Margaret Brown Writes...
It was about 1982 that I joined the Shoalhaven Bushwalkers. From memory May Leatch was President and Stuart Leslie was Secretary. I was in the habit of attending the meetings and have continued to do so over the years.
At this time the Wednesday walkers had not been formed and one of the first walks that was impressed on my mind was of a walk that was in a section of Barren Grounds that I have never been back to. We were led by one of the young male members who had not been in that particular section for about four years, consequently there was a fair amount of off track work. We also had a young child of five or six with us who wore a pair of sandshoes that the back was trodden down and kept slipping off her feet as she walked, so we were constantly stopping whilst her shoes were replaced, much to the frustration of the leader, who eventually in disgust picked her up and walked with her on his shoulders.
One of the members (who has since passed away), Rick Kelly had a donkey farm at Fox Ground and took people on trips up river from Yalwal and I was fortunate enough to go on one, with a group, for a weekend. He supplied all gear and food. We spent the first night near Rex Fletcher's by the creek. Next morning we each packed our gear on our donkey - we each had our own, and mine was named Cricket - and each leading their donkey set off up the river. We walked all morning and at lunchtime set up our camp and fed the donkeys. Next morning we packed the donkeys again and walked back out. It was a fun weekend.
Over the years there have been three experiences of coming across crops of marijuana. The first, in about 1982 was on a walk off Forest Road, a small plot but with large plants. The second was a very large area, low in the valley off the Valley Fire Trail, and well hidden. The ground was prepared and the gear consisting of tools and bags of compost were stored in two caves. The third was in an area beyond the waterfall on the Hell Hole walk. It was well set up - a covered hammock, washing and socks hanging, plenty of tools and plants. I couldn't get away quickly enough, perhaps someone was not too far away!
Another experience before the Wednesday walks began. We were to have a cook out in the Parma Creek area and show the different ways cooking is done in the bush. We were to walk along the creek in the morning and be back to the starting point for the cook out. Alas two of the group were out in front and when we came to a division in the creek they took the left and we took the right. Instead of a cookout we spent lunch time searching for the pair who eventually turned up, but is was too late by then for our demonstration.
Over the years we have had few mishaps, however, one was at the bottom of Granite Falls. We had lunch down river sitting on the rocks. One of our members got up to walk back out and slipped on the wet rocks and came down heavily on the end of her spine. She had to be helped out by one person with an arm around her waist and another person pushing from behind. Thanks goodness there was only bruising, but no breaks.
I have always pushed for people wanting to join our walks to be screened thoroughly regarding fitness to walk. We had one young lass in her early twenties join us for a walk in which we were to break into groups, some using their maps and making their own way in the area, whilst the greater number of us stayed on track - a very steep walk down to a creek and a very steep walk out. By the time we stopped for morning tea the young lass was having trouble as her legs were trembling badly so I massaged them for her. By the time we reached the creek at the bottom for lunch she was so distressed I said if she would lay on her stomach, I would massage her lower back and legs, only to be told she had not long had on operation on her back. The doctor had told her to walk! Jack Van Dam practically carried her back to the cars. The lass never came back - I only hope she did not do any damage to herself.
Another memorable walk was up Hoddle's Track looking for and finding the wreck of an airplane - Navy I think. The detail I have forgotten, except that in bad weather the plane was coming into Albatross, saw the lights of Kiama thinking they were Nowra, and flew into the mountains north of Fox Ground and all lives were lost.
Some of my favourite walks are:- Wineglass Tor, the Tianjara Rim Walk, the Chimneys and walking down the creek, the Gold Mines and old printings on rocks at Yalwal, and Mount Bushwalker.
In April 1987, if I remember correctly, Robyn Dening invited me to go on a bushwalk, which I think was to the Honeymoon Bay area. I can remember Margaret Brown and Ursula Turner being there and May Leatch led the walk. I think this was the first Wednesday walk. The next month we went to Abraham's Bosom to check out the layout of the track and the effect of the bush fires on the Xanthorrhea Australis (grass trees). May led this walk again and Dawn Evans joined us. Before this, members had walked only at weekends. Ursula Turner was the contact person. After a few walks we started going fortnightly and then progressed to weekly. The number of walkers was not as large as now. Probably sixteen was the most but sometimes there was only five of us.
In June 1987 we saw a pair of whales diving and swimming near Kitty's Beach (my first sight of whales). That was one of the highlights of the year. Other highlights were climbing Pigeon House in November '87, and visiting the Bangalee area for the first time, viewing the old graves. Most of the old house was standing then.
And now coming to the 'near' end of both my history and bushwalking I want to record that wonderfully happy day celebrating my 80th birthday. We travelled up the Shoalhaven River by boat from Nowra to Bangalee - had a big fire, some wine and a lovely iced birthday cake made by one of our members husbands, and then came back by boat again. We had a little drama at the end of the day - one of our group slipped on the wet wharf and fell some eight to ten feet into the river. Thankfully, other than being wet, bruised and sore she is back to full health, thanks to the quick action of our members.
All this happened on the 5th August 1998 and I want to thank the 56 members and friends for the lovely cards, gifts and beautiful album of photos taken over the many years, plus all those good wishes, especially the ones that said I'll still be there at 90! I have had a love of the bush all by life, and cannot extol enough the wonders of this beautiful area in the South, and the joy of being with others who also share that love.