Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

A Meandering Account of Wooglemai to Picton on Foot

It took us much longer to leave today. Mooching along was exactly what we seemed to be doing. Kalang, Milo, Alex, and I all slept in and around the gum leaf. I woke up relatively early, made a cup of tea and went to Barrallier’s Lookout in front of the beautiful little chapel that Bob Anderson designed. I spent about an hour and a half there writing reflections about the walk and drawing the scenery. A female lyrebird and numerous small finches came to see what I was doing. I watched as the mountain haze cleared and the pristine forested slopes were doused in the sun of a dauntingly hot day.

Breakfast was waiting when I returned. The boys were there, too, enjoying a good dose of bacon and eggs. Then came more interviews with Gary Caganoff. The morning of reflection and quiet time made me very philosophically inclined towards existentialism for the interview. I have many strong views about the philosophy of bushwalking and the educational capacity of the outdoors. That became the focus of the interview.

Finally, photos and goodbyes were over and we were walking out Wooglemai’s gate and into the farm next door. We proceeded to pass by a miniature orchard and veggie garden, a large dam, a sheep fold, and a pen with about a dozen alpacas lying with their necks erect and alert, staring intently the four of us walkers. We lingered a moment to take in the strange sight. They look like living couches with throws on them. I would love to sit on one. We couldn’t stay and socialise, though, since we were trying to catch up with Wyn Jones, who had left about 20 minutes before us.

We arrived at the road. That was the last of the grassy trail walking we would do on our journey. Thank you to Phil, president of the local Rotary Club for allowing us pass through his beautiful property. There would be much more to thank Phil for later on, though.

It was a very, very hot day! Walking along the road makes it even hotter. The tar seems to amplify the heat. I suppose it doesn’t absorb as much heat as the soil and plants do. Kalang had a banana, which he shared with us after about ten kilometres. We sat together in a shady ditch and ate quarters of the fruit, feeling contented and contemplating ways of making banana peels biodegrade faster in a roadside environment.

The Wollondilly Shire is exquisite, but we were missing the waters of the Kowmung and the scrubby ridges rising around it—the solitary beauty of the bush. Out of nostalgic denial of our situation, we chose to call the ditch we walked along a creek. Traffic noise was quite shocking after so many days

of the sounds of the bush. The violence of cars and passing trucks as they sped close by us made me flinch for the first hour at least. The return from unadulterated nature can be difficult.

I found a die and a piece of metal that looked like a telescope by the side of the road. Alex found a car aerial that he took along for a few kilometres as an amusing walking stick and gesture enhancer. It made everything he said seem comical, but more somehow authoritative as well. There is so much to be found on the roadside. It’s like the tideline on a beach. Things just wash up.

We were suffering and trudging in the heat, trying to imagine what Myles and Bert would have been feeling along this last stretch of the journey. We had passed many signs that seemed to direct us to Picton just around the next bend. Sadly, we had no maps for this section of the journey, so we had few prospects of assessing the truth of the signs’ optimistic claims. Perhaps we also misinterpreted some of the signs in our hopes that the hot trudging road might soon meet the shady streets of our destination. I was placing a lot of hope on the shadiness of those streets, I realise.

Just as we had crossed particularly anti-pedestrian bridge (sidling room only), Sue Morrison’s van cruised up towards us! She honked the horn and then continued on past only to turn around and come to a stop on the shoulder just ahead of us. She had brought us oranges, a fruit I have become very fond of on this trip. I could eat a barrel of them on a hot day. Sue hopped out of that van of hers (which I am also quite fond of. It is quite a homey vehicle) and brought us, not a barrel, but a very large plastic container full of sliced up oranges. That shade of orange is just to die for! The way they glisten in the heat! They look so precious with those little jewel sacks of juice. I really was amazed by the sight of those oranges. Unexpected refreshment. We proceeded to get enjoyably sticky with the juices. We were all smiling widely again.

Sue told us that the route to the train station was a bit more finicky than we had been led t believe. She proposed an alternate route that would be much simpler. Good news: only one kilometre to Picton. Bad news: another one and a half from Picton’s main street to the train station, our destination. Oh well. Hopefully, it will be shady!

We had regained the spring in our steps for that last kilometre. I still cringed a little at the passing cars and kept expecting them to stop and chat as they had for the past two days next to Lake Burragorang. I realise that our new circumstances were different, but the anonymity of life on the paved circuit of today’s residential beehive is “a bit of a worry”, as Milo would say.

We arrived at Picton’s main street and again met Sue, who congratulated us profusely for having arrived. What a woman she is, that Sue. Her solid motherly presence kept us going for the whole journey, I think. That’s probably cheating, now that I think of it. Myles and Bert’s adventure would

have been significantly different had Sue been around to encourage and support them. I’m joking about the cheating, but Sue really did have a big impact on our trip.

We reached the turn off to the station after another kilometre and a half of not very shady streets — I suppose no one ever promised us shade in Picton. It was an illusion to keep our feet moving in the right direction. Wyn Jones and Sue were there again. Wyn led the way for the last fifty metres or so. I was very relieved to see him, partially because having him ahead of me, much taller and with a broad chest, might begin to satisfy my flagging Canadian-girl dreams of shade.

Outside the station was a fantastic surprise! A FANTASTIC surprise!!!!! There was a car from 1927 there! Nearly from the right period, even. It was all shined up and dark blue, and the seats were soft brown velours. It was a dazzling spectacle, especially with the beating sun of the afternoon. Along with that swell getaway vehicle, the mayor of the Wollondilly Shire and Phil, the president of the Rotary Club were there to meet us. The mayor was even wearing a suit, which was a huge sign of respect to us in such hot weather.

My flagrant Canadian susceptibility to the heat a talking point. I was so, so red. I would have used my hat to fan myself, but that would have caused the redness to remain in a more permanent sunburn type of way, so I had to cope with the radiating heat of blood all coming to the surface and trying to cool me down. I was practically boiling with the effort! How embarrassing!

After speaking to the mayor about the beauty of his Shire, having numerous photos taken with the mayor and Phil, the Rotarian, it was finally time to set off in that amazing car. Oh my god! I got to sit in the front and enjoy the natural air conditioning (the windscreen opens up to let wind swoosh right through the car!). We were all pretty excited and very attentive to Phil’s explanations of the car’s various features, and maintenance quirks. On our tour around Picton, we stopped at the Picton Botanic Gardens. The local Pictonians were celebrating Courageous Cory, a car they had all chipped in for to honour the life of a boy who had passed away recently. What a generous bunch they are in Picton!

Phil showed us the engine and explained some more of his car’s mechanical joys before dropping us off at the local pub. His farm, the one we walked through when we left Wooglemai, is going to be an educational experience farm for local students coming to Wooglemai Environmental Education Centre. Phil’s enthusiasm about education in his community was inspiring to all of us. It left me feeling very optimistic about the Wollondilly Shire youth’s educational prospects.

When Phil left, I felt like the last thread had been cut. We had finished the walk. I still couldn’t get used to it. I had the rhythm in my body still. This is a common occurrence after long walks or runs.

You might know the feeling. The rhythm just keeps on churning through your body for a while after you stop or slow down your pace. If that can happen after a half hour run, imagine what it’s like after eleven nine hour days of bushwalking. The rhythm has a pretty strong hold on you. It makes you curious about how songlines came about in aboriginal cultures.

We had to say goodbye to each other at some stage, but we delayed it for as long as we could. We had an eclectic lunch from a fast food place on the main street and spoke about the future of our experience on the Dunphy Walk. Which artefacts will we archive? What will we tell people about it? How strange is it that it’s over?

And then it was. All over. In a lazy blur of hugs and uncertain see-you-soons, we were off along a smooth highway powered by gently purring car engines. Such luxury! Thank you for everything, Wyn, Sue, Keith, Gary, Alex, Kalang, Dave, Milo, Tallai, Genelle, Mick, Cameron, Jacq, Bob, Fiona, Pam, Tara, and all the rest of you who made this wild journey so wildly successful!

Walk day: