Jul 25

I have a friend, well several, ok, 5 or 3, I’m not certain. Could be way more or way less. Facebook says I have 756 of them, and as we know, Facebook knows everything about everyone. How easily distracted I am, this isn’t a post about Facebook and privacy, or more importantly how my ego is faring with my friend numbers and whether my posts get sufficient likes to show me how valued I am. No, this is a blog post about the bush, getting out of the city, escaping, running away, claiming that the rabbit is dynamite and learning to count to 5, or is it 3?

Facebook friends

For some time, my friend, as mentioned above, I will call her Marcelle, as that is her name. I have been known to call her other things. One day, I’ll compile a list of other things that I call her, perhaps I’ll expand that to all my friends, all 756 of them. Might be quite a list. Anyway, for years, Marcelle has wanted to go snow camping. I don’t really think that’s a thing. Who would pitch a tent in snow? However, she is very insistent, and quite frankly, I’d run out of excuses. I wasn’t working, my weeks just stretching one into the other. Any time I think of escaping Melbourne, we’d end up in another lockdown. So, finally relenting, I agreed to this rather preposterous notion of finding somewhere so cold that the rain turns to snowflakes and falls on you.

We dragged out a map, not like the old days when we’d have a paper map or a copy of the RACV Vicroads Country Directory. No, I went to Openstreet Map, and we selected the Mt Baw Baw national park. We stared at the map on my tablet, using our fingers to zoom in and out. Decided on staying at Mt. Erica, or if we didn’t like that when we got there, Mt. St. Gwinear. Great. Plan set in motion. It was only the next day, as I was dreaming while looking at the map, that I looked at the button that said, “This area has reported issues”. I could feel for its issues, I have lots of them. So, not really feeling up to taking on the area’s issues, thinking they should pay for their own therapy, my pointer moved across the screen slowly and clicked. Sure enough, road closed because of recent storms. There goes that idea.

Not that I was entirely disappointed. I figured that we wouldn’t be able to go right now, and should wait until the road was clear. Maybe it would be summer by that time and the cold snow would have melted!

I knew as that thought crossed my mind, pushing aside a bunch of other things going on in my head at that moment, that it was foolhardy to think we’d give up that easily. I know, I say ‘we’ and wonder if I really meant ‘she’. Alas, though, we have history. In the 1980s, we went to the Grampians to spend a weekend camping and bushwalking. When we got there, we found that the Troopers Creek campground was inhabited by a bunch of young people, so that’s people slightly younger than us in our early 20s, and they were making so much noise. We put all our stuff back into the Holden Belmont HQ and drove to Wyperfeld National Park. It was only a 3-hour drive away. That’s a story for another day.

And I was wrong, within moments of the grim discovery and the thought we might postpone, we’d found another place where the roads were open! Our attention had now moved from Baw Baw to Buller. Carter’s Mill Picnic and camping area. Not too far out of Mansfield, not on top of Mt Buller, so, you know, not as cold.

Time to hit the garage. That’s where my camping equipment is stored. Neglected for the most part. I’d need a tent. Something to carry water in. Mattress, sleeping bag, focket knipe (don’t ask), shoes, gaters, small items in dilly bags, something that rattles, an emergency space blanket. Not that I was going to space, I guess it’s called an emergency space blanket because if you did happen to be ejected from a star ship you could use it as a sort of parachute to float back to earth, or because it keeps you warm if you should get so cold, you pick which idea suits me best. A little spade with toilet paper on the handle, torches, matches, plates, forks, cups, containers with lids for storing things in, ropes, long-johns, coat and another coat in case of snow, assorted things that might be handy should we come under moose attack or get a nasty nick from a hakea bush.

Before I knew it, I had enough gear to allow me to set up a small village and grow carrots. Most of it made sense as I was retrieving it from tubs on the shelves. As I have done so many times, I picked up each item, turned it over and then asked if I really needed it. Luckily, most of it went back into the tubs. I really should throw some things out. I mean, I’m never going to use that torch that takes 3 D cell batteries and clips to the tent roof with a magnet.

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Marcelle and I catch up to discuss our menu. I’d like to think of it as a planning meeting. Alas, no printed lists, no creating a menu and then ingredients. Nah, we’re too good for that stuff. It used to be easy, drop into the supermarket, pick up a pack of surprise peas, deb potatoes, kabana, cheese, salada biscuits and packets of chicken noodle soup. I guess it’s still pretty easy, the focus now is on healthier options. We sorted that out. I dropped into the supermarket and picked up some freeze-dried food, muesli bars and a bunch of apples.

Next morning, Marcelle arrived at 5.30 to collect me. Don’t panic, we weren’t going to head off in the middle of the night, we aren’t that mad! No, we went for a run in the middle of the night instead. Once that was over with, we had our breakfasts, and then hit the road.

foggy road

The biggest part of the journey is actually just getting out of the city. It seems to go on forever and ever. Buildings, cars, traffic lights. It does eventually give way to wire fences, sheep, trees and a bunch of grass. As the day wore on, we had to drive through some fairly thick fog, it was pretty low to the ground, probably about 10 metres deep. Above it, we could see the clear sky. It felt like driving in your own little universe bubble.

Our first stop was Mansfield. Well, not strictly the first stop. We had lunch there. Mansfield was pretty packed, which shouldn’t really have been a surprise, as it is snow season and school holidays. We hadn’t thought about it being holidays for kids. It’s astonishing how over the year’s life is organised around your children and their timetables. Now, both of us, clear of that restraint, wouldn’t be caught in a camping ground during such times. While that was the intention, as we don’t have school aged kids, we also are blissfully unaware of when they actually happen. A little sense of dread niggled at me. Will we have to travel 300k to escape a camping ground full of noisy kids? It then occurred to me, that we were trying to avoid exactly the sort of campers we used to be. With our combined children, it was 8, plus two adults. Imaging thinking you’d picked the perfect spot to put up your tent, light a little fire, enjoy the tranquillity only to have two lots of kids arrive. All the running and screaming at the top of their lungs. And that was just Marcelle and me.

We drove on towards Mt. Buller. As we got closer, we could see the white tips of the alps. Sure seems to be snow up there. The thermometer in the car hadn’t risen above 10c for the duration of the trip, and now it was closer to 0 than 10.

You know we have lots of experience in travelling, Marcelle and I have navigated our ways to lots of remote and tricky places. All of that experience, and we couldn’t find the right road to turn off. I must’ve had the map upside down, actually it was an app. I was expecting to turn right, searching the right side of the roadway for the turn. I couldn’t make any sense of it. It was only when we reached the base of Mt Buller that I thought I should whip out my phone and check the app again. Sure enough, the map was wrong, in relation to my understanding of how maps should work. It makes sense to me if I hold my phone that it naturally orientates to the correct direction of travel. What’s so hard about that?

Big signs up at the gateway to Buller saying that you have to prove your vaccination status to go to the snow fields. A great idea, and with only one shot in my arm, it meant I couldn’t go up to the mountain top. Not that that was the plan, it was good to have a fallback position just in case any more insane ideas came from the driver’s side of the van.

The app map now behaving in a way that I expected, indicated that the turn-off was on the right. So, I was right, it was a right turn if you happen to be driving away from Mt. Buller. We found the turn off and took it, it changes pretty quickly from a sealed road to a rough gravel road. That’s good – it’ll keep some families out. Except the ones with four-wheel drives, nothing keeps them out.

We drove towards the campground, and just before was a car park full of four-wheel drives. My heart sank a little – not a good sign. A little sign pointed us towards the camping ground. Also, a right turn to those of you keeping track. The entry was very muddy and slippery, but still passable, even for those of us without a four-wheel drive. Then bang. Sudden stop. In front was a piece of yellow tape baring the entrance to the camping ground. Hanging off the tape was an A4 piece of paper, laminated, with the words “Closed for renovations”. Clearly didn’t check that one on the website! There’s that moment of hesitation where we have a mix of emotions, do we break the rules?, do we go somewhere else?, do we just give up and go home?

We went with option two. I would’ve gone option one or three. Luckily, Marcelle is much calmer than me. The little A4 sign with the writing in font size 16 – not big enough to read from the car unless you squint and hold your head to the left, said that alternative camping was available at the Buttercup Camping grounds. The immediate result of reading Buttercup was to sing, and that little earworm sat in my head for the rest of the trip. Why do you build me up, buttercup?

So, off we went. Following the road until we came to the Buttercup 4 Campground. There was nobody else onsite! A blessing! The sign on the road told us that we couldn’t drive any further as it was for four-wheel drives only. We had four-wheels and a big van on top of them, alas, not a 4WD. So, here we decided was home.

It was in pretty good shape. Plenty of open spaces. Limbs had recently been cut from trees that may have posed a threat to falling on tents. A toilet, picnic tables. What more can a couple of intrepid adventurers need? Across the small dirt track was open farmland, private property. Some cows wandering around doing cow things, plenty of bird life, plenty of water. The Buttercup creek flows through the campground, and beyond the creek the land quickly rises into what is generally known as a mountain. I nodded at it with a sly grin, it was lucky that there were no plans for us to conquer it this trip. I’m sure it breathed a sigh of relief.

Between us and that mountain were trees. Big trees. Lots of them. Amazing trees. A kookaburra sits in (an old) gum tree, clearly on guard, maybe for their nest. I drag out my binoculars and watch it for a while. It’s just sitting there. My glasses point towards a kerfuffle going on in another tree. A bunch of plump birds are flitting about. I don’t know what they are, they look like Satin Bowerbirds, but I’ve never seen them gather in a flock before. Bowerbirds they are. A few females and a couple of males. I thought they only stayed on the ground because the male makes a bower for the female. It hadn’t occurred to me that they need to find other things to do between breeding seasons. I can feel the city in me expelled as I soak in the view. The air is crisp, the ground is sodden, the trees are swaying. I can hear the creek bubbling away. It’s icy, so cold, it should be snowing, but it’s not. The ground is its normal self – not disappointed.

We set about making camp. We do this by taking things out of the van and spreading them out far and wide. Not in nice little piles close together. We’re here in the bush, plenty of space. So, we spread out. My tent goes up in no time, as does Marcelle’s. These are small one person tents. Hardly enough room to swing a possum. Marcelle’s is brand new, so we’re both eager to see how it preforms. It’s probably rated for snow camping.

Airbeds unrolled, sleeping bags put in place. Pillow there. All this and it’s only 2.30 in the afternoon.

Someone had recently been here, the stones around the fireplace are still quite warm. I set about starting a fire, without using matches. I’m so good. I throw a bunch of twigs, bark and smaller type logs, get down on one knee to allow me to blow at the nearly dead embers. This causes the ash to rise upward, no sign of smoke, or even a flame. Not one to give up too easily, I persisted until I’m dizzy and need to collapse. Luckily, Marcelle has a portable fire in a gas bottle and the kettle can be boiled. While we sip our much-needed coffee and my world stops spinning, the fire roars into life.

blowing on the ashes

While I’m encouraging my fire, grunting as a true reflection of my ability to make fire, Marcelle’s heads over the Sleeping Quarters of the campsite. There she unwraps this superb stainless-steel fireplace. Ever the prepared one, she’s brought wood, non-petrochemcial fire starters and a match. Within moments, she’s got a fire going in the little fireplace. It’s no match for my masterpiece, I grunt as I throw half a tree into the now well-established flames.

We sit looking at the fire, there’s hardly a breath of wind, so we aren’t dodging around the smokey parts. We natter, laugh, reminisce and glow at our cleverness. Here we are, midweek, feeling like we are in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the trees and the birds. This illusion is soon shattered by the echoing sound of a gunshot. At first, I think that it mustn’t be that. Must be a cocky-scarer or the banging of two bits of wood. Alas, the noise ricochets around hills again and there is no mistaking that sound. We look at each other a bit nervously, remembering that we are in the middle of nowhere. Visions of Wolf Creek cross my mind. Right, that’s what you do when you’re trying to sneak up on someone, fire a couple of shots, so they don’t know you’re coming. Things go quiet. There’s no car noises or breaking of twigs. Maybe they’re hunting rabbits, pig, deer or a goat.

Feeling safe enough, we head off for a bit of a walk along the Buttercup Track, why do you build me up, buttercup? We have the babbling Buttercup creek to the right of us, and open fields to the left. There’s a few cows doing cow things in the paddocks, and we can see some utes sitting at the top of the paddock. Another shot rings out and the sounds bounces off the hills. We continue our walk to the next campsite. There’s plenty of water running here. Little streams run under the road. Birds flit around the freshly ploughed fields and gunshots echo.

A few more loud bangs, and it seems that the gunshots are coming from the same place. Almost like someone is sitting in their rocking chair taking potshots at the rabbits, although more likely empty beer cans.

Back at camp, the chill of the evening is setting in as the sun has gone below the ridge line. We can still see it shining on the hills to the east, but we are deprived of its direct warmth. That means, the already cool temperature drops even more. Darkness is on the way, and we think it’s best to get our evening meal out of the way before it sets in.

Cooking is minimalist, to say the least. We’re trying to pretend we’ve been out hiking in the wilderness all day, and all we have is a pan, some freeze-dried food and some water. Ignore the fact the Marcelle has brought with her a fully decked out van with a 12v fridge, crockery, cutlery, a stove, tea towels, kitchen utensils, and I’m sure the kitchen sink is there somewhere. But hey, I’m ok with this, better than worrying about gunshots.

Just as it’s getting dark, we’re eating our dinner. I’m rugged up in my winter jacket, hat and gloves. We huddle around the fire with half a tree still burning and continue to chat while we finish dinner with a coffee.

It’s dark, it’s cold, the sky is ablaze with stars. I miss seeing the stars in the city. Tiredness creeps in and we both think that it’s about time to retire for the night. It feels really late, upon checking we realise it’s only a quarter to seven. No matter! Mind says sleep, who am I to argue!

Into my little tent I go and try to manage getting into a sleeping bag with barely enough room to sit up. I somehow manage this and nod off quickly, getting up once in the middle of the night to stare at the stars.

The morning light arrives, and I lay in my bed, comfortable and warm. I can feel the cold of the outside air, so I pull my beanie down over my ears and shut the baffles on my sleeping bag. I’m waiting to hear noises from outside. Then I know that Marcelle is up and about. It’s very quiet out there. Just the odd magpies doing their morning calls and the rushing of water. The tent looks icy. I doubt it’s snowed, though. In any case, a bit of light rain has fallen, so not likely to be any snow.

I think I’ve waited enough time, I can hear no noises from outside. I’m surprised. Marcelle is always up at sparrows fart. How could she still be asleep? I sit up and open the fly of my tent, and rather than being greeted by an empty campground, there Marcelle is, faffing around. I can’t believe I haven’t heard her. She’s managed to open all the doors on the van, and that makes a racket. She’s removed the fly from her tent and flapped in the breeze to dry it out, still I heard nothing. Not only that, but she’s boiling some water. “How do you do that?” I query from the safety of my tent. Sneaking around the campsite.

Breakfast is had, we sit around again enjoying the wilderness. Marcelle shows me a bloodied cuff on her trousers. Sometime yesterday a leech had latched onto her ankle, had a full feed and dropped off. She didn’t realise until she saw her blood soaked pants. More examples of our intrepidity. I can only hope to get two leeches to outdo her. The very thought makes my skin crawl, so I’ll just look in awe at her with her blood stains, as if she’s been out bush for months. I’ll have to be content with the black charcoal and ash on my jeans left by kneeling on the ground trying to start the fire yesterday.

We talk about our ambitions for the day. We both want to get home before the sun sets and we want to do a walk. We commence the task of looking at our spread out campsite and bringing all the items back to a central point for packing up. Everything stowed away, we agree to head back to Carters Mill Picnic Ground. We know there’s a few good walks around that area, and we should make an effort to at least claim to have been hiking.

The trip down the mountain was interesting, with a bit of rain there were plenty of puddles to splash water in all directions, and the van mostly behaved itself by sticking to the track.

We arrived at the picnic ground. It would seem that the weather was keeping people away today! A few cars, but not as many as yesterday. We were relieved. This means we don’t really need to interact with other people. These two introverts are much happier in their silence as they trek along the track, and only break that silence for two reasons:

  • Something interesting to look at.
  • Something funny to say.

The walk we choose is rather short, as it’s raining. As intrepid as we like to pretend we are, a good soaking, while not bothering us, is really not needed! It’s only a light sprinkling anyway. There are two walks, a 2k walk or a 3k walk. The short one is a circuit. The other is return on the same track. As tempting as an extra kilometre was, we went to the Plain Creek Loop Walk. It was lovely. A wonderful little wooded area, over a little bridge, and through the forest. The rain falling on my raincoat hat, the sound of Plain Creek bubbling away. The odd bird out in the weather.

In no time at all, the walk was done. The two very smoked campers and hikers got into their van and headed back the way they came.

We stopped in Yarck for lunch. Yarck is such a good name to say. It’s from the local Aboriginal name for the river Yaruk, meaning long river. The lunch stop was the Giddy Goat because, why wouldn’t you stop there? Restrictions meant that the little café was closed for sit down meals, however, a long bench stretching across the side of the footpath and a few little fires in barrels meant we could order our toasted sandwiches, sit outside in the chilly air and watch the world go by.

And that’s it, as exciting as it gets. A single night out in the bush, no snow, plenty of water falling from the sky. A wonderful collection of native birds. Trees, fire, smoke and good company.

A great way to replenish the inner workings of my brain with great company.

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