Photographs by Harry Whaite 1912 - 2011

 

 

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PROWLING ROUND THE WARRUMBUNGLES

EVELYN F. HIGINBOTTOM

On Friday, the 24th May, my sister Dorothy, Susie Nelson and I set off from Gilgandra in the car about 3 p.m. I found a great deal of amusement in all the "comforts" the girls wanted to take along, but definitely put my foot down at a mattress. With my little pyramid tent where would we have been with a huge mattress, as well as my sleeping bag and their two eiderdowns, two cushions and four big blankets? By the time we'd picked up Sue the back of the car looked like a Mandelberg delivery waggon. Sue had been obliged to get her mother to pack her stuff, and Mrs. Nelson had made sure we would not starve. Dorothy had catered very amply for us, and I'd told Sue to bring as her share bread, butter, chops and cake. She turned up with—

1 leg lamb, 2 Ibs. chops, 1 large tin jam, 6 apples, 6 oranges, 6 pears, 6 bananas, sugar, bread, 2 Ibs. fruit cake, 8 eggs, coffee and butter. Also a very large supply of fireworks in honour of Empire Day.

The 45-mile drive through Tooraweenah was rather hilarious, as both the girls were speed hogs of the worst kind.

Dusk was closing in as we reached Buchanan's homestead, nestling amongst the quaint spires and hills of the Warrumbungle Ranges. Young Digger Buchanan, aged twelve, rode his pony ahead for the next three miles to guide us to the spot he'd chosen for our camp, and a tortuous track it proved for the car. Major Buchanan, who had also come along on horseback, and his son, were rather surprised when my tent went up in a jiffy. They'd cut six tent poles at least

twelve feet long and four inches thick, having expected something like the usual rabbiter's big abode. It was a pleasant cleared spot near a spring, with trees and mountains surrounding, which the dying sun was now tingeing purple and pink. Though the grass looked rather dry, there were lots of lovely green Kurrajong trees, and most of the mountains were well tree-clad. Those that were not were peculiar mounds of green-looking basalt.

Dry wood abounded, and we soon had a hot meal ready, followed by a hot wash in my spare water bucket and a luxurious laze by our blazing fire. It was a glorious starlit night, but my tent proved plenty big enough for the three of us, in spite of the aforementioned bedding, plus a leather top coat and an old and voluminous tent fly.

We were up about 7 a.m. Our objective for the day was the Spire, a queer, conical peak which we had sighted from the homestead, its height being just under 3,000 feet, and we'd heard it had a trig, on top.

I was able to lend Dorothy khaki shorts, but Sue couldn't get into mine, so she set off in her scout shirt and pleated skirt. The latter soon proved too hot, and thinking we'd never see a soul all day I persuaded her to put it in my pack and walk in her powder-blue bloomers. We followed the creek bed which skirted round the base of the Bluff Mountain, and found both rough and good going. One patch of burnt stuff was very dirty, and we were all looking quite a sight when about 11 a.m. we came upon two men hacking down Kurrajong branches for the stock, as this is often done when rain has been scarce and the grass is not good. The younger of the men was just up from Sydney for a holiday and some experience, and they both seemed quite tickled to see us. We discovered that the rocky-looking mountain which we had been struggling to reach through the burnt patch, thinking it might be the Spire, was called Scabby Mountain. They gave us good directions as to the best way to tackle the Spire, which now could be seen some distance ahead, and also where to find water. They were anxious to provide horses for us for the next day to go further afield, but we were obliged to refuse this kind offer.

The sight of our objective now looming ahead lent wings to our feet. We were unable to find the hidden spring they'd told us of, but we did discover the windmill and tank where we had our lunch and I hid my pack in the dry creek bed. During lunch we were able to gaze up at the towering rocky top of the Spire.

Dot and Sue became very wobbly at the knees as soon as they started again, so by degrees we hung everything we could decently discard on tree stumps en route. By this I had on khaki shirt, very brief pair of milanese scanties and scout belt, from which dangled compass, two cameras and map. I believe my back view presented something like Tarzan of the Apes. The final rise was very hard going as there had been a landslide; dangerously loose dirt and rocks on a steep slope are not the best of climbing aids. The girls struggled bravely on with the help of staves which I could not induce them to discard for the less elegant but more reliable method of hands and knees. I urged them on with the promise of glorious views, but at last they fell and groaned that they were done for and could go no further. I was obliged to leave them to suck lollies and recover while I endeavoured to get further up. However, I also had to stop after a while on account of the sheerness of the rock cone. I felt I could have gone higher, but was afraid that in the descent I might fall many hundreds of feet and break my neck. However, I was above the tree line, and it was certainly a thrill to be way up above everyone else. My only disappointment was in not being able to reach the trig., but since the landslide no one has been right up.

It was a glorious day, clear and sunny, with banks of beautiful clouds, and I could see in every direction except due north, which was obscured by the rock Spire behind me. Away to the right were Split Rock and Needle Mountains, Scabby Mountain and many others, and a wonderful view of the plains stretching away towards Coona-barabran and the horizon. It reminded me very much of the extensive view from the top of Mount Mouin in the Megalong, only here the mountains were backed by rolling plain country.

I coo-eed to the girls below me and then followed a wild scramble down to them. They were quite happy and much revived, but the wind was getting very chilly, so on we went in our downward tumble. We were able to pick out a less difficult path by following an old water course instead of the landslide. On the loose patches I found the best way was to squat on my haunches and glissade down, much to the detriment of the skin on my thighs.

Back to the windmill again—after collecting our garments from various tree stumps. I thought that instead of returning as we'd come, it would be better to follow the old creek bed, as instructed by our axemen friends. We did this, and found it much easier going, as we were able to follow horse tracks most of the way. All we met on this homeward track were some friendly and inquisitive horses and some beautiful mountain lowries with their gorgeous coats of bright blue and red. We reached the homestead at dusk. Digger and the new Jackeroo were tickled pink when we asked them to our camp for tea. The girls found the three miles back to our camp about the last straw, but the lads kept up plenty of chatter and so diverted their thoughts from weary limbs to jokes and laughter. We had done sixteen miles that day together with climbing, which was not so bad for new chums.

Oh! what a meal we had that night—piles of chops, mashed spuds and a huge billy of fresh fruit salad and cream, toast and coffee! Then fire crackers. The boys were a bit timid of them at first, and sent the first huge rocket straight into our faces, causing a wild scatter.

We slept like tops that night, but Dot and Sue were too stiff to go further afield next morning, so I set off alone for Bluff Mountain, which loomed ahead of our camp.

The distance was much further than anticipated. There were many hills to traverse until I discovered that bv keeping low and following dry creek beds they led me to my objective. It took me from 10.10 a.m. until 12 noon to reach the mountain. On the way I had a great time whistling birds. There were lots of honey eaters, a very tiny little bird smaller than a robin with an orange-yellow breast, and many beautiful mountain lowries, as well as others I did not know. I also startled a small band of kangaroos, and I don't know who got the biggest fright. They went off like the wind.

At the Bluff I struck another landslide, though a different type and much older. On the Spire there had been loose earth and small rocks; here there were piles of giant boulders, mostly squarish lumps bigger than myself. I clambered in haste as I'd promised to return by 1 p.m. to meet the big picnic crowd—Dad, and a lot of Sue's relatives and Buchanan's.

I found it rather thrilling going up, but felt a bit uneasy about going on my Pat, especially when I got up higher to the more parts. I scrambled on in great haste until I came to the choice between a rock face and a very new little landfall. They both looked risky, so I decided to rest content with the glorious view I already had. I appeared to be only a couple of hundred feet from the top, and I would have liked to have had' the whole afternoon to spare. I heard later that a Dr. Docker and his daughter had been on top; also a party of Blue Mountain walkers called "The Cragsmen," including a Dr. Hart and a Mr. White.

I secured a few snaps of the gorgeous view and could see clearly the haze of our camp fire across the hills.

I descended in my usual sliding fashion—tumbling, rolling, sliding and falling, losing my lovely apple and chocolate, the only fodder I'd brought, and just as I was about to enjoy it. My compass proved invaluable in getting back speedily, and I was just in time for the arrival of the three car loads of Sue's jolly relatives with food, laughter and brightness.

An hilarious drive back to Gilgandra ended the happy week-end and I now look forward to the time when I can spend, not a mere few days, but weeks and weeks .exploring the fascinating Warrumbungle Ranges, which are so utterly different from anything near Sydney.