Photographs by Harry Whaite 1912 - 2011

 

 

r

Contents

Contacts


 

SECRETS OF THE SHOALHAVEN.

Vale of Hidden Wonders.

BY R. ELSE MITCHELL.

(The Warrigal Club of N.S.W.)

Away in the heights of the eastern plateau a few miles from. Bredbo, mountain springs and swamps form the headwaters of the Shoalhaven River, that giant of mountain streams which meets the sea near Nowra well over a hundred miles away. Foremost amongst our mountain rivers, the Shoalhaven drains a vast watershed comprising some of the finest scenic country in the State, and from its source to the still waters of its estuary the stream traverses a variety of country. It passes from upland swamps to open pastures and sunlit plains, through which its waters meander gracefully, and at length, after passing by the town of Braidwood, it plunges into a gorge below Oallen Ford, at which point the Nerriga-Bungonia road crosses its course. Henceforth its waters, pure and swift, are supplemented by the Mongarlowe, the Corang and the Endrick, streams of never-failing flow taking their rise in the coastal divide which bounds the eastern watershed.

Sweeping down the gorge, the Shoalhaven makes the little Horseshoe below the heights of Touga, and then passing around the big Horseshoe it tears headlong through the churned-up strata in which it has cut a canyon of awesome proportions. Half a dozen miles downstream the river meets the core of the hard ordovician rock which flanks the valley sides, and through which it has carved a narrow channel. At this point, known locally as the Block-up, Nature has run riot ; the valley sides, rising sheer from the water like the buttresses of Gibraltar, grey and gaunt, leave little harbour even for plant life, and the river, fiord-like, glides motionless between these iron gates which are closed to all but the canoeist. Beyond this point the valley opens out a little and receives the waters of Bungonia Creek, where limestone cliffs, towering far above, form sheer walls to the valley. Here the river, thwarted in its northerly pursuit, turns almost at right angles to flow seawards, still collecting the waters of its tributaries, the Bundanoon and Tallowal Creeks and the Kangaroo River.

EARLY HISTORY.

This gorge, stupendous in its grandeur and terrible in its wildeness, has resisted the thrust of civilization for over a century, and is virtually still an unknown quantity. When discovered in March, 1818, by a party under Surveyor Meehan and Charles Throsby, it was described as impassable, and, although numerous attempts were made to cross, it between Tallong and Nerrimunga Creek, they all had to be abandoned. As the years progressed, settlement spread to the very brink of the gorge near Tallong, Bungonia, and Inverary Park, but only the most venturesome settlers penetrated the recesses of the valley, and then only as necessity demanded, in search of straying stock. From time to time since these early days the valley has been explored and surveyed at great hazard by geologists and others, including the great W. B. Clarke and officers of the geological survey staff who confirmed the existence of gold in the district.

In the late 'fifties, after the gold rush, many miners made their way into the rugged confines of the valley seeking- traces of the precious metal, and prospecting was carried on there intermittently for the rest of the century. The puny efforts of the miners, however, have never availed against the river's will, and many a miner has escaped from the valley with nothing but his life, while to others such a fate would have been a stroke of good fortune. For suddenly and without warning the river rises in flood, and camps, plant, machinery, and worldly belongings, caught in the deluge, are swept away for ever. The banks bear witness to the ferocity of these floods by the piles of driftwood, the extensive silt flats, the boulder-strewn stream bed, and the wrecked plant which can be seen at places along the river. The old timers tell of anvils, blacksmith's gear and other ironwork being swept away and located miles downstream lodged in the tree tops, while at one place an old steam engine, rusted and battered, has been cast unceremoniously on the bank far above normal river level. No doubt the river holds gold—probably in unlimited quantities—but it guards it with a jealous care from the miner who seeks to desecrate its virgin precincts.

Apart from sporadic attempts at prospecting during the depression, the Shoalhaven has seen little activity since the late years of last century, and nowadays it is deserted—as barren, awesome and unspoiled in its gorge as it was a century ago. Only an occasional trace of civilization can be seen—a few old huts in ruins, with scraps of old gear, tools and ironwork scattered around. There is no track

—indeed there is barely a negotiable route—along the boulder-strewn banks, but a few sheep, no doubt seeking and scenting water in the dry spells, have ventured into the gorge, where their only food ' is scraggy shrubs, a few blades of lank grass, and the young river oaks "which have grown up since the last flood.

SCENIC ATTRACTIONS.

Yet, despite its inhospitable nature, the river presents an irresistible attraction to the walker and canoeist, particularly those who seek new fields and to whom the obstacles of Nature are a relish. It can best be approached from the Southern line, Tallong and Marulan being the most convenient points to commence a trip. Several good tracks lead to the river down the many ridges which link it with the uplands, many of them having been cut and used by the miners in past years. On my first visit to the valley, many years ago, I chose one of these from Marulan down the Barber's Creek ridge and up to Tallong—a short trip, but an excellent one to reveal some of the wonders of the valley, and to introduce the newcomer to the Shoalhaven atmosphere. Those of us who revel in the valleys of the Cox's, Wollondilly and Kowmung Rivers must not expect to find open grassy flats, shady casuarinas and picturesque

-wild apples. Instead the ground is barren, hard even to distraction, and the soil gives life to but a few sparse shrubs ; the casuarina fuberosa, a different variety from the Blue Mountain river oak, grows plentifully, but there are few large specimens, most of them having been uprooted and destroyed in the 1926 flood. Moreover, walking is laborious at times—jagged rocks and upturned strata tire all patience when the only relief is to be found on beds of gleaming white sand in which the feet sink to the ankles.

The way out of the valley on this trip was to Tallong over Badgery's Crossing and Lookout, probably the best known of the Shoalhaven tracks, and an excellent route by which to commence a jaunt into this country. If desired, excursions can be made from the Crossing both up and down the river, and, above all, a trip up the southern valley slope to the head of Tallowal Gully will repay the walker who wishes to see the Kanangra of the south. From Tallowal a round trip can be made over Touga Trig, where expansive views extend over broken country to a distant horizon, down to the Horseshoe and back to Bungonia.

No trip to this part of the river is complete without paying a visit to the Block-up, of which mention has already been made. On a recent trip we determined to trace the river downstream from the Big Horseshoe with this object. After two or three hours of difficult walking down the river, we rounded a sharp bend, and I beheld for the first time the magnificent steeps which make the Block-up. In the grey light of the late afternoon the beetling rocky slopes and sullen waters of the river made an ensemble which held us spellbound, and so as to relieve the mental stress with which the scene impressed us we camped up a side creek whence this giant accident of Nature could not be seen. On the following day, relieved somewhat of the reaction we had experienced the previous evening, we explored the Block-up more closely and saw it in all its glory, the early sun pouring through the rents in the eastern cliff and contrasting with the sombre grey of the shaded buttresses. For over 1500 feet these solid walls rise on each side, and between them the river for half a mile is murky and silent, startlingly reminiscent of the old adage that "still waters run deep." Our excursion completed, we gazed in wonder at this scene of wild grandeur for the last time before making the ascent up a nearby ridge on our homeward journey. The sun rose higher nearing its zenith, and ere long the dust haze and summer heat brought us out of our reverie to the realities of life. We trudged silently along the track to the old Bungonia Road en route for home with a memory, though a vivid one, of Nature's greatest masterpiece in the Shoalhaven Valley.