Winter bushwalking 2012

Last weekend was the Queen’s birthday long weekend, and monarchist or republican, we all love a long weekend, right?  Long may she reign!

Harry and Jack and I took advantage of the extra day off to get out of town for a moment or two, and a couple of days of trekking, schlepping and lightly stepping through the wilds of the Lerderderg Gorge.  The Lerderderg state park is less than two hours drive from our side of town, and once you get there you are unlikely to run into too many other people, especially once you get more than a few hours’ walk away from a carpark.  Which makes it a perfect spot for a weekend hike.

We’ve been there before a couple of times, but only to the northern end of the park, up around Blackwood.  This time around we drove to the southern end of the park, which is just outside the outer limits of the sprawling suburban mass that is Bacchus  Marsh, which is named after one of its original inhabitants, and not the greco-roman god of wine and good times.  Not that there aren’t bottle shops in Bacchus Marsh, but you just shouldn’t read anything into it.

According to the faded interpretive sign there was a massive rocky uplift a couple of million years ago, which blocked the previous path of the river, and in the years since then the water has gradually cut through the rock to create the gorge.  It’s not as big as the Colca Canyon of Peru, nor as famous as the Grand Canyon in the US of A, but it’s still pretty impressive.  And it’s a heck of a lot easier to get to from Melbourne.

(Zoe has visited both of the other above-mentioned canyons in the last couple of months.  Hi Zoe.)

Within a few kilometres of the carpark the path crosses the river a couple of times:

Crossing the river

and then turns away from the water and heads steeply up a long spur to the ridge above.

The southern end of the gorge is deeper, and the sides are steeper, than the northern end.

Unfortunately the path to the top of the spur led not just to the ridge line, but to the fairly well made road that follows the ridge north-ish, and we were forced to walk along the more-beaten track for a while.

Not quite off the beaten track.

The road is so nicely made because it services a weir across the river.  The weir helps to send  some of the Lerderderg’s flow through a tunnel under the ridge and eventually into the Merrimu reservoir, which supplies The Marsh and the surrounding market gardens.

The weir.

From the weir we crossed the river again, and climbed up the other side of the gorge to the ridge on the opposite side, stopping along the way for a bit of lunch.

We had a couple of hours of slogging up the steep side of the gorge to a much less-travelled track on the southern-ish side, which is about where the rain started to appear.

Just drizzling.

Further up the road the trail headed back down another spur and back to the river.  Another long and at times very steep descent, in the rain and the fading light of late afternoon until we reached our campsite for the night, somewhat wetter, and a tad pooped.

Wet and tired.

Hiking in winter is a good way to remind yourself that the nights are long.  Once it gets dark there isn’t much to do apart from sit around the fire getting warm on one side and colder on the other.  Eventually, after what seems like hours of darkness and idle fire-side chat, you casually glance at your watch to see if it’s bed time.  You’re a bit tired after all.  Your watch says it’s 6.45 pm!  Surely you can’t go to be this early…

Thanks to Jack’s inspired menu planning we were able to keep ourselves up a bit longer, cooking chocolate muffin mix inside of hollowed out oranges, wrapped in foil and tossed into the coals.  They were nearly delicious, and we crawled happily into the tent at 8 pm.  At 8.05 the two dogs were out for the count, and neither of them stirred until after 7 the next morning.  The three of us slept nearly as well.

That night we had devoted a fair bit of time and effort to getting the dogs dry, using just a small towel repeatedly dried out over the fire.  So it shouldn’t surprise you that by the morning our cosy little 3 person tent smelt somewhat of smoke, and somewhat of wet dog.

The walk out of the gorge and back up to the ridge was the reverse of the previous night’s descent, but this time the sun was shining and the sky was blue, and all was well with the world!

Climbing up the steep track

I won’t bore you with the details of the day’s walk.  We went up the steep sides of the gorge, and then we went down again.  We stopped on a rock halfway down the side for lunch and a billy of tea, and then dived down to the river banks again for the last few kilometres back to the carpark.


PFFF part 3 – day 2.

Doesn’t seem much point in filling up a lot of space with commentary, really.
Here’s who we saw on the Sunday of PFFF this year:

1st up, the Melbourne Mass Gospel Choir, with various guest artists, singing mostly from the Bob Dylan song sheet.  This is a great way to kick off a Sunday morning.  I should add that my brother Graeme used to sing in this gospel choir, so if you think these guys are good, just imagine how much better they would be with my brother swelling that ol’ gospel sound!

Next, Chris Hilman and Herb Perderson, two guys you may never have heard of, but whose songs are very well known.

The tent for Hilman and Pederson was chockers, perhaps partly because they played on the same stage that had just been vacated by the Gospel singers, but more likely because they were followed by Archie Roach.  Foolishly Jack and I left the tent in the break, only to find upon our return that the door was blocked by some security guy who refused to let us back in, despite our protestations that the rest of our family, and our seats, and our stuff was all inside.  So we had to listen to Archie from the outside.  The instrument makers’ tent was just next door, so we ducked in for a while to check out the steel stringed ukeleles and the five stringed acoustic violins.  Those of you scratching your heads trying to think of suitable Christmas presents later this year, take note!  Liz tells me that Archie is looking old, and seemed to be having some difficulty up on the stage.  From outside he still sounded as good as ever.

Next gig, same tent, was John Butler, who you could argue was the biggest ‘name’ at this year’s event.  Perhaps that’s why the tent was so chockers.  I can’t imagine where he’d be or what we’d all be listening to now if this guy channelled all his creative energy into 3 minute songs to suit the radio stations!  Thank goodness he chooses not to do that.  Amazing musician.

After such a long time in the same tent it was time for some fresh air, which is where we caught a bit of the Kwela Swingsters.  This is a Melbourne bunch of musos (including Gavan McCarthy from Jugularity on bass, as if there’s not enough incestuousness in this whole folk scene already) playing the kind of music that you would hear in Soweto or Kwazulu Natal.

From the bright daylight of the outdoors, from the chirpy happy music of the Township we plunged into the Sheebeen, one of the central, one of the largest, one of the most popular, and one of the most expensive tents in the whole festival.  Also the only one that sells Guinness, which probably accounts for all those ‘mosts’.

No classy act on stage this time, though.  I couldn’t even tell you the name of this band.  Maybe they don’t have a name.  A covers band, which doesn’t sound like what you’d expect at a folk festival.  But this is Sing-a-long Sunday night at Port Fairy, and it’s more fun than you can poke a stick at.  And I’ve poked a lot of sticks!  Imagine a thousand people standing shoulder to shoulder singing “Those were the days my friend”, Proclaimers songs, and the Time Warp, all at the top of their alcohol affected and not quite recording quality lungs.  Great stuff.

Next, Judy Collins, who’s been around since forever, and sung every song there is, with everybody who is anybody.  She was pretty big back in the 60s I think.  I bet she was a really great live act back in the day…

And actually that was about it.  There was still stuff going on late on Sunday night, but we”d more or less had it by then, so we wandered back to the tent and called it a night.  On Monday morning there were a few acts still performing, but we’d seen them at some stage over the weekend, and the road homewards was beckoning.

No doubt we’ll be back there next year for more.

PFFF 2012 part two

Having walked out on the son of one of the greatest song writers of the 20th century, what does one proceed to do?  I may have bumped into a friend and had another beer, I think.  Or not, I’m really not sure.

I do know that soon enough I wandered in to check out local Melbourne group Jugularity.  There’s a personal connection here, since once upon a time in a land far far away (Melbourne circa 1981) I played in the same orchestra as Jugularity’s bass player.  In fact, his violin playing brother was a couple of years ahead of me at vet school, as well as also having played in that same orchestra (The Chamber Strings of Melbourne) way back then.

Luckily Gavan (aforementioned bass player) didn’t see me walk in, nor did he seem to notice 15 or 20 minutes later when all four of us walked out.  Maybe the experience with Adam Cohen had switched on the walk-out neurotransmitters, or maybe Jugularity were just having a bad night.  They didn’t seem very inspired.  They’ve been together for 21 years, so you could forgive them for having the odd stale moment.  Here’s a clip from back in 2008….

From the small and mostly family audience in the Jugularity tent we made our way to the huge and much more young-adult oriented crowd watching another Melbourne group called Tin Pan Orange.  This group is fronted up by the wife of Harry James Angus (see previous post), who also plays keyboards.  This is a pretty standard arrangement in the folk world, by the seems of things.  Everyone plays in their own band and in one or two others, and does guest appearances in a third, whilst simultaneously being married to the mandolin player in one band and being the ex-partner of the singer somewhere else.  It’s a pretty small pool, I suppose.  Emily Lubitz is the singer, and she was great, although her near constant whirling around the stage was a bit off putting.

Next on the list was a country outfit called The Pigs, who really looked like they should have been singing at someone’s huge 21st party in a woolshed, or on the stage at a B&S turn somewhere.  They were pretty funny.

And we finished the night with the adults-only version of Tripod, which was also pretty funny.

The annual Spring Hike

Since 2006 my two sons and I have taken ourselves out of the Big Smoke each spring for a few days to go hiking in the bush.  In past years I have jokingly referred to it as the one time of the year when we shake our fists at the sky and dare God (or the Almighty Teapot, or whatever) to try and pick us off.  In previous years our hikes have taken us through the southern alps and the northern Grampians; we have been swallowed up by storms, stung by driving rains, and chilled by snow;  we’ve used old tents, new tents and borrowed tents, and every trip has been an adventure.

Earlier this year we had a brief and unsatisfactory trip up Mount Erica at the southern end of the Great Alpine walking track.  We hiked up the mountain in the dark, through fog and drizzling rain and managed to stay reasonably dry.  The following day we ventured briefly out onto the Baw Baw plateau, but soon turned back because of the lousy weather.

Cold and wet.

So when it came to thinking about this year’s Spring Hike there was a kind of unspoken thought that passed between the three of us that we’d already shook our fists at the heavens this year, and maybe we could take it a bit easy this time.  Which is why we chose to spend a couple of days in the Lerdergerg Gorge.  Nowhere near the snowline.  No exposed mountain tops.  Not even a very long drive from home to get there.

Here’s what happened:

We set off from Blackwood on Saturday morning after a leisurely breakfast and a wet night in the local picnic ground.  The rain had cleared, the clouds were thinning, the sun was rising, and it felt good to be alive.

We walked for a while around the outskirts of Blackwood, through the Wombat state forest, before entering the Lerderderg state park proper.   The Lerdergerg river and the surrounding creeks and gullies were rich enough in alluvial gold to attract large numbers of prospectors in the 1850s gold rush.  Unlike the goldfields of Ballarat and surrounds, the alluvial gold of the Lerdy didn’t last very long, and there was no underground reef to be found.  These days there is precious little left of what was once a very busy area.  A few old houses outside of Blackwood are evidence that this was once a busier place.

We walked up hill and down dale, through open eucalyptus forest and more dense and lush temperate rainforest areas, playing stupid word games making up ridiculous stories.  The dog was leading the way.  (Along the path, that is, not in the word games.  He’s a clever dog – he doesn’t play word games.)

As you’d expect from an old mining area, there are lots of abandoned mine shafts.  

This particular mine shaft is in pretty good shape still, and it goes back into the hillside for about 30 metres or so.  Since the area only really produced alluvial gold I suspect that whoever dug this tunnel did so for very little reward.  Other old mines dotted about the area are all shapes and sizes.  Some are vertical holes in the ground, down which it would be easy enough to fall if you weren’t looking where you were going.  In other parts of the park there are large underground tunnels that have collapsed or eroded away, and none of these holes in the ground is that close to anywhere really, so if you did find any gold it would have been a long walk out to sell it.  And a longer walk back in with supplies.  The life of an 1850s prospector is pretty hard to imagine from the luxury of the 21st century.

I was in this same area, doing this same walk a couple of years ago at the height of the drought, and at that time the river was just a disconnected series of stagnant waterholes, so it was good to see it again this time around in full flow.

We stopped for lunch at an area called The Tunnel.  The tunnel is a hole that has been blasted through the rock to join the two sides of a large loop in the river.  The result is that the water gets a short cut through the tunnel, leaving the loop without any flow.  This was done so that the river bed in the dried out portion of the river could be panned for gold. I doubt that you’d get that past the first hurdle these days, but they didn’t ask for Environmental Impact Statements back in the gold rush days.

After lunch we hit the trail again for a while, where it suited us.  But where it didn’t we took a compass bearing and bush bashed our way through.  In a lot of places where hiking is the preferred means of getting from A to B bush-bashing is the least good option.  But in the points where we left the trail we actually found the going was easier, especially on anything like a hill, than it had been on the riverbank.

We camped for the night along a stretch of the river not far from O’Brien’s crossing, in the middle of the state park.  Jack and I camped here a couple of years ago, in exactly the same spot.  This weekend we were camped by a fast flowing river, very much alive and well.  Two years ago, at the height of the drought, there was a single stagnant pool at this spot.  What a difference a bit of rain makes.

You might need to click on this photo to see the whole thing.  Despite the large Teleporter beam right next to the fire it was a very peaceful place to spend the night.

It was a one-dog-night

The following day we crossed the river and made our way back to our starting point, via a different route.  Crossing rivers is all part of the deal, I suppose.  It’s much easier during drought years though.  Best of all is if someone can do the crossing for you…

The smart way to cross the river.

It was a great weekend of walking and talking and being out in the bush.  Being spring the place was festooned with wild flowers and everything is green and lush.

















Tea, coffee, and dog biscuits. What could be better?