Photographs by Harry Whaite 1912 - 2011

 

 

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Riding By Gungarlin.

By Ede Gilmore (C.M.W.).

from The Bushwalkers Annual 1942

After reluctantly- descending from a breath-taking trip with the C.M.Ws. among the green and flowering uplands of the Main Range between Kiandra and Kosciusko to the driest conditions in living memory on the Monaro, I was looking forward to staying with friends near Berridale and talking over the trip with them. For amongst them were men who had carted the timber by bullock team to build the Kosciusko Hotel, who had built Foreman's, Pound's Creek and many other huts; who made their own snow skis; who knew all the hidden secrets of the wary dingo, and how to trap him; and women who could make their own bread, butter, cheese and clothing, grow and preserve their own fruits and vegetables, cure their own meat, interpret the cries and behaviour of animals and birds, and (far from least) prophesy the weather. This latter is most important in such a severe climate, as stock must be brought down from good grazing on the higher snow leases in the summer before they are snow-bound.

When I expressed disappointment at not having seen the Alpine Hut, one of my friends said that she and her brother were droving sheep up to the mountains on the morrow, and, if I would like to come, they would ride up to the Hut next day. Would I like ? I leave it to you !

So, with borrowed horse, boots, jodhpurs, and most gorgeous sombrero, I set out early from Rocky Plain on the Monaro, through many diverse and pleasant paths, to the Alpine Hut under the shadow of the Big Brassy Mountain on the Main Range.

Slowly we left the bare, dusty plains and rose amongst the wooded hills, with ever-widening vistas of mountain range and river valley. Splashing through the crystal waters of the Eucumbene, we climbed steeply up Nimmo Hill. Here two of the weaker stragglers were picked up and carried in front of my friends' saddles, but I turned a deaf ear to any further bleats of complaint, as I have found that a sheep seldom sits down without putting two or more hind feet in your eye, and I would have had to say (like the new chum whose horse put his foot in the stirrup), "If you're getting on, I'm getting off !"

We travelled over ever-steeper mountains (part of the way on the Alpine Hut road) until about mid-morning we arrived at the mountain property. This commanded a glorious view of The Big Bogong dominating the Main Range, the varying shades of light on the Big and Little Brassy Ranges, and beneath us the Snowy Plains, comprising the lovely, grassy valley of the Gungarlin with its blue ribbon of sparkling river winding through.

We rode down and along the sunny valley, crossing and re-crossing the clear, pebbled stream, to our headquarters hut. This was very commodious and so well stocked that it necessitated our carrying very little except fresh food in our saddle-bags or small haversacks. It was ideally situated on the side of a grassy, wooded knoll, with a big swimming pool just below on a bend of the Gungarlin, and rocky gorges, rapids, and quiet, grass-lined trout pools close by.

After a wonderful lunch we had an exciting gallop rounding up fresh saddle-horses, which, with flying hooves and flowing tails, protested at losing their freedom. I proved no "Man from Snowy River" when it came to careering headlong down those hills !

We packed salt out to the sheep and cattle, returning in time for a swim and to take the gun and fishing rods to the river. No, I did not catch my ear—much—and I did get three nibbles, which I am sure must be a record for a first attempt at fly-fishing. And the trout ? Well, they must have had the best laugh in years ! However, I did shoot a rabbit—but the details cannot yet be revealed, as they might prove of advantage to the enemy !

We lingered so long, drawn by the peace and beauty of the river, that when finally we carried our game back over the hill it was almost too dark to see the silhouettes of the visitors, who were sitting on the top rail of the fence. I enjoyed my tea all the more for the flow of rich, humorous tales of droving and the bush, of the difficulties of trying to persuade cows (which are determined to drown themselves) against joining the suicide club, especially during times of restricted water supplies.

Next morning it was hard to tear myself away from swimming, fishing and shooting; this time our ack-ack was directed against the fish-hawk, a large cormorant which swoops down, denuding the river of trout, more especially when the water is so low. However, finally we set off, well mounted, for the Alpine Hut, travelling south along the valley, then south-west up Broken Dray Creek through Boundary Flat to Teddy's Creek, which we followed up to the Gap in the Little Brassy Mountains. We now had to walk our horses most of the time, as the path was narrow, stony and steep, with overhanging boughs of snow gums or muzzlewood. From the Brassy Gap we had a wonderful view of the Snowy Plains behind us, while in front rose the Bull's Peaks and Big Brassy Mountains of the Main Range, with the spur of The Porcupines running down this side of the Tin Hut, and, below, the waters of the Burrungubuggee winding down to join the Gungarlin and Snowy below the Hotel Kosciusko. We descended to Kidman's Hut, with its huge billy (which is almost as big!) whose tea revives Alpine-bound skiers in winter. Climbing steeply up a narrow, rocky track, encroached on by stunted snow gums and frequented by large black snakes, we followed up McDonnell's Creek, whose bed was torn by old gold diggings. Then we turned south along the foot of the Main Range, climbed over some ridges which would make wonderful ski slopes, and arrived at the Alpine Hut, near the head of a creek with the perfumed name of Dead Horse !

The hut has a huge kitchen range and two dormitories which would accommodate about sixteen, an emergency sledge, and a few skis for atmosphere. Immediately behind the hut the slopes of the Big Brassy take you quickly on to the Main Range, with its wealth of snowfields in winter

and profusion of snow daisies and other flowers in summer. We were entertained during lunch by numerous wall sketches and writings of ski-ing antics, then returned by the same route, except that we followed Teddy's Creek down to the Gungarlin— the tourist route past the ancient Snowy Plains House with its interesting relics of the old days—a huge fireplace with chimney seats to accommodate about eight built into it at the sides, all sizes of iron camp ovens and three-legged pots to stand or hang over the open fire. Most of the mud has gone from the cracks of its low, thick slab walls—but two good rooms provided sufficient shelter for that ubiquitous Australian animal which penetrates so far and wide throughout the land that its habitat might be styled "Anywhere in Australasia," namely, the Bushwalker Austaliensis—as was proved by the two well-stocked rucksacks and sleeping bags which were found in occupation.

About a mile further on we passed the footbridge on the Gungarlin, where skiers leave motor transport for packhorses as far as the Brassy Gap, whence the skier himself becomes the packhorse for the last four miles !

We galloped home along the grassy valley, only drawing rein at the numerous river crossings or for a talk at the other occupied huts. A quick swim (in the sunset-tinted dusk) as antidote for any possible lack of appetite (!), a mighty tea (cooked by the man of the party), a starlit visit to the river, and then a roll into the blankets, without being able to fit in a return call to the camp of our previous night's visitors— the social round is too hectic in the mountains!

Yes, I think we did muster and attend to the sheep, but my thoughts still lingered on the river and the mountains as' we rode back by a shortcut down to Grundle—a hill so steep the horses were almost perpendicular.

We gave chase to a fox, turned over a hedgehog, and disturbed flocks of crows almost as thick as the impressive black clouds which rose in a storm over the mountains behind us before we crossed the Nimmo Plains. Then we dived into the cool waters of the Eucumbene for a final fling before slipping off the saddles and cowboy rigs and returning to the familiar domestic life.

I definitely recommend packing a horse in your walking kit ! Especially if he is Monaro or mountain bred, and I could also guarantee the satisfaction of a trip to these haunts in v/inter, when they would be covered with the unearthly beauty of a dazzling mantle of snow. But any day would be good enough for me to go, with A. B. Paterson—

"Down, by Kosciusko, where the pineclad ridges raise

Their torn and rugged battlements on high,

Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze At midnight in the cold and frosty sky."