This is the third part of a 3 part article. Leader (Melbourne, Vic, Saturday 22 November 1884, page 16 The Contributor: By G. Much of it is incredible, to say the least. The author has explained the value of solitude and the preservation of wilderness so well – his conclusion: ‘It would seem well, therefore, that some steps should be taken permanently to preserve these forests in their present state.’ Might have been written yesterday!
‘After bathing in the Thompson, which we found about up to our waists, and very cold, we had breakfast, and made another start. We crossed the bridge and ascended the opposite hill. The track was good, and after a time we got among the green saplings and wattles. They were about 9 inches at the butt and about 30 feet high. They grew thickly on each side of the track, and were often fallen across it. So we continued for about 2 miles, apparently keeping near the ridge of a spur. At this point the track turned a little off the ridge to the right, crossing the head of a valley, which ran south, to join the Thompson.
Just as we got across this valley we came to a pile of huge granite holders, and from this spot we got a fine view down the valley, and up the Thompson, with Mount Baw Baw in the back ground. Just beyond there was a heavy fall of dead, timber, which we got past with some difficulty. The track was again clear for a little. It then crossed the ridge, and we got on to a sideling sloping to our left. Here we came to another heavy fall of dead timber. Some logs 100 feet long and several feet through at the butt had fallen across the track, bringing down with them great quantities of the sap-lings and wattles. The track was blocked in this way for 100 yards or more. We had to endeavor to carry our packs over the obstacle, and then find places where the horse would jump the logs, or they were sufficiently broken to enable him to scramble over them, and move the saplings for him to get there.
We loaded again, and proceeded a few hundred yards. Here we came to a worse block, and extending a long way ahead. It had taken us two hours hard work to traverse the eighth of a mile. We were then 12 miles from Mount Lookout, and at this stage R. advised that we should separate, the three of us returning with the horse to Reefton by the way we had come, he going on alone to Mount Lookout. This we consented to the more readiiy, as it would enable us to get another view of the Yarra Falls. We accordingly separated, R. taking with him a light swag, proceeding alone, and the three of us returning to our camp of the night before. R, expected to reach Mount Lookout that night. If he found that he would not get through he expected to be able to rejoin us before we left Mr. Thompson’s the next morning. We could not but feel that R. had embarked on rather a perilous journey. On the other hand we did not doubt that he was well able to take care of himself. He had before travelled with me in the wilderness in a somewhat similar way. As to ourselves we felt that we had lost the best man of our party; it was due no doubt mainly to his excellent pioneering that we had got thus far.
On our return to the granite knoll we admired the view at greater leisure. The undulating ridge of the plateau, covered with foliage of diverse tints; the red of the gum saplings contrasting with the deep green of the wattles and the huge black and white trunks that at intervals towered above it. In the back ground were Mt. Baw Baw appearing as an isolated group of rounded pyramids or conical domes rising to a great height above the plateau on the south-east, and that notwithstanding that the granite knoll was 2600 feet above M’Mahon’s, or between 3000 and 1000 feet above the sea, and the ground between us and Baw Baw was rising. We returned to the Thompson, and camped a second time upon the same spot.
The next day we left our camp standing and walked to the Yarra to have another cooler at the falls. We had a pleasant walk through the beech forest, the dark shade of which was set off by the straggling gleams of bright sunlight which found their way between the trees. We had lunch under a small fall. A little above this was a great fall, which was shaded by the ferns, and very pretty. We then began to descend the great fall from the top, keeping near the edge of the creek, and saw a fine series of cascades. Still, we could see but a small por-tion at once. After getting over 100 or 200 feet, we came to a high rock, jutting out on the left bank of the stream. To the top of this we climbed, and were rewarded with a magnificent view. The face of the fall was visible for 300 or 400 feet, the upper and lower portion gleaming through a pale green veil of ti-tree. Looking outwards, we could see far down the Yarra Valley a countless succession of wooded ridges, rising to the right and left, one behind the other, with tints varying with the distance.
The next day we struck our camp on the Thompson, and for the two succeeding days we proceeded without difficulty till we got to Mount Horsefall, where we found it impossible to retrace the track we had come by. After wasting some time in looking for it, we determined to act on R.’s advice and abandon the track, and try and make our way through the beech forest on the south side of the range. This we did, keeping under the beech trees, but in sight of the white logs on the top of the mount. The ground was so soft that the horse could keep his footing, not-withstanding the steepness of the incline, and in about twenty minutes we got round into our track again without any difficulty.
At tbe foot of Mount Horsefall we saw a track coming in from the south, which we had not noticed coming. We took it to be a a track marked on our tracings as Bennett’s track. When as we returned to our old camp at the ten miles water, we had no oats for our horse, but he was sufficiently hungry to eat plenty of the rank grass, On reaching the top of hill where the finger post ought to have been we saw a track turning towards the south, A little after we plunged again into the dense scrub. We found it impossible to keep our former track, but finding ourselves by the ridge we fought our way through it as best we could.
We were not a little glad when we again made the Excelsior shaft. After this the travelling was easy. On reaching the place where the old track turned off to Alderman’s Creek, we thought we would follow it and camp there. But finding the descent would be very great, we turned back and camped on the ridge, which the supply of water in the hut enabled us to do.
The next day we set out for Reefton. Not withstanding the rain which had taken place, the little water holes were quite dry. Going down the thick spur we had a fine view of a nameless mountain mass on the opposite side of the Yarra, whose steep and rugged sides were seamed with an irregular network of foliage. We descended the deep spur, and arrived at Reefton. We had eaten up all our provisions, our boots were nearly worn off our feet, our garments were ragged, but we were in good spirits, for we had seen the falls.
Here we met Mr. Lewis, and were hospitably entertained by him and his wife, which we thoroughly appreciated, and next day left for the metropolis. On reaching Melbourne I found a letter from R., narrating his adventures. He wrote : — ” After I left you on Wednesday, I had a fearful rough walk for four miles. In fact the logs were lying so thickly together and the scrub so high that it looked as if it had never been cleared. After the first four miles or so the want of water caused me much delay, as I could not find the track, and had to guess where it was, and very nearly having to return; however, I guessed where it was, and followed it on till I come to a spur leading down to the river, when I picked it up again, the blazes being well marked here where they were not so much required.
When I arrived at the river, I saw cattle tracks along the bank and knew there must be somebody living not far off. After following it down for about three miles, I suddenly came upon a selector’s bark mansion. To my surprise there were some girls outside, more surprised than I was, not only as to my state of dress, but as to where I had come from, as there had not been anybody through this part for about five years. After regaling myself with a delicious glass of gooseberry wine, I passed on to the next crossing, where a miner lives, who kindly gave me a good tea and put me on the track to Mount Lookout a distance of two miles, uphill all the way (by the clock), where I arrived at eleven o’clock at night, and was refused a bed till I convinced the proprietor that I was not a sun-downer on the wallaby track.
… It would have taken at least a week to do the four miles after I left you with the pack horse.” We saw lyre birds at intervals all the way along the South Dividing Range of the Yarra, and thence as far as we went, and we also saw trace of wombats, and we killed a snake on Mount Horsefall, bnt we neither saw nor heard any other animals, whether birds or beasts. This absence of life made the part we passed through particularly silent, except for the sound of the wind among the trees, or of falling water when we were near the Yarra, Different members of the party drew com-parisons between the Yarra Falls and other waterfalls they had seen— the Stevenson, the Erskine, the Watts, the Eurobbin, the Wentworth, the Wannon.
In general character the Yarra Falls resemble those of the Stevenson more than any of the others. They are higher and have more water in them, but it is difficult to obtain a good sight of them. The views now to be got of the Yarra Falls more nearly resemble those to be got of the Stevenson before the new track was cut which exposed the entire face of the fall, I am not aware that the height of the falls of the Watts have ever been measured, but I should say from recollection that it is considerably greater than the height of the Yarra Falls, and that there is more water. On the other hand, the fall of the Watts is less abrupt, being interrupted by long slides, where the water, unbroken and transparent, comes down an excessively steep incline with a rapidity dazzling to look at.
I saw none of these slides on the Yarra, the fall being broken by short slopes only. While the Yarra falls over the edge of a precipitous and wooded declivity, the Watts rushes down the bottom of a vast and steep gorge between Mount Juliet and Mount Strickland, the wooded sides of which descend to the water’s edge in steep unbroken slopes of, I should say, at least 2000 feet. As compared with the Eurobbin Falls in Victoria and the Wentworth in New South Wales, the Yarra Falls were considered to contain more water, but do not present the feature of an unbroken fall of vast height which distinguishes the former. As compared with the Loutit Bay Falls, I do not think I saw on the Yarra any one cascade unbroken by steps as high as the Splitter’s Falls, or even as the falls of the Erskine. But both these latter falls are seen from valleys where the view is much shut in, and where consequently, the actual height is not liable to be dwarfed by comparison with greater heights or depths.
A further question that may arise is how far the Yarra Falls will repay a visit, and that is a matter that must depend much upon the idiosyncrasy of the questioner. The Stevenson, the Erskine or even the Wentworth Falls can be seen with much less expenditure of time and labor. On the other hand, a journey of 20 miles through virgin forests intersected by the Splitter’s Creek would to many be an additional attraction. It is a great change for a man who passes his life in a large city to find himself in a few hours transferred into utter solitude. There is also a certain interest in seeing things which few people have seen, especially if they relate to something, as the River Yarra, with which we are all well acquainted.
There is a certain pleasure to be derived from encountering and surmounting difficulties. The mind is completely taken out of its accustomed train by the immediate necessity of devoting the whole attention to the passing incidents of the journey. The extent to which this is the case few people will conceive who have never taken a trip of the kind. One appears to forget, for the time, everyday life, as if he had been all his life a wanderer in the wilderness. To those who look at things in this light I would recommend a trip to the Yarra Falls. The high plateau from the opposite edge of which flow the Latrobe, is altogether uninhabited. In winter it is covered with deep snow, In spring the waters of the Goulburn, the Yarra and tbe back forests become swamps. During the summer the water sapped up by the ground will slowly drain off, making the streams perennial.
At the present time settlement is prevented by the inaccessible nature of the country, but this would not be a permanent obstacle ; a little engineering skill would no doubt carry a dray road on to the plateau, after which there would bo no further difficulty, except from vegetation. Some years hence, therefore, there may be a movement to take up this country. Since my return I have been questioned as to the character of the soil; I said it was good, but of course no grass would grow under the timber, “That,” the answer was, “is a small matter. If the soil is good it is easy to ring the trees.”
It is a matter, therefore, for consideration what ought to be done in anticipation of such a movement. It would add to the colony some square miles of summer pastures and perhaps of cornfields, but it would have other effects of a different character. The snow no longer shaded by the dark foliage of the beech trees would, melt more rapidly. The ground exposed to the summer sun would harden and absorb less water, and there would be a probable diminution of the rainfall, The result would be disastrous floods in the spring when the snow melted, followed by a quickly diminished pe-manent flow of the stream during the summer. It would seem well, therefore, that some steps should be taken permanently to preserve these forests in their present state. How far this is now done incidentally by reason of tbe country being included in auriferous reserves I do not know.’
Turns out there is still more to find out about the Yarra Falls hut:
‘State Party Marooned. Trafalgar and Yarragon Times Friday 8th February 1918.
Tourist Hut Gives Shelter.
Under the above heading the Herald on Monday last says:-
When the storm broke on Saturday a Parliamentary and departmental party led by Mr. Barnes, M.L.A., which was returning on horseback from a trip to the head of the Yarra to inspect the district timber resources took shelter in the tourist hut near Yarra Falls.
“The rain fell in bucketsfull”, said one member of the party today in describing his experience.
”Men and horse soon looked as if they had been wading through a stream. Our boots were full of water. When we reached the tourist hut we had to strip off our clothes and dry them at a fire. While our clothes dried we had to be content with less raiment than is ordinarily worn in the busy haunts. We had a Railway Department photographer with us but he refrained from snapshoting us as we wore rags and other coverings, which are stored at the hut. We stayed all Saturday night at the hut, and left on Sunday morning.”
The party, in addition to Mr. Barnes consisted of Mr. M. Hannah, M.L.A. vice-chairman, and members of the New Industries Institute.’
Once again I am grateful to Thomas Osburg for finding and sharing these historic treasures.