Mountain high, valley deep. Bush-bashing is so much better with friendly, informed and passionate guide companions.
When I was a teenager, my father took my brothers and I on a bush walk in the Freycinet National Park in Tasmania. We trekked up mountains and along the coast to Wineglass Bay. It’s a place of world heritage beauty but sadly, it’s not the place that stands out in my memory: what I remember is how I whinged incessantly on the way up, until Dad gave me a gob full to “shut it’’. Which is why, were he alive today, he’d probably be surprised to see me slogging happily up the nearly 500 metre ascent to the top of the Trestle Track in Bungonia State Forest.
It’s been a day to remember. Today I stepped out of my comfort zone and went on a 13 kilometre bushwalk with the Southern Highlands Bushwalkers Club. Before coming along, I was suspect. Would all the members be Anorak-wearing weirdos or Kumbaya-singing happy clappers? Like most suppositions, mine were miles off. What I found was a group of interesting, outdoors-loving locals who enjoy walking in the stunning national parks and state forests on our doorstep.
The club has 70 members. Its charter states its purpose is to provide a variety of walks and activities, a forum of discussion on walking and environmental issues, a means for people of similar interests to meet socially and basic training in bushwalking skills. All of which I’ve had a taste of today.
The Trestle Track walk is a goodie if you are in good shape and up for a challenge. It’s a 25-minute drive from Sally’s Corner on the Hume Highway. In the summary provided beforehand, it is described as “extremely difficult and strenuous, steep and exposed to vertical drops. Wet Shoalhaven River crossing. Exploratory and off track to chimneys and mine shaft. Fit walkers only.”
It soon becomes clear walk leader Greg McCroary, a teacher at Bundanoon Public School, who wrote the summary is not joking. The descent is steep on a winding goat track. It takes two hours to get to the bottom.
But I have a bounce in my step. The weather is perfect and The Shoalhaven River, although in need of a good flush out, is beautiful. We are headed for Tolwong Mine and a book “Fitzroy Falls and Beyond: A Guide to Shoalhaven-Extreme Wilderness Bungonia State Recreation Area” sheds light on its intriguing history. “The Depression of the 1890s caused a dramatic increase in prospecting for gold. The Shoalhaven Valley was inundated with hopefuls,” it reads.
In 1904, John Sivewright, a prospector who struck gold at Yalwal, also found evidence of silver, gold, copper, tin, lead and zinc near Tolwong. The Tolwong Mining Company leased the land and by 1910 it was carrying out extensive mining with two tall furnaces and chimneys, as well as an electric generator and crushing plant to smelt iron ore. But the ore it mined was too hard to smelt and in 1912 the company went into liquidation after spending 23,000 pounds … more than $4 million today. The chimneys are all that remain.
At the top of our descent we stop at the remnants of a flying Fox which spanned the Shoalhaven with an endless haulage Rope from one side of the valley to the other. It was reportedly operated via a turntable powered by horses who laboured around the clock. The bush is crackling dry but is alive with wildflowers, and native cherries.
After crossing the Shoalhaven, we climb up to the surviving chimneys and then go off piste to try and locate the mine shaft, one kilometre away and another 800 metres higher up. I follow regular club walker Greg Newman, a fencer from Tallong. Fit and built like a Mallee bull, he seems like a good person to keep in view. Other walkers include David Hardie, a retired teacher and one of the most experienced and respected walkers, who the others tell me is an expert navigator. Richard is a retired engineer from County Durham, Michael works in IT and Sandy is a hairdresser from Mittagong who joined the club 10 years ago “because none of my friends like bushwalking and I wanted to get out and experience it for myself. I try to never miss a Sunday now; these walks are a highlight of my week”.
At the evening’s completion of our seven-hour walking day, I am hot and tired but happy. I have loved seeing this wild part of my backyard and chatting with the others, who are generous with their knowledge. Above all I have relished a day outside, putting one foot in front of the other and being truly in the moment.