Towards a Shoalhaven Bushwalkers Club
Some walkers who Helped it Happen
In 1970 Ivan Goozeff of Nowra put a notice in the Nowra Library inviting people interested in bushwalking to a meeting at his home with the idea of forming a walking club. Those attending included "a couple of wild men from Tomerong (could have been the Parnells)" and Marion James, a teacher at Orient Point School. She was later killed in an air crash in New Guinea. Ivan believes the track, Marion's Walk, at Currarong is named after her.
Ivan displayed some walking and camping gear at that meeting and it was decided to climb The Castle the next weekend. Because of family commitments Ivan did not continue with the group after this initial start but in 1980 he returned to lead trips including walks to Pebbly Beach on the South Coast and to Jagungal in the Snowy Mountains.
In the early 1970s Richard Passfield came to live in Tomerong, a village south of Nowra. He was a member of the Coastal Walkers Association and continued to join them for walks in the Sydney area. In 1975 he expressed a wish that there was a similar group in the Shoalhaven. Richard was encouraged to write an article for the South Coast Register explaining the aims and objects of a local bushwalking group.
As a result of this, on 24th April 1975 (he remembers the date as it was his 18th birthday) eleven people met at the Village Hall at Tomerong. Among those who attended were his brother Mark, Bob Manning, John Hatton Jr., Lyn Cronin, and Bob Redenbach. Following this meeting an executive was elected. Lyn Cronin became secretary but he cannot remember who filled the other positions. Following this initial gathering, monthly meetings were held in other peoples' homes and then in a room in Berry Street, Nowra.
About ten walks were held in the Budawangs including The Castle, Folly Point, Hidden Valley, Pigeon House Mountain, Mount Tarn (overnight - so cold they woke to ice on the sleeping bags) also to Parma Creek, the Yalwal mines area etc. The group also linked up with the Moss Vale Walkers and took part in a Search and Rescue for a walker who had broken an ankle while walking in the Budawangs. A Navy Iroquois helicopter was called in to assist and the Shoalhaven Bushwalkers were given a search area from The Castle to Mount Nibelung. However their help was not needed. They also went climbing at Battleship Rock on the upper Endrick River, exploring in the Tianjara sandstone caves, and abseiling on Mount Owen. Richard left the district in 1977 and moved to Kununurra, WA.
In the mid 70s Bob Redenbach of Cambewarra was a member of the Shoalhaven Bushwalkers. He also recalls a number of walkers that included Richard and Mark Passfield, Bob Manning, and John Hatton Jr. Most had a good knowledge of the Budawangs and Morton National Park and led walks to Folly Point, The Castle, Pigeon House, Yalwal mines and a hike and overnight camp from Newhaven Gap to Yadboro (late 1970). Members took part in a number of rescues including a search for two walkers lost in the Budawangs (there are photos of these groups including one of an early morning briefing at Nerriga).
Meetings of the Club were informal, possibly minutes were taken but Bob cannot recall if there were elected office bearers. Richard Passfield convened these early meetings of the Club which were held in a room at the Nowra Library or Technical College in Berry Street. (Names of some possible officers bearers mentioned by early walkers included Lynne Karlson, Annette Stilsby, Bev and Peter Gillam and Len Hall.)
Bob Manning and his wife rejuvenated the Club after Richard Passfield left and before they also left Nowra for Melbourne. Max and Coral Taylor, who lived on Albatross Rd, were also walkers at that time and remember that Richard Passfield took his dog along with him. On one walk they met up with Myles Dunphy, founding member of the Mountain Trails Club and a devoted conservationist. Dunphy received an international award for his work in developing Primitive Reserves (now National Parks), in particular, a large area that included parts of the Shoalhaven River.
Bob Harnwell of Nowra came to the Shoalhaven to teach at Wandandian. When that school closed in 1970 he transferred to Nowra Primary School as teacher/librarian. There he met Peter Hancock and from about 1975 joined him on weekend walks to Folly Point and other areas in the Budawangs, Tallowa Dam, Yalwal and Parma Creek areas. Bob only remembers going on one long walk - an Easter trip to Ettrema Gorge. The size of the walking groups varied, sometimes only a few, others were bigger (up to 12) and included family members. Of the Club meetings, Bob recalls there being Walks Committee meetings where programs for the coming weeks were arranged, printed and distributed on the infamous blue sheets which faded, as May Leatch recalls. Bob stopped walking as his interest in bird watching increased.
Max and Coral Taylor started walking with the club from November 1975. "It was a loosely formed group of up to 16-20. Most walks were for one day only and included the Budawangs, Mount Sturgiss, Pigeon House (with shaky ladders), Hidden Valley, the Bora Ground, Ettrema Gorge (very hard climb out of the valley). Leaders would go out to check the track to be walked before the actual group walk." As well as Club walks Max also walked with other small groups from Nowra or met up with others from Sydney University on weekends in the Snowy Mountains, Tasmania, the Blue Mountains, Bungonia Gorge, etc.
Members they remember "include Lyn Cronin from Penshurst in Sydney, Bob Manning, R. Allman from New Zealand, Bob Redenbach, a couple named Smith from St. Georges Basin (he was a green keeper who worked at Huskisson - Bernie Smith, an ambulance driver, was his brother)." Max and Coral also remember the Search and Rescue exercise looking for young hikers lost in the Budawangs for 5 days. The plane(s) searching flew down the valleys and did not see those lost, but the walkers, who had climbed to the range top, could see the plane. Later a helicopter was brought in to take the Search and Rescue teams to various areas but was not needed as the hikers found their own way out. Max says a lesson was learnt from this.
After a while the numbers of members "dropped off due to poor organisation of the meetings and differences of opinion on the type of walks to be taken." Max (now in his 70s) went to the bush when he left school, worked on sheep and cattle stations and became interested in buckjumping. This led to participating in rodeos and he was Queensland champion in 1958 and still holds the record at Tumbarumba. He still maintains an interest in horse breaking.
Jeff Passlow of North Nowra came to the Shoalhaven in the late sixties, living along the Bolong Road and he well remembers the big flood of 1970. He first walked in 1975/6 from an interest in the bush and as a member of the Wilderness Society. He took part in the protests against the building of the Franklin Dam in Tasmania. He attended meetings of the Shoalhaven Bushwalkers held upstairs in the Nowra Library and later in the community house opposite. These meetings were informal gatherings where maps were spread out, routes decided on and members choosing to lead the different walks. Jeff cannot remember any election of office bearers or formal agenda but there was discussion on the legal responsibilities of leaders, levying of fees, preparing walk reports and news for 'The Bush Telegraph' and the difficult task of grading walks.
From an early trip report - "Name of Trip : Bundundah Creek return via Yalwal Creek. Level of Difficulty: Medium ; exploratory. Number of persons on trip : 7. Left Nowra - 8am; drove half an hour to Danjera Dam; walked across dam to western side and uphill onto ridge between Myrtle Gully and Cambridge Gully (15mins.); there follow ridge above Snake Creek to Clarkes Saddle up a steep scree slope (10mins.); route passes through open forest and takes 1hr. or less to Clarkes Saddle approx. Head north keeping to the contour 600-800m. above Eureka Creek; along benches of burrawangs. After about 1hour (2kms.) drop down to Eureka Creek via a steep gully; walk along the open forested grassy creek banks to Corroboree Flat, many swimming holes and drinking water; good camping spots, firewood; walk out along Bundundah Creek to Yalwal Creek then up Yalwal Creek to the dam. There is a rough road from Corroboree Flat to Danjera Dam - mostly flat walking with creek crossings; about 12kms. (4hours walking). Warning: Yalwal Creek at the Bundundah Creek junction becomes a raging torrent after heavy rain. Other comments: take sneakers for creek crossings; since banks of Eureka Creek are fairly open a quick return is to come via the creek, up the gully to Clarkes Saddle and return the same way. Jeff Passlow 23/3/1980."
Annette Stilsby of Croydon belonged to the Coast and Mountain Walkers in Sydney. She came to the area in 1978 and walked independently for some time. She heard of the bushwalking group of Alwyn Martin, Peter and Ann Hancock, Richard "Paddy" Blair and Ruth and Len Hall. Annette attended the informal meetings of the club held in the Nowra Library and was part of the revitalizing of the club. She took part in the planning and leading of the monthly walks. She does not recall any records, minute books or other formalized matters from these club meetings, but she thinks reports of the walks were kept in a large ledger.
Like other walkers at this time, Annette remembers the walks were to Foxground, Mount Carrialoo, Cambewarra and along the coast and beaches. Permission had to be obtained from local farmers to cross their properties beyond Cambewarra. As now, the country around Nowra was very lovely with possibly much more wildlife, echidnas in the temperate rainforest and a wider variety of flowering plants. She met old Mr. George Brown, an Elder from Wreck Bay who led interpretive walks and assisted her in preparing Aboriginal studies for Bomaderry School where she taught.
John Hatton Jr recalls - "My recollection is that the Shoalhaven Bushwalkers Club started in 1977 - or that was when I was invited to join by a fellow student at Nowra High School - John Lattanzio. I think the founders were two brothers named Parnell from Tomerong. I have no idea where these people are now.
"I have fond memories of many day walks, and an occasional two-day walk through the Budawangs. Once, the younger Parnell brother was standing on top of the Castle looking down to Byangee Walls and was contemplating hang gliding from the Castle to Byangee - I'm pretty sure that he never did it."
Alwyn Martin left Sydney in 1969 'to get away from the rat race'. He brought a property on the Pacific Highway, south of Wandandian and planted a peach orchard. Alwyn had been a member of the Sydney Adventist Bushwalking Club before coming to the South Coast and continued to join them on hikes into the Blue Mountains, Central Coast and the Shoalhaven, as well as to Tasmania in 1965 to walk the Overland Track. Some of his favourite Blue Mountain walks were to Blue Gum Forest, along the Cox's River, Kanangra Walls and the Katoomba to Mittagong track, which is one of the longest and most challenging walks he has undertaken. Alwyn enjoyed camping with friends, going to Breakfast Creek, the Kowmung River and many trips around NSW. Alwyn has walked with the Shoalhaven Bushwalkers since the 1970's and well remembers walks in the Morton National Park and along the Ettrema and Shoalhaven Rivers. His favourite walks? "At first they were in the Budawangs, like from Currockbilly to Wog Wog but since these tracks have been walked out, I have moved north to the challenge of the Ettrema Gorge," he says.
When Alwyn first joined the Club he enjoyed the company of 'interesting' friends like Bob Manning, May Leach, Peter Gillam and Peter Hancock. A number of these fellow walkers were on the Club committee and Alwyn attended meetings where business matters were discussed, trip reports given and walks for the coming weeks were planned. He remains a keen member of the Club and is now a member of the Committee willing and able to share his extensive knowledge of the local area. By the mid-1980's Alwyn was leading many one-day, overnight, weekend and longer walks. 'He is a careful and well organised leader but it sometimes hard to keep up with' his followers report. Over the years he has learnt much about the country around the Shoalhaven and become experienced in taking groups on many interesting, adventurous walks, often exploratory. Of recent times his fellow walkers have been the Kates, the Cleggs, Priors, Gordon Grenenger, the Whites and the Davies. Alwyn appears to be very fit, strong and tireless. He keeps his gear to a minimum and other walkers are surprised at the small amount of equipment, clothes and food he carries. He believes in "travelling light, travelling fast" but also enjoys the quite beauty of the bush. Other Club activities Alwyn participates in are the regular Search and Rescue Navigation Shield events (Rogaines) and assisting in Search and Rescue call-outs for lost and injured bushwalkers.
From Peter Hancock - "My great grandfather settled at Moruya in 1880. My grandfather, Fred Hancock, and my father were both born and bred bushmen. Dr Ro Kingston asked me once on a bushwalk how I could find my way in the bush. I guess its something passed down from one generation to the next. You soak it up from the day you can walk, but sometimes you just have to cheat and use a compass.
"Fred lived at Benandra (original spelling) near Batemans Bay. Benandra Hill or Big Bit as the locals call it is a magnificent 360 degree lookout. In the fifties the Forestry Commission built a fire tower there. Inside the tower was a continuous strip photograph right around above the windows with compass bearings of all the Budawangs peaks which could be seen from there - Pigeon House, Byangee, The Castle, Renwick (Mt Owen), Bibbenluke, Corang Peak, Currockbilly, Mt Budawang, Clyde Mountain and all the way south to Dromedary Mountain at Tilba.
"Also in the tower was a huge set of binoculars mounted on a tripod. They had been taken from a WW2 Japanese battleship and were about a metre long. You could see a flea on a wallaby at ten miles with them! People walking near Durras about six miles away could easily be seen. I spent many hours there as a child scanning the Budawangs through those glasses, dreaming of the day I would be old enough to explore the mysterious peaks I had been born within sight of.
"In 1956 I was ten and my father finally relented and we set off for the Pigeon House. 1948 Vauxhalls were not made for fording the Boyne Creek. Luckily, a truck coming back from Yadboro towed us out. Next time we were in a Forestry Land Rover driven by my Uncle Keith. No ladders to the top in those days. No track either for that matter. We looked out over Yadboro Clearing almost overgrown with blackberries, with Byangee and the Castle behind. We also spent some time looking for an Avro Anson which had crashed there during WW2. No luck, but the plane's engines are said to be still out there.
"In the mid 1960's many weekends were spent exploring the Castle area. In 1966 a mate and I walked from the Mongarlowe Road to Yadboro via Corang Peak, Bibbenluke, Shrouded Gods, Monolith Valley and the Castle. In those days it was almost an untouched wilderness. Areas of the Monolith Valley which were later to become bare sand and rock from over-use, were waist deep in shrubs and ferns. The upper western slope of the Castle had no well-worn, eroded track. No track at all really. The Sydney and Canberra hordes had yet to arrive. We hadn't met a single soul or seen a footprint.
"In 1978 I moved to Nowra and in 1979 joined the Shoalhaven Bushwalkers. Meetings were held in a council owned house opposite the library and in the old library itself. The structure of the club in those days was pretty informal. The proposer of the walk usually became the leader and organizer of it. Two and three day walks were planned and there was much discussion about some formalization of the rules and procedures, and about the role of children in the club.
"Some of the walkers from those days were; Len and Ruth Hall (veterans of the Coast and Mountain Walkers), Alwyn Martin (the toughest walker I ever met), Lyn Carlson (with whom I went to teacher's college), Peter and Bev Gillam (who hosted the club Christmas party at their home in Douglas Street), Norm and Peter Smith, Sue Hogan, Jeff and Ruth Passlow, Doug, Darren and Trevor Shanks, May Leatch, Brian Kenny, Annette Stilsby, Ro Kingston and Marion James (who was tragically killed in a plane crash in New Guinea).
"Bushwalkers are a many and varied lot. I always find that the bush brings out the best in people. They perform feats of endurance they didn't know they were capable of, learn to sleep in caves, cook in all weather, wear clothing they wouldn't otherwise be seen dead in, and eat food that was dehydrated three years before, and love it all.
"On a walk to Bibbenluke in 1982, Jeff Passlow arrived with a pack only about six inches shorter than himself and definitely greater in girth. Carrying it ten yards was a feat of uncommon valour. Upon arrival at the campsite below Mt Tarn after about a six hour slog the contents were revealed. No dehydrated beef curry and beans for Jeff. It is probably the only time that fine wines, vintage port, cheese and Jatz and smoked oysters have been consumed in that remote place. Unfortunately, the empties had to be carried back to the car.
"On the same walk one of the young ladies decided on the second night that the tent she was sharing was unsuitable and declared that as I was in a tent on my own that there would be plenty of room for her. Took me a long time to live that one down. On the return walk to Styles Creek on the third day the mist was so thick that it was the only time in the Budawangs I've had to use a compass to find the way.
"A walk from Pretty Beach to Clear Point at the foot of Durras Mountain was very pleasant on a summer's day in December 1983. Skinny dipping was not covered by the club rules in those days, but a prominent stock and station agent who was with us that day must have been inspired by some of the au naturel locals, or was it just the sea air? I can still see the look on May Leatch's face.
"Speaking of swimming, if you ever go to Ettrema Gorge don't plan on a leisurely dip. On a walk in October 1982 the water was so cold that the record for staying in it was 41 seconds.
"It takes all kinds. One lady club member felt that it was necessary to take at least three changes of clothes on a day walk. She would disappear en route only to re-appear in an even briefer pair of short shorts or tinier top. As we were assembling one morning at the Aeroplane she announced that she was going back home to get a second pair of socks. We departed rather smartly but she caught up with us half way through the walk and still managed one quick change.
"My last walk with the Club before incorporation was one I led to the western rim of Ettrema Gorge at Churinga Head on Good Friday 1987. An easy one to finish with. I thank all those I've walked with over the years for their friendship, fellowship, humour and patience. May the track always rise to meet you and the wind be always at your back, and may you have at least one overnighter in the Budawangs when it doesn't rain and your tent mates don't snore."
May Leatch came to the Shoalhaven in 1979 and by 1984 had become involved with the Shoalhaven Bushwalkers. She was the Club Leader after Peter Gillam left Nowra. She organised walks, collected fees, wrote and copied the Newsletter and participated in the monthly Club meetings. May was soon exploring the Shoalhaven area, often alone, and this knowledge helped to expand the range of walks undertaken by the Club both on weekends and later when she started the very popular Wednesday walks.
Through her association with the Australian Conservation Society, May became the coordinator, editor and photographer of 'The New Bush Telegraph', an important outlet for such local groups as the Historical Society, the Peace Movement, Jervis Bay Protection Committee, Bushwalkers and the N.P.W.S.
Brian Kenny's first involvement with walking in the Shoalhaven was in 1981 when he was appointed the coordinator of the Department of Lands Walking Track Program for the area, a program using Commonwealth Employment Funding to build walking tracks on Crown Land. He joined the Bushwalkers Club in an effort to coordinate as many groups and organisations as possible to "assist, enjoy and promote walking". The resulting walking tracks developed around Nowra are Ben's Walk on Nowra Creek, Bomaderry Creek Walking Track, Beecroft Headland tracks and Bangalee Reserve. He was also involved in the Wildlife Reserve at Ulladulla and the Boxvale and Hill Top tracks in Mittagong. All of these walks are frequently included in Club programs. In Feb.1988 the Club went on a sunrise walk to Abraham's Bosom Reserve at Currarong where Brian told the history of the SS Merimbula, wrecked on nearby rocks.
In the mid 1980s, while Secretary and then in 1989, when Public Officer of the Club, Brian was active in formalizing meeting procedures, the election of officers and drawing up a constitution for the Club prior to it becoming an Incorporated Body.
Brian had a reputation as a damper maker, mixing the dough and cooking it in a billy hung from a collapsible tripod made for him by Mr Rouen, a blacksmith with premises in Berry Street. "The tripod consisted of three steel rods and a hook made from 8 gauge fencing wire. But the damper was frequently burnt", he remembers. Although now 'retired' from active participation in bushwalking Brian still maintains an interest in Club matters and would like to return to walking when he officially retires from his work in real estate.