Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

The Kowmung River

From our campsite at the Unirover trailhead, trekked back to Lost Rock, across the swampy creek next to our lunch spot from the previous day, through the open woodland, and along a the back of a ridge towards a steep descent. It’s amazing to see the variety of vegetation as you descend towards the river. The trees and shrubs can change completely within a hundred metres! The scents of the different blossoms slur together in a dizzying way with the lazy stirring of the breezes. The ridge top had some of the best views of the trip. I am continually awed by Mount Colong standing there alone with its band of orange exposed rock across the base.  We took a break about a third of the way down the ridge where there was a bit of shade. Tea is a blessing on a hot day. So are electrolyte drinks and Nutela. After lunch when we had almost reached the river we came across a bower bird’s meticulously decorated bower. They look like sacred places, I always think, like shrines. Bowerbirds have some undesirable character traits, but they sure know how to make a masterpiece of their courting stage. Each object looks precious and exact in its placement. It was surprising to discover which objects bowerbirds out in the bush use to decorate their bowers instead of clothes pegs, elastic bands, bottle caps and biros—sculls, snail shells, eastern crimson rosella tail and wing feathers, yellow flowers, orchid blossoms, and other white bones and bleached sticks.

Our arrival at the Kowmung was spectacular. All down the ridge, the air was thick with the heat, but as you approach the water, the scent of the water and the different trees thread up to you in a tantalising premonition. It’s nearly imperceptible so you start thinking dreaming about the creek’s proximity before you realise that the smells are changing. Only after that do you see the brighter greens of the riverside vegetation communities. This river is uncannily beautiful. You can’t help, but love it.

Since this experience, I feel much closer to the history of people moving through this land. I can almost say the land is part of me, too now. Aunty Sharon, who saw us off with a smoking ceremony on the first day, told us to think about what they might have felt about the land back in the times of prevailing indigenous migrations here, in pre-colonial times. We were to ask ourselves how they might have lived this country -- I say ‘lived’ rather than ‘lived in’ because the land and people lived as one in those days, more than we do now. We must ask: What would they have eaten? How would they have travelled? How would they have observed and experienced the land? I was truly engaging in these questions that day coming down the hot ridge and experiencing the scents shift around me and the foliage change colours. If there is anything at all that must be returned to the next generation, I think it is that sense of being a part of the land. How can we bring that back? How can we help people rediscover this?

We were all so taken with the Kowmung River this last day we had to walk along it that we chose to camp there again, instead of up Lannigan’s Creek. It was a truly exquisite day to be alive.

Wyn spoke of the reviving capacity of the river. On a hot exposed ridge, trudging towards your arrival on the river deeps, you think up all sorts of things you will do with the river water. When you get to the water, however, you never need the dramatic ceremonies you planned. You will take a gulp of the river, wade about, but you will not throw yourself in the depths and wallow for hours. The need ceases as soon as it is possible to meet it.

Wyn took huge gulps of his river as he walked along. He would scoop water into his hands and then let the glittering liquid drip all over his face, arms and shirt. So joyful!

For the last section from Yerranderie to Picton Alex carried my pack and I carried his swag. A fine trade off, though it seems Alex missed his swag quite a lot. He had my water bladder in the pack, so for the last couple of days, when I needed a drink, I had to dock onto his pack while we were walking! He said he felt like a refuelling station, at first. Like for boats, or something. He got used to it.

Carrying the swag was very different from walking with a pack, but definitely something I could get used to. By the time we arrived at Wooglemai, Milo was hinting that he might take a swag on future bushwalks. It’s not bad to have weight on the front and back. It sort of balances you.

The good thing about walking the road in the catchment exclusion zone is that we had plenty of thinking time. We got to tell each other lots of stories and ask lots of philosophical questions of each other. I think the “road bash”, as it is called in bushwalkers’ jargon, helped us to get to know each other a lot better. We came up with some great ideas, too. I look forward to enacting some of them in the coming year or two.

A Meandering Account of Wooglemai to Picton on Foot

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