Australian Alps Walking Trail Part 1

J. P. Quinton – 2015

The Flight:

Terminal three Perth airport. Gate 20. Flight delayed by twenty minutes due to ‘crew issues’. Checked internet for cheaper flights in moment on tight-arsedness. Could have flown six hours later for $100 less. A woman lets her baby scream on the floor. A dude in a baseball cap squeezes a plastic water bottle while biting his nails and playing on his phone. A tattooed older dude with no bags taps his old-school boarding pass booklet. A father and son exchange funny youtube videos. The coffee shop music drones.

I’m full of dessert and my ankles are strapped. A preventative measure, the straps. Some kind of security as I become less cocky with age. Sprained my ankle a few weeks ago going too fast on the Bibbulmun track. The trial run for the AAWT. There’s still slight pain. Or I think there is. Enough to be apprehensive about walking 650km over mountains. Thought I’d better bloody take it easy for a while.

Should arrive in Tullamarine about 1am, catch the shuttle to Spencer St, or whatever bogan name they’re calling it these days. From there I’ll either walk or catch a taxi to Jim’s in Tony Abbotsford. Jim Jim Jim. Got him a copy of Ted Hughes’ ‘Birthday Letters’ for Xmas. That’ll cheer him up.

A plane lands. Our plane. ‘Crew issues’. Passengers head to their cars. Famous cricketers walk by unharrassed. Made-up stewards and stewardesses prepare our plane. A thin strip of vapour, the width of a window pane shimmers outside, blurring the Darling Scarp. I resist the urge to facebook, email, text. A baby sings her version of the ‘get on the plane song’. Small things take on significance when they don’t go right.

The plane the yellow glow grows, clusters, fractures. Linearity disturbs the black. In glass the small child rocks. A small turbulent patch. I drop my pen. The kid who’s been kicking my chair all night picks it up. All action is determined by the level of work required.

Packing:

I am packed. Small bags inside other small bags inside a liner inside a backpack. In three hours drive, a couple of sessions of the Boxing Day test, I’ll be at the start of the walk. The track is a meaningless path cut through scrub. All things considered the track takes on meaning through negation. Going without showers, without sinks, televisions, news, books, restaurants, friends. We lose and gain perspective. We lose it by setting the course. By forbidding and ruling out options, by deliberately putting blinkers on. By walking into bad weather or refusing a lift. By not stopping to converse.

An arbitrary mission. A track or trail or highway without a name, not recognisable by name or association, has no psychological connection to hang our determination on. My determination is exhausted by research and preparation. I sit still. Eager to begin. The goodbyes mostly complete. Driving out of Melbourne the old houses make way for high-rise. Cars give way to bicycles.

Day 01: Walhalla to Oshea’s Mill

Said goodbye to Jim at approximately 11am after a cooked breakfast, and a discussion about Keating and filling out the intentions form at the General Store. We had to drive back up to the campsite above Chinese Gardens to retrieve Jim’s drying tent, his 3x3x3m palace. After boyishly jamming the tent in the bag we putted to the information bay, made final preparations, a photograph, and salutations. It was good to leave Jim on a positive note as he became quite irate about Keating the night before; bellowing profanities from his palace. I was very nervous not to forget anything so I checked and rechecked my gear and turned the car upside-down.

For the first 5km or so I was worried my left ankle would start hurting so I walked slowly as if it were already sore. You could hear cars going to and from Walhalla below the track which was on an old tram line. About 100m below where the track crosses a 4WD track, three walkers were climbing the hill. They caught up to me a few km’s later where I had stopped to remove the ankle bandage that was rubbing. They seemed like a Mum and her two kids out for a day walk. They passed me and not long after I passed them. The mother asked if I were attempting the entire 400km and I said yes the entire 650km, thinking they would walk with me to chat. But they remained stationary and the mother said good luck. Views up the river to the Poverty Point bridge. A dip in the water would be nice as the sun was hot, but the river was about 30m below and inaccessible.

Noon time, cross a stream then up a blue stone hill. I join the track and scare a black cat. No amount of meows will make us friends, although we are domesticated rogues, off to find what some solitude will bring us. The sound of the cars disappears.

I wanted to stop and sit in the shade and admire the bridge but there was no where to sit and the sun was too bitey to stay in the middle. I walked on occasionally catching glimpses of the shallow rapids, tall trees and steep valley. Cicadas phase in the forest. A ball of tall tress hang like a tablecloth. Bracken and ferns, nettles, prostrate wattles fill the floor. In the clearing dead mouse guts are exposed. I’m caught. I am the border of doubt. I stop and fill my bottle up with stream water, despite the admonition to filter everything. I fix my shoe, using the gaiter as a sitting pad. I prop the heavy backpack on a leg before strapping up. When I leave I triple check to see I’ve dropped anything. A small moment has passed. A smidgen fractured half way up a gully. The stream water is tasty.

At certain angles, burnt limbs, trunks, a grey horse avalanche line cutting green. Up close mossy black bark dangles like a child’s tooth. Repeated branch patterns hard against blue space. Up steep grade single track. Heart loud. Dirt chips, wood chips, bark, blue squares high up. As if in cartoon a mid-air spider makes for the edge of the track as it sees me approach the track-wide-web. I stand and wait for it before breaking its work. Spiderwebs, evidence that no-one has walked here today.

A long climb up a spur leads to a heavily manicured roadside and then another 30 minutes walk for the first nights’ campsite. A botanist Lucy and later two Germans arrived whiling the afternoon away. I washed in the stream but got all dirty again attempting to jump to the muddy bank out of the clean water. I quickly took temporary ownership of the trusty picnic table and assumed my usual position of feet on the seat, back to the middle. Between them, ten or so metres of mown grass. A copy of ‘No Logo’ discussed. Then the rules of the game are explained; exploration, conquer, domination. The picnic rug is full. Ten minutes later the game begins and their backs begin to hurt. He blows his nose and repeats the rule. Wracks his brain for the word in English.

1/1/14: Oshea’s MIll to Talbut Hut.

Woke about 6:30am with only a small amount of dew on the sleeping bag. Slept with just the bug net hanging from the walking poles. Missed bringing in the New Year but woke throughout the night looking up at the stars. Lucy was packing her stuff up slowly. She was half packed by the time I left anticipating the longest climb of the AAWT up out of the lowlands onto the high plains. Took it very slowly and sweated a lot. Joined a gravel road after a few km’s of soft underfoot track. A machine of some description – a small bulldozer or bobcat had been through recently making progress easy. My sweat and body fat countered any recognition that the temperature dropped as I climbed. Forest, cob-web like mouldy bread bread. The parasite drapes. A black monitor scampers 4ft up a tree, watches me. Black and alive, this unframed painting. Only yellow eyes and yellow stripes, circles, the measure of self. Mountain ash, they stand tall and house lyre birds. They burn and burn and burn.

As I started to have lunch at Erica carpark however, it got cold. Eight new 4WD type vehicles lined the car park. A half dozen day walkers were reading the sign as I entered. A lady said she knew John Chapman, his wife and John Siesman, the authors of the AAWT guidebook and other bushwalking publications. I examine the book and think of heading to Mt St. Gwinear.  Step after step I let my body adapt, and climb into position. does the space move through me as I through the space? Strangers stop to chat. Bushfires and emergency beacons, helicopters in all seasons. Large pebbles cantilever, their ‘Hanging Rock’ moment, the sequence that isn’t sure how to end. A patch of gums, clustered at the base, as if hundreds of larvae thought the earth was the air and they’re vying for gaps inside the crust.

Despite the wooden sign: MT ERICA 1509M. Despite the track carved through various landscapes, despite the prams and picnic baskets, the narcissus in me says ‘you’re the first to be here’. Not ‘this is the first time you’ve been here’. To climb into this remote place, far from the maddening crowd.

Carrawongs cry from a distance. Blow flies move in. I set my tarp up amongst the gum tree wrigglers, back to the wind. Only the concrete hearth, caste from gumtrees, is contrast to the thick wall of bending trunks. I burn the first days map, smell the chemical ink. The trees grow strong enough to split the basalt. They regrow when humans move on. They are a testament to time. Horizontal light angles in beneath the canopy, their torsos sweat, knuckled and oblique, the branches twist skyward like a willy willy.

After the storm no one rebuilt the hut. After the storm the saucepans and kettles were found 100 metres away, twenty years later, after fire. After the storm the moss sucked colour from the rock, the way a mosquito sucks blood, then the draught. Lichen is shrivelled and cracked, fast air blows the flakes. Strands, like arm hairs, in the moss. Dead twigs and leaves chew at the top soil.

Didn’t make it to Mt ST. Gwinear. Was either 19km today or a flatter 21km tomorrow. Since today involved a lot of climbing I stopped at the the old Mt Talbot hut site at about 2:30pm. Quickly set the tarp up as it was quite cloudy and appeared to be about to drizzle. A few drops fell at about 5pm.

Mushroom Rocks is an interesting place to explore. According to the signs whitey’s have been visiting there and Mt Erica for over 100 years. As you climb out of Mushroom Rocks the snow gums get thicker and thicker until you’re in amongst a gnarly wall of trunk on all sides. This taking the walking easy business is good, but it does leave a lot of time for sitting around being eaten by whatever bug is flying by. Trying to read or write you get bitten and have to move around a lot. Right now I’m inside the bug net escaping about 50 mozzies. They try to eat you through your clothes through the bug net.

Sunset is a good time of night/day to be walking and in some ways perhaps better to arrive in camp at this time too. You simply set up, eat, and go to sleep. But if you set up early you’re kind of committed to stay through your own unwillingness to pack up and move again. Perhaps if I get in camp early I should wait until the latest possible time to set up. Having said all this, I’m pretty happy with the modular set up I have: tarp, groundsheet, bug net and bivy. I can set any one of those up by themselves depending on the conditions.

The concrete hearth is a fascinating relic. Re-enforced concrete with local rocks as aggregate. Looks like they used planks as form work and built it up making each set higher a little smaller for the chimney. There are cracks, moss and graffito growing all over it. Once upon a time the hut would have been a place or parties and an emergency shelter. Now all that stands is the equivalent to a cricket oval and pitch, with the stumps, but no players. Apparently the huts from here along the Baw Baw Plateau to Warburton, were constructed by the government back in the 1920’s. Our relationship and fascination to ‘the bush’ is not new, it seems.

Day Three: Talbot Hut site to Stonarchs camp

Woke before the sun rose due to a mozzie inside the net. Was already kind of awake but the bug was the catalyst for initiating the move. Was meant to be a hot day so I wanted to get going early. Lifted two sides of the tarp before sleep which changed the nature of the site. Have realised I can peg the net out so will experiment with that this evening. Haven’t seen anyone today yet. Quite a bit of scrub-bashing to Mt St. Gwinear. Was in a bit of a mood when I arrived at ‘Rock Shelter’. Took the side trip up Mt St. Gwinear which had snow markers along it. I was imagining a world of snow along the grass button plains. At Maddison plane you can see the phone tower above Baw Baw ski resort and I nearly switched the phone on but decided against it. Getting both the gear and body dialled in is the order of the day. Some nice walking but limited views.

No significant thoughts, no planet saving ideas, just walking. Bashing through waist high scrub, a myrtle grove. No aches, no pains, no cramps, one foot goes in front of the other, dodges wombat poo instinctively. A white log at the entrance of an opening means wrong way turn back. Pink petalled flowers spring up on storks, like fireworks. Two days I walk in Snowgum, dichondria underfoot. An afternoon of mountain ash, dichondria underfoot. Always the hum of march flies. Trees sing creak creak when they rub. Out here if you lose a lid, you might not carry water. Out here the tanks are full, but not for walkers. Out here vices seem more enticing. Bracken grows around the rusty surveyors trigonometry frame. Out here, relief, almost, at seeing trees cut off at their base.

Lying out in the open – got the whole bug net thing happening – at Stronarch’s camp. Have the tarp ready with stakes laid out incase of rain. Some clouds are forming over in the west. Hopefully they’ll just keep the night warm. A long day today. Probably 11hrs including 3hrs break in the middle to let the heat pass. There’s no rest with the mozzies and march flies around. The mozzies are going mental now and the march flies have only just gone to bed at 9pm AEST. No normal flies, however, which is a kind of bonus. The walking is great. Varied vegetation with heaps of shade. Drank about 800ml of water for 5km during the hottest part of the day, with gatorade powder. Had a moment where I wished I had a tent as setting the tarp up took more mental energy than I could be bothered. But after looking out across the wetland with the setting sun half illuminating the line of trees about 150 metres away, no regrets. Before I took it down again, I had the tarp tied to a tree about 4 metres away and was impressed with its versatility.

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A quick thought on Landscapes

In John Dixon Hunts’ book Greater Perfections in the chapter ‘Word and Image in the Garden’ he discusses the role of the word and narrative and experience in landscape architecture. In context of narrative, he argues:

“[N]arratives that recount times past do so in the present, which with landscape architecture is intimately linked to the configurations of the site that functions both as setting and presumably as prompt for the narrative to be recounted. Further, the “reader” is thrust into prominence; the narrative of a place relies on the verbal skills of its visitor, who has to infer or “translate” from the given materials, which can never (qua narrative) be as complete as they would be, for instance, on the pages of a novel.”

Thus, the verbal skills of a viewer, reader or visitor in a didactic, narrative designed landscape can never as complete as the reader of a novel. This is because of the “translation” from the abstraction of the inscriptions on the materials of the site, and the site itself. Therefore, for example, a plaque by the ocean may describe the anchorage of a ship in a port two hundred years earlier. The visitor reads the plaque, looks over to the position of anchorage, and is imagines a ship there. The argument put forward by Hunt is that this scenario is not as complete a narrative on the pages of a novel. However, I think there are grounds for a contrary argument. A visitor with verbal skills may have their experienced enhanced by looking out to where the boats set anchor. A purely fictionalised novel has no landscape equivalent to compare the given materials.

Unless of course, Hunt means that a plaque can never be as long or as big as a novel. In which case he is correct. He concludes: “in short, the site qua site may play a greater or lesser role.” When, I think what he means to say is: the abstract site (narrative) within a real landscape may play a greater or lesser role.

Sites within sites, narratives within narratives; the way our minds work and our body moves through a site is immensely complex. There are an infinite amount of impressions, senses, ideas and events that coalesce to complete our understanding of a landscape or site. While historical narratives within sites seek to represent a true interpretation of a sites past, what of the fictional impressions we gain from a site? How does a shift in scale, an imagined people of the past, an animated artefact, the re evaluation of the ugly change the way we read landscapes? Can, or do we reach neutrality by championing the fake and the ugly when best practise seeks to promote the good and feel good?

Ashfield Flats

Im conducting a site analysis of the Ashfield Flats; a wetland near where I grew up. On the 19th of March I walked through the flats with a video camera. You can watch the video here:

And first poem analysis:

Site Visit Ashfield Flats

Part of the river begins here, car carcasses
Filter run-off, houses fenced off
Red tap on top of fire extinguisher.

Buffalo grass covers a culvert
Large concrete block monuments
Pine bollards and a steel gate.

‘No unauthorised vehicles passed this point’
The sign, twenty metres beyond the fence;
Galahs cackle overhead.

As if in distrust of the drain
Houses a but the 100 year flood line
Stink from the drainage block.

A two foot foam toy stealth bomber
Discarded in the buffalo – ‘the F27C
Striker Brushless’ neglected, ignored.

Broken, landlocked like concrete islands
Bark shards and a dying tomato plant
Part of the river begins here.

My body moves expectantly
Barefoot, aware of tiger snakes
A stick wrapped around my ankle.

MWB infrastructure tagged with ‘SK’
As alien as the stand of tapping bamboo
Within phone range, without credit.

Sweet mud smell, the hill you slide down
On tin, the old man keen to shoot to shoo
You away, his property as far as his scope.

To kill the grass they kill the liquid amber
Yellow bamboo pole matresses
The ‘clean fill’ sand will absorb it eventually.

Salt bush tagged pink, ready for pruning
Fifty yards from a fence, ‘our home’
Our ten metre limestone retaining wall.

More graffiti on blocks thick with melaleucas
A safe place to practise, DK in red texta
On paperbarks, more practise.

Rows are rows of planted tulips: a concerted
Effort to pretty the place up, beside long lines
Of blackberry bush, an air conditioner hums.

Water collects here; lentic. Overflowing rubbish
Bins on the driveway, a baby crying
Her life begins here, mosquito coils.

I become impatient, lustful and lacking narrative
I pause on the authorised vehicle track
Parrots squawk, a German Sheppard barks.

Then, evidence of machinery; mown lawn
Drainage swales, designed drains,
Another Main Water Board Block: Stourhead Grotto?

Dead gums, kids playing cricket
Adopting famous players names
Recreating classic moments: the pathetic fallacy?

A netball ring attached to fence
Bark crunching, parrots munching
A train a truck an aeroplane.

A fences, a concrete path
A stream sidled by casuarinas
Hesitate to use the word weed.

A small stand of xanthorrhoeas, cleared
Drain fenced off for important revegetation
Vineless archways.

Dog shit on the side of the path
A few days old
Clear blue sky overhead, hazy at the horizon.

I imagine walking straight the swamp
With a video camera, a document,
Not now – not the right time, never the right time.

Go right, I go left, through the thicket
To much of a sissy I stick to the path
The birds becoming louder.

In imagining the future I left the present
And missed the approach to the foreshore
A flat pyramid of arrow, ground cover.

Velvet pillows jammed in amongst the limestone
Banks – a fisherman’s forgotten seat
Long neck turtles, high tide tomorrow.

A kelpie freaking out over rollerblades
Fallen trees, their rotten roots
Suspended in floating mud. Not a sculpture.

Nor is this paradise, the river, in pieces
Has kept clear, held back proper light
Part of the river begins here.

The DC266 Evenrude outboard dingy
Its fishermen, shiners of the torch
Throw cigarette butts in the water: 18:35pm.

The bridge monument – maximum load limit
Three hundred kilograms
Hugs the bank like Michelangelo’s staircase

The last of the sunlight, duck tracks,
Great Egrets picking at the rushes
Mistook them for a chip wrapper.

Still as salty as the day purchased
At the supermarket:
The Great Egret Supermarket.

I jump off the bridge – heading home
Find a toy walkie talkie, possibly from the stealth bomber:
You used to be able to see the bottom, over.

‘Surprised by the amount of water in here
At this time of year, over.’ No frog noises
So silence. Still, plenty of mossies and guppies, over

‘Copy, over.’ Walk around puddles.
Now it dawns on me —the camps—
We used to see as kids, the piles of rubbish

Buckets, blankets, remnants of small fires
Were aboriginal camps, a midden under my nose.
‘Fucking Hell’ sprayed blue on a she oak, a totem.

Car wrecks half way up the drain
When the water’s high become tip islands
Rusting ruins: they dont make ‘em like they used to.

Clay sediments and oxidise metal mixing:
Follies of the future,
Slowly leaking into the creek.

You can see the wet line on the side
of the drain, the high water water mark
A white horizontal line of phosphate

Part of the river begins here, car carcasses.

Self Portrait in Perth

Solitude is like Bali:
Vacant and full of Aussie tourists.
I snuggle up to SBS
Daytime is a corner in soccer.

My coffee is enough to entice you.

Here at the rally
The dust lets me forget
About my holiday in Hyden.
Playing golf on the red sand
And sheep dogs…

A kangaroo zooming
Above the Spinifex,
A 20 000 watt globe
Behind it.

Listening to the Dirty Three
Or Shellac
Gravity wrapped around me.

I apologise for the full moon, Holden’s
Just beneath my skin
I am, my summer solstice
Streaking across the sky like an F-111
The joy of a laser guided slideshow
And a simulation of any situation you want.

Which one do you like best?
Im still tweaking it, making it heavier, new software.

From the bus, the Swan enters
Me like glass, limestone lapping as a dog runs
The coincidental beauty
Of bumping into a friend
who has to go. Your tear drop
in my hand and the hills ablaze
with sickness that could be love
or a new haircut
when you put on your favourite C.D.
and pick up that tamborine
it’s lonely drinking Solo.