WITH THE HERMIT OF GORDON VALE
by
Keith Lancaster 
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Note: The reports have been scanned in as written. I have included the height and distance indications, e.g.:
(1000'- 12m.- 4.45p.m.)
which read as follows: height in feet - miles for the day - time.

Christmas 1947 had long been reserved for a trip to the Denison Range but, with Jack’s last moment enforced withdrawal, the outing lost much of its glamour through being reduced to a solo outing.

The weather had been somewhat unsettled locally but better weather was forecast for the near future. There were a number of scattered clouds overhead on Christmas Eve when I set out at 6.38 p.m. (Dec. 24th 1947). Reaching Bridgewater (110m. – 9.15 p.m.), I crossed the Derwent and passed through New Norfolk (121m. – 9.35 p.m.), National Park (146m.) and Maydena (154m.). Turning right at Maydena, I crossed the Junee river and reached the end of the road at a group of huts (970’ - 157½m. – 11.15 p.m.).

Apart from a slight sprinkle, no rain had been encountered and, whilst preparing for bed, Charlie Spencer, the old bushman who camps in one of the huts, came over. He was able to give some indication of what lay ahead as he frequently packs loads into Adamsfield and also occasionally into Gordon Vale. He was also familiar with many of the mountains I had climbed and was responsible for marking the western boundary of the Cradle Mt. – Lake St. Clair National Park.

It was after midnight when I retired and about 5.30 a.m. on Christmas morning (Thursday, Dec. 25th.) when I rose. There was some early delay occasioned by a long search for water and the slowness of the fire but at 7.15 a.m. I was off on the bicycle with my substantial pack resting precariously between the handle bars. Light showers had fallen early and a preponderance of clouds covered the heavens as I set off, with a very occasional light sprinkle descending at intervals. The condition of the track was quite good and would have been excellent for a motor bike. The many sharp corners and steep rises hampered my progress and the absence of a brake on the cycle forced many a down hill walk. However, much more of the journey was done awheel than afoot and I'm sure I must have halved walking time at least whilst on the Adamsfield track.

I reached a newly erected camp (1510’ 8.35 a.m.) in a beautiful glade and serviced with an excellent stream and, dodging the telephone line which was down upon the track near here, gradually made altitude, arriving at the Divide hut (1860’ - 9.10 a.m.) on the Florentine and Russell Falls Rivers’ watershed. Here the disadvantage of having no brake was most marked and much walking was necessary before I was down to flatter country. The Thumbs was the prominent landmark ahead when the bike came into its own again and I crossed the Little Florentine (9.50 a.m.), a substantial stream spanned by a wooden bridge. Soon after, a puncture delayed me (9.55 a.m. to 10.15 a.m.) and then down to the Florentine River (1250’ - 10.20 a.m.), where I left the cycle as I located the Gordon Bend track on the western bank.

At 10.30 a.m., burdened with my substantial pack, I was off in a shower of rain through the myrtles, but both rain and myrtles were replaced by finer weather and button grass breaks through gun and ti tree ere very long. The Gordon track had its bad patches but very easy to follow. I came out on open button grass (1430’ - 3m. - 11.32 p.m.) opposite the Thumbs, which rose sharply out of the button grass on the far side.

With so much time on hand in which to reach Ern. Bond’s homestead before dark, I elected to scale the Thumbs en route and, leaving the track, made for the foot of the Thumbs, where a stream emerged from a clump of gums near its base. The distance across the button grass proved deceptively longer than expected and my stomach was crying out for more fuel long before I reached the small stream and halted for dinner (1570’ - 4½m. – 12.10 p.m.).

Dinner was over just as a shower descended, interrupting my inspection of Field West, Tim Shea, Wherrett’s Lookout, Mueller, High Rocky and Mt. Wright, all of which were clearer than any time during the morning. With the passing of the shower I was off at 12.55 p.m., leaving all but the camera and ground sheet at the creek. The climb was steep and slippery, although quite free from hampering growth, but the steepness made progress slow. Heavy rain forced me to shelter in a rock cavern near the summit for 20 minutes, after which I continued on to the rocky summit of the Thumbs (3730’ 6m. 2.38 p.m.).

Heavy clouds flying past from the north west presented few opportunities of viewing the landscape. However, by taking advantage of each brief break in the almost continous line of clouds, I was able to see and check the following: High Rocky, 129 deg.; Wherrett's Lookout, 119; Tim Shea, 109; hill north of track, 101; Saw Back Range and south end of Thumbs, 173½; Clear Hill, 260; Wyld’s Craig, 2; Mt. Wright (cloud capped), 340; Adamsfield, 203.

Probably the most pleasing knowledge gained from the view was that the Saw Backs appeared to be button grassed and may provide a fairly easy means of reaching Mt. Wedge via Adamsfield. Leaving the inhospitable summit at 2.55 p.m. with the advent of a further shower, I descended back down the eastern slopes to my pack at the small creek (1570’ - 7½m. - 3.26 p.m.) and, after repacking, resumed at 3.38 p.m., with the purpose of regaining the Gordon track much closer to Gordon bend. A minor obstacle soon presented itself in the crossing of a small creek, split up into three channels with ti tree, bauera and cutting grass lining its banks and swampy button grass as an outer defence. Beyond this, thick button grass continued until the track was secured (1430’ - 9½m. - 4.20 p.m.). The Thumbs appears at magnetic 220 deg. from here and presented a fine sight, rising steeply out of a flat plain and exhibiting quite an irregular skyline. Resuming at 4.23 p.m. I entered the gums just before reaching Gordon Bend with its fine wooden bridge, derelict cage and good hut (1420’ - 10½m. – 4.45 p.m.). The hut lies on the south bank of the river which is quite a considerable stream here.

Gordon River, Bridge and Hut at Gordon Bend - K. Lancaster 1947

 

Across the Gordon, the track to Gordon Vale (Ernie Bond’s selection) continues straight ahead towards Mt. Wright, whilst another faint track swings to the right at the end of the bridge and runs a short distance up stream. Leaving the bridge at 4.55 p.m., I followed the Gordon Vale track, with its numerous hoof marks its chief blaze, in from the river for a short distance where it turned northwards, continuing more or less parallel to the Gordon, at times becoming rather faint both on the button grass and occasionally in the gums but, nevertheless, fairly easy to follow. The route varied little until “Gordon Vale” came in sight with its accompanying western forest, numerous subsidiary huts and cultivation. The couple of fences were soon left behind and, with a feeling of hope and interest at my reception, I was rapping on the door intent upon making the hermit’s acquaintance.

Any doubts as to the outcome of my intrusion were soon dispelled as this hefty, bearded six footer welcomed me inside and poured forth his unstinted hospitality. Imagine my delight at being pressed to the table for the evening meal in company with his other guests the Steane family and how I responded to the tasty mutton and vegetables he packed before me. But this excellent first course paled into insignificance when the strawberries and cream were produced and each allotted a huge dinner-plate full! And then came the custard and jellies a magnificent repast, the like of which one can only dream about whilst out on mountain excursions. Sensing my delight and amazement at the excellence of the fare, Ern Bond’s grey eyes twinkled and his face wreathed under the pointed beard as he remarked, "Yes, we do ourselves fairly well here”. You’re telling me! That evening we were able to discuss the Denisons amongst a multitude of other matters before I retired to a bunk in one of the tiny shacks for the night.

Next morning broke overcast and drizzling. My hunk of steak had kept well and it formed the major portion of the menu for all at breakfast. Just before leaving, I had an opportunity of absorbing the main features of Ern Bond's selection. It occupied portion of a fertile rise from which a forest had been cleared. The forest still existed on its western fringe and a fine stream, which rises between Mt. Wright and the Denisons at the rear of the forest, flows past the home. The house is a three roomed comfortable cottage with several attendant shacks scattered around. The garden includes a few fruit trees, raspberry canes, strawberries and vegetables. The setting of the selection, had the clouds permitted, would have shown its sheltered position in the Vale of Rasselas with Mt. Wright and the Denisons rising steeply only a mile to the westward, with Wyld's Craig and the Gordon Range springing up in the east beyond the Gordon. Truly well named and no wonder that Ernie Bond could not resist the appeal to settle in this remote but unexcelled spot, where the beauty of nature still reigns supreme.

At 7.37 a.m. I left “Gordon Vale” for the Denisons during a lull in the drizzle, carrying only a light pack and intending to return at evening. The route I chose was straight up the middle of the Vale of Rasselas, keeping the river and the Denisons equi-distant. I crossed the substantial Reid's Creek (1470’ - 1m – 8 a.m.) and entered wet forest, having immediate recourse to my ground sheet. By foolishly zigzagging hither and thither seeking easier going and not paying sufficient attention to direction, I permitted a change in the direction of the terrain to turn me back to the creek (1 2/3m. - 8.25 a.m.). Having only succeeded in getting fairly wet and wasting time and energy, I immediately re crossed the creek, followed it up stream through the burn and crossed over again where the gums thinned. Button grass soon took charge again and, at a tiny 15 yds. wide pool in the plain (2¼m. - 8.45 a.m.), I spent a few moments watching a large platypus (approx. 15” long) floating on the surface before observing my presence and hastily submerging.

The main object appeared to be to avoid the wooded patches and seek button grass breaks through the gums as they appeared. My instructions were to continue on until I was level with Reid’s Peak and then head straight into the range, but the low clouds refused to divulge the whereabouts of any of the Denison peaks. I crossed another creek a little smaller than Reid's Creek (3m. - 9.14 a.m.) and, soon afterwards, left inclined towards the Denisons, threading my way between patches of eucalyptus to reach the base of the foothills (1730’ - 5m. - 10 a.m.). It was sprinkling fairly solidly now as I started up the steep foothills recently burnt completely bare by button grass fires. The water provided a slippery ascent and I deviated from one ridge to another as policy decreed. Pursuing a general north westerly direction, I gained height fairly rapidly, but the solid array of persistent clouds kept Reid's Peak's whereabouts a close secret. Reaching high ground on the range, I chose to explore northwards in search of my objective, the strong freezing wind and the cold rain making life a little uncomfortable. I paused for dinner at 11.58 a.m. (3760’) on a high bare plateau, having just enough circulation left in the fingers to empty the water out of my boots, replace them and thus save my feet. At 12.7 p.m. I moved off as only exercise could keep frostbite at bay under these conditions. The slope to the north was downhill now and the cloud mist reduced visibility to only a few yards although fluctuations occurred. More perhaps by impulse than good judgment I carried on down the slope and was on the point of turning back when a high eminence loomed up ahead out of the mist. My hands were well nigh frozen as I started clambering up the peak, soon reaching the top and warming up in the process (3900’ – 9m. - 12.25 p.m.). [Reid’s Peak]

I had been told by Ern Bond that Reid's Peak was distinguishable by the large isolated Lake Rhona which lay at its base and my first impulse was to search below for such a guide. A small lake lay immediately below at 40 deg. with another lake nearly a mile away at 20 deg.. Little else was visible except that a high undulating ridge continued around to the north. As this peak did not measure up to the description I had of Reid’s Peak except in shape, I essayed to push on northwards. I reached the top of the next high peak to the north (3830’ - 10½m. - 1.50 p.m.) [Bond’s Peak] after an awkward climb up the rock column on its summit, where water on the cream moss added to its treachery. Two small lakes could be seen below, but still there was no sign of Lake Rhona. A relaxation of the cloud fog revealed that the range tapered off to the north and Mt. Curley showed up in the west. Obviously there were no high peaks left in the north, so it appeared that Reid’s Peak must be further south.

Leaving at 2 p.m. and recovering a pair of canvas gloves that someone had left behind, I retraced my route back to the place where I had dinner (3760’ - 12½m. - 3.5 p.m.) and explored the high plateau to the south and south west but it tapered off in all directions. Descending a little way down the ridges by which I had ascended in the south east, I turned southward to reach a southern eminence (3560’ - 14m. – 3.35 p.m.) but soon found there was nothing very high in that direction and that the range was falling away to the south.

There appeared to be no high sections of the Denisons I had not probed thoroughly in search of Reid's Peak, so there was nought for it but to return to Gordon Vale. I reached the base of the foothills, further south than the point from which I had ascended, by deliberate intent, and faced a short tussle with a narrow aisle of apparently thin scrub between two belts of eucalypts to reach the open button grass beyond (17m. - 5 p.m.). I regained my outward route soon after, crossing the second creek (17½m. – 5.10 p.m.) and, then edging more to the right to secure better going, crossed Reid's Creek higher up over a bridge of piled up debris (19½m. 6.5 p.m.). Then I angled back to the left in a bee line for “Gordon Vale” which does not stand out very conspicuously from here, rejoining mine host in good time for the evening repast (1460’ - 20½m. - 6.30 p.m.). That evening we succeeded in effectively housing the new swarm of bees which we had failed to finish the previous evening.

Next morning (Sat. Dec. 27th.) showers were still with us. All of the visitors were due to depart after breakfast and it was during that meal that we were treated to a new glimpse of Ern Bond’s inimitable character. There was no butter, no cream and some other commodities were in short supply, and it was revealed that it would be two or three days before the cream supply would build up for further butter to be made. What a man and what a friend! A glance at the strawberry patch revealed they had been completely cleaned up for the Xmas beano.

I was last to depart, taking my leave at 7.35 a.m. and ascending diagonally up the gradual rise to the south west towards the nearest base of Mt. Wright. Here, as in the Denisons, fires had rendered the mountain side almost devoid of growth. Reaching the foot of the main ascent with light rain still persisting (1830’ – lm. - 8.10 a.m.), the steepness of the going coupled with the ground sheet cape and heavier pack encumbrances, brought a steady stream of perspiration. Gaining the plateau at 9 a.m., it was but a short hike to the north west before I attained the northern and highest peak of Mt. Wright (3370’ - 2½m. – 9.20 a.m.).

The view was rather limited by clouds but was a decided improvement on that permitted yesterday from the Denisons. A cool westerly was keeping the clouds higher and on the move and the rain had ceased. Stepped Hill was plainly visible in the west, its highest point at 230 deg. and the obvious scrub free route via the ridge below was a temptation hard to resist. Beyond the Gordon Gorge, Clear Hill (204) and the Thumbs (156) showed out plainly. Other points seen, some under heavy cloud, were High Rocky,144; southern peak of Mt. Wright, 138; Wherrett's Lookout, 135; Tim Shea, 128; Wyld’s Craig, 360 and Gordon Vale, 20. Sufficient of the Denisons were showing to give me a view of yesterday's territory and it became apparent, and was confirmed by later views during the day, that Reid's Peak was the highest peak I had climbed yesterday, whilst the second highest probably was Bond’s Peak. I fear that some error was attached to my directions concerning the proximity of Lake Rhona.

Resuming at 9.45 a.m., I turned southwards towards the southern peak which looked more spectacular and appeared likely to closely contest altitude honours with the northern peak. Midway across, I located the rock arch on the plateau – a gaping hole showing right through a huge boulder. After some photography, I continued on to reach the top of the southern peak of Mt. Wright (3350’ - 3¾m. – 10.20 a.m.). A decided improvement in the weather was occurring now. Splashes of a milder wind and clouds lifting and breaking with the peaks to the south and east also shedding their clouds were heartening signs. Leaving the top at 10.45 a.m., 1 elected to go down the steep eastern side and, discarding my earlier plan to spend the night at the Gordon or Florentine huts, chose to attempt making the car before dark. Arriving at the foot of the steep descent (5m. - 11.30 a.m.), I soon encountered set backs with unexpectedly deep water courses in the button grass but, surmounting these after some small delay and leg immersion, I reached the track (6m. noon) and, soon after, pulled up on the Gordon bridge for dinner (1420’ - 6½m. - 12.7 p.m.).

Dinner was enjoyed in the first warm sunshine of the trip and I was able to dry out all wet garments. The weather was improving rapidly now and the clouds were disappearing fast. The Gordon was carrying much more water now than when I crossed over two days before. At 1.18 p.m. I was off again along the track to the Florentine, making good time to recover my bicycle (1250’ – 13m. – 3.17 p.m.).

Saying farewell to the Steanes, who were staying overnight at the Florentine camp, I rode off at 3.25 p.m. and, for the first quarter of an hour, had an uninterrupted cycle journey. However, a long walk up the divide towards the “divide" balanced my early advantage. Reaching the Divide Hut (1860’ - 4.23 p.m.), I negotiated the descents much better, probably owing to familiarity with the route, until jar and vibration snapped my seat. I was able to patch it up temporarily and continued on, passing the new huts (1510’ – 4.52 p.m.), a hut on the left (5.30 p.m.) and reaching the car in good time well before dark (970’ – 5.52 p.m.).

The sky was practically cloudless now. I changed my clothes and set off in the car at 6.21 p.m., stopping at the Junee River for a snack. Darkness descended before I was many miles on the homeward journey. The run up the Main Highway was not far advanced when the expected battle against sleep began. I stopped near Cleveland for a brief respite and then struggled on, reaching home at 11.37 p.m., .and spent most of the morrow sleeping.

 

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