It was a sad day for the 38 new inmates who were assigned to Laurel Hills Prison. It was the afternoon of Wednesday 12th January 2005 when most of the prisoners arrived to be assigned to their Cell Blocks. Some went to Boggo Rd, others to Long Bay - this block was for the hardened woman, all single and wild. The single men were in Pentridge, where the passage through the ceiling to Long Bay was known by all. Getting a cell was easy and it wasn't long before prisoners pinched themselves to realise how nice this hellhole really was.
Out came the snacks and little drinks. Alcohol wasn't allowed in jail, so we had to settle for beer, wine and whatever we had brought with us. Julie did leave the prison grounds illegally to sneak out to Tumbarumba for better supplies.
(38 members and friends arrived at Laurel Hill Forest Lodge - formerly a low security prison - on Wednesday to prepare for three walks along the Hume and Hovell Track. We settled into the accommodation at Pentridge, Long Bay, Boggo Road and Mullawa and commenced our first Happy Hour.)
During the happy hour, a mountain man dropped in to tell us some tales about the Hume and Hovell track, which we were to be working on. Little did we know he was an old friend of Ray Spratt, he started to tell us tales of Ray, but then Ray turned up and he switched his tales to the H & H track. The mountain man was no other than Harry Hill author of the Hume & Hovell Walking Track guidebook. He joined us for dinner and after our meal he put on a slide show and gave us a very humorous talk about the track and his adventures in the region. Many of the prisoners had books of Harry Hill and he signed them for us, it was indeed a privilege and honour meeting him. He has spanned many years of outdoor adventures and rates with Paddy Pallin and the other wonders of the great outdoors.
(Harry Hill entertained us with a fascinating talk and presentation on the Hume and Hovell Track. He has been involved in bush walking and developing the track for many years and has walked the whole track. His slides gave us some appreciation of his interesting life in the area. Several of his books about the track and anecdotes from his teaching career were purchased.)
Shackled and bound we headed back to our cells with lights out. Looking forward to 7am. breakfast. The previous night's dinner was great food and some wondered what was in store for breakfast. Not disappointed we tucked into a very healthy breakfast with cereal, juice, toast and coffee. The discipline was very strict and we headed out of the dinning room at 7:30am sharp to be told at 7:45am we were to return to prepare our lunches. This we did and not many were punished for being late or taking too many sandwiches, fruit or drinks.
While all this was going on the camp commandant was trying really hard to organise the prison work sheets for the day. 12 kms had to be covered. Those walking south had only 10 kms uphill and those walking north had 10 kms downhill. It wasn't an easy sell. To top it all off, it turned out to be a bloody hot day. Ray Spratt leading the downhill charge, Lauri leading the uphill crawl. The car shuffle was set up for both ends and off we went. Getting lost was the order of the drive in, or was it just extra sightseeing? The latter I think!
It was very exciting being on the H & H track, walking in the same tracks as they did in 1824-25. Sometimes walking for one hour and noting that H & H took one day to cover the same ground. The track is very well marked with the special little symbols, which we were always glad to see. Today a nice track, with sightings of the Blowering dam, Tumut power station, of course, Power Lines, blackberries and real Aussie bush. At Moffetts Crossing a sight to behold, a goodly number of our female inmates gear off and into the Buddong creek (photos can be obtained for a price from most of the male inmates who were on the bridge). The highlight was, for me, definitely the Buddong Falls. One of the biggest falls I've ever seen on the Australian Mainland, as Harry Hill said, "they cannot fail to impress". Plenty of water, and a little less after we had been there and drunk more than our share of it. Drove back to our cells sore and hot from a wonderful day of hard labour on the Hume and Hovell track. A hot shower followed by a cold shower, drinks and dinner snapped most of us back into our old selves to live another day.
(For our first walk we were asked to choose uphill or downhill which sounded pretty simple, but, at breakfast, we realised it would be very hot. The walk proved to be much more difficult than anticipated and a real challenge for the leaders and tail-end Charlies. The heat took its toll and we were all relieved to see the cars around 6pm. The up group made the most of the Buddong waterfall and submerged themselves in the welcome water. The down group were ecstatic to reach the base camp and WATER. After plenty to drink, bottles filled and many soakings we were able to complete the final stage.)
Same routine for the morning only today some chose to go fishing, some tennis, some swimming and about 24 chose to return to the track, more hard labour. By now the muscles are hardening, the sweat glands are working overtime and our arms are waving to keep away the friendly flies and other beasts that worried us. A big variety of fly nets were on display, from course weave, to super fine weave, which even filtered the air. Most important though was keeping the March flies at bay. No fish for the pan, but many kissed and returned, I heard! It was reported that Yuriko tasted a beer in every pub in Tumbarumba after the walk today - there are only two pubs. Most of us joined her and it helped our thirst. Julie led us astray again. Illegally.
(The second day was based around Paddy River Dam. Two walking groups completed the next section of the track, another group went fishing and provided us with the appropriate stories and yet another group played tennis, walked around the dam and generally relaxed.)
Back at the barracks Dinner was again a treat, our Hosts Owen, Cathy and their two daughters worked a hell of a lot harder than us prisoners ever did. Thanks to them we dined every day with excellent meals from their home-grown garden and their hard work. After dins this night Bernie Body put on a Trivia Night based on our club, it was very well done. Yours truly, your President's table came fourth using the knowledge of many years experience with the club. As there were only four tables it must have been the gallantry of the President himself to let Barbara Robinson, Nick Lloyd and their table come first. Not to mention all the giggles from Daphne and Lillian's table, Harry Croft and Sigi, both tables taking honours ahead of the Presidents table.
(Our hosts Cathy and Owen Fitzgerald were extremely friendly and helpful and made our stay so special. The accommodation was great, the foods absolutely amazing and their support, helpful hints and local knowledge were much appreciated. A trivia night based on the club and trip proved to be enlightening! Lots of people will have to read the club guidelines again! Do you know the name of the road where we meet each Wednesday*? Can you work out a town using the clue - shot a man** - or a club member - globe truck in reverse? *** - see below)
Our last day of penance was to all walk together to the section from Henry Angel trackhead to the Lookout to see the Main Range of the Snowy Mountains. Yes, it was clear, yes, we took lots of photos at the lookout where H & H also stood and admired the Australian Alps. It was a lovely days walk following Burra Creek under shade, stopping to look at cuttings made for the gold mining, using dynamite. A tunnel and falls also took our fancy, while lunching some even took to swimming in the Burra Creek while four of our intrepid walkers went on to the Tumbarumba Creek. Getting back to Henry Angel trackhead we had time to go a few kms by car to Paddys River falls which were also running very well, into a beautiful pool.
(Our final walk was along the Burra creek and provided us with many interesting features based on gold mining history. These included a tunnel used for diverting the creek, water races, reinforced river banks, waterfalls - again utilised by many nymphs cooling off - and a great view of the Snowy Mountains.)
A great way to end some time on the Hume and Hovell track.
* We meet at Pleasant Way
** Shot A Man is Gundagai
*** Globe Truck in reverse is our President - Lauri Ball