Ettremist: When and where were you born, and was there anything in your childhood or schooling which influenced you to bushwalk later on?
Russ: I was born in a Welsh mining village in the year 1932 and was a member of the Scouts since the age of seven, but my outdoor activity in the UK was confined to an annual camp and wandering about the mountain overlooking the village. I arrived in Australia in 1950, and started work as a surveyor. I joined the Scouts again - this time as an Assistant Leader. My first bushwalks were in the Royal National Park, the favourite being Waterfall to Audley, and the ferry to Bundeena and along the cliffs to Otford. After that, I did more adventurous trips to the Blue Mountains, Deua and the Snowy Mountains.
Ettremist: What about Dawn?
Russ: Dawn was born in Sydney some years after myself - Dawn says it was many years afterwards. She travelled the countryside widely with her parents and twin sister and learned to pitch a tent at a very early age. Dawn moved to Cooma at the start of the Snowy Scheme and took up skiing, and later moved to Wollongong.
Ettremist: How did the two of you meet?
Russ: I moved to Nowra in 1960 and was a surveyor with the then Shoalhaven Shire Council. I soon started to explore the Budawangs with the legendary bushwalker Jack Cole, visiting the Bora Ground on Quilty's Mountain and Monolith Valley when hardly anyone went there, and once traced the steps of Paddy Pallin from Yalwal to the Ettrema using a sketch map Paddy drew on the counter of his little shop next to the Fire Station in Castlereagh Street. I was District Venturer Leader for some years and met Dawn through Scouting when she was a Cub Leader in Wollongong.
We were married in 1961 and meant to stay in the Shoalhaven for five years then move on, but we got hooked on the bushwalking, although work and family increasingly curtailed our bushwalking and canoeing. After the kids grew up a bit, we started bushwalking more, and all of the kids (there are four - three boys and one girl) are proficient bushwalkers, and our five grandchildren are heading that way too.
Ettremist: Tell us about your early walks?
Russ: Our first serious walk together was with the younger boys in the Snowies, from Mount Selwyn to Broken Dam Hut. This was followed by an overnight walk into the Budawangs led by Alwyn Martin. At this time Dawn was the more enthusiastic walker and with Ursula Turner, and later Leila Kates, she pioneered many of the Wednesday walks we still do today. In those days the organization and activities of the club were much more relaxed - just a single walk each week with no more than a dozen people.
Ettremist: Have you walked overseas?
Russ: Most of our overseas walks have been in New Zealand with the favourite being a six day trip through the Greenstone Valley and over the Routeburn Track. The weather was brilliant and so were the NZ Alps. NZ also claims our hardest walk - Mt Ruapehu just a few months after the 1995 eruption. There was no track and we had a steep climb of 650m to the summit in quick time so we could catch the last cable car down from the 2100m level. Never again!
Ettremist: What are your favourite walking areas?
Russ: Our favourite walking areas in Australia are the Budawangs, Snowy Mountains and the Victorian Alps - in that order. We have also enjoyed the short walk to Churinga Head on the Ettrema and exploring the gold mines around Yalwal and Grassy Gully.
Ettremist: Your most embarrassing bushwalking moments?
Russ: Dawn's most embarrassing moment was having the Naval Police at HMAS Creswell blowing the siren to warn her group of bushwalkers off Navy land.
My most embarrassing moment was undoubtedly my abortive attempt to lead seventeen walkers to the Wine Glass Tor. I had a map, compass and GPS in my backpack but decided to rely on my memory of going over the route seven years earlier. One good thing came out of it - the theory of having a Plan B actually works!
Ettremist: How did the Two Rivers Track happen?
Russ: The original idea developed from a study of the Illawarra Escarpment by the Illawarra Regional Organization of Councils when one recommendation was to develop a walking track from the Royal National Park to Cambewarra (still waiting). Shoalhaven was more enthusiastic than other Councils and our section was planned first. While waiting for the others to catch up it was decided to look at a track from Cambewarra on to the Clyde River. By the time this was deemed feasible, I had retired, but Dawn and I were engaged as consultants to survey and define the route. A Committee was formed to oversee the project which included NPWS and other bodies. Objections by NPWS to the preferred route arose and we were obliged to follow a line which used existing tracks as much as possible and avoid "sensitive" areas. Eventually, the track was largely funded by ATSIC as an Aboriginal Development Programme.
The route I would have preferred in the middle part of the track would have bypassed the power lines for the most part by cutting down Cassia Road then traversing the turpentine forest below the cliff line, past Jerrawangala Lookout to get back on the plateau at Diorite Creek - a route followed by the Club on many occasions. We would also have avoided the steep, unpleasant climb up the north side of Pigeon House by following the old track via Longfella Pass to Yadboro. This was blocked by local politics which emerged right at the end of the process.
Ettremist: Any unusual moments in the bush?
Russ: My most unusual moment happened not when I was bushwalking but when I was surveying at the tender age of nineteen, in thick bush on the Victorian border. Surveyors carry plumb bobs attached to long strings, and my string got caught on a long spiral of bark. When I heard a rustle behind me, I looked back to see this long snake-like object following me. The faster I ran, the faster it went - until I fell over. Moments of terror followed by minutes for the heart beat to slow! Dawn's most unusual moment came on a full-pack walk from Newhaven Gap to Yadboro, when she was thrilled to hear a pack of dingoes howling near the tents.
Ettremist: What about the future?
Russ: We would like to continue bushwalking for pleasure and fitness, but if you ever hear us say something like "In my day we used to do things this way or that way ..." then you can just kick us out ...
(Ettremist - November 2004)