A SWELL DAY OUT

The train rolled out of Bomaderry.  I’d been planning to do this but had put it on the backburner.  So far back I’d forgotten but a cancellation had put it back on the agenda.  That, and the fact the swell was up.  I was Kiama bound.

FROM THE TRAIN

The countryside was a feast for the eyes.  Verdant fields rolled either side of the tracks with the sandstone ridge line prominent in the western sector.  Grain crops soon to be harvested and cattle seemed to be the main reasons for farming around here.

As we approached Kiama, after leaving Gerringong, my first view of the coast in some time brought forth lonely beaches and headlands.   I pondered their access.  Was it possible to get up close and personal with these remote beaches?

Then we disappeared into a tunnel and there was a beach on the other side as well.  Faint hope I would ever get to see them other than the railway.

I dragged my bike off the train at Kiama, thankful the railways had re-configured the carriages so a couple of bikes and wheelchairs could use the transport with ease.  Bound for the number one tourist attraction, the blowhole, it would be a shared experience.  It was school holidays, the swell was up, it was a fine day.  The local cafes must have been rubbing their hands in glee.

At the famed site there was indeed a gathering of around sixty or so and the whooomp as the unseen swell roared into the cave beneath before ejecting skywards is always guaranteed to heighten expectations.  Gasps followed moment later as the spume roared skywards, creating its own rainbow if you stood in the right place to take advantage of the sun’s rays.

Eventually tiring of the spectacle I drifted east across the coarse magma remnants.  The jagged edges of tiny air holes from millennia ago made for a good walking grip but my fingers were not amused.

The swell was pounding the coast, trying to climb over any protruding piece of rock it could find.  It seemed that if one area was not going to succumb it would try each succeeding protrusion until something finally gave.  Spray popped up in so many places you weren’t quite sure where to look but I found a spot where one could watch the ocean’s rise and fall and spent some time there.

The droplets drifted across the coarse volcanic remnants.  The salt could be tasted as I rolled my tongue across my upper lip and moustache.  In time I moved around to the harbourside, snapped a couple of headland shots and was soon off.  The cafes got my business soon after.  Nothing like a lamb pie and some hot chocolate to rejuvenate the body and soul.

Seeking greener photographic pastures around the harbour, I made my way towards one of the excellent ocean baths.  Surprisingly, on this day where the winds were clearly coming from the snowy peaks further south, a couple of older males slowly churned up the water while I wondered whether or not I should have brought a second jumper.

LOOKING BACK TO KIAMA

The receding tide made walking on the rock shelf possible.  The light was bright and the cliffs behind, where some residences enjoyed “genuine water views”, stood proud before the sun.  One or two crevices had water rushing back and forth with kelp keeping time with the sea’s rhythm.  There was a certain bliss to be had walking here on this day and I hoped my shots would reflect that.

With some time left I headed to the other side of the peninsula where a small bay welcomed the advancing swells.  A group of men with funny looking things were nearby as I clambered across the rocks seeking vantage points.  As the button was pressed for the first video it was impossible not to hear the wailing bagpipes beside me.  Coupled with the thrashing waves, it made for an unusual background noise.

THIS IS NOT THE VIDEO

Soon after I boarded the train, wondering if I would see its like again.

WHEN WANDER TURNS TO WONDER – PART TWO, INTO THE DEPTHS

Oh, how wrong can you be.  A lot apparently. A couple of days later it was time to cover the remaining pieces of the jigsaw of trails, heading to the southern extremities on the loop trail and fording at River Oak Crossing.  Knowing walking would be the only way I took a tablet to relieve arthritic pain.

No sooner had I dropped down the stairway through the rocks again, heading south, than the gorge started getting deeper, more dramatic and, the more you walked, the better it got.  All manner of sandstone outcrops are here.  There are vertical, undercut, slanted and triangular shapes.  Some are draped with creeping vines while others are dappled with moss and orchids and the trail, for the most part, hugs the cliffs.

If you might want to chance your arm and get a shot or two of the stream, be prepared for a scramble, descending from the dominant spotted gums with their bulbous bases to the litter of the floods beneath.  Down here, while you’re slapping the mozzies, you’ll be reminded of them with the coachwood trees.  Named for its desirable use as a preferred wood for carriages, it was also used in the construction of one of the world’s most unique aircraft, the Mosquito.  Used both as a fighter and a bomber it was faster than the most famous WWII aircraft, the Spitfire, and wood from this very area was used in its construction.

Finally, after just under two hours, the River Oak Crossing is reached.  A series of large river boulders with a couple of metal grids placed across the tricky bits make for a noisy crossing as the partly unfastened aluminium flaps up and down on the solid sandstone base.

The trail ascends to more dramatic cliffs, causing me to continually rubber-neck to soak up the natural wonder of this place.  Rock falls have created some tricky walking conditions after the mercifully flat section soon after the crossing.  One outcrop is rent in two by a giant crack and a tall spotted gum in front has followed the line of the split. 

Here and there the occasional fungi put in an appearance as they slowly decompose their hosts, trees that have succumbed to storms.  Other remnants have been washed up on top of each other in river log jams that will temporarily change the course of the flow.  Strangely, there are few birds around; surprising when they could be feasting on the mozzies.

Eventually the loop is closed and the bridge I’d crossed previously is reached.  It’s one of the most dramatic walks I’ve been on in Australia, especially if you like sandstone formations.

Next day I returned late in order to get the western cliffs in better light.  It worked and then, my final day I entered from the furthest listed point south, hoping for more but, it was only a couple of hundred metres from the rattily bridge of yesterday. 

Having spent some time in the Blue Mountains recently, I have to say that this matches anything I did there in terms of gorges, just doesn’t have big waterfalls is all.  The secret is out Nowra!

WHEN WANDER BECOMES WONDER

Slap.  I was losing count.  I wished there was someone else here so that I could share the burden.  The rains bring plagues and, apart from the mice, mosquitoes were in the ascendancy.  Slap, another bloody spot, it was time to move again.

Just where I should go I wasn’t quite sure.  I’d been tipped off by two people that there might be some photo opportunities in the Bomaderry Creek area.  Research indicated more than one trail wandering around the creek, seemingly covering all directions.  Creeks are usually good value when it comes to photography, so I had some expectations.

It was less than half a kilometre away as the crow flies so I imagined it couldn’t be all that great.  I mean, just a few hundred metres from the Princes Highway and near a populous area, it would be publicized, right?  However, mentions were few and the parking area held, at its maximum capacity, about six cars, at a pinch that is.  There were two there today in the middle of school holidays.

The whole thing had been kicked off by the Rotary Club who were eventually granted approval in 1979 to make a trail following animal tracks.  

I’d ridden the bike over, hoping to maybe do a fair amount of the trail, or trails, on two wheels and thus save my knees.  However, after about 300 metres, the level bits stopped and a stairway descended between two large sandstone outcrops.  Time to abandon two wheels.

Immediately possibilities began to crop up.  The sandstone was of significant size and the creek was rushing below somewhere if the sound was any guide.  I went down and, then, all the way to the creek.  Upstream was an abandoned weir, originally built in 1938 as a water supply.  When no longer needed, part of it was removed in 1998 to allow the fish to head further upstream for spawning.

I returned to the steps and ventured a few hundred metres before calling it quits.  There were hints of promise but tomorrow when I returned it would be on the other side. 

Falcons Crescent Link Trail was the new venue.  After about 20 minutes on the bike to circumnavigate the lower reaches the other side was obtained and I was immediately uncertain as to which trail exactly to follow so, as you do, I asked a man walking a dog.  He immediately expressed regret that he’d sold his bike as he eyed mine off.  Used to enjoy riding the trails and was familiar with them all.  Apparently the bush was riddled with mountain bike tracks.

The man no longer rode them.  At some stage he’d torn the tendons at the rear of both feet and they were causing him the kind of grief I could only wince at.

I found what I thought was the trail he indicated but, it actually ran more or less parallel to it until I crossed over and, suddenly, there was the main trail on the western side of the creek.  The intersection was but 100 metres from the modern bridge from yesterday and I was there in a minute or two.  At the start of the bridge I scaled the railing and dropped to the river bank. 

Here, apart from the mosquitoes, the sandstone walls looked more dramatic, the creek more enticing and the original track was still visible; there was even an aluminium plaque from yesteryear.  It indicated that once this had been the creek crossing, in days before O.H.&S., when you could rock hop across the river, this was the way to go.  The now vandalized sign recommended stopping here and soaking up the sounds of the bush, in particular the white throated tree creeper and the spotted pardalote.

I clambered all the way back up to the bike and queried another walker as to where Palm Lookout was.  Apparently it was only 25 metres away but hidden by a shrub.  While the view was good, the drama of the cliffs was somewhat lost in the vegetation.  I quit for another day, riding back through the scribbly gum, red bloodwood forest and the hairpin banksia, all common, unlike the Bomaderry Zieria that exists nowhere else on earth except both sides of the creek.  There are remnants of bushfires, twenty in twenty years, mostly through arson, but regrowth is strong and fresh shoots tend to dominate.

At the third attempt I determined to head upstream on the eastern side, Bernie’s Lookout the destination, though just who Bernie was I have failed to ascertain.

BELOW BERNIE’S LOOKOUT

So I returned to the Narang Road entrance and headed upstream, noting that the sandstone wasn’t as deep here, but access was easier and there were many photos to be had.  The trail indicates it’s to Bernie’s Lookout so I rode off, noting that the trail is bitumen, though very narrow.

ABOVE BERNIE’S LOOKOUT

The gorge up here isn’t as deep, but pleasant and photogenic nonetheless, but there are no signs as to where the lookout actually is.  Alone in this wilderness, it is apparent that few bother coming up here and I sort of surmised, that when I ventured south on another day, there wouldn’t be much more to see.

TO BURGESS AND BACK

Horseshoe Falls

It hurt, I couldn’t deny that.  It also caused a significant portion of my clothing and self to get wet….and a bit dirty.  The pain in my left hip indicated that a rock had been involved somewhere, but it was the stick that did it.  That, and my clumsiness.  I couldn’t help but reflect that every time I’ve fallen or near fallen in the bush, I’ve trodden on something with my right foot and my trailing left foot has picked it up and I’ve suffered accordingly, this time spilling in an ungainly manner to the bush track soaked after the heavy recent rains.  Ouch.

Mr. C showed some concern but I waved him away.  Since we’re both named Ian Smith I’ve decided to call him that because his middle name starts with C.  I like going out with him because (a) he knows lots of trails in the Blue Mountains (b) he’s into photography and fully understands why you have to keep stopping and (c) his geographical knowledge is unsurpassed.

Today’s tracks were entirely new to me but Mr. C thought that, with the recent bout of precipitation in mind, the waterfalls here would be worth a look.  Who was I to argue?

We’d left at 8 a.m.  This had pluses inasmuch as the sun wouldn’t be penetrating the forest so much so the light would be so much better.  Horseshoe Falls Reserve awaited our presence and one thing ultimately surprised me.  In the three hours we ended up being there, no other humans were sighted.

ONE OF THE MANY CASCADES ALONG THE ROUTE

We trudged off, splashing merrily along the way, the rush of water right beside us, the clear weather above.  You couldn’t help but feel this was going to be a good day.  Mr. C was excited, well, as much as he can get excited, because he enjoyed overhanging waterfalls, as in ones that you can get behind.  Turns out this walk has three of them.

GLOW WORM NOOK FALLS WITH MR. C IN THE BACKGROUND

The first proper stop, other than my half hour of various asides for cascades, plants, insects etc., was for Glow Worm Nook Falls.  Here Mr. C finally got his camera out of his backpack and started to set up.  You could certainly get behind this one and the water was positively roaring into the splash pool.  While Mr. C set up for his streaky waterfall memories, I scavenged around and came upon some prolific fungi.  It was all going swimmingly.

BEYOND HORSESHOE

Next stop was one of his favourites, Horseshoe Falls, very similar in style to the previous, though with lots of tree debris at the base and the cave was surprisingly dry.  You had to trample over tree roots to get down there but it was all a bit special having it to yourself.  I loved the massive wavy patterned rock just a fraction downstream, it balanced the shot perfectly.

THE EXCELLENT HORSEHSOE FALLS

Further down was Oaklands, a more conventional style of cascade, with no undercut that you would fit into, just water rushing down the sandstone, first in a drop, then in a 45 degree slope.  We tarried not long here, despite Mr. C taking a shot and all that entails.

CLASSIC AUSSIE BUSH

Then it was a scramble yet again up to the main track where we happily splashed along the sodden bush path, knowing that we had already taken more good shots than you usually get in one day.

The trail comes to an intersection where two streams unite.  It doesn’t continue, just turns right to follow the side stream, and this is where Burgess Falls are.

HUGE RIBBON GUM

En route there was a magnificent ribbon gum, quite the tallest I’d ever seen, its canopy way on high and with more shed bark than I’d ever come across on the species before.  It lay randomly across the trail like a discarded giant’s carpet. 

Somewhere else I’d espied an angophora, its exposed root system bared for all to see on the trail and the trunk tilted at an absurd angle, seemingly defying the laws of nature and gravity.

THE ANGOPHORA, A TRUE SURVIVOR

Now we were deep in fern country as we approached Burgess, arriving just in time before the sun ruined the lighting.  Mr. C said it was normally a trickle but today was quite the best he’d seen it.  The large semi-circle the water vaulted into was framed by coachwood trees at either end while the ferns filled whatever cracks they could find.

I crawled around wherever I could for a viewpoint, even wriggling into the narrow space behind the falls for an opportune shot.  We spent around 20 minutes here until we could think of no more excuses to tarry and hauled ourselves with some difficulty over a tree and massive rocks to exit.

OAKLANDS FALLS

Walking back there was a residual feeling of having had a wonderful morning, spending around three hours in nature’s playground.  Well, until I fell over the stick that is.

LANE COVE N.P. – THE SEARCHING

                                         

I kept looking at the back fence.  Just the other side of said fence is a national park, Lane Cove as it turns out, even though it’s nowhere near Lane Cove.  This is because it gets its name from where the creeks end up in Sydney Harbour, a place where you can hire boats, park your car ($8 thank you) and generally have a family outing.  Up here it’s more for fitness people and bushwalkers, you certainly wouldn’t be paddling any canoes in the waters here at North Epping.

Just beyond the fence line of my house sit is virgin bush and the land falls away from a sandstone outcrop lined with intriguing patterns.  On my first foray I find myself stumbling through where there are no tracks and the thought that these walls have probably never been photographed before spurs me on.  I have no idea where I might come out, focusing instead on the image opportunities, and there are many.

BELOW THE FENCE LINE

Eventually I stumble upon a rough track.  It will lead me down to one of the main trails and, when I arrive, notice a map on the other side.  It transpires that I was at one of the more famous landmarks, Whale Rock.  I turned around and there it was, right beside where I came out.  I’d walked straight past it.  It’s quite extraordinary how the rare whorl formation that represents the eye is perfectly placed.

WHALE ROCK

There’s another place not far away, Ducky’s Waterholes, and I decide to head off west and check it out.  There’s no sign I can see so I bush bash down a slope to a promising looking waterhole and shoot that before calling it quits.

DUCKY’S WATERHOLE (I THINK)

The next day I head the same way to the fire trail but turn right instead of left at Whale Rock.  I’m a bit jealous as a few bike riders pass by, mine still not available for a couple of days yet, but it’s easier to forage down to Devlin’s Creek not having to worry about two wheels.

DEVLIN’S CREEK

Though it’s barely fit to be called a creek, Devlin’s has some delightful waterholes that reflect the forest and some of the bizarre rock shapes on their banks.  At the first ford I come to you can see some potential downstream but access appears impossible.  I climb away and, from on high, it’s apparent there’s opportunities galore down there but I can’t see a way down.

I trek on and reach the Step Track, a 2km diversion “designed to help you enjoy our wildlife, morning, noon and night”.  I divert and, not surprisingly, immediately find myself on the first of a couple of hundred steps.  Apart from one or two sections, there’s little to get excited about until I reach the lookout, so called, but that’s even more disappointing.  I stop on a boardwalk section and get a drink from small waterholes etched in the stone beside it.  It’s ill-advised but I’m so thirsty by now.  It tastes terrible but fills a hole.  I head for home and await my bike in case there’s a reaction, but nothing happens. 

TASTED TERRIBLE

Two days later I’ve discovered there may be a better way down, on a trail at the back of Ron Payne Park where I walk the dog.  I’d asked a couple of people but no-one is sure just where it goes.  The down slope turns out to be a bit of a nightmare if you’ve got a bike, it goes back and forth following faults in the sandstone ridge and jumping tree roots until you’re delivered at the bottom, walking your bike the whole way until it finally flattens out and intersects with the main fire trail.

A BIT RUGGED BUT IT’S ALL RIGHT

At last I’m down and away, pushing on past the Step Track into new territory.  Here Devlin’s has become the Lane Cove River.  At last I can feel the wind on my face as I launch the Giant down a steep pinch across another ford.  Other cyclists zip past at intervals, mostly on fitness levels notably above mine.  I’m heading east and am surprised at how far I’d walked two days ago.

A PLEASURE TO BE THERE

Aluminium trail maps are scattered along the route and I check one out because my goal is Browns Waterhole.  However, it transpires that I’m already there.  Frankly, there’s little to see here so I push on and it’s lucky I’ve got a granny gear because there’s a nasty pinch to climb, accompanied by huffing and puffing and then I reach a T-intersection where there’s serious road work going on so I decide that will suffice for the day. 

BARELY SURVIVING

Scribbly gums and angophoras are the stand outs at trail’s side.  Many of the older ones have been riven by lightning strikes where the current has found the internal moisture and followed it to the ground before exiting via an exposed root, wreaking havoc en route as the juices boiled, sometimes encasing the insects in resin.  Where branches have broken off, leaving knots, the ensuing flames reach for oxygen, cooking any birdlife nesting places.

Some have survived, almost miraculously judging by the amount of damage done.  The charred internal remnants are cloaked by new epicormic growth that sprouted from unseen surviving buds, almost obscuring the charcoal within.

A HOME FOR SOMETHING

There are no straight trunks; drought and poor soils see to that.  Many are wrapped around sandstone outcrops, their roots hidden in small cracks as they search for elusive moisture.

When I get back to Browns Waterhole a woman who was there earlier remains.  She’s fiddling around on the ground and she’s gathering rocks for some filter or other.  I ask her to take my photo because there’s a “Great North Walk” sign.  Though I’ll never do the whole walk I’m surprised at how many times on excursions I’ve been on the track over the years and envy those who have actually done the over 200 km hike.

JANE COMING BACK TO HELP

Picture taken, I enquire about the Browns Waterhole Trail, on the other side of the crossing, which takes you to Boundary Road. I ask because it should be visible from where we are and I can’t see it.  She offers to show me the way as she’s heading back home up that very trail.  When we reach the start it’s no wonder I couldn’t see it.  The entrance is narrow and obscured by vegetation.  Again, there’s no hope of riding so I have to lug the bike up, as the lady does with hers when she’s not walking.  We converse and she says she comes from Wisconsin and is doing a Phys Ed university course at Macquarie Uni.  Her name is Jane and I’m careful to refrain about any crass “Tarzan” retorts, especially when she insists on helping me carry the bike up steep steps.  I feel uncomfortable when I accept but have to concede it’s a relief.  We bid farewell at the top and I actually know my way home from the exit, having researched before I left.

EXCELLENT TRAILS

The second last day in the park I descend from the bowling club where I originally went down.  It’s easier but there’s only a few places you can actually mount.  I go in search of the ponds I thought I’d reached on day one.

WHERE I SWAM

Gurgling waters are testimony that there’s moisture down there somewhere deep inside the scrub.  Along the main route there are glimpses and, in time, I find a place to scramble down, vegetation clawing at my ankles and cobwebs at my face en route.  It’s clear from glimpses that there’s a significant pond and I burst out beside an unruffled surface of reflective water and rattle off a record of it while a water dragon scurries by.

DAMSELFLY

Then I head east again, trying to go further than I had previously.  When I reach Browns Waterhole again I fall in with another cyclist called John and query him about what’s ahead and where there might be a café.  He elaborates about all the possibilities and warns me that, on the ascent to West Pymble, there’s the worst hill anywhere, though he proffers that it’s probably because it’s his last climb before he gets home.  However, as I follow his lead and we reach the mount, I have to agree with his initial assessment.  The hill is a brute with four irrigation humps to further torment you.  I pass John halfway up but, 2/3rds into the ascent I dismount, wheezing considerably as I do so.  John is zig-zagging just to make headway and we go over the top not too far apart.

He gives me final directions as he peels off to his house and when I reach the small Phillip Mall shopping village I’m so pleased to be able to savour a large milkshake accompanied by apple tart and recover somewhat at the award winning Munch Deli Café.

I start back, reach the hill again and immediately grab a fistful of brake.  One mistake here and you could do yourself serious injury.

EASTERN WATER DRAGON

Eventually I come to the place I’d espied on my second outing that I thought inaccessible but today a descent seems possible.  Grabbing a few tree trunks on the way down I’m quickly there, hardly disturbing a lizard who’s trusting its camouflage which allows me to get a close-up.  I’ve found a bit of photography heaven and rattle off several before pondering whether or not to take a dip.  It’s all too tempting with a backdrop of odd-shaped rocks and soon I’m in up to my neck and wondering just how pristine the water actually is.  Best not to think too much about it. 

A NEW ROUTE

Refreshed, I head for home, awaiting tomorrow’s forecast rain and wondering how it will affect this area.  At Whale Rock I choose a different route.  Though steep, it’s a proper road and so much easier than scrambling through the bush.

COMETH THE RAINS

The showers commence that night and continue through to the morning when it becomes constant rain.  I can’t stop thinking about what might be going on below.  By the mid-afternoon it’s back to showers again and I take the dog out to see what the weather’s up to.  While threatening, I decide to return the dog and take a chance.  No sooner am I home than it starts raining again.

A half hour passes and I decide to give it a go.  Now I’ve found the quick way down for bikes I extend my foray west.  The trail is riddled with puddles and one or two minor washaways but the light is perfect for photography.  The trail splits in two and I look down to a crossing.  Amazingly, a fitness freak is wading through it.  At thigh level it’s getting close to dangerous whereas yesterday there would barely have been a trickle there.

WHERE ONCE WAS BARELY A TRICKLE

I reverse and ride to where the rocky pool is.  It’s the next ford and I decide to give it a go.  My shoes are submerged but it’s only a short breach and then it’s up to the ledge where I’d descended previously.  Below is so different.  The water is rushing over the substantial rock barrier upstream whereas yesterday it was weaving its way out of sight.  There are no reflective pools and the colour has changed.  There will be no swimming today.

PONDS FROM THE STORM

Water rushes past and flushes debris downstream.  It’s interesting to watch but the light is fading and it’s time to head back for the last time.  As I cross the ford I get drenched as water hits my leg and splashes up all over me.  I figure it’s been a small price to pay to get the shots I’ve acquired and return to North Epping totally satisfied, climbing out of the gorge for the last time.  It’s been a real eye opener and left me wanting to see more, closer to Lane Cove.  Hopefully on my next sit in Sydney.

BALMAIN BUGGED

One of the modern buildings

As I parted with my $25, the lady was clearly smiling.  Then again, she hadn’t stopped since she first spoke.  I’d arrived at the Watch House, an original sandstone gem somewhere down Darling Street, on a rare day when it’s open.  I was purchasing a book on Streets, Lanes and Places because I felt a need to write about Balmain.

The Watch House

The Watch House is indeed what you might think it is, or was.  A place for those who’d transgressed the law to be housed and the necessity for such a place was due to the distance between major prisons, transport being even more of a problem in those days in the middle of the 19th century.  From an original one storey sandstone affair it was extended upwards 30 years later, in 1881, and remained in that vogue until the 1920’s when it became the local policeman’s residence with the cells converted to children’s bedrooms.  I can’t think of a better place to house them!

Clontarf Cottage

When touted for demolition in the 1960’s it was saved by a newly-formed vibrant group called the Balmain Association who, in league with the National Trust, found an historical use for it and, today, the history of the area, which includes the often overlooked names of Rozelle and Birchgrove, is alive and well in this building, the oldest of its kind still standing.  Protests also saw the 1840’s Clontarf Cottage saved for public use after the council purchased it in the late 1980’s.  If you investigate closely you can clearly discern the pick marks in many of the older sandstone buildings.

Spot the pick marks

In a newspaper article someone opined not worrying about the Opera House etc., but to go to Balmain to see architecture and get a feel for Sydney.  While I couldn’t wholly concur with that viewpoint, it does have some substance.

Thames Street

The workers’ houses with their exotic lacework will demand your eye, especially the ones that have been maintained with facades painted in modern bright colours that accent them even more.  Then there are others with garden accompaniment which allow you to only see tantalizing glimpses behind the at-times delightful flora, particularly eucalypts, crepe myrtles and many colours of frangipani. 

Booth St Scottish dormer windows

The dormer (from the Latin “to sleep”) windows on high feature in many of them and the keen eyed might also notice a couple of Scottish style ones that are cut below the eaves.

Every corner seemed to have had a store of some sort; two-storied with accommodation above and a business below, these days converted to housing alone.  Another thing to admire is that modern architecture has blended in so well with the old.  There’s real imagination in some of many quality works, especially with some of the elegant woodwork and fresh sandstone blocks.

Ex Volunteer Hotel

There can be no doubt that it was a working class suburb when you see the number of hotels that once were.  It seemed like every second block had a hotel and many remain today, though for others you have to know where you’re looking, like the Volunteer Hotel (today a private residence), that got its name from being associated with the Volunteer Fire Brigade.  My personal favourite is the Riverview, once owned by the much loved Olympic star Dawn Fraser, where the food is something to savour.  The oldest, still trading, is the Dry Dock Hotel, with its flaky paint and $15 lunch special on Sundays. 

It;s very competitive in Balmain

Even in 2121, the Exchange and Dick’s still trade opposite each other on Beattie Street. The Yalumba Wine Cellars building in Darling Street has a very historic eye-catching Citroen H Van parked outside, quite apart from the fact that this is the oldest wine outlet still selling liquor.

The Fenwick restaurant

As you rock up, or should that be down, to Balmain East Wharf, it’s hard not to notice the adjacent gorgeous sandstone building, now a classy restaurant.  Here were strong ties to my home town of Newcastle for this was once owned by Fenwick and Co. who were the biggest tug company in Sydney and Newcastle.  Originally Bell’s Warehouse, it was later used as Fenwick’s store and has been wonderfully restored and the name retained.

The next ferry wharf around (Balmain), where you can pick up a free book or two off the donation pile, is in Mort Bay, named after Thomas Sutcliffe Mort who had a dry dock there.  It sits at one end of the popular Mort Bay Park where you can sit on ideally placed benches and watch people walking dogs and the harbour traffic float by on a balmy day, as I was fortunate enough to do.

The almost obscured (from the land side) Birchgrove Wharf at the aptly named Long Nosed Point is further around still.  A peninsula lined with private jetties, it’s a delightful spot just to wait for the ferry with expansive views around the harbour.  For over 150 years there’s been ferry transport here and the backdrop of expansive late 19th century houses adds to the allure.  The original allotment was purchased by the brother of a ferry owner which explains the alignment of the street heading down the wharf.

You can go down any thoroughfare and find historical architecture, transgress off to streets like Grafton and see unusual views of the harbour or discover obscure parks where picnicking seems like a wonderful thing to do beneath mature trees.

Balmain is also a noted Labor stronghold.  The current opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, comes from here, as did Billy Hughes, Australia’s seventh prime minister and “Doc” Evatt.  Most important of all though, is Tom Uren, who was so passionate about the electorate that there’s a walk named in his honour.  A zig-zag effort that you really need the map for because it’s poorly signed.  Other options are the Watch House walks that also give much information about what to see and have excellent maps.  Whatever you choose, I’m surely you’ll find some pleasure in what’s available in this special suburb.

STREETS AHEAD

I stood surprised.  Here was a painting by Arthur Streeton.  How it had managed to stay on display in the Chau Chak Museum (more in another article) mystified me because, not that far away at the Streeton Exhibition at the N.S.W. Art Gallery, they had clearly sourced far and wide.  This one had escaped their net.

Arthur Streeton by Tom Roberts

I’d been exploring Balmain a few days earlier, loving the 19th century architecture that abounds in the once “workers suburb”.  Its proximity to central Sydney, yet with a water barrier between, meant that land was cheaper so it rapidly became an urban centre that today has mostly been preserved, fueled by politicians such as the late Tom Uren who had an appreciation of history.  It was on a walk named after Tom that I found myself on a narrow lane, lined on one side with mature trees, some so big they reach across and stroked the houses.  It was here, on this pathway, that I was shocked to see a sign “Art Gallery” beside an open door to a plain 19th C residence, because only foot traffic went past here.

The Art Gallery

I entered, the male occupant seemed surprised.  I explained the open door and the sign and he calmed down.  Apparently he was moving to the South Coast and his daughter had advertised his artistic works on the internet.  It had been quite successful and he made a half-hearted attempt to sell me some but I was merely a looker.  However, at some stage he waxed lyrical about the Arthur Streeton exhibition.  Clearly a fan, he had been heartened to see a broad range of his works, unlike the Monet exhibition that left a lot to be desired.

Blue Depths 1917

Somewhere in the back of my mind it registered that I had read about the Streeton display but had put it to one side.  Now I decided that tomorrow’s exercise would be a trip to the State Gallery.

At $20 for pensioners it wasn’t too much to part with but the convivial male receptionist put in a wonderful effort to try and convince me to become a country member and part with $90 for an annual subscription.  I felt a tad guilty declining but the math didn’t work out.

That it was well attended was immediately apparent.  A lot of old farts like myself but many younger people as well.  I could see what the Balmain artist meant.  They had, indeed, amassed a fine collection across the board because Streeton (1867-1843) lived in a time of burgeoning art, when Paris hosted an art scene like none before, though London was where Aussies generally went.

Gorse Bush in Bloom

Streeton, at times, painted subjects I find fascinating.  Not for him the glorious landscape; no, the reality of life in the country, exemplified by three works: Gorse in Bloom, The Creek and The Digger and His Log.  Here are works of what it really looks like.  The simplicity, the starkness, the contrast of a human on the landscape and the seemingly unattractive dead trees create a feeling of “being there”. 

Settlers Camp

He abhorred the destruction of old growth forest and campaigned against it.  No doubt his early days outside of Melbourne with other notable artists like Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin fueled this love.  In fact, one of his works, Settlers Camp, has McCubbin’s influence stamped all over it.  It was the sale of this and one other that allowed him to paint full time.

Trevellers Rest

At one stage in 1891 he did a tour of inland N.S.W. endeavouring to capture the ‘great, gold plains’, the ‘hot, trying winds’ and the ‘slow, immense summer’.  Another later session around the Hawkesbury was also prolific and includes one of my favourites, Travellers Rest.  One painting entitled “Fire’s on” is of railway tunnelling efforts in the lower Blue Mountains and shows the body of a fatally injured miner being brought out.  Interestingly, it actually contains dirt from the explosions mixed with the paint.

Fires On

His move to Sydney in 1892 saw him gravitate to “Curlew Camp”, at Sirius Cove on Sydney Harbour that, today, is a place where artists and admirers pay homage to the group that painted a wealth of harbourside scenes around the turn of the century.

Minaret, Cairo 1907

To further his career he went to London, intending to stop for a week in Cairo but that stretched out to over 2 months.  His years in London were difficult, with limited critical success.

Santa Maria della Salute

He went back to Australia and spent a successful year, in 1906-1907, before returning to London, where he married and then went to Venice where he spent his honeymoon with Canadian born violinist Leonora Clench mid-1908.  Apart from another year in Australia immediately prior to WWI, his time was spent in England and the well-connected Leonora was able to assist in marketing his works.

The Stairway, Peronne

He joined the Australian Army Medical Corps in 1915 for a couple of years at Wandsworth before being commissioned honorary lieutenant and going to the Somme to paint in 1917 where his portrait was painted by fellow artist George Lambert. 

Streeton’s works concerned the destruction of buildings and landscape rather than the human suffering and his scenes from Villers Bretoneux are of particular relevance to Australians.  His stark renditions of ruined buildings are something few others ever painted.  Perhaps a poignant reminder that there’s little to savour in war, something mankind is still waiting to learn.

The Creek

He visited Australia again after the war before returning in 1922, via Canada and Leonora’s relatives, to London.  The following year he was back in Australia and buying a home in Toorak and building a cottage at Olinda in the Dandenongs.  His roots were down and, in 1928, he won Australia’s most prestigious landscape award, the Wynn Prize, for a painting that sadly hasn’t made this exhibition.

He was knighted in 1937, the year before his wife died, and then spent much of his life in his beloved garden at Olinda until his death in 1943. 

Sylvan Dam and Donna Buangs

In 1940 he had emotionally painted “Sylvan Dam and Donna Buangs” as testimony to what future our landscapes face if we fail to care for them, arguably his greatest legacy.

POOL OF THE GODS

When people get lost they go in circles; it’s a fact.  You’ve only got to go 100 metres without being sure where you are when you start to turn.  I read a story of a hiker in the Appalachians who’d perished.  Her husband had notified authorities when she failed to turn up, but they never found her body for some months later, despite searchers, at times, being less than 100 metres away.

FIND YOUR WAY THROUGH THIS LOT

Now that I’ve been lost three times I can confirm the reality. 

I’d left New Berrima uncertain of my destination but thinking I’d end up at Carrington Falls, so I headed in that direction.  My brain however, was wandering and, from the depths came some falls I’d been told about.  Was it “Belvedere”?  I pulled up and typed in Carrington because they were roughly in the same area and there it was on the perimeter – Gerringong!

Part of me wanted to go, the other was reticent.  I headed there anyway; I mean, what else was I doing on New Year’s Eve?  Somewhere south of Robertson I swung off where the sign said “Budderoo National Park”.  It’s around 600 metres in on a rough dirt road to the locked gate.  Others had arrived before me but I got the second last parking spot, unpacked the mountain bike and started to get excited; not before time.

Just then two fellow bikers returned so I button holed them.  “Don’t go past the gate like we did” was the repeated message.  They’d missed the Hersey Fire Trail and gone about 4 kms past before their error was realised.  I took note and headed off.  Wildflowers were out in such proliferation that, in places, it looked like a massive white hakea doona had been thrown across the plateau.

BUDDEROO FIRE TRAIL

A walker came into view coming over a locked gate as I rode on and I pulled up as he exited.  There was a small dam beyond but he said it wasn’t exciting.  His name was John, he was an ex teacher of Maths and Science and John was looking at the trackside pools, of which there were many.  It was with enthusiasm that he spoke about the tadpoles he was looking for.  He said that by tapping the puddles with your toe that the tadpoles moved and he proceeded to demonstrate.  However, John knows a whole lot about nature generally.  The botany, the bird life, just being in the bush; it was obviously his life and his knowledge was vast.

HAKEA SERICES

We moved on and came across two men and a car.  They lived further down the road, one of only a couple of property owners from when the whole area was gazetted for grazing and divided into blocks.  The eldest of the two men originated from Iowa 40 years ago but had retained some of his accent.  He, too, was a font of knowledge.

WHERE TO LOOK FOR TADPOLES

In this area there are 82 quolls.  How was that figure arrived at I queried.  Turns out that NPWS have a type of trap that captures a few hairs off them and the hairs are then D.N.A. tested – who’d have thought.  He then got on to sugar gliders, quite a few around here as well but, turns out Iowa man goes back to Wisconsin every year to a dairy convention.  While at one of them a lady was walking past wearing a fisherman’s many pocketed jacket and he heard a noise.  “You haven’t got gliders have you?”  Indeed she had, one in every pocket!  Apparently, it’s a big thing in the States and there’s even a group of vets who specialise in treating them. 

BUDDEROO FIRE TRAIL, AS MAINTAINED BY IOWA MAN

Iowa man then explained how he maintained the road at his own expense, even though it was Crown Land.  I’d have loved to learn more but my goal was still aways off.

Iowa man told us it was downhill, then uphill to a rainforest and turn right after about 300 metres.  I left Tadpole John and sped off, figuring I’d see him later.  I bundled the bike over the locked gate to the Hersey Trail and headed off, anticipation rising.  In just a few minutes the noise of a creek foretold how close I was getting, but there were very rough gravel patches and two large logs to get over first, put there to prevent erosion. 

ACROSS THERE IS A TRAIL….SORT OF

The two bikers had said something about going 30 metres to the left when you arrived at the feeder creek but I parked the bike and couldn’t help but notice a seldom used track going somewhere across the other side, so I moved to ford the waters but, on the right was one of the most beautiful pools I’d ever seen.  The green was reflected from the forest into a pool coloured red and brown from the local minerals.  I fancied that ancient civilizations would have labelled it the “Pool of the Gods”.

POOL OF THE GODS

In time I moved onto the track, such as it was, for it was overgrown and you continually had to brush vegetation aside.  Up to your waist the trail was visible but, the top part was reclaiming the heath lands.  I pushed on, unsure just where it came out but I figured it had to lead somewhere.  Small bits of red on top of stakes indicated that fox baiting was taking place here, the main reason for the healthy quoll population.

Iowa man had told us they used to have a terrier that woke them every night with barking.  The first night after it died, they lost their chooks.  The quolls’ persistence had paid off.

THE CASCADE

Meanwhile, I pushed on and eventually stumbled through the branches to another stream, Gerringong Creek as it transpired.  Upstream was a small cascade that I deemed worthy of a pic or two so I removed my shoes and socks and waded in an ungainly manner through the waters.  It felt like a privilege to just be here.  Immersed not only in the waters but nature itself.

SCARY VIEW FROM THE SIDE

Working my way around the stream to get different angles I noticed a trail on the far side and pondered its destination, so I barefooted my way along it and, lo and behold, here was a side angle on the falls.  Frankly, and I’d been warned, it’s downright frightening because here, in true wilderness, there are no railings, there’s no O.H.&S., just a massive sheer drop over the edge if you make a false move.  I got low on the ground and hauled myself closer and gazed down on the sassafras way below.  A braver man might have gotten closer still but I wanted to enjoy a few more years in the world.

GERRINGONG CREEK

I returned, crossed the stream and put my shoes on again and headed off.  The trail seemed more indistinct on the return journey and I reached a spot where it got confusing.  It seemed like there were three options.  In hindsight, I took one of two wrong ones and ended up squeezing through scrub and starting to doubt if I was heading the right way.  It’s the cobwebs that give you the clue.  If you start brushing cobwebs aside, you know no-one has been here for a while.  You’re probably getting lost.  Not probably, I was, and realised it when I stumbled into a round clearing.  There was no way out save bush bashing.

THE CIRCLE – HOW DID i GET HERE, HOW DO I GET OUT?

Well, I stumbled around that clearing for what seemed like ages but was probably only a few minutes.  I even had trouble finding how I’d even gotten in here and pushed through where it seemed possible to do so.  In hindsight it seems ridiculous but reality can be a big awakening. 

I could hear water splashing not that far away but could only see metres in front while getting a face full of twigs, the scrub being that thick.  After some time I stumbled out at Gerringong Creek again, just 10 metres from where I’d left originally.

I started out again and this time jagged the actual trail.  An occasional footprint and red label made me confident but then, I met up with John again who was also exploring and somehow convinced him it wasn’t worthwhile continuing on and we headed back towards the crossing.

CASCADE ON THE FEEDER STREAM

Back at the feeder creek we took the downstream option as I’d been advised and there was the trail.  A narrow bush one but clearly utilized by many people and it followed the unnamed water flow before swinging south to follow the ridge line to the best lookout, a protruding section of sandstone cliff that lorded over the chasm beneath. 

GERRINGONG FALLS

Towards one edge there was a raised section about the height of a sofa, ideally placed for relaxing and soaking up the view.  We sat down and pulled out food, though John had a proper lunch while I made do with an apple.  We were both agreed that taking time out in a place like this was special, not to be forgotten and to be savoured for longer than a glance or two.  The whole time you’re there you keep thinking “Wow, it’s a long way to the bottom”, or more coarse words to that effect.

The man who’d tipped me off over a year previously had raved about them and the two bikers had echoed those sentiments.  They were all agreed it was the best of the Southern Highlands waterfalls, now I was here checking them out.  As for height, they were correct, though exact elevations are hard to come by.  Roughly they are as follows: Fitzroy – 80 metres; Belmore 100 metres; Carrington 160 metres; Gerringong 180 metres. 

WILDFLOWERS

The other factor here is that there are no crowds.  In the middle of the busiest holiday season of the year, less than a dozen people were sighted in three hours.  There’s a genuine feeling of being somewhere special, unlike the very popular Fitzroy where they come, literally, by the busload and you have to pay parking fees if you’re in your own car.

SASSAFRAS AT THE BOTTOM COLOURED RED

Chilling out with John is a totally different experience.  If you weren’t in touch with nature before you met John, you’d certainly be a lot closer afterwards, his quiet nature echoing that of the location.

After we’d tarried on the rock we parted ways as John had an app that showed a shorter way out if you were walking whereas I had to return to where I’d left the bike.  En route back I worked out there was another view point if you went off piste and so it transpired, though hanging onto a tree while you’re trying to photograph with 600ft plus of nothing less than a metre is away unnerving, to say the least.

BLACK PRINCE CICADA

Back on the bike I felt a sense of joy at having seen these elusive falls and thought of nothing else until I reached the Budderoo Plateau Road and visions of the thick ferns in the rainforest came to the fore.  It is an added bonus to the experience because it’s a different look to the other waterfall entries.  The variation from low heathland scrub to rainforest is unusual and offers so many variant types of habitat and flora.  Amazing to think they were going to use it all for grazing.

BACK ON THE FIRE TRAIL

When I reached the car I sat down on the stile and ate a meal of prawns and avocado, much to the amusement of a family who’d returned not far behind me.  There was concern voiced as to the wisdom of eating the prawns after they’d sat in the car for three or four hours.  I had to relate it bothered me not as I plopped another in my mouth, savouring the flavour yet again and thinking how lucky I was to have brought them with me to cap off one of my best ever days bushwalking.

KNOW MY NAME

it was strange was immediately obvious.  A fallen and malleable Greek Corinthian style pillar; who knows, it might have once graced the Parthenon but – just when you least expect it – it moves! Snake like, it seems to follow you, about to pounce but, fear not!  Its title is “Hello”.  As Friedrich Nietzsche once remarked ““If you stare into the abyss, eventually it will stare back at you”.

YES, IT MOVES!

No, I found that quite benign compared to his “Calm”.  Imagine a rectangular pile of builder’s rubble.  You walk past it, merely glancing at something that seems meaningless and needs to be swept away but, then, it heaves up and down, likely making you feel a little queasy.  It did it for me.

The National Gallery in Canberra doesn’t shirk from controversy, Blue Poles tells us that, and Xu Zhen, one of China’s most significant artists and activists, certainly will add to that genre. In the gallery’s script, “His recent work centres on sculptural installations, video and performances that challenge cultural assumptions, question social taboos and comment on the idea of art as a commodity.”  Frankly, I thoroughly enjoyed his work, particularly the classic sculptures lined up on a slightly inclining surface.

Entitled “European Thousand-Armed Classical Sculpture 2014”, it takes you from antiquity to the Statue of Liberty (twice, both left and right handed).  Very eye-catching and thought provoking.

SCENES ON THE DEATH OF NATURE

The main feature during this visit however was “Know My Name – Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now”.  Here there was a wide variety, as you would expect.  With 170 artists on display with 350 works, it’s unlikely you’ll soak it all up in one viewing.  Covering over 100 years there’s a broad spectrum of genres, from moving pictures of someone, well, moving, that lost me as to its value to Anne Ferran’s imaginative “Scenes on the Death of Nature” that grabbed my attention, a self portrat by Nora Heysen (now there’s a famous name in art) who was the first female to win the Archibald Prize (1938) to indigenous art of high quality, Grace Crossington-Smith’s (an artist I’ve admired at the N.S.W. State Gallery) “Interior in Yellow” and eX de Medici’s seminal (and huge) work called “The Wreckers” purportedly depicting the crash of capitalism.

PART OF MEDICI’S WORK

And who could ignore the Seven Sisters, the woven figures standing around in the middle of a room, especially when all the staff remind you that it’s there.  From nudes to Impressionism, the exhibit has it all.

SEVEN SISTERS

So many more across a broad spectrum made it well worthwhile in this spacious venue whose very architecture is worth a look as well.  That’s also ignoring the outside works, mainly sculptures, scattered around various sites that both greet and farewell you.  One of the better exhibitions I’ve seen there.

SELF PORTRAIT BY ONE OF THE ARTISTS

THE GLENBROOK EXPERIENCE

Leura has a reputation.  Food, food and more food.  One salivates just thinking about it.  The streets are awash with culinary delights and tourists flock there in significant numbers.  However, Leura has opposition.  An almost nondescript hamlet much closer to Sydney is thriving on the same format.

THIS IS ACTUALLY A COPY OF A FAMOUS STATUE CALLED “THE BOWLER” FROM HERCULANEUM. IT’S IN AN HISTORIC GARDEN AT THE LOWER END OF LEURA

Glenbrook is on a roll, yet it’s not even situated on the highway.  It’s set back a block or two, out of sight of the thousands rolling past, but it’s become so well-known its reputation has spread.  It also has an advantage of having natural attractions nearby; places for picnics and national parks walks.

TRAIL AND CREEK

Settling into the relaxed setting of a café with heaps of outdoor settings with views across the road it was hard not to be impressed by what Glenbrook has made of itself.  There’s those quirky gift shops and connoisseur style grocery shops designed to catch your eye and your wallet.

WILDFLOWERS EN ROUTE

During research for a hike or two I’d noted more than a few south of the town that seemed to hold promise.  I’d also seen visions from train journeys that got my blood racing.

The day moved on, post morning tea break and down a seriously winding road, through a gorge and up and out the other side.  Eventually the road petered out; a carpark, a few picnic spots and, bless them, a couple of toilets at the termination point indicated some popularity.  Fields were mown either side of a stream.  A good place to pause for a drink before a walk and people were taking advantage.

STREAM BESIDE THE TRAIL

Again there were maps, again they were slightly unclear.  The chosen trail was elusive.  Double checking, it definitely wasn’t where it was shown.  Directions indicated it followed the creek on the western side, but that quickly petered out, causing a retreat, fording the stream to the far side and moving on to the second choice.  This trail, the Euroka – Nepean River walk, led, you guessed it, to the Nepean River.  I’d never seen it this far up and curiosity was a motivating factor as the track headed east. 

MOTTLED TREE TRUNK

It was a pleasant stroll in benign weather and the mature forest was unscarred by the bushfires with wildflowers scattered here and there for colour.  It was well worn and easy to follow with a trickling stream for company just below and weathered sandstone outcrops and ageing scarred and mottled tree trunks to distract the eye.

THAT TRICKY U-TURN

Then, at a tricky U-turn, it came to the stone staircase that leads to the river.  The roar of a motorboat indicated the direction of water, even if little was visible from the heights, obscured by lush vegetation.

It seemed like a long way down but, in reality, was probably less than 200 sandstone steps.  It’s simply that my knees were less than keen, but I descended anyway.  The undergrowth was thicker here, obviously favoured by runoff, and was reminiscent of rainforest.  Closer to the river, the scoured cliffs on high on the far side became apparent, adding another dimension to the scenery.

THE STAIRCASE

I watched a lone speedboat scurry by before retracing the stairway (much easier going up) and pausing more often to survey the varied foliage, or was that to catch my breath?  As ever, somehow the return route didn’t seem as far, because the knowledge that the track leads somewhere familiar is now entrenched.

There are other places there also worth exploring but, for today, this had been enough.