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12 October 2016

A week in the ACT - Gibraltar Peak

Every Wednesday three of the ACT walking clubs have a combined walk; this week two Hobart Walking Club members went along as well.

The walk co-ordinator signs the book at Dalsetta car park in Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve before we set out on a walk up the fire trail to Gibraltar Peak.

A bike path leads some of the way upward before we reach a steep fire trail. That's Gibraltar Peak there, right in the middle of the photo.

A feature of this walk is an extensive area of  Xanthorrhoea or grasstree. Lots of them flowering after a fire
We made a detour to Wallaby Rocks. There is no signpost, so you have to know where you're going. These rocks were used as shelters by the Ngunnawal people, and have special significance. A discreet notice by the first overhang welcomes visitors, and asks that we respect the site.

Suitably impressed, we trudged up to the top of the hill. There we rested for morning tea, with a nice view of the Brindabellas, before picking our way down a steep gravelly slope to the foot of the path up to Gibraltar Rocks.

At the beginning of the path a sign informs us that
Gibraltar Rocks is revered by Ngunnawal people as a sacred men's site – a place of teaching for the initiated and a site of cultural lore  . . .  Campfires would have been lit at Gibraltar Rocks to send a message to people entering Ngunnawal Country that the senior men were in residence and the teaching or lore was taking place.

 In 2012 a new track to Gibraltar Peak was opened. It includes these nice granite steps that lead you all the way up.

Brindabellas from the path up Gibraltar Peak
 There appears to have been some burning-off done in patches here and there. We encountered several burnt areas

This is the spot for a view

and this is the view.

Off there in the distance we could just make out the Tidbinbilla Tracking Station

There are still these rocks towering above us, waiting to be explored.

A narrow passage between them

– and this is what we just walked under!

the view from the other side is well worth it.
 Rocks explored and views admired, we descended by the new walking track. First we encountered this neat viewing platform.

A very nice, well-built track zig-zags downhill between boulders and rocky outcrops.

charred logs make a stark contrast with the light-coloured granite gravel

After a lunch-stop at the Mt Eliza saddle, where there is a nice circular picnic table, we had a short downhill walk into cleared land and back to our cars.

Another very pleasant walk - great scenery, easy (if slightly steep) walking, fine cool weather and congenial company. What more could a girl want?

10 October 2016

A week in the ACT - Orroral Valley Heritage Walk

Earlier this year a group of bushwalkers from Canberra visited Hobart and joined members of the Hobart Walking Club for various strolls among our mountains and forests. They are returning the favour, hosting a group of Hobart Walking Club members in Canberra. Today was my first outing, and it was a splendid treat – we were escorted by Matthew Higgins, a historian who writes and lectures about the history and ecology of the high country.

Eleven of us turned up, despite the unpromising weather forecast. So unpromising, in fact, that Matthew had abandoned the planned walk and substituted a shorter, not so distant, one in hope of finishing before the weather broke. We headed for Namadgi National Park.

Here we are setting out on the Orroral Valley Heritage Walk, extending about six kilometres from an 1880s homestead to the site of a satellite tracking station, disbanded in the 1980s.

There are plenty of information panels set up at points of interest along the walk.

We were intrigued by the mobs of grey kangaroo, many with joeys in the pouch, grazing where farmers once ran cattle.  

First stop was the Orroral Homestead, dating from the 1880s when it was built by the McKeahnie family. This vertical slab homestead is Namadgi's oldest building. The "weather" end of the house, has been given a coat of cement render.

The chimney is all that remains today of the original kitchen, a separate building.

Further down the valley we came to the site of the Orroral Tracking Station, once one of the largest tracking stations outside of the USA and the largest in the southern hemisphere. This tracking station was one of three – the others being Tidbinbilla, covering deep space, and Honeysuckle Creek ("The Dish") which covered manned missions including Gemini and the Apollo moon landing. 

Orroral Valley covered near space – weather, communications and so on. As technology advanced and scientific interests changed, Honeysuckle Creek and Orroral Valley were decommissioned. Only Tidbinbilla is left now.

The Orroral Valley telescope went to Tasmania. You can see it, still operating, at Mt Pleasant, near Richmond. This is where it used to stand.

The weather, although gloomy and threatening, still held up so we continued our walk along the valley, visiting other remnants of the tracking station and some spectacular granite boulders before Matthew decided it was time to turn back.  

We regained Orroral homestead just as the wind gusts strengthened and it began to rain. Lack of furniture didn't worry us – it was time for lunch. Then we came back to Canberra, via the Namadgi Visitors Centre.

It might not have been the intended walk, but it was an extremely interesting trip, made even better by Matthew's commentary. And we managed not to get very wet at all. An auspicious and promising start to the week!

13 July 2016

A Family Disaster - or, The Tale of a Tree

The Old Road - original oil painting by Elizabeth Barsham
28 cm x 35.5cm; oil on canvas. 2010
So we had that super storm last night, strong winds and snow and everything and a family disaster. Another stalwart, so familiar that I and my mother before me assumed it would endure forever, is gone. On a global scale this is a very minor event, but for our family it is the end of an era. 

Here is a photograph taken from our front gate in the early 1920s. I liked it so much, I based the painting above  on it.

My mother took this one, from inside the gate, in 1942.
She was actually photographing the gates, which were about to be replaced.
It appears to be the fate of trees to appear only as background, as an incidental inclusion in a photograph of something else.

In 2010 we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the construction of our house and I took some more photographs, trying without great success to get similar vantage points to the earlier pictures. The surroundings have changed somewhat, but the trees are still there.

Here they are by moonlight last year.

The logs in the foreground are a feral pine tree we cut down some years ago. I keep them there because I like the shape.

And another one from last year; once more, The Tree is incidental background for a picture of something else - the decaying pine.

Which brings us to today. Our bastion of strength reduced to firewood. The bush around me is strewn with ancient trees rotted and fallen, slowly decaying back into the ground. But this one – and its mate – were special. Goodbye, old friend.

27 April 2016

Dogs Head Revisited

We had a delightful sail to various points of the lake. The air up in these regions seems even purer and more elastic than in other parts of the island, the verdure brighter, the foliage richer; and as we float here at our ease, we are willing to believe that no lake on earth is more beauteous than Sorell.
John Mitchel

This well-equipped boy scout troop belongs to more than a hundred eager lads from all over Australia who detrained at various points between Tunbridge and Ross and hiked in to camp near Dogs Head for a weekend of energetic activity in 1927.

In 1933-34 a similar event was organised, this time on the Dogs Head itself. A camp site was established and a stone circle with a flagpole in the middle was constructed to mark the corroboree ground.

Here is the map they followed in 1933.


One does not simply walk in to Dogs Head these days


After much persistent detective work and many emails our walk co-ordinator managed to track down the current owner to get permission to enter the property. The manager arranged to drive over from Waddamana, unlock the gate, and warn the shooters of our presence. We turn up to meet him at Interlaken on a sunny Sunday morning.

Walks co-ordinator talks to the property manager

the rest of us prepare to walk
The area on this side of Lake Sorell could hardly be described as pristine. Sheep and cattle have grazed here since the early nineteenth century, generations of wood-cutters have harvested fenceposts and firewood. The bush is criss-crossed by a maze of old tracks used by shepherds, woodcutters, fishermen and shooters.

There are two very serious new roads into the property, but as Bushwalkers we scorn the well-marked route and strike off into the scrub following a compass bearing.

The first thing we find is an old log-loading ramp, a good place for morning tea.

A visitor to the area a couple of years ago has given the co-ordinator a map with various interesting features marked on it, and the intention is to visit each in turn, making a relatively short, easy walk into an entertaining treasure-hunt. Item number one is a volcanic plug. None of us has been here before; nobody knows what to look for.

 First Achievement unlocked

Is it this rocky knoll?

Or this rocky outcrop that seems to describe a rough circle?
We finally settle on a stony protruberance at the highest spot on this part of the map.

I can see Lake Sorell from up here!

THAT isn't on our map
  Having achieved our first objective, we plunge into the bush again.

 We follow an old snigging track, bash our way through a lot of totally unnecessary shrubbery and scramble over some rocks just because they're there. 

At last, feeling we've proved our point, we relent and return to the road, which leads us straight to our next objective – the remains of Thomas Meagher's house.

The Irish Exiles

The "Dog's Head" . . . is a fine promontory running about a mile out into the lake, and fringed all round with noble trees. In a snug cove at the northern side of the "Dog's Head" is a stone house inhabited by the shepherd in charge of a large flock belonging to a Mr. Clarke.
We pass the Dog's Head promontory, and enter a rough winding path cut among the trees, which brings us to a quiet bay, or deep curve of the lake, at the head of which, facing one of the most glorious scenes of fairy-land, with the clear waters rippling at its feet, and a dense forest around and behind it, stands our friend's quiet cottage. On the veranda we are welcomed by the Lady of this sylvan hermitage, and spend a pleasant hour, till dinner-time, sauntering on the lake shore.

It was 1851, and John Mitchel, on the way home from Ross to Bothwell, was visiting fellow-exile Thomas Meagher and his wife Catherine. This is the view he was describing; we stand in front of Mr Meagher's living room fireplace on the shore of Lake Sorell, with the Dogs Head in the middle distance.

Mitchel and Meagher were two of six Irish Exiles transported to Van Diemens Land for their part in the 1848 rebellion against British rule. As political prisoners they were regarded, and regarded themselves, as superior to the rest of the convicts.

Having given their word they would not attempt to escape, the Irishmen were allowed to live as free men, provided only that they remained in their specified district and reported to the police each week. Intelligent, educated men, they quickly made friends among the settlers and to all intents and purposes settled in to colonial society. Meagher bought the land at Lake Sorell, built a house and married a local woman, Catherine Bennett. He planted oats and potatoes, kept livestock and had a couple of men working for him. Mitchel's wife and family came from Ireland to join him at Bothwell.

remains of chimney - Thomas Francis Meagher's house
Although the Irishmen were not supposed to have any contact with each other, four of them, John Mitchel, John Martin (both of whom lived at Bothwell), Kevin O'Doherty and Thomas Meagher were, according to Mitchel  in the habit of meeting almost every week at those lakes [Meagher's house], which is against rule to be sure, but the authorities connive at it – thinking probably that no great or immediate harm can accrue to the British empire thereby.

On the surface they appeared to have accepted their fate, and, indeed, both Meagher and Mitchel greatly admired the Tasmanian landscape and climate and, grudgingly, some of its people. However, their political aspirations and their determination to return home remained unabated and one way or another each of them “formally withdrew his parole” and escaped over the next few years. Meagher's house fell into ruin and all trace of the oats and potatoes he had planted vanished. His son Henry, born a few weeks after his escape, died in infancy and is buried in the Roman Catholic cemetery at Richmond. Catherine sailed for Ireland in 1853 where she died a year or two later at the age of twenty two. Meagher himself drowned in the Missouri in 1867.

Having lunched in Mr Meagher's dining room and ticked off item two on our list, we follow the shoreline to a pretty beach along the side of the Dogs Head.

Evil Fish

 Mitchel remarked that below Meagher's house a little wooden jetty runs out some yards into the lake; and at anchor, near the end of the jetty, lies the "Speranza", a new boat built at Hobart-town, and hauled up here, through Bothwell, a distance of seventy-five miles, by six bullocks. 

The friends enjoyed several pleasant excursions on the lake, the beauties of which Mitchel described in extravagant terms. The scouts enjoyed it, too, although they probably didn't write about it quite so eloquently.

We, alas, had no boat. In fact, Lake Sorell is currently closed to boating and fishing as the Inland Fisheries Service works to eliminate European Carp, first identified here in 1995. Carp can only spawn in the warmer shallows around the edges of the lake, and nets to exclude them from these areas are proving effective. Various measures have been taken to eradicate the fish from Lake Crescent, and it is hoped they are all gone from Lake Sorell. Until this is confirmed, however, the lake remains closed.

Natural Wonders

Our next objective is the Ice Folds. None of us knows what they are, either, but according to the map they are on the other side of Dogs Head.

The top of Dogs Head is a boring, barren, rock-strewn paddock with a few trees around the edges. On the far side, however, it proves anything but boring. The rock looks as if it has been split away from the side of the promontory; or like the ruined defensive walls and trenches of a vast and ancient fortification. For me, this amazing formation is the highlight of the walk. Tick number three.

Our next objective is an eagle's nest. I can't resist photographing this gothic arrangement as we retrace our steps along the promontory
After stopping to inspect every stand of trees somebody suddenly spots the nest – up there!

Mission Accomplished

The afternoon is drawing on and it is decided to forego a visit to the site of the shepherd's hut, mentioned by Mr Mitchel and marked on our map. But the Corroboree Ground is a must.

In fact, it's not far past the eagle's nest. There is a small cairn where the flagpole once stood; the cement is crumbling from between the rocks, but the date, “1933” is still legible on the top. Around it is a large circle of stones set neatly in the ground.

 Having congratulated ourselves we set off happily to hike back to the gate. No messing around this time – straight down the road. The manager and his wife are waiting for us along the way. We chat for a few minutes then it's back to the cars and home. We have completed our quest!

ref: quotations are from Mitchel. John. Jail Journal, Or, Five Years in British Prisons. New York. 1854