In the Victoria High Country with Ron Moon and Glenn Marshall
(Click on Thumbnail photos to enlarge them)
I have known Ron and Viv Moon, Travel Writers and Guidebook Publishers, since the late 1980’s and our paths have crossed regularly over the years as we talked about trips to do and places to go. Ron and Viv have however outstripped us by miles with their adventures and I say “Good on ‘em”, as they keep on travelling Australia and the World.
Our first trip together was in 2014 when I joined them with their friends Neil and Chris on a back roads journey through the North Flinders Ranges. Then later in the year Ron and Neil joined me and others on a trip out to search for O’Grady’s Well on the edge of the Tanami Desert and close to the Northern Territory/Western Australia Border, known a Lalalya in Aboriginal dialect of the Nyirippi clan.
About 20 years ago or so I said to Ron that one day he must show me around the High Country which was essentially his Backyard. The best time for us all was January but over the years there was always something in the way.Last year I got crook and this stirred Ron into making time in his busy schedule to take me out there (He is still working hard being a younger fella than me, as I retired a while ago). Glenn Marshall, a mate and Travel Writer, came along to lend a hand to stop me from falling over, as I have some medical issues. Glenn also had some research to do on various articles that he had in the pipeline.
I left home in South Australia on the Friday afternoon, stayed in a motel in Mildura and then drove most of Saturday to reach Glenn’s home. The distance for the was around 500km for the day which is a fair wack of driving for a 75yo. I fell asleep in front of the television that evening as I was pretty worn out after enduring the bumpy sealed roads across the farming lands of the plains country of Victoria and it ended up being an early night for me. Glenn and his family very kindly put me up for the night. The following morning, we arranged for a day excursion permit via the Tollway using modern techniques of paying for the travel via the internet.
We set off via the Westgate Bridge and South Eastern Freeway route to Bairnsdale and beyond.
As if on cue, we all arrived at the Top Pub in Omeo within minutes of one another and got acquainted with everyone’s news over a few beers and a feed. Ron, who has tramped these hills for many years seems to know everyone or everyone seems to know him. He had been involved in a Cattlemen’s Association event that weekend and was close by when we arrived.
We enjoyed a Free Camp for the night on the lawns behind the pub as we were self-sufficient in our camping set-up. Low cloud hung about weakening the feeble rays of the winter sun even more. The next morning the clouds were still there and it followed us around for two more days before thinning out and letting sunshine through.
My first impressions of driving through the forests was the tremendous damage that the bush fires of the summer of 2003 had on the plant-life. The recovery of the flora is only now coming back after 15 years of regrowth. Victorian Alpine bushfires, started with 87 lightning strikes, in the north east of Victoria on 8 January 2003. Eight of these fires were unable to be contained and joined together to form the largest fire in Victoria since the 1939 “Black Friday” bushfires. The intense heat culminated at the top of the ridges and killed hundreds of thousands of trees. Their stark, burnt-out shells stick, out, above the regrowth tree tops, and can be seen from every vantage point that gives a vista of them in the High Country. It is mooted that the next big bush fire will be more intense as the trees have dried out sufficiently to catch fire straight away and burn fiercely.
The High Country lies mostly within the Alpine National Park but generally it stretches from Canberra to Healesville along the Great Dividing Range The majority of tracks are named and I was amazed at how many tracks there are. At first, they would have served squatters with sheep and cattle, then miners with horses and leaving numerous horse pads for access. Then foresters and woodcutters came and built narrow tracks to ferry the felled logs out, and eventually national parks workers, tourists, and bush walkers and horse riders and campers for whom the tracks were widened. All of these practices all still being followed. Squatters were already moving south and north into the Alpine region by 1820. Very detailed maps of the area are available and Ron very kindly gave me one which I pored over every day when I got a chance. Eyesight not being what it used to be I must have annoyed Ron with all the questions as I struggled to relate the map to the physical areas around me.
The Australian Alpine region was the traditional home of two Aboriginal groups. The Walgal people lived in the northern part near what is now Kosciuszko National Park, while the Ngarigo people lived in the region around what is known as the Victorian High Country. For both tribes the summer months was a journey for them and others through the valleys and hills of the alpine region where they feasted on Bogong Moths. In Spring the moths migrate south and reside in mountains, in rock crevasses where they gregariously go into a state of hibernation until their return north towards breeding grounds again in the autumn. Once, their annual migration united families from different Aboriginal nations, who came together to roast the insects on hot rocks in the Brindabellas and the Snowy Mountains.
According to a park ranger who has eaten them, they’re a bit nutty in flavour or a bit like charred pork fat. It’s really high in fat and protein, so it’s really a superfood. Early settlers observed the natives going on their feast and reported them coming back with radiant skins.
On our week-long journey through, up, over and down the gradients we made for a Mountain Hut at the end of each day. The huts are free to use on a first come first serve basis. The are usually serviced by National Parks workers or Forestry workers topping up the wood supply for camp fires or hut fires. The users are supposed to leave it clean when they do leave. Hopefully everyone who stays in the huts make use of the brooms that are provided.
Ron took us on some easy tracks first and gradually inched towards very steep and narrow ones so as to get me used to them. I named this tale Don’t Look Down ! as some of the tracks are very narrow and with sheer edges into the forests below. I kept my eyes on the track ahead but did sneak a peek down sometimes. The slopes are very steep but there is enough flora along the way in the case of slipping off the edge you should be reasonably safe and get stopped by a tree. Well that is the theory ! We visited McMillans Lookout, Nunniong Plains and stayed at Moscow Villa Hut just shy of Bently Plains. The plains country emerges out of the heavily wooded forests and normally supports a fine herd of beef cattle
Moscow Villa Hut has an interesting name which came about the time of the First World War.
Bushman Bill Ah Chow finished this log hut in 1942, on the day the Battle of Moscow was won. When local officials objected to the name, he allegedly told them it was actually an acronym for ‘My Own Summer Cottage Officially Welcome Visitors Inside Light Luncheon Available’. We had a good evening telling and embellishing the tales along the way. Ron and Glenn slept in the hut while I slept in the Datto in my comfortable position on the leather seat.
The Kookaburras announced the arrival of a new day at 5.10am The cloud and heavy mist still followed us around the following day while we explored the Little River Road to the area around Swifts Creek. There we stopped for some supplies and shortly afterwards we visited the King Cassilia Mine and trekked up further along Cassilia Road and other tracks in the west an Ron managed to find a rough and very narrow track with a steep drop-off to the creek below. We closed the day off by camping at the Victoria Falls campsite where we met two interesting travellers. Along the way we drove past the picture perfect Cobungra Station, the largest landholding in the Alpine region of Victoria. It is owned by a syndicate.
The next day it was back to Omeo for a top up of supplies and fuel and then we set off on a journey to the Davies Plain Hut. Out first encounter was taking up over the cleared hills and after that the weird shapes of the burnt trees. We veered right after a while and then started climbing. The Davies Plain Track had a road closed sign on but Ron had found out that it was open as far as the Davies Plain Hut.
We drove the Benambra Road, then the Buckwong Track and then the Davies Plain Track. Once on the latter there were some steep and rough sections in the for it rises right up and on to the plain. Once at the hut we had an early camp. Ron and Glenn went for walks with their cameras and Glenn got his Drone into the air as well for some good footage of the habitat nearby. Another vehicle had followed us in and they came to ask if they could camp at the same spot. We said no worries. Turned out the they were also world travellers and got talking to Ron and as it turned out they had all of his guidebooks.
We sat around the fire at Davies Hut swapping yarns as is our wont and the good thing is that we never repeated one. We turned in after the fire died down and left the embers glowing. The next morning the boys were up before me and were happy to capture images on their cameras of splendid looking wild Brumbies. On the track again we drove the rough steps down this time and continued on with Buckwong Track and then turned right on the Mount Hope Road en route to Mount Pinnebar. We crawled up to Mount Gibbo along the way. Mount Pinnebar afforded 360 degrees views. The countryside is breathtaking. We had a peek deep down in the valley at the Murray River which also the border with New South Wales.
We were on our way to Wheelers Hut following numerous twisty tracks through magnificent forests but we ran out of daylight. Ron was on a tight schedule. Glenn inspected Hagen’s Rest and called up that it was free. We filled the small camping area. One other traveller came down off the road but decided that there wasn’t enough space for us all and so they left. Zulu Creek and Shady Creeks join and runs close by the rest area and the boys went down and got buckets of crystal clear water to drink, fill our bottles and to have a wash. The grime from a day of swinging the wheel must come off ! It was a pleasure to camp in such a pristine area. I was quite tired and after a couple of beers I drifted off into dreamland while the boys rustled up the tucker. When we started to pack up the next morning Glenn yelled out and I thought that he may have discovered a snake in his tent, but no, it was only a Huntsman and Ron came to the rescue. But being an Arachnophobic isn’t fun. I have friends who go nuts if they see a Huntsman spider.
When we started off a couple of days back (one loses time) it was misty and very cool, but now it was starting to warm up and can get quite humid down in the valleys. It was a long drive up to the ridge of the ranges then a long way down to Kennedy Hut on Taylors Creek where we stopped to take some pics and to fly the Drone. There were some weed-spraying blokes from the Alpine National Park who said that you were not allowed to fly Drones in the park. But we were on the Boundary Road. So what? The world is going nuts and George Orwell was right even though he was a few years out by his reckoning.
We followed Plains Road and ducked in to Dogs Grave and read the story of Boney, the Kelpie, who was buried there by his master and his friend, Peter Meehan, in 1863.
This road eventually took us to the Upper Dargo Road and we made camp near Italian Flat together with some weekenders. Its a nice grassy area under the eucalypt Trees which tower up into the sky. We stayed two nights. The Kookaburras announced the next morning at 5.15am but every one slept in after that and we didn’t get moving until after 11 o’clock. We took the Plains Road and looked at the old town of Grant. Then onwards. I was in the middle that day and Ron suddenly said “You have to drive over the edge on the corner” and I said “Whaaaat. You mist be crazy” “Just do it !” So I called Glenn up and said that I was turning off onto the Bulltown Spur Track and he said he knew the place so I didn’t wait for him and so he missed the turn off and went another way down the near vertical drop down this track only to meet others crawling up the hill on the same track. Half way down I met Ron coming back up and he told me to wait at a corner and then I did a 3 point turn and drove back up this incline. We took the road we came on and met up with Glenn at the Dargo Pub and a cold Schooner of beer was waiting for me even though it was my fault that we lost Glenn.
A refreshing Schooner at the Dargo Pub was great and the glass even looked like the size that I seem to remember. I refuelled and we trundled back to camp. The river water out of the bucket was great and refreshing and I had a proper wash to clean away the dust. Glenn kindly cooked my sausages for me and some potato and pumpkin mash. We didn’t have a fire for the second night in a row but we managed to sit around chatting till 9.30 when we all faded and hit the sack. The weather was still mild after a few warm days.
It was 56km from camp to the top of Mt Blue Rag, the iconic track of the High Country. There was a steep climb and lots of narrow saddles along the way.
We drove up to the saddle where the Dargo High Plains Road meets the Alpine Highway and then threw a sharp left on to Twin Jeeps Track which was steep and narrow. As we made yet another turn around these tight corners I muttered to myself that it would be fun to meet someone else on this track AND THEN WE DID ! Glenn did a marvellous job directing the traffic. I was as close to the wall as I could be and pulled my mirror in as well. We squeezed past one another giving furtive glances and a nod to one another. Once the three vehicles were past us we could continue to crawl along this track with breathtaking views of the High Country
We had lunch at a saddle to give us breathing space in case we see more traffic but it didn’t happen.
Our journey in the morning took us across the Humffray River several times until we cam to open plains and the Wonnangatta Valley. The lease was started by Oliver Smith, a North American who built the original homestead at the junction of Wonnangatta River and Conglomerate Creek. The Bryce Family bought the property soon after.
The Bryce family remained a presence at Wonnangatta until Mrs Bryce died in 1914 at the age of 78. Ten Bryce children were brought up at Wonnangatta. As the children grew up they moved away and after Mrs Bryce’s death the property was sold to owners from Mansfield in 1916 and they appointed managers to run the station. The original homestead was burnt down accidentally by bushwalkers in 1957 and the new homestead was built on higher ground.
The station and surrounding area are the site of the still-unsolved Wonnangatta murders which occurred in late 1917 and 1918. One hundred years ago !
Beyond Wonnangatta Homestead we caught the Zeka Spur Track up to the Howitt Hut. It was rather steep and rough with numerous one in one corners. After resting for a short while and Ron finding someone he knew to talk to we made for the Lovicks Hut via the King Billy Track. Along this last track we met a number of vehicles going the opposite way leaving me to make way on the drop off side!
We spent a quiet night at Lovicks Hut as we were pretty bushed after driving two of the roughest tracks in the High Country. These tracks get graded from time to time but you wouldn’t say so. I imagined I had heard a horse snort during the night. zit was quite possible as these huts are used by Horse riding businesses, We were just lucky to strike each hut vacant.
The Blowflies were zinging around early in the morning as we made our way along the ridge and Bluff Track to Bluff Hut where we took a number of photos. Then it was down a winding track which then became a winding road down to Sheepyard Flat. A sort while later we pulled up for lunch at Fry’s Hut. Fry was a builder of very good huts in the region.
Then the boys said that they wee going home from here. We had lunch. Drove in to Mansfield, said out goodbyes and suddenly I was on my own.
Two half days of driving in the heat with the windows open was enough for me. Must get that airconditioning fixed.
So that was my intro to the High Country. Thanks to Ron and Glenn for their support and help when I was straggling along