Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

The Journey begins...

Train Journey

On the train from Newtown to Katoomba, I attracted a significant amount of attention from other passengers. My costume, as yet unsoiled with the dirt of the trails, looked a lot like a school uniform. I felt like a girl on her first day at a new school. Proud, excited, nervous.

I pored over my maps and the bushwalkers’ songbooks (courtesy of the Sydney University Bushwalking Club) for most of the journey. I suppose I was a little nervous. We had all invested a lot of ourselves to make this journey happen. It was hard to believe it was actually time to depart.

I proud to be entrusted with the responsibility of leading the walk with Alex. I kept turning words over in my mind: how I would describe my feelings about the trip later on. “I am so honoured to be here. I am honoured to one of those holding a communities hopes for the future of conservation and bushwalking.” The word honour was a bell in my ears all the way up the Mountains.

I arrived at the fancy new Katoomba Cultural Centre about an hour before it would open. I decided to spend some time in Coles purchasing snacks to eat along the Six-Foot-Track through the day.

Afterwards, coming into the courtyard where the opening ceremony would take place, it was such a good feeling. The sun was so hot that I felt like I’d get a sunburn before the walk even began. Everyone was running around in a purposeful way that told me that there must have been a way to get into the Cultural Centre before it opened.

Tony's shoe skills

Tony repaired my shoes using some great cobbling tricks he learned from his mother. Put sunscreen on the needle and in the needle holes in the fabric to lubricate them! He saw me struggling to pull the needle through the thick rubber toe of my trail runners and sprang into action. When he told me I would need to procure pliers, I was sceptical. I thought it highly unlikely that I would be able to procure some in a hurry. I was lucky that Alex’s father, Mick, had a selection of tools in his vehicle. He provided us with three types of pliers. Here, Tony is using the needle nosed pliers to pull the lubricated needle through the layers of thick material in my shoes. The process gathered a bit of a crowd. It is a rare and beautiful thing to see a person doing something hands on like cobbling with such careful expertise. Tony encouraged all who watched him to watch their mothers closely in order to learn such useful techniques as he was demonstrating.

Speeches, boots and the happy jacket

The opening ceremony itself was very successful, I think. All of the speeches were inspiring and encouraging. I was particularly touched by Dexter Dunphy’s poem. It was inspired by Myles’ boots. For me, the investment of emotion, memories, and personal identity in a pair of boots visibilised an important aspect of the walk. We were using clothing and gear in the style of the early 20th Century walkers in order to more fully recreate their experiences. Being so intimately involved in the design and improvement process of their gear must have given early walkers a strong connection those objects. One might feel loyalty and companionship with one’s gear and clothing for bushwalking. Protecting and keeping the tools and clothing in good repair might become a matter of sentimental loyalty, even. Do we still experience this?

Alex and I, I suppose, spent a lot of time getting our gear and costumes together. Dexter’s poem reminded me of that. For the rest of the trip, I was very aware of my clothing and gear, of the very smallest details, I think. It felt like I had gained greater body awareness. Every centimetre of cloth and each buckle was an extension of me, a bulky extra skin. Rather than tearing through the bush and using the clothing as mere protection, I began to see it as an extension of myself, to be protected. Not the whole time, but frequently. That is new to me.

Further, about Dexter’s poem and speech, he taught me more about the way the emotions, experiences, and identities associated with a tool or piece of clothing can become disconnected from the wearer. An object can gain a life of its own, its own identity, presence, and trajectory. This revelation comes from the shoe poem, but also from an anecdote Dexter told. He said there was a particular jacket Myles would wear when he was going out in the bush. Someone, possibly Dexter himself, commented one day that it would be good if Myles would wear the jacket in question more often because he was always in a good mood when he wore it. The good mood jacket. Like a superstitious talisman, the jacket became the bringer of good humour. The mere sight of it must have cheered the household up, given their expressed hope that the coat should be worn more often. I imagined garment hanging on a hook with the sun shining on it, showing a fine dust in the wool, dust from the trail, the good mood that had settled in the cloth like a tangible odour.

On the trail

The walk to the Old Ford Reserve was a good beginning for the long journey ahead. Nelly’s Glen, the descent from Elphinstone Plateaux into the valley, was absolutely spectacular. Cameron Allchin demonstrated his bushwalking guide skills along the way. He pointed out special trees, caves, bird calls, and slippery spots to Jarrah and Megan Turton and me. When we took a rest, he even gave us some information about the different ants to be found along the Six Foot Track. His joy at being out in the bush was contagious. He often asked and mused aloud what is was like for Myles and Bert along this track. There was some speculation at the rest spot as to the original route of the Six Foot Track. Is it possible that the contemporary route of the track deviates from the route that opened in 1888?

The discussions to be had on a bushwalk are nothing if not productive and genuine. There is no need for social pretense in the bush. It is the great leveller. Some of the greatest cooperative social systems occur in the bush. People can become very open, introspective, and sometimes spiritual when they are in the bush.

We arrived at the Old Ford Reserve to a celebratory barbeque presided over by the highly capable Jim Percy. There were sausages, fish, onions, rolls, sauces, juice, hot water, cold water...Exactly what you want to come across after a day walking in the sun.

Aunty Sharon facilitated a smoking ceremony for us. It was the first one I had ever participated in. A smoking ceremony is a ceremony around a fire. It should be performed when crossing between territories of different peoples, different vegetation types, different dominant species. Each person around the fire has a turn to throw green gum leaves on it and then wash their skin all over with the smoke. Wyn bathed himself in smoke as if he had been doing it for his whole life. He was visibly reverent. His movements were all very clean. He seemed to have an order of places to cleanse in his body. Legs, groin, head, arms, back, core. I don’t remember the order…

Alex and I set up our orange japara tent for the first time together as it was getting dark. It took some figuring out to get the process to work between us, but we eventually had the structure erect. I think that was the only night on the trip where we had two trees to attach the main ridge guy rope to. Our narrow minded approach to erecting the structure using only the trees as main supports lead us to have our tent pitched on an awkward slope. I woke up late at night with my whole body except for my head and shoulders outside the tent.

We told stories and talked around the campfire until late. It was a great atmosphere. Many of us had not met one another previously, or did not know each other well before the evening at the campfire. There is something about sharing a campfire with someone that makes you close to them, though. I brought some watercolour pencils with me on the trip with the intention of drawing some landscapes like Bert and Myles would do. I took them out and shared them out among those gathered. I decorated an envelope with images inspired by the evening and wrote a poem on the back of it. I spoke with a girl from SUBW called Jia Wei about her walk experience. Everyone was peaceful and happy. There were marshmallows, chocolate of all types, biscuits, and other special snacks for sharing. There was wine, whiskey, and tea. Dave Noble makes a billy of tea with such flair. He tosses the tea leaves into the steaming billie like a magician, I think. It mesmerised me every time he did it throughout the trip. It’s such a beautiful simple action. It’s like a ritual.

To the Coxs and beyond

Along the Six Foot Track towards the Coxs River, there were some stops to admire the view from wherever it was possible. It felt like we were finally on the real adventure. Leaving farm country and heading into the unknown. We were still walking through undulating farm lands, but there were few people and no cars until we came to the road up from the Coxs River campground.

Megan and Jarrah (in the tree from left to right) lent the party a great sense of humour. They taught us about the joke particle. This quantum aspect of matter is often associated with the Higgs-Boson particle. It makes one under its influence highly susceptible to funny incidents such as burping loudly in solemn situations or accidentally falling over on one’s face. Dave Noble (standing on the very left) was ready with his camera to photograph whatever might come of this joke particle, which Megan suspected she might be affected by.

It was a beautiful day to be by the Coxs River. The sun shone on the smoothed river rock. It was tempting to swim, but we had to keep on moving ahead. Alex, Wyn, and I crossed the river just below the swinging bridge as we thought Myles and Bert would have done. That was our rationale, anyway. For my part, I love jumping rock to rock in creek, so I’ll take any excuse.

I think the river would have been a lot higher when Bert and Myles crossed it. Whereas we managed to cross it without getting wet feet by hopping rock to rock, Bert and Myles would have struggled in at least knee-deep water on rocks slippery with rain. Their swags would have changed their balance, too. While I was dealing with Bushwalking technology of some years later, Alex was using the Dungal swag system designed by Myles and Bert. Alex has excellent balance and fitness, so he didn’t struggle too much getting used to the swag, but there was still some learning time with it. For one thing, the gunny sack requires one hand to hold it. This removes one hand from action at all times. Two hands can be very useful for balancing on river crossings. One hand at least is for holding a walking stick to steady oneself in the current.

 

Soon after this we met a woman called Willie. She made us tea and showed us some artefacts attributed to some of the original aboriginal occupants of this land. Imagine the feeling of this land before colonisation. I would love to travel back in time to experience that! She said that the land where her lodgings were situated was special because it was bracketed by two bends in the river. The dawn sun rays hit the stones of the eastern bend first out of any place in the hollow, and the sunset colours die on the stones of the western bend. This is because of the ridges that surround the area, shading it. Apparently the Coxs River and the lands along the Six Foot Track were a trading route for aboriginal people into the 1960s and beyond.

It was auspicious to have tea with Willie. She offered us the kind of bush hospitality that Myles and Bert encountered so often during their journey in 1914. It is rare today to drop in for a tea on a walk. It would be nice if you could do that. Often we have to get permission to go on private land to access certain areas. It would be good if there were a tradition of friendly yarning over tea at these junctions between bushwalkers and private property owners.

Alex is actually standing on an ants’ nest in this photo. The Coxs is behind him in the brilliant sunlight.

Sierra's Journal - from the Coxs River to Black Range

Walk day: 
1