By R. H. Croll. This is the track on which so many novices metaphorically lay their bones. For some reason it has caught the popular fancy, with the result that the budding walker, in all the discomfort of improper equipment, frequently makes it his first, and last, essay with the swag. He brings back a tale of trying tracks, of steep gradients, and bleak uplands, often in curious contrast with the accounts of more seasoned trampers.
Freemans Flat between Mts Baw Baw & St Phillack
The truth is that few of the 50 miles between Walsh’s Creek (McVeigh’s) on the Upper Yarra and the railhead at Walhalla-the 50 miles which constitute the so-called “Baw Baw Track” are easy miles, but they are well within the compass of any pedestrian who is capable of’ carrying a 30 pound pack up a fairly graded hill, or has the means to hire a packhorse to do it for him. In other words, the way is open to all who are young, and to any whose maturity has really benefited by experience of such outings. It is time indeed that someone spoke plainly regarding the nonsense so commonly printed that the swag is a destroyer of all pleasure on a country tour.
I bear fardels as unwillingly as the next man, and I recognise the obvious fact that it ii easier and more enjoyable to walk free than loaded, but I protest that the pain of carrying one’s bed and board are a very small charge (in this world where everything has its price) for the perfect liberty so gained, and that no one need divorce himself from pleasure in doing so.
The Baw Baw track is so named because at its most picturesque stage it traverses the Baw Baw Plateau and gives cosy access, by it side walk of about a mile and a quarter, to the 5,130ft. summit of Mount Baw Baw itself. Three natural divisions mark the route, the first being the stage up the Yarra Valley – a long, slow rise, the next the irregular, but relatively level going of the uplands, the third the rapid descent into Walhalla.
With the commencement of the bridle track at McVeigh’s the way is truly the walkers. For nearly 10 miles it is a sidling pad winding just above and always within sight, or at least sound, of the Yarra, here a bubbling stream running at the foot of a steadily deepening valley. Higher and higher grow the hills, well clothed, particularly on the right bank, with tall timber and luxuriant shrubs. The slopes above the river look primeval and untrodden. But the trail is an old one, as old as the early mining rushes, and doubtless those resolute pioneers, the diggers, left little even of this hilly country unexplored in their search for gold. A reminder of the period is the unusual blaze on the timber a T, to signify the Tanjil track.
Just before the 15-mile post, shown in red on a tree two huts come into the picture. Each is of iron, and each is well constructed to meet the needs of tourists, it being understood that these bring their own food and bedding. The newer structure has a cement chimney and cement floor, a couple of large windows, a table, a form, and some boxes for seats, half a dozen billies, a frying-pan, a bucket, an axe, a broom, four stretchers, with spring mattresses (and there are as many more in the neighbouring hut) and about a dozen mugs and plates. There are two rooms available for visitors, the space, over all, being about 50ft. by 11ft. The old hut is much smaller, but is weatherproof, and at least a shelter in rough weather.
On Falls Creek, which, joins the main stream at this point, six picturesque waterfalls occur within a mile and a half of the camping-ground, They are readily accessible, the track to the main fall (the first) being in good order and of on easy grade. The other five take a little more climbing to see. The second stage of the onward journey opens badly with a determined zigzag which joins on to the lower end of a mile-long spur.
As you climb, the Yarra valley recedes on your left flank; below, on the right, are glimpses of the Falls Creek. The timber is large mountain ash in the main mingled with fine samples of silvertop, and later, woollybutt. In the season long lanes of Christmas bush are flowering here. Some groves of beech through which the track winds suggest a stage setting of fairy land in their still beauty. The variety is endless, now a group of giant gums, now beech or wattle groves, now a young forest, here a marshy spot, there a sparkling stream with its sands aglitter with “new chum gold ‘ always and ever something to attract and hold the attention.
Fourteen miles of this including the first crossing of the Thomson River, and the hut on Mount Whitelaw is in sight. It is not a pre-possessing structure but it has a fireplace and will be sound enough when some repairs now under way are completed. A new hut is being built close by. The usual supplies of billies, mugs, plates, and stretchers are here. On a cold and threatening evening, this situation repels, for the outlook is over stunted snowbush, mostly dead, and is limited by a ring of undistinguished hills. Water is handy and this hut marks a definite stage on the journey.
The fact that the next hut, that on the Talbot Peak of Mount Erica, is only eight miles away should be appreciated for two reasons. The negative one is that there is much morass to cross, which means slow progress; the positive and important one is that there is so much to see. A day is all too short in which to do justice to this section and the surroundings of Mount Erica. Some three miles from Whitelaw a notice-board points out the diversion to the crest of Baw Baw, and time off could well be taken for this side excursion. Over St. Phillack’s 5140ft. the pad winds through snowgums or across moorlands with baby lakes reflecting the sky, now up, now down, high hills such is Baw Baw, Mueller, and Tyers rising on the one hand, and on the other St. Gwinear and Kernot. Unlucky is the tourist who now walks into cloud or mist, for the views soon become horizon wide.
The charm of interesting detail gives place to the appeal of great mountains spread as far as sight will carry. That is what one gains from the windows of Talbot hut, for this last and smallest of all the shelter houses is perched on the edge of a great declivity which drops swiftly some four thousand feet. Across the gulf rise endless mountain chains, their scoring valleys clearly indicated in the evening light. Hours may be spent picking out Feathertop and Welington, Ben Cruachan and other giants and speculating over those more difficult of identification, while all the time there sinks into the consciousness the wonderful blues of the high places, the play of light and shadow over unending miles of broken country, the grandeur of lofty peaks and the amazing deeps below them. Speaking as one who has looked from many of the high hills of the State I find this view very difficult to excel.
Now comes the drop to lower levels. The famous descent to Avernus is not swifter than the first three miles when the track begins to dip, which it does directly the point of Erica is passed. In that one league there is a fall of 3,000ft. and in wet weather that can be a true and continuous test of balance. Remarkable rocks are seen, a mill is heard screaming in the forest at the foot of the slide and a bush track leads one by pleasant ways over the 11 1/2 miles into Walhalla, a place well worth visiting in itself, and apparently soon to he numbered with the departed townships. Unless the present ventures revive the gold mining Walhalla in five years may be no more than a blackberry wilderness. Throughout there is no difficulty in following the tracks. They are clearly marked and kept wonderfully free of fallen timber. The department in whose charge they are certainly does its work well.
Thanks to Thomas Osburg, who found this account.