Tumut at the end of April! Brr. Just thinking about it made me want to get another jumper. Poor N.S.W. found Easter falling at this time when it was their turn to arrange the annual Easter Tri-State Gathering. But one should not let pre-conceptions cloud ones actions. And so it proved.
Sure, it got cold at night, but the days were lovely – calm and fine and the Tumut Showgrounds proved a more than adequate venue. Victoria’s numbers were down, 13 vehicles compared with (from memory) 19 from South Australia and 24 from the host state.
I had just taken delivery of a new camper trailer the Friday before, so it was with some apprehension we set off for Tumut. Could we put it up without breaking anything? Would we be warm enough? What would we leave behind?
As I said, pre-conceptions should not … We decided to take our time to get to Tumut, hence we left on the Wednesday and stayed overnight in Wangaratta.
Being a well known wimp from way back, we stayed in a cabin that night, with the camper parked out the front! I don’t know what our neighbours thought, but what the heck.
From Wangaratta, we took the scenic route around Lake Hume, through Corryong, Tumbarumba and on to Tumut. Twelve months ago, I believe Lake Hume was down to something like 8% full. I was astounded then, to drive past and find that I doubt whether one more drop could be put in it. There was certainly no tell tale brown line between the water level and the grass. My mind was left to ponder how much water it took to fill the dam, given its area and depth. My brain hurts when I think about it.
Corryong is a pleasant country town, dining out on the Man From Snowy River legend. Nevertheless, a great lunch spot. Walking around town, we came upon a plaque dedicated to some local who swam the length of the Murray River from nearby to Lake Alexandrina in South Australia. Not a bad effort, given I’m flat walking to the front to get the paper!
Beyond Corryong, the road starts to climb and some of the gradients are a bit steep. The Pathie knew it was pulling something. Just past the little town of Tooma is a lookout and a memorial to the lives lost in the crash of the Southern Cloud. This was an episode of Australian aviation history I was only vaguely aware of. It is a most interesting story and worth a separate article.
The next town of substance is Tumbarumba and Jill was most interested to visit the Pioneer Womens Museum, which is some 8kms out of Tumbarumba on the road to Wagga Wagga. So, being a caring, obedient husband, we did a leftie off the main road and headed out for the museum, which we found with no difficulty. The day was Wednesday and the museum is not open on … Wednesdays! Oh Well. So back to Tumbarumba and continue our journey to Tumut through the apple town of Batlow.
The entrance gates to the Tumut Showgrounds welcomed us, as did the N.S.W. organisers. Complete with “show bag” and directions, we pulled up at our allotted site. “Ten minutes”, the camper trailer salesman said when asked how long it takes to put the outfit up. Ninety minutes later we were settled in our camp chairs, under our annex, enjoying a freshly brewed coffee. Next time we’ll be quicker… won’t we?
At five o’clock the word was passed around that Happy Hour would get away unless we all gathered around. So we did.
It was great to catch up with the interstate faces we’d met at Tolmie, as well as the faces we’d met at our monthly meetings. The inevitable raffle was conducted and the trip sheets for the next day displayed. That night, our new camper got tested for “waterproofness”, as we had some extended periods of rain. It came through with flying colours, although in the morning, we found that one of the annex poles was a little higher than it should have been and a large pool had formed in the annex roof. Warning. Don’t stand outside your annex when you empty this pool. The water does not care that you have just put on some dry, warm clothes. Oops. Still, that’s the fun of camping … isn’t it?
There were several trips on offer today (Good Friday), most to different parts of the surrounding ranges. The one that interested Jill and I though, was a guided tour of Gundagai and its history. Gundagai is one of those towns you bypass without a second thought. Most people would only associate it with The Dog Sitting on the Tuckerbox. Our guide was Marie, who grew up locally and her family are well recorded in Gundagai’s annals. She certainly knew her stuff.
The original settlement of Gundagai was built on the river flats of the Murrumbidgee River, despite the warnings of the local aborigines of big floods. What would they know said the Europeans. Sure enough, in June 1852 came the flood of which the locals natives had warned. Except for a flour mill, the entire town was swept away with 83 lives lost, including one of Marie’s antecedents. A lesson learned, the town was rebuilt further up the hill and flourished due firstly to gold, then to the wool boom of the 1920s.
Floods though, are still part of Gundagai’s psyche Talking to one of the locals, I heard of the latest flood in February, which came up to the steps of his front porch. “Just part of life here,” he said, as he told me of a friend of his who had cut 180 bales of hay a week before the inundation. “All but 14 were swept away and you can see the remains of some of them over there,” as he pointed out some scraps of blue plastic hanging from the lower branches of some trees.
Marie took us out onto the river flats to show us a plaque highlighting the centre of the original township and the layout of the streets. From here, we could also get an appreciation of the work which went into two surviving trestle bridges – one for the railway and the other for the road. The road bridge has been closed due to its condition, but one can still walk across the other. We left the river flats and climbed to a lookout on top of a hill overlooking Gundagai and the surrounding countryside. The Murrumbidgee and its flats could be easily identified snaking through its broad valley.
Also prominent were the aforementioned trestle bridges and the new concrete bridge which allows the Hume Highway to bypass Gundagai. Returning to ground level, we parked behind the Visitor Centre and Marie arranged for us to see the Marble Masterpiece. I must be honest, I had never heard of this, but, having now seen it, I would recommend it if you are in the area. The Marble Masterpiece is the work of a local stone mason, Frank Rusconi and took 28 painstaking years to complete. It is an imaginary Baroque Italian palace, comprised of nearly 21 thousand intricately carved pieces of local marble. It is 1.2 metres high Each piece was meticulously chosen for its colour and veining so that it complemented the whole. Twenty different varieties of N.S.W. marble were used by Rusconi. So particular was he that it is said he discarded more than 9,000 pieces as not of the required standard. Within the same room is a scale model of an altar the man had made for St. Marie’s cathedral outside Paris. Again the same patient, painstaking workmanship was evident. You leave the room with admiration for the spirit and devotion of skilled tradesmen like Rusconi and their work. Marie then left us to explore the town on our own and have lunch.
Armed with a map of a walking tour we obtained from the Visitor Centre, we wandered through the streets of Gundagai. Although there were a number of pre 1900 buildings such as the school, town hall and churches, the overall impression of the town was Art Deco. Marie said this would have come about from the prosperity brought to the town by the booming wool industry in the 1920s. We gathered again at 2.00pm to continue our tour. The next part I was particularly interested in.
Those of you who were on my first Bacchus Marsh trip might remember me talking about Andrew Scott, one of the earliest preachers at the Presbyterian Church there, who went on to become the bushranger, Captain Moonlite. After his escapades in Victoria, including a spell in Pentridge prison, Scott migrated to the Gundagai district and found himself in serious trouble. In true Kelly style, in 1879 Scott and his cronies took hostages on a farm and following a shootout with police, was captured, tried and subsequently hanged. He requested that he be buried with his friends who had died in the shootout and his request was granted. Marie took us to the cemetery and his grave, which, surprisingly, is well maintained and in a prime position high up the hill.
The icon of Gundagai of course, is the Dog on the Tuckerbox sculpture, so a visit to the area could not miss it. And we didn’t. At first we could not enter the reserve due to the queue of cars stretching back out on to the highway. What on earth! Marie then took us past the entrance and further on to a later road which brought us back in from the other way. From this aspect we could see the cause of the queue – petrol! Marie informed us that there is no petrol in Gundagai and that this is the only outlet in the area. Hence the number of customers. Fuel was not on our agenda and, luckily, nor was food because that wasn’t available here. But we did see and photograph “the dog”. From the information boards, it appears the dog in the original story may not have SAT on the tuckerbox but done something sounding close to that!
We returned to Tumut via the back roads that follow the Tumut River valley. A scenic drive made interesting by coming across a pony club gathering with young riders and their horses around each corner. A very satisfying trip and we all thanked Marie for providing such an interesting tour.
Another Happy Hour, another raffle, a cold night and then it was Saturday. Looking through the trips on offer, I noticed one to Paddy’s River Falls which went through Tumbarumba. The return leg was a forest drive. Some members who had done the trip the day before said the forest drive was … well a forest drive. So Jill and I joined the trip and told the trip leader we would leave the trip after the falls and try again to visit the Pioneer Womens Museum at Tumbarumba We lined up for the trip in the morning, signed ourselves in and waited for the pre-trip meeting. A familiar face appeared wearing a N.S.W. official’s vest and told us he would be the navigator for the trip. Our erstwhile Past President, John Dudley, had “defected” and was going to ride with the trip leader and show us the way. Apparently Nancy and the trip leader’s wife wanted to go shopping, so John stepped in to become “wife” for a day and thereby got the navigator’s gig.
We set off on a lovely sunny morning and soon found ourselves on a scenic road running along a ridge with views on either side. Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves among the extensive apple orchards of the Batlow district. The climate and soil obviously are ideal for apples around here, for the orchards stretched away on both sides of the road. Our “trusty” navigator soon had us at a camping ground for morning tea and a toilet break. We did not stay long as the camp was very popular and parking was at a premium. The trip notes said “time has passed Tumbarumba by and so will we.”
So we drove through Tumbarumba and continued on to the falls. Although we could not see them, as we parked the vehicles we could hear the falls loud and clear. A short walk took us to a lookout over the falls. There is something about waterfalls that I find mesmerising and so it was here. Our trip leader told us that when they first pre-tripped this site, there was only a trickle going over the drop. The volume of water going over on this day backed up the volume of sound we’d heard emanating from the falls. A grand sight. There was a steep path down to the base of the falls and, if one was game and had good grip on their shoes, you could go behind the falls into a shallow cave and look out through the water. Although a few of our group ventured down the path, no-one tried to get behind.
From the falls, Paddy’s River continues on down through a scenic forested gorge and apparently there is a good walk along the river through this area. Lunch however, was more important to our troup. After lunch, we returned to Tumbarumba while the rest went off for their drive through the Bago Forest.
The museum Jill was seeking was open and, while I caught up with the newspapers sitting in the sun, she perused the exhibits. After an hour, she came out enthused and after our return to camp, recommended it to anybody who would listen.
From there we returned via our outward bound tracks to the junction with the Tumut road. It never ceases to amaze me how a track can look so different when you traverse it in the reverse way. And so it was with this road. As we travelled along this road, we could hear the rest of our convoy on the UHF as they traversed the forest. Obviously, they weren’t too far away from us. At the intersection, instead of turning right to Tumut, we turned left to Adelong, an old gold mining town and cruised into a little town which has seen better days. The museum though, was interesting and highlighted its gold mining history. But also of interest was photos and some amateur film of a flood which hit the town late last year. Bridges and streets many, many metres above the piddling little creek were inundated. Just mind boggling to think how we cannot control Mother Nature.
The volunteers at the museum gave us a screed on the mine about a kilometre out of town and recommended we visit the site. So we did and, from a lofty lookout, were able to see over the site and what remains of the buildings and the equipment. The recent flood had washed away some of the ruins. The very good information boards filled in the gaps of our knowledge. We caught up with some of our original convoy here. They had completed the journey through the forest and come out to look at the old mine. They took the walk down to the creek bed, but we decided to go back to camp.
Happy Hour that night had two surprises. Firstly, a local winery had a wine tasting on offer and most partook. The wines were pretty good and good sales were made. At the end of Happy Hour and the seemingly interminable raffle, the organisers had arranged for a local identity and author to give a little talk. Harry Hill, an octogenarian who had lived in the area all his life and been a bushwalker for most of that, kept us enthralled with his tales. He proved to be a real raconteur with his tales and humour. His knowledge of local events and incidents was unsurpassed. He was the sort of fellow you could ask a question of and he would entertain you for the next ten minutes. The hour, or so, he spoke went far too quickly and the supply of some of the books he had written went very quickly.
It was back to camp for a bite to eat before returning for the evening’s entertainment. NSW had booked a band as I understand it and they rang at the last minute to say they had been doubly booked. A quick phone call and an experienced fellow with his daughter filled in at the last minute. He did a good job, had a well trained voice and spent most of the night fielding requests. I thought he would have done better to sing his own songs, but that is a minor criticism. All in all, a very satisfying day.
Next morning, I went out to the Pathie to find the Easter Bunny had found us with a couple of Easter eggs on the wipers. They were gratefully accepted and consumed. A couple of short morning trips were listed so that everybody could be back in time for the afternoon games on the oval. Jill and I decided that, as we had never been to Yarrangobilly Caves and no trips were listed to go there, we would take the opportunity, while we were in the area, to visit same. The caves are a little under one hour’s drive from Tumut and the road skirts the Blowering Dam. The N.S.W. people told me that, like Lake Hume, this dam had dropped to around 10% capacity. Not now. It looked pretty full to me and was a great sight as we drove on. This drive had some steep, winding climbs and according to the GPS, at times we were over 1400 metres above sea level.
The caves, as you would expect for Easter, were very popular. You have to book cave tours and we were concerned whether there would be any spots left for the cave we wished to see. But, as luck would have it, we scored the last two spots. The cave we signed up for is the largest in the group, but is only open for certain days at Christmas and Easter. The reason given is that the lighting is old and not up to contemporary standards. It is about to undergo a complete lighting upgrade. I love caves and this one was no exception. The tour was about an hour and a quarter long and took us through many chambers and tunnels. Again, one can only wonder about Mother Nature’s ability to outdo anything homo sapiens can come up with. The stalactites (they come down from the roof), the stalagmites (they rise from the floor), shawls, straws and other intricate creations from the limestone impregnated water seeping into the cave, are a marvel to be appreciated. Soon enough, the tour was over and we found a quiet picnic spot to have lunch.
Despite the crowds around the lower reserve, we only had a bird orchestra for company. The drive in the Reserve is one way only and on the way out passes a number of lookouts, each of which was worth pausing at. Soon it was time to return to camp and get ready for the traditional Sunday evening dinner.
The dress up theme for the dinner was the letter “A” and the creativity and imagination of the participants was amazing. All sorts of “A”s walked through the door. The one that caught my eye was a lady with a basket of model planes and she came as an “aircraft carrier”. I liked that. Because of our lack of numbers, Victoria had not scored well in the various categories for the perpetual trophy, or ‘block of wood’ as it was called. But we did take out the best dressed prize at the dinner. The Warburton trio, Les, Norma and Ray, came as Alice in Wonderland. Les was dressed as the White Rabbit, Norma as Alice and Ray was a convincing Mad Hatter. They looked truly amazing and were worthy winners. Not content with winning that prize, they were constantly going forward to collect raffle prizes. They had a great night.
The dinner was catered for by a local ladies auxiliary and they did a fine job providing a three course meal. Simon Smith from South Australia announced that the venue for next Easter’s Tri-State would be Whyalla. Huh! We all thought. But as Simon went through the things planned and in the pipeline, it sounds exciting. We’ll be there. The “Block of Wood” was once again won by South Australia, although there was some discussion as to whether they should have points deducted because the trophy was not brought to Tumut. It had been “mislaid” apparently.
Next day was Anzac Day and a number of early risers went off to the local Dawn Service. A little later, a small convoy headed into town for the march. It had been our intention to do the trip to Blue Water Holes, but that was cancelled and so we signed up for the Goobarragandra trip, which was going through a similar area. The first part of the trip covered the same roads as yesterday’s visit to the Yarrangobilly Caves. But where we turned right for the caves, this trip turned left on to Long Plains Road. Soon after turning, we aired down, then proceeded on to the Long Plain Hut for morning tea. This “hut” used to be the homestead of one of the earlier settlers and is a popular camping spot, particularly for horse riders. In fact, we were intrigued to read a notice reporting the “loss” of two horses, both saddled and equipped for riding. One suspects the “loss” may not have been accidental. The corner of the building had suffered severe damage and was fenced off. The repairs were being done by the Canberra Land Rover Club. We found out later that the damage was done by some drunken hoons, who had attached their winches to the corner and tried to tear the building down. It’s instances like this where you think abortion should be made retrospective!
After our rest, we continued along Long Plains Road and shortly thereafter, crossed a tiny rivulet with the sign “Murrumbidgee River” proudly standing above it. Hard to fathom that further downstream, this little waterway wiped out Gundagai so long ago. We then turned off to view the well preserved Coolamine Homestead and its outbuildings. This is the home of an early settler and the information boards scatter about the property tell the tale of the struggles to make a living in this alpine wilderness. As this road led to the Blue Waterholes, the trip leader asked if anyone wanted to go there. Naturally I put my hand up, but so too did most of the group. It was only a couple of kms further long the road. The waterholes get their distinctive blue colour from the natural copper which seeps into the creek. The colour was striking and a number of decent size fish could be seen in its waters.
This was another popular camping spot, but we found enough room to park the vehicles and have lunch. Following lunch, we headed back to Long Plains Road and continued our journey north. With the group’s consent, our trip leader said he would throw away the trip notes and take us on a bit of an adventure. And so we headed off into the scrub and the tracks became a little more adventurous. A few fallen trees that needed clearing, but nothing serious.
Soon we arrived at the crossing of the Emu Flat Creek. Now this did look serious. A small weir had been built across the creek and the river stones had piled up against this. The track here was only centimetres deep. But a metre or so, to the right of this was a deep hole. One of the South Australians, stripped down to his underpants and waded in to check its depth. His underpants got wet. Hmm! Now had I been on my own, I would have done a quick ten point turn and skedaddled out of there. However, our intrepid trip leader decided to give it a go and pushed on into the water. The creek level was at door sill level on the right hand side, but he motored through with no difficulty.
So one by one, we attacked the crossing. Then it was my turn. I don’t have a snorkel, but at least my air intake was on the left hand, or shallow side. So with heart in my mouth, I engaged Low 2 and pressed forward. Since buying my Pathie and getting involved in this four wheel drive lark, I continue to be confounded by the capabilities of these machines. The crossing was completed without missing a heartbeat and upon checking on the other side, not one drop of water had penetrated my door seals. I was glad I did it, because it just gives me that little bit more confidence for future occasions. One by one we made the crossing and were able to continue our adventures through the forest tracks. Soon enough, we reached the blacktop and found a little area where we could reinflate the tyres.
The road back to Tumut proved to be very scenic as we descended from the mountains and could look down the Tumut River valley and to the Alps beyond. At Happy Hour that night, we were informed that Harry Hill had agreed to come back after dinner and give us an illustrated talk of his bushwalking exploits over the years. Needless to say, there were no empty seats that night, although by now a number of campers had packed and returned home. Next day was our turn to pack and head back to Melbourne. We said our good byes and to our interstate friends, promised to meet them at Whyalla next year.
Quite a few of the Victorians were staying on for a day or two, or heading off for an extended holiday to other localities. But we had to go.
The highlights of the Gathering? Too many to mention, but without doubt the thing that thrilled me most was to see Rocky Tompkins there and making the most of it, despite his difficulties. And similarly, my disappointment was learning that Craig and Sue Findlay could not join us due to his hospitalisation. Hang in there you guys. Our thoughts are always with you.
The N.S.W. organising committee did a fantastic job and deserve our heartfelt congratulations. Given that last January they were seriously thinking of calling it off, they really came through with flying colours. Well done to all involved.
Now we look forward to Whyalla next year. Knowing the South Aussies, I reckon they will up with the goods too.