Photographs by Harry Whaite 1912 - 2011

 

 

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Swimming The Kowmung

BY Clare Kinsella (The Sydney Bush Walkers)

From The Bushwalker 1939

 

When I was asked in December, 1938, to join a party to spend Christmas and New Year on the Kowmung, I accepted with alacrity. The summer was exceptionally hot, I was tired of the city, and I visualised lazy days of loafing on grassy banks, reading, sleeping and chatting, interspersed with frequent swims. But I had reckoned without my hosts, "the Tigers." I might have known that they would not be content to lie in gentle amity with the lamb. Their plan was to follow the Kowmung from its source to its junction with the Cox, and I was blissfully unaware that this had not before been "done" at river level by women.

My first shock was the food. My pack was filled to bursting point, but I reflected that, after all, one does expect to eat a little more during the festive season, and cheerfully shouldered my burden.

Fifteen of us set out from Katoomba early on 24th December and drove out past Ginkin. Christmas Day was spent on the Kowmung eating, resting and exploring Hollander's Gorge and Chardon Canyon, and at 6.45 a.m. on Boxing Day the trip proper began. The morning's walk took us through easy though uninteresting country, but later the river broadened and we lunched at Tuglow Hole Creek by a fine pool where we swam and sun-baked. After lunch, we picked our way over rocks and through scrub and came to the first canyon, where we either had to swim or go over the top

Transport Difficulties

We each had a small surf float to take our pack, but after much puffing and blowing we found that the packs would not balance on them. We then tried making a raft from odd pieces of driftwood, but that too was unsuccessful, so we tied our packs in ground sheets, placed them carefully in the water, and away they went bobbing along with the current, while we swam behind them. Two other great granite-bound pools were negotiated in this way during the afternoon, and at length we came to Morong Falls, where the party divided—some had to return to town. The nine who were left camped on a narrow patch well above the river, amid clumps of the delightful Xerotes or sago plant, whose sharp, sword-like leaf made even more uncomfortable our sloping gravel bed.

We set off very early next morning, hopping, clambering, and hoisting ourselves from boulder to great boulder—giants' toys tossed carelessly into the bed of the river. For a time I felt that I would have given anything to have gone back with the others; I even thought with pleasure of Pitt Street at mid-day and the jostling Christmas crowds. But this mood did not last long, and was banished forever when I managed to negotiate a nasty piece of slippery granite beside a waterfall. "The Tigers" ran down, as much at home as the waterfall itself, but I was so glad to have accomplished it, my spirits soared and did not drop again.

All that day was rock hopping, tying one's pack, pushing it and swimming; untying it, feeling glad it had not tipped and wet the contents —rock hopping again, more swims, and more and more. The heat was appalling. The sun was hot, the air was hot, the rocks were hot, and we were hotter than any of them. The banks of the river were most inhospitable, with boulders, clumps of sago plant, and the spiked blackthorn. At lunch time we were hard pushed to find a place to sit (we certainly could not lie down), so as soon as we had eaten, we sank back into the water and floated there like rhinoceroses replete after a gorge.

Camped by a Waterfall

During the afternoon the wind grew hotter, the sun was a menacing ball burning in a grey smoke haze, and the river began to run in. a narrow torrent through a gorge of pink granite rocks, serrated and broken. On and on we went, with the hot wind blowing into our faces. At last we stopped at the only possible camp spot—a few odd patches of flat ground above a great pool spilling over into a waterfall. We ate dinner perched on. this eyrie, then straight to bed with the tumult of the river singing us to sleep. But mosquitoes, sandflies, an'd the beat made sound sleep impossible. A thunderstorm broke during the night, but there was little rain.

Next morning, refreshed in body, and with spirits as hilarious as ever, we crossed a granite causeway and clambered along to a small tree, where the packs were lowered. We followed, clambering down the tree to the water, whereupon we wrapped packs and swam a 125-yards pool. Again we had to lower packs and clamber down by degrees or bits. Then more rock hopping or boulder bounding. .Sometimes we used one or other of the men as ladders, and climbed up or down over them.. Next a fly climb along sloping granite sides, then packs again and another swim. This continued all day, scrub pushing, rock hopping, and those saving swims. That afternoon we came on our first traces of cattle, and gave a loud cheer, for where the cows could go, so could we. Shortly after, we came into comparatively easy country, and left behind the-great granite gorges, so difficult to negotiate, but whose magnificence and grandeur had given us a compensating feeling of exultation.

After a long afternoon, we camped at a most delightful spot where the river bent in a wide sweep around a tiny island crowded with dwarf casuarinas—a place of peace and beauty, and we slept soundly without the noise of rushing water in our ears.

Another Long Swim

A soft rain was falling next morning as we followed a cattle pad along the green banks—for the first time unaccompanied by flies. About 11 o'clock we came to the formidable part of the journey—a long canyon which the previous party had decided not to attempt. The rocks ran like flying buttresses into the water, and one couldn't see. what was ahead. We decided to find out. We lowered packs, then jumped after them—there was no possibility of clambering down. The water was warm and pleasant and we found plenty of resting places. Except that the swim was comparatively long, the canyon was quite easy to accomplish. Unfortunately many of the packs were wet from being in the water so long. On coming to a grassy bank, fires were lit to dry the gear whilst we ate a stupendous' meal.

The character of the river was now changed—no more gorges and rushing waters, granite boulders and towering cliffs, but a peaceful stream running between banks lined with casuarinas; now bubbling over small pebbles, now was spilling into quiet pools. The next great excitement was ice-cream at Church Creek, thoughtfully provided by the men of the party who went into Yerranderie.

More people joined us here to finish the trip, and we had a hilarious New Year's Eve on a teaspoon of wine each.

We followed the Kowmung down to the Cox, low and sluggish in the fierce mid-summer's heat; turned up Cedar Creek, which was perfectly dry for a long way up; a long hot pull over the Ruined Castle, and on to Katoomba and home.

We had accomplished what we had set out to do, but for a long time I was not quite certain whether I had "done" the Kowmung or the Kowmung had "done for me."