the fresh air. On again, the hold now full of wool. "And still the wonder grows, how one small boat can hold the lot she stows," in other words, where the Ruby managed to hide the 299 bales she has aboard, to say nothing of the miscellaneous goods and the fuel. The four goats are perched, seemingly quite happy, on top of a pile of the cargo. Once more to the bank, this time by an orange grove. These "golden apples of the Hesperides" glow like lanterns among the glossy green of the leaves. The owner was hospitable; we rejoined the ship laden with trophies. So the record runs. Sunshine and good company, healthy appetites and the means to satisfy them, open air and changing scene, and a wonderful river to admire and to rejoice over, for it waters a land which is our own.
"The parks march east, the parks march west,
The parks march up and down,
They look like country cousins who
Have newly come to town."
—R. H. C.
It is known on the maps as Yarra Park, and if you cancel out the Richmond embankment you can easily see why. Its main slope is to our "ever running" river, and, slight as that slope is, I can recall the Yarra, on a famous morning many years ago, stretching an inquisitive arm of flood waters northward as far as the railway bridge which spans Punt Road.
But it is not that lower, southern side which attracts though a time is coming when it too will become a place of beauty. "Take the high ground in manoeuvrin', Terence," said the sagacious Mulvaney in Kipling's tale, and I counsel him who would see the best of this delightful way of reaching Melbourne on foot to leave his suburban train at the Richmond station, cross the road which at one time, its name denotes, led to a punt, step over the stony ridge which marches with the railway fence, skirt the Richmond Cricket Ground, and embark on the rising track which heads for the enclosure of the Melbourne Cricket Club.
But don't hurry. Just outside the Richmond Ground, peaceful where many thousands throng, there are several residences, well worth observing. Gums, elms, and a few oaks, sweet-flowering pittosporum at their knees, flourish on every spot here save one (the dry mudpuddle near Punt Road), and in these trees, last season, I acted as spy upon no fewer than four mudlarks' nests, a magpie's, and a wagtail's. Young mudlarks duly appeared, sitting, absurd balls of almost shapeless fluff, perched in a row on a sunny limb while their parents perspired (if birds can perspire these birds did!) in their efforts to fill the ever-gaping bills. One mudlark suggested that there was good reason for his naturally plaintive call: he had only one leg. But he looked plump enough.
The wagtail's nest was torn down one morning just as the babies appeared. The birds are there again this year and evidently have a nest, as yet undiscovered, for Father Wagtail chivvied (there's no other word for it) a ludicrously unconcerned terrier as he trotted along the path a few mornings ago. Hover, peck, chatter! Hover, peck, chatter! went the little pugilist, seeming to ride on the dog's back most of the time. At the end of his beat he flew back home, probably with a fine tale to tell his wife!
The magpies, too, were aggressive. Foolishly, they advertised their location by swooping at every youngster who passed. Feeding with them for months was a solitary white cockatoo. He betrayed his escape from the chain gang by a decided limp. The trio seemed excellent friends. Here, too, a baby kingfisher (the sacred kingfisher) sat high on a branch and wailed in shrill tones for more sustenance.
A mixed avenue carries on past the municipal nursery garden. It is what the country calls a "sidling" track. Above rises a soft green hillside, well-planted, mainly with gums and wattles, though a few Moreton Bay figs and Bunya Bunyas have crept in. One old redgum, near the east gate of the Melbourne ground, had a limb shorn off by lightning last year and still bears a long thin scar circling its trunk diagonally to the ground.
Here is a joining of five paths. One follows round the high embattlements of the Melbourne Cricket Ground to the pavilion entrance, the pavilion at present giving a realistic imitation of a war-shattered village. Another, the most seductive, so naturally to be selected, was until lately a wholly unauthorised vagabond track, which under official recognition is being made respectable by an edging of stones—lumps of concrete broken out of the old cable tram track in Wellington parade. It has no asphalt, however, so still keeps something of its old free and easy character. It edges off from the trim-avenued way which marches decorously under the elms to Joli-mont station. Leaving that on the right, our path makes for a sort of Druidical temple of ironbarks which every year break into pale pink blossom. Every year, too, they are the haunt, for a few months from about May onwards, of the red-wattle bird, that hoarse, quarrelsome, but shapely bird. His voice is no advertisement for the honey he is always feeding on!
Beyond these lovely gums, black-stemmed, soft-foliaged, is another elm path. Cross it and pursue the uphill track. At the top is one of the best groves of lemon-scented gums in the metropolitan area. They are just now at that spotty stage which gave them their earlier name of Maculata, but presently each will shed that spoilt garment of bark and stand arrayed in silver. Surely no vegetable form so closely suggests the human anatomy as do the limbs of these Citriodoras. Wherever they junction or bend are swellings and curves singularly like the muscles of a man's arm. The group flourishes on the side nearest to that little island settlement, Jolimont, so snugly tucked in, so completely cut off from any liaison with other suburbs or even its parent city.
Here is the parting of the ways. The Heidelberg Railway runs below the bridge upon which you emerge to reach Wellington Parade. One corner across the Parade is occupied by the mansion built by Sir W. J. Clarke, whose memorial statue by Mackennal, adorns the north-west entrance to the Treasury Gardens half a mile further on.
But the ideal way of completing this little journey is by taking one of the many tracks of the Fitzroy Gardens, whose unfenced lawns and avenues of elms, flower-beds gay as brocaded silks, heaven-aspiring poplars and fascinating vistas beckon irresistibly.
They are too full of varied interest, these gardens, to pass by in a paragraph. I have dealt with them in another place (see page 6 of my preceding book, "The Open Road in Victoria.")
"O brothers of the wind and sun,
With robes of dappled light about you,
Your benison's for everyone—
What would the city be without you!"
—R. H. C.
I should like some day to see a census taken of the trees of our city. The result should be astonishing. The Alexandra Avenue alone is a treasury of the gracious growths. Melburnians are lucky indeed to have this in such proximity to their offices and warehouses, so close indeed that it may serve for an after-lunch stroll.
Either way is good, but to gain perhaps the finest results one should start at the Richmond end, say at the Anderson Street bridge, for walking down-stream there is always the city ahead to be glimpsed whenever a break in the timber allows a view. A pause at the bridge a few mornings ago (it was certainly early, about eight o'clock) revealed the phenomenon of a perfectly blue river, over which hovered the finest whisp of filmy white mist.
Looking southward from the bridge the whole scene is enchanting. Well in the water, at the foot of the sloping bank, a bed of whispering reeds provides shelter for the reed warbler, a migrant who comes here to build each spring. His note suggests the song of the English thrush, but has a vibrant quality peculiarly its own. Above are soft-foliaged gums, and a few of their scarlet-flowering brethren splash colour upon the general green.
Move over towards Gate A of the Botanic Gardens. If the day is warm cross the footpath way by the water, the asphalt speedway where far too many motors are in far too great a hurry, and turn into the covered coolness of the tan track. The horse is an animal fast qualifying for museum purposes; you will not meet many of him on this, his own particular path. Planes, elms, and gums in long ordered rows tempt you back to the river-edge, but here is a tunnel of shade formed by elms and poplars and divided from the wonders of the Gardens by no more than the thickness of a pittosporum hedge, through which glimpses may be gained of many lovely things. "Brek-kek-ker-ek, Brek-kek-ker-ek," sing the small frogs in the lawn-edged ponds, and "Co-ak, co-ak, co-o-o-ak!" comes the deep response from the elders of the tribe.
Particularly do I like here the way trees lean out of the Gardens to look up and down the Avenue and seemingly gossip with the poplars.
Just where these are at their biggest, the land begins to pile up on your left, rising, a mass of verdure, to Government House, on the ultimate crest. Here Gate H says "Come in" with such earnestness that none can possibly resist it. You may be stronger than I am; at this point I find myself inside and climbing the seductive steps, winding up and up to that delightful Temple of the Winds which, if I remember rightly, was erected in honour of the great landscape gardener, Guilfoyle. The only danger about doing this is that you may want to stay for ever in this abode of ancient quiet.
Be resolute, enjoy the outlook from the Temple, ranging as it does from the Dandenongs, blue on the Eastern horizon, to the church spires in Collins Street, and pursue your stroll. Down an acacia-edged way, as easy, and as pleasant, as the descent to Avernus, you come (all too soon) to Gate G, letting you out to the bush-trail which one time ended at Brander's Ferry. (Who was Brander, by the way, and when did he settle here?) The lindens, which strike a new note in the avenue at this point, may be a memory of him.
Orderly indeed the river bank now becomes, for close by is the gravelled mooring spot for the houseboats of Henley, and, just beyond the Rowing Association's War Memorial is the palm-studded Henley lawn. You may diverge here and, by keeping the right hand road, walk past the front of the boatsheds, but better is it to go up the knoll to the left on which stands the singularly unattractive memorial to Queen Victoria. With it behind you all is well. Green slopes race down to a lily pond starred with many-coloured blooms, and all about are charming vistas. The city skyline from here, with St. Paul's mounting spires just across the handsome span of Prince's Bridge, is full of interest.
Now to the roadway again: cross the avenue and descend to the sunken garden which graces the spot where, just a handful of years ago, a disorderly swamp sheltered a few wildfowl. Built-up banks, crowned with fine trees, hide the boatsheds, and the changing seasons are reflected in the flower beds blooming on every side. Montfort's Peter Pan has found a happy home here.
And so back to the tide of traffic on St. Kilda road and again to the world of business. What the oasis is to the Arab, this easily accessible avenue should be to every citizen of Melbourne who can find half an hour for the things that really matter in life.
Oh, Melbourne town is fair to see,
Go look her up and down.
God made the country, certainly,
But He sometimes made a town.
—R. H. C.
Melbourne, like Rome, is scattered over a group of hills. Cut down, built upon, altered in a thousand ways, they look to-day of low stature,—much lower surely than they could have seemed to those pioneers whose first view of them was from the Yarra.
It must be a puzzle to the new student of our City's topography to fix the exact position of Batman's Hill, for instance. He has plenty of evidence that it was at the west end, but he cannot know, without research, that it was removed to make way for the Spencer Street railway yards.
But coming to modern times, anyone desiring a stroll which will give a fair idea of Melbourne's contours could not do better than climb to the ridge called Spring Street and walk along this, the City's topmost boundary: From Flinders Street the ascent is notable to Collins Street. A glance down there more than hints of the fall from Russell Street. Pass on, leaving Stanford's memorial fountain in its green reserve on your right and immediately Peter Kerr's great Parliament House rises up nobly above you.
Wasn't it Richard Steele who so gallantly said that to know his wife was a liberal education? Well, to know the outlook from the topmost of these great flights of steps is a liberal education in Melbourne's foremost business thoroughfare, Bourke Street. It looks a plain drab street compared with its parallel neighbour, Collins Street of the Beautiful Trees, but it is interesting for other reasons, and from this vantage point may be noted how often the roadway rises and falls before it tops the Queen Street hill, to slope away to Spencer Street. There is a great sense of elevation here and the view down the terraces to the common level is impressive. This Home of Legislation will be a striking building indeed when the dome is added.
The road to which you descend splits as it goes north. At the dividing point stands the massive bronze of Burke and Wills, those tragic figures, whose failure made so deep an impression upon the public mind. What does Burke see as he stands there gazing over the busy street?—Spinifex, sand, desolation, death!
Keep to the left and look for a moment down the long, long canyon of Little Bourke Street, a name forever associated with Chinese, before reaching the head of Lonsdale Street, the best street in Melbourne for sun on a winter's day. A row of planes beautifies this end but ceases before the street passes down to the hospital and the noisy trams. Spring Street is due for rebuilding here. Small houses on the west are balanced by the ancient and weatherworn shabbiness of the Girls' High School on the right. Latrobe Street and Victoria Street come in, joining, and ahead is the Exhibition building standing in good park-gardens which have lately been improved by removal of the boundary fences. The Exhibition dome always strikes me as too tall for its circumference; at this near view it becomes as long and narrow as Barbara Allen's grave in the old ballad.
The surroundings are charming. Plane avenues are the strong suit, and they flourish exceedingly. One splendid individual specimen in the eastern section would be notable anywhere.
Here in the pleasant shade meets daily the Al Fresco Club, one of Melbourne's most firmly rooted institutions. Who is the oldest member it would be hard to say; so many are very old. Every fine day they meet to talk, like Omar, "about it and about," and doubtless, like him, come out of the same opinion still. A group is playing chess, another cards, yet another draughts. Each has its ring of spectators, smoking and critically observant. Pause beside this game of draughts. A rapid move by the thin man has resulted in the loss by him of two pieces. He is sensitive to the mutter of the criticism which ripples round the ring. "Bet you a deener I couldn't!" he raps out in reply to some statement. "Haven't got a deener, or I'd take you," comes from the critic. "But, mate," breaks in a long-faced, serious man, with great earnestness, "that was a wrong move..." The retort is swift: "Bet you a bob you couldn't have done any better!" "Huh, how many bobs have you got?" This from the original interjector. "Two, if you want to know," is snapped back, and silence falls again as the play proceeds.
Birds are numerous, and bolder than anywhere else I know. They are so little interfered with, so accustomed to these quiet old men, that sparrows actually hop between one's feet.
Move on now (slowly, slowly, for the shade is good) to the fountain which recalls the great Exhibition. It is an elaborate structure held up by three groaning Tritons and decorated with figures of children, water animals (including the platypus) and ferns.
Many other beautiful paths wander about this place and the children's playground at the north end is worth a special visit. On no account must the three fine pepper-trees on the west front be missed as you go round to see the youngsters at play.
But Melbourne has many more walks to offer the stroller with half-an-hour or half-a-day to spare. Those described here may be taken merely as samples.
Or let Autumn fall on me,
Where afield I linger,
Silencing the bird on tree,
Biting the blue finger.
White as meal the frosty field,
Warm the fireside haven,
Not to Autumn will I yield,
Not to Winter even.
—R. L. S.
Melbourne folk are fortunate that there is so much fine material for outings within the suburban radius, or just on its borders. The eastern suburbs are especially favoured; the hilly country on which they are built, and which rolls on in waves for many miles, yields much variety of view, and provides roads which even wet weather cannot ruin for pedestrians. It is the thoroughfare along the fiat which becomes impassable when the siding or the road down the slope is in good order. Drainage means all the difference. There are numerous pleasant excursions possible on a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday, excursions which involve no more than an hour's train journey and a walk of two or three hours, lengthened indeed to whatever the walker may wish, for one is never completely out of touch with means of transit at any point.
A BUSH ROAD
Leave the train at Ringwood, turn back along its main street towards Melbourne, and follow the first road to the left. It dives under the railway line, and reappears as a bush road, which obviously can be sticky under the provocation of winter. The pedestrian, however, can often pick a satisfactory way where wheels would be at fault. It is at once a bush road, only partially marked by traffic, and wearing openly little "buttonholes" of heath, invariably white, and the pale yellow flowers of the correa or native fuchsia. The clearings around the occasional houses are usually backed by the bush from which they were carved. Vegetables and fruit are grown, but most of the land is still under its original timber. The ranges from Mount Dandenong to One Tree Hill look very close on the left.
At a mile and a half Canterbury Road is crossed, here a secluded by-way running between hedges of native trees, so different from the bustling street of the inner suburbs that one may imagine that it has grown old in coming so far. In another half mile of your bush road you reach one of the many branches of the Dandenong Creek, with more water in it than one usually associates with this quiet stream.
ALONG THE CREEK
To follow the course of a creek may be generally regarded as a summer pastime. But, with the reservation made above, it may be carried out generally with never a wet foot to show for it if your boots are proof against the ordinary moisture of grass. There is a track that turns down stream on the right-hand bank, that is before you cross the bridge you make in through the fence. I do not know if the owners of land along this creek frontage possess the soil right down into the stream, but the fences touch the water in many places, and their barbed wire hinders progress. There are a few places on the Yarra where access to the river is barred by private rights, and there are at least two portions of the shore of Port Phillip where the beach has been sold by the Crown down to low-water mark and where, consequently, you are a trespasser should you attempt to pass along the sand. It is a good law which reserves to the people a strip of land along all watercourses and beaches. The pity is it was not made retrospective so that to-day every stream might be "free of officious hedge or fence." This must be a great bird haunt when warm days set the singers chanting. Quite a number of native birds may be seen and heard, and there are flocks of starlings feeding in the open spaces and some blackbirds scolding in the thickets. On the road down to the creek Cootamundra wattles may be in bloom, and at the water's edge the silver wattle grows freely. The tea-tree's flowers are perfectly beautiful creations whether viewed from afar or subjected to the most searching scrutiny. Native cherry trees have green fruit hanging among their yellow-green leaves, each little "cherry" with its "stone" placed thoughtfully outside. Christ-mas bush, strongly flavoured of mint, and bursaria and other shrubs are rattling their empty seed cases and altogether there is a fine display of plant life.
Here and there are tiny flats with white gums shading lush grass. Passing higher along the hillside to avoid a chicken farm, you emerge on the L.L. Road, about a mile to the south-east of Vermont.
You may make acquaintance with some more good stretches of the creek by going down the L.L. Road, to the bridge, crossing it, and following along the left bank. The track is narrow and ill-defined, but as your way is that of the water, there can be no doubt of the direction. The banks are covered with scrub and trees, and edged with thick fringes of maidenhair fern. Presently you reach the Burwood Road, a hilly road which may be trying in hot weather, but is exceedingly attractive on a fresh winter day. Each slope to the east, as you climb it, opens out views of the big blue hills that are worth turning round to see; each western outlook embraces a wide stretch from the Bay past Macedon to the ranges behind Whittlesea. A parallel ridge to the south has for its easterly end the well-known Wheeler's Hill. On the north are some well-wooded rises, which stand in the nearer middle-distance.
From the last hill but one you catch a glimpse of Burwood. The road leads the eye down a long gradual slope to a green valley, crossed first by Station Street and then by a branch of Gardiner's Creek. From the bridge over the latter the way is through a cutting with a church above it, the whole forming a picturesque scene. A few hundred yards ahead is the terminus of the electric tram, and you are once more within touch of the city, after an enjoyable tramp of about nine miles.
"A bird sings something in my ear,
The wind sings in my blood a song
'Tis good at times for a man to hear;
The road winds onward, white and long,
And the best of earth is here."
Autumn is often "like spring returned to us won from her girlishness," and winter likewise may reveal no terrors, at least at week-ends, to keep a sturdy pedestrian from venturing out. Unusually fine conditions are reflected in the behaviour of the plants and animals. More than once in June I have seen parent birds feeding young ones, and once in July I gathered a handful of ripe raspberries in a hillside garden at South Sassafras. Here is a walk for one of the short days.
A LONG ROAD
Station Street crosses the railway line at Box Hill Station. Its northerly career, to Doncaster and beyond, has already been described in "The Open Road in Victoria." Southward it runs for many a mile, with a little side-stepping and an occasional kink, until it merges into the old Dandenong Road. It is undulating country, with greater hills on the skyline in several directions and its variety is endless. Half a day would serve to sample its charms, but a full day is more than twice as good.
Start then on this long road, facing south. As soon as the township thins out, and that is fairly quickly, you must admire the easterly prospect of, first, open land, then wooded rises, backed by the blue of the Dandenongs. The first main highway to be crossed is the Canterbury Road on its way from the city through Vermont to the mountains. It seems to pour down from the high hills at Mont Albert. On the horizon ahead may be seen an elevation with a clearing on its side, and what appears to be a dense forest on top. It looks to be slightly to the east of your general direction. Make that your immediate objective if you would enjoy a charming series of views.
Keep to the road. The houses become fewer and the holdings larger. Fruit and vegetable growing appear to be the main occupations, but there is a large acreage either being grazed or still under timber. You come to what seems at first glance to be a dead end, but turn sharply to the left and follow a curve to the right and the way is clear again. It is here you may witness the metamorphosis of Riversdale Road. Few who know that highly respectable suburban street, with its villas and electric trams, would recognize the road which at this point sheds its metal as a man takes off his coat, skips down a grassy slope, runs through a gate, dodges in and out of the bushes on a green flat and is last seen disappearing as a careless bridle track in a grove of pines.
Round the curve there is a particularly good patch of the soft-foliaged swamp tea-tree. Due west is Wattle Park, a mass of timber, and further to the left a glimpse may be caught of Burwood. The various watercourses here are tributary to Gardiner's Creek, which joins the Yarra not far from Heyington. Cross Burwood road and continue for less than half a mile, and you are in Boundary Road, not the north and south road of that name which runs from Surrey Hills to Oakleigh, but an east and west namesake. It is well up the slope of the hill you mean to climb.
Go two hundred yards east and enter the paddock to the right just after crossing a fenced culvert. The first portion is cleared, the grove of trees is on the summit. The owners, who live close by, have had possession for forty years, and take so much pleasure from it that it seems safe for at least another decade. There is no scrub to break the vistas between the trunks, but the trees are close enough together to have littered the soil with the bark and leaves of generations and the dryness of the natural carpet, even in Winter, is astonishing. It says much for the shelter provided.
But the view's the thing! From the shadows of the trees you look out, on the one side, across a smiling landscape, to where the Bay sparkles in the sun, the pyramids of the You Yangs standing sentinel on the further shore. Slightly to the north the main city buildings, dominated by those on the Eastern Hill—the Exhibition, the Houses of Parliament, St. Patrick's Cathedral—form a frieze of striking pattern. Further round, Macedon salutes the eye, and as you turn you take in the whole system of ranges from Whittlesea to Warburton, until your gaze rests at last upon the nearer Dandenongs. Orderly fields of vegetables; orchards showing in the mass a warm tone, despite their want of foliage, or the distinctive yellow-green of lemon groves; paddocks of native timber or scrub; banks of pines with houses peeping through; roads laid down like ribbons; the clustering houses of little hamlets; all these form part of the foreground and middle distance. But "the wonders we know, when we put them into words, the words seem as little like them as blackberries are like the moon and sun."
When you decide to leave the hill (which, by the way, is about two and a half miles from Box Hill) make east through a hedge, and skirt a vegetable garden until it ends in bush. Drop down through the trees and scrub, and you will find an infant creek, with a bed of much charm. The hillside forms one bank; the other is also well defined, and clothed with a wealth of green shrubs. Its seclusion is that of the far back country. Follow it up to a road, cross it and a paddock, and you emerge on the Boundary Road again. Looking back you may view the sea; forward the outlook ends with a sight of blue hills standing right across the way. An hotel, a post office, and a store at a cross road indicate that you are passing Tally Ho, and presently you will notice the red roofs of the Central Mission Boys' Home. It stands on the brow of a hill, at the foot of which is Springvale Road. By turning along that road to the left you may reach Tunstall Station in three miles, so completing a very agreeable eight and a half or nine miles for the outing. Should you feel inclined to venture through the cutting and trace Boundary Road still further, you will find it ends at the Dandenong Creek, where a gate on a bridge invites you to beware of the bull. The creek is very attractive at this point. Never have I seen such luxuriant fringes of the delicate maidenhair fern as are growing on its edges.
Burwood Road is the next parallel road on the north side. To reach it from here you must break across the paddocks. Then it turns on time and inclination as to which way you move for home. An eccentric road, all angles, makes for Vermont, and so to Mitcham, or you may follow the Burwood Road up past Wantirna to a junction, where you may choose a branch to Bayswater, or another to Ringwood, or a third to Mitcham. They are all attractive highways, cut through the bush, and with much of its original glamour still remaining. All through this country the skylarks are numerous, compelling the walker to stop frequently and admire. Magpies and butcher-birds are also plentiful, while the scarlet breasts of robins make brave notes of colour.
"Who hath desired the Sea—the sight of
The heave and the halt and the hurl and the crash of the comber wind-hounded?
Stark calm on the lap of the Line—or the crazy-eyed hurricane blowing.
His Sea in no showing the same—his Sea and the same 'neath all showing—
His Sea that his being fulfils?
So and no otherwise—so and no otherwise
Hill-men desire their Hills!"
I must confess to an extreme liking for the Dandenongs, that beautiful range which breaks the horizon with its blue masses as we look east from Melbourne. It is inverting the metaphor—but if anyone knows of "a better 'ole" within the same distance of Melbourne I shall be grateful to be introduced to it. Whether you approach the Dandenongs from the Warburton line, from Lilydale, Mooroolbark, or Croydon, from Bayswater, Ferntree Gully, or one of the stations on the way to Gembrook, there is a varied charm which persists through the whole year and never stales. The train yields its first really good view of them from Mitcham, where the elevation is sufficient to command a wide prospect, but for sheer beauty, on the proper day, it is hard to eclipse the picture they present from a siding near Croydon, with orchards in the foreground and a glimpse of the higher peaks of St. Leonard, Monda, Juliet, and Donna Buang showing to the left. A conspicuous feature of Mount Dandenong some years ago was the landslip. It could be picked out even from Melbourne. Now it is a mere handful of red, well up the hillside and observable when between Mooroolbark and Lilydale and from very few other places. Nature has almost healed the wound.
A pleasant change from the generally accepted routes may be found by starting from Evelyn, the first station past Lilydale on the Warburton Line. Assume that you arrive there at noon, you can ascend the mount and be in Croydon, Ringwood or Bayswater in ample time for the evening train back to the city, and that without hurrying. The train climbs 400 feet to take you from Lilydale to Evelyn, and in doing so seems to describe a half-circle, so much do you see of the first-named township. Looking south from Evelyn's altitude of 738 feet, the land dips sharply through close timber, and rises again to good effect as portion of the Mount. The range is seen very much foreshortened, but for some reason, possibly because this face may be more abrupt than the others, it always seems to me higher than from any other point of view.
Take the road alongside the line. In a couple of hundred yards it will lead you past a store. Turn to your right downhill; the road makes good walking. Just above you is the O'Shannassy Channel, with the water apparently running the wrong way in an effort to get round the head of the valley. The scar visible on a hilltop is one of the reservoirs of the system. A fire ran through this country in recent enough days to have left the tree trunks and branches still a rich black but sufficiently long ago to permit of a fresh young growth of gum leaves. The contrast is striking and attractive.
That effect is lost when you near Olinda Creek at the bottom of the descent. There the vegetation is lush and green, first swamp grasses, tea-tree and dogwood, then wattles, mintbush and ferns. Right on the creek, guarding a glade known as Mistletoe Bend, are some tall white gums and some other big eucalypts, either messmate or stringybark. They are almost rivalled by a few silver wattles of exceptional growth. A prepared fireplace under the trees, and near the running water, naturally suggests the ever-welcome subject of lunch. It may be a bit early for a meal, for you have come little more than a mile from the station, but the surroundings are very pleasant, so bring for once
"...the time and the place
And the loved one all together!"
As you eat you will notice how numerous and tame the birds are. The white-shafted fantail performs aerial gymnastics almost within reach, resting only long enough to utter his fresh little trill of song; not one but many yellow robins will attend to any edible scraps that you let fall; red oriess are plentiful; blue wrens, with their perky little wives, dart about in the crass; thrushes, magpies and jackasses call; a breathless tree-creeper makes you wonder how long he can keep it up; from the edge of the clearing comes the distinctive whistle of the spinebill honeyeater; and, dominating all, the butcher-bird blows his lovely autumn flute.
You will leave the creek reluctantly. Cross the bridge, and take the road along the foot of the hill for about 100 yards. If you continued to keep it the road would convey you, pleasantly enough, into Montrose, but that way you would miss the Mount. Follow, rather, a bridle track which goes off to the left just past a baby creek (practically a gutter) that crosses the road. At once you begin to rise. There is a patch of tea-tree, but mainly the timber is young messmate. Pink and red heath are in profusion here in Autumn and Winter. You are on a siding with the major portion of the hill on your right. Presently a saddle is reached, and then a deserted house. Keep it to the right, and climb the ridge directly behind it. There is a suggestion of a track through the heath and trees, but in any case the going is fairly easy. Bear slightly to the left and, shortly after crossing a dray track, and as the outlook changes to the north-east, an old buggy road will be found coming up the hillside. It has taken you about half an hour to reach here from your lunching place.
Still the way is upward, but the character of the country has changed. A beautiful forest of big trees decorates the slopes and through it may be caught glimpses of distant ranges, while treeferns strike a bright colour note not far below. The new motor road which has been created in the locality, leads on to Five Ways or Kalorama. Soon a fence is seen; then the highway' now a well-used road, doubles back at a greater elevation.
THE DOWNWARD PATH
A choice of ways is presently presented. If you take the high road (to the left) you will join the Devil's Elbow in a very short distance, and from there it is an easy stroll to the summit with its "observatory" (as it is fashionable to call the old trig station) and its really fine outlook. Less known is the righthand way, almost a private thoroughfare in its seclusion and quiet. It drops rapidly, but comfortably enough, until it reaches the main Mount Dandenong Road less than a mile from Montrose, fairly at the foot of the hill. A very fine view of Corhanwarabul (the old title of the mount) is obtained from the store corner. There, by the way, I noted the first Indian mynah that I have seen out of the city. It was very much at home. Montrose is remarkable for a row of Cootamundra wattles, which some public-spirited person has planted along the roadside.
A CHOICE OF ROUTES
You may walk from here to Mooroolbark in about three miles or to Croydon, through Kilsyth, in a little over four. Or you may extend the trip (there is plenty of time) by tracing the Norwich Road, which runs a little south of west, until at four and a half miles it crosses the Croydon Road. The way is pleasant, more particularly on the flat, where fields of tasselled maize have for background the blue hills. At Croydon Road a turn to the right will bring you to the Croydon Railway Station after three miles of fair going; an adherence to the original route will, after many twists and bends, deposit you at Ringwood, a distance of two and a half miles; or Bayswater Station may be reached in a mile by turning sharply to the left.
"I have often wished that Cervantes had written a
tale of his wanderings on the sunlit roads of Spain, or that
Goldsmith had told in matchless English of the days when he played
a flute for bread, or blind old Homer had left a few pages about
tramping the roads of Greece."
—Beggars of Life.
"Romance is dead!" But not for him who woos Matilda. She leads him along pathways of glamour, with ever a gleam shining at the far end, and enchanting curves that call him to look round that corner at least; she offers him tales of simple lives and lawless doings, of how men shape their destinies who must make their own rules of conduct; she shows him tall mountains beckoning from the blue, the frosty sparkle of river waters glancing through green timber, seas of amethyst that break in lazy swells of opal and silver, long grey sands stretching to infinity.
Link up with her, and she will divorce you from the comforts of home, to know the hard beds of the bush track, the moving airs of that open bedroom whose ceiling is the sky, the plain meal cooked at the camp-fire, the burden of swag and billy and nosebag.
Her lure, and your reward, is liberty, health, and a memory in whose halls are hung imperishable pictures past the skill of man to paint.
* * * * *
"Lift up your swag and follow me."
Up the long track we toiled, no more than inch high in the scale of these huge hills. Everywhere they towered, Magdala and the Square Gin Face, Tamboritha, Wellington, Kent, and the Snowy Bluff, and as we slowly rose to the heights, the land fell away on either side to deeps of wonder. A riot of blue ranged from the delicate hint conveyed by frosted metal to the amazing azure of a wren's bosom. Rarer grew the air and scarcer the timber; the flowers changed to the long-stemmed violets, the white and purple asters, the quaint grevilleas and golden everlastings of the uplands, but the crest of this sheer-sided Howitt which we were climbing looked as remote as ever.
Swags can be weighty though the way be very heaven, and we carried both swag and nosebag. Pauses became more frequent, the pace grew slower, but, one by one, at last we topped the final rise and stood at gaze, too astonished to speak.
When you climb a mountain you expect to reach an outstanding point or pinnacle. Here was something new. We had risen some six thousand feet above the sea level, only to find a flatter world than the one which we had left. An ant which had crawled expectantly up a table leg might have much the same feelings on reaching the top. Before us lay the characteristic plain of the Victorian Alps, green in the sober tones of snowgrass, undulating, watered by youthful streams which would shortly plunge over the edges to dash down to the great rivers of the lowlands. Cattle raised inquiring heads or grazed peacefully. The scene might have been matched in numberless places but for two strange features. Across the pasture ran a line of snow-poles, indicating the track; over the edges of the plain, like the heads of giants seated round a table, rose the tops of mountains, and yet more mountains.
The darkness came early, for the sun is soon lost among these tall peaks. Every valley was exalted with purple mists stealing up to welcome the night. Stars came blazing out, and the thin wind of the heights stole abroad, searching to rob us of vitality.
In a hollow, where a patch of snow gums stood above a spring, our camp-fire was soon glowing, a sword of light challenging the dark, but what a pitiful weapon it seemed in that continent of enveloping gloom. Daylight came in loveliness, the world was steeped in the purity of dew, there seemed no blemish on the earth, but near by lay Terrible Hollow, where the second act of a grim tragedy had been played but a few years before.
The sweep of Howitt on the far side is to the Wonnangatta River, a lonely stream at its upper end, visited only by the cattlemen who lease the heights. Standing solitary in the valley is the homestead of the station named after the river. For a generation and a half one family lived there, lived patriarchally, tending its flocks and herds much as was the fashion in the days of Job. A self-contained life, knowing little contact with the world of affairs, mending its own boots, making its own entertainment, burying its dead. The tiny cemetery lies, pine-shadowed, not far from the house. Who could dream of such utter seclusion, such loneliness, in our Victoria I When food stocks ran low, the pack teams were sent out, usually twice a year. Everything came in on the back of an animal, everything went out on the hoof, for never a bridge spanned the rivers. To this day no wheeled vehicle has entered that retired domain. When the settler brought his family to their future home, the very children were packed 'like goods, swaying in gin cases one on each side of a steady old mare, as she picked her way over the scrubby flats, waded the swift-flowing creeks and trod carefully the shingly edges of the sidings.
But the patriarch died, his wife followed him to the tiny God's-acre up the valley, and the station was sold. Then came the tragedy.
The old home was suddenly emptied of the life and stir of a large family, and it knew, instead, the quiet ways of a solitary man who took possession as manager, and presently brought there another man, as cook. A day came when both were missing.
What actually happened remains one of the mysteries of crime. The nearest neighbour (twenty miles away) happened to call. His bushman's eye picked up a strange track, and at the end of it lay the body of his friend the manager, hidden in the brush. All too evidently he had been killed by a gunshot at close quarters. The cook had vanished, and so had one of the riding horses. Winter, always early in those hills, was already powdering them with snow, and soon all tracks were lost. Suspicion centred in the cook, and he was searched for as a marked man. But when the snows that lie deep and long on Mount Howitt had melted in the Spring sun, and the pads were rideable again, they found him on the mountain top, also shot, lying with arms outstretched near the brink of The Hollow.
From the crown of Howitt, sparkling with frost even on summer mornings, the way leads along the pads by which the Wonnangatta station cattle are still brought to the heights each Spring, and down which the restless lowing mob returns, after the Autumn mustering, with the stockmen's whips cracking behind.
Woe betide the cattle which escape the final mustering. There is a patch of sturdy snowgums on the Bogong High Plains (where Victorians shall some day see a great health resort) and in it hang, or hung when last I passed that way, the desiccated remains of a bullock which had perished on the deep snow covering the little sheltered grove. When the white drifts melted, the carcass was held in the tough branches to be food for the crows, and to be wondered at by the rare passer-by.
* * * * *
"Take up your swag and follow me."
Blazes mark the way of the walker on many of his long bush tramps, often the blazes cut to guide the miner in the "roaring 'fifties or 'sixties," when towns of ten, twenty, or thirty thousand people were created, seemingly in a moment, by uttering the magic word "Gold." Those were the "rushes" of which we hear nothing now. But the wanderers from beaten paths, and the men who cannot resist
"The little vagrant woodland way,
Grey-ribboned through the green,"
find to-day, miles from any habitation, a strange clearing here and there, with gooseberry bushes struggling through the bracken, spears of foxgloves shining amongst the scrub, saplings of twenty years' growth hiding the mouths of old shafts, and, maybe, a row of ruined houses, mere empty shells that once were filled with life.
Take the township of Grant. Its name still lingers on all the maps of Victoria. In the 'sixties it boasted more hotels than a Melbourne suburb of to-day. Now, not one human being resides where all the busy thousands toiled so feverishly, the many to dig yellow gold from the earth, the others to take it from them. Grant lies on the edge of the High Plains that reach down to Dargo and join up with the Alpine system above Harrietville. Two houses remain. One is used as a storeroom by the shopkeeper at Talbotville, a settlement of nine inhabitants some seven miles further in, for here at Grant the vehicular road ends, and sleds or the packhorse must be used for the rest of the journey. The other was once a substantial hotel.
Coming from the Wonnangatta some ten years ago, some walkers found a solitary woman holding a roadside licence and keeping this ancient hostelry open. She was the entire township; not another soul lived within seven miles. Her hope lay in the mine which was then being worked on the Crooked River, for the miners coming in and out must pass her door. There was a choice of two drinks—bottled beer and raspberry vinegar.
"Try them mixed!" was the landlady's advice. She was postmistress, too, hanging precariously to that job, for it entailed the handling of a certain number of letters each month to keep the office open. Naïvely, she confessed to writing most of them herself. The party helped that month's mail to the extent of one postcard, all it possessed, which was posted six times, once for each member, down the tin funnel used as a letter slot. The winter there is stern and hard. Snows lie deep and long on those high plains, and the passers-by must have been about as common as the bullock dray in Bourke Street. In late Autumn she would fill one of the rooms with wood, lay in a stock of provisions, and hibernate almost completely.
The walkers marvelled as they left her, standing all alone in the old doorway, a miracle of contentment, another of those astonishing variations from the normal which the tramper in the remote bush is ever discovering.
The back country is full of "hatters," though it is not often that one meets a woman qualified for that title. Nowhere are these quaint old figures—they are always old and frequently odd—so numerous as on the edges of the abandoned goldfields. Human flotsam, most of them, left on the beach when the tide of prosperity receded. Some are men who have known the culture of great schools and universities, the life of towns, the love of art and letters. What do they dream of now, as the days march past and the night shadows compass them round. It needs a well-balanced mind to live like this, apart from one's kind, and retain complete sanity. In speech or idea or habit they betray, often enough, that the solitude has had its effect.
Most of these men are, at the worst, no more than a trifle eccentric, and hospitality, within their means, is a matter of course with them. Two city youths drifted in on one old chap in the hills just at lunch-time. They rather upset the regularity of his habits. Every Sunday he made a big plum duff to last him the week. The visitors called on a Tuesday; the duff was excellent; they had eaten it up to Friday before they left!
The old-age pension has been a gift of the gods to the "hatters." With that, a weather-proof hut, a little garden of vegetables and a few goats, they are secure against want. They make their regular trips to the township for tea and sugar and flour and a bit of tobacco, and to collect the pension, and perhaps have "one at eleven." Then it happens that a month comes when the familiar old figure fails to appear, and the postmaster, or the storekeeper, sends word to the trooper at the bigger township—some twenty miles further away—and he rides out and brings in for burial all that remains of a man, whether prince or pensioner, after Death has been busy with him.
* * * * *
"Take up your swag and follow me."
"It's a long while ago," said the old bushman. He shook his head thoughtfully. "A long while ago," he repeated. With hands as hard as iron he rolled a pipeful of tobacco, then pressed it home with expert finger. Eighty-five, he said he was, but still he was upright in walking, and veritably part of a horse when mounted. As he leaned forward, the firelight showed a grizzled beard and longish grey hair straggling from under his ancient hat. He picked up a burning stick and held it to his pipe. The flame rose and fell as he pulled at the smouldering briar. Carefully he laid his "bushman's match" down again in the fireplace where its end would just keep alight.
Behind him trooped the shadows, stealing from the back of the hut when the flame fell, darting to cover as a fresh log caught, dancing on the rough walls and the rude beams of the ceiling.
"Forty-five years since I come here, and I was over at the Point before that. There was some gold gettin' in Woods' Point in them days. I see a paddock of alluvial cleaned up once; it was a bit o' ground, say fourteen by thirty by twenty-six on the B.B. Creek, and it turned out 260 ounces. An' gold was worth four pounds an ounce. I was at Matlock when they got a nugget 155 ounces and another 105. Bill the Smelter made a lot o' money there. He went to the old country about 1865, for a twelvemonth, and when he come back he told me he was £25,000 better off through his shares in them mines. Why, in the 'sixties there was fifty-one companies working in Woods' Point. The Morning Star paid about £120,000 in dividends in my time. They used to say that over a million pounds' worth o' gold come out of that Morning Star hill.
"No, there's blamed little doing there now. I did hear that there's not more'n a hundred and fifty people left in Woods' Point and about a dozen in Matlock.
"An' look at Walhalla. It was quite a big place once. We called it Stringer's Creek in them days, after Ned Stringer. He died in '63. The rush come mainly from the Point and the Jordan an' Donnelly's. Nobody at all now at Donnelly's, an' precious few I believe at the Jordan. There's Toombon, too, as empty as if nobody had never been there, and they tell me the battery and the houses are still standing, and the furniture all laying about. It's safe enough; nobody's goin' to pack the stuff out from a place like that, and there ain't any other way.
"But I been on cattle for most o' my time...Lonely? No! I had a neighbour down at the Two Mile once. He cleared out about twenty years ago...Yes, I been to Melbourne. I was born there. But I ain't been back much since...Y'll have a mug o' tea before you go?...Well, so long!"
And the old back straightens as we file out into the darkness, and he turns to his solitary bed.
* * * * *
"Hark to the Bush a-calling!"
The swagman's way is the bird's way and the wind's way. He may go where he will, where no vehicle, no horse even, may follow. He can know all the joy, amounting to that of a discoverer, of following lost trails and penetrating secret places. "The tracks run east, the tracks run west, the tracks run every way." They scar the sides of wild hills, or wind across their wooded tops, dipping to rivers with never a bridge in a hundred miles, or climbing so high that the sole guide is the line of ancient, moss-covered snow-poles. They are the only routes through much of the back country, and they are kept open by the passage of the cattle and the stockmen. Along the coast, too, they wind, crossing river-mouths bar-bound for nine months in the year, twisting in through tea-tree and honeysuckle and manna gums, to end in some solitary lighthouse or long-abandoned selection.
Take the long track to Everard, that Cape Everard which was the first piece of Australia seen by Captain Cook. It boasts a lighthouse more lonely than most. It is the last before you come to Cape Howe, and so pass out from Victoria. Thirty bad bush miles from the nearest house, with no telegraph wire nearer than a station ninety miles away, it held, a few years ago, a reputation for absolute peace that made it not unpopular with the men of the service. Ships that pass in the night do so too far out for signals..."there's nothing to be done after dark," said the keeper comfortably.
With swags up, a party attacked Everard from Lakes Entrance. Dingoes might be seen, someone had remarked. First night out the botanist woke to the consciousness of a warm breath sweeping his cheek, then reposing in the hood of his sleeping bag. A dog of some sort, probably dingo or fox, as the tracks next morning showed.
"Seeing Jingolong?" called a woman, riding astride in a pair of old trousers, tucked into men's stockings. At a glance she had classified the party as city swagmen. The rabbit-trapper's wife bade the trampers welcome to her hut, and discovered herself a Malaprop. "No, mister," she declared, throwing some wheat to the fowls which shared the living-room, "none of my chickens will ever die for want of neglect!" Her clock was, like Mark Twain's, obviously several days slow. "Don't take any notice of that old thing," she urged earnestly. "Our good one's at the blacksmith's gettin' mended. He's 'ad it for months. Said he'd forgot about it the last time Steve went in. Me 'usband's too soft. Wait till I see the blacksmith; I'll jog 'is memory!" Under the tall green timber, in whose tangled tops the stars shone, the walkers learnt one night that the bush is haunted. It was a bird singing, not a nightingale, nor the mopoke, but ninox strenua, the eagle owl. He began with an imitation of what might be a wool sale in Hell or pencillers calling the odds at the Tophet Cup. When his wife joined in, she supplied the shrieks of torment that might be supposed to rise from the eternally damned. The duet was appalling—to be laughed over in daylight, but hair-raising to men newly wakened from sleep. Two other weird calls had stirred imagination—the scream of a petulant Koala in the dusk, and the long-drawn wail of a stone-plover which suddenly rose at close quarters after night had fallen—but neither knew that shrilling agony which vibrated in the voice of the great owl.
The way was through great forests of mahogany gums. Every river crossing was a wonderful display of plant life. Old man's beard hung in silver masses from the clematis vines, and the glorious scarlet of the Victorian Waratah burned against a dark-green background. Bell birds rehearsed the anvil chorus everywhere there was water. A horseman, one of the keepers from the far-off lighthouse, paused to tell the gossip of the tracks, and cheerfully joined in a laugh against himself. He had had to strip and swim, hanging to his steed, every river up to the Bemm. There he had piled his clothes on the horse, mounted as nude as Lady Godiva, and ridden into the stream. It looked black and deep, but it didn't rise higher than a couple of feet on the horse's legs. The morning was cold and frosty: he said he would test the next stream before undressing.
At Everard lighthouse was the welcome of the way-back. There is nothing better in the world. A kid was slain from the flock of goats, scones were baked, high carnival was held by the three families who shared this outpost. The arrival of strangers meant much to them in their seclusion. But it was ave atque vale, which has been translated as "tip and run." The return was commenced within thirty-six hours, a return which was a liberal education in sandy beaches, bar-bound river mouths, coastal scrubs and rocky headlands. Dingoes were met face to face on the sea edge; oysters, even better than "Sydney rocks," were discovered in the pools; crayfish were enticed from their crevices into billies, to reappear, hot and blushing, at tea-time.
Lean, brown, fit, the swagmen caught the boat at Lakes Entrance for Sale. And, as they swung up the street of that pleasant little town, a farmer, driving past, pulled up his team with a jerk. "Want a job?" he yelled, and seemed disappointed at the reply.
* * * * *
"Follow me, follow me home!"
Would you know the secret lake that is set like a jewel in the centre of our Victorian Mount Wellington a lake so old that it has bred a trout peculiar to itself, and known nowhere else in the wide world, so new (to civilized man) that its origin has not yet been determined, a lake 150 feet deep, placed 3,000 feet above the common surface of the world, yet 2,000 feet below the level of the mountain top which envelopes it?
Would you know the outlook from lonely heights where never a track has gone, where the kingdoms of the earth are spread beneath you, indubitably yours, for trace of man there is none?
Would you traverse the long, deep beaches of the coast where the sand sings, musically responsive to every touch of your foot?
Would you learn the ways of the finny tribes in their passage up tidal streams from turbulent seas, and watch them skirmish in shoals, like flocks of birds in the air, across the creek pools as they change again from fresh to salt?
Would you view the incredible rush of a bar-bound river, newly released to the ocean, an irresistible tide, overwhelming and prohibitive?
Would you know old huts, and lines of planted trees on deserted diggings, old towns long dead, collections of dwellings where never a man goes and the furnishings stand as when the last occupant departed; would you hear the sermons from stones of disused chimneys, and read the books of running brooks which once were water races to irrigate gardens that still send up spikes of English flowers amongst the all-enveloping scrub?
Would you enjoy the humour (and recognize the pathos) of being hailed as "the circus" by delighted children as you lead a skewbald packhorse into a decaying mining village; would you appreciate the earnestness of the request that you take a job at navvying, milking, or harvesting, and are you willing to realize how little qualified is the average city man for any one of the elementary occupations?
Would you become acquainted with the equine mind and learn to respect the packhorse, to appreciate his wisdom when he is wise, and practise control when he insists upon jamming his load between trees, hanging back on the upgrade, treading on your heels on the down slope, and ringing his bell in your ear as you try to sleep o' nights?
Would you learn by personal observation that the famous ride of the Man from Snowy River is no fable, but the commonplace of every mustering in the fenceless ranges?
Would it please you to admire beautiful landscape, to mark the graciousness of growing timber, to marvel at the golden light on wide plains, to observe bird and beast and insect in their natural haunts, to stand hidden on the slopes of our greatest peak while the emu walks majestically past, to thrill expectantly to the first ecstatic note of the lyre bird dancing on his mound, to gaze with wonder upon the million millions of the Bogong moth in its evening flights, to note the spoor of the wild dogs on the Ninety Mile Beach, to halt in admiration of the brumbies running long-tailed and high of action on the skyline of Wellington, to start as the huge goannas of Cabbage Tree Creek race for the safety of a palm trunk, to swim with the harmless "Gippsland crocodile" in the upper reaches of the Macallister River and teach him to eat beetles from your hands, to know wild Nature as she should be known—and, more than all these, to learn the hearts and minds of your fellow-men who live far from contact with civilization?
Would you? Then
"Lift up your swags and follow me!
Take up your swags and follow me!
Hark to the Bush a-calling:
Follow me, follow me home!"
Also at Project Gutenberrg Australia: The Open Road in Victoria.
This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia