I wish that I was able to predict the weather three months in advance. It was that long ago that some friends and I decided to choose last weekend to go camping and bushwalking around the Powelltown area in the Yarra ranges to the east of Melbourne. I have been walking there on many occasions and know the area well. It turned out to be the wettest weekend we have had all year with temperatures down to 3C degrees along with hail and heavy rain. According to the Weather Bureau, the area had 37 mm of rain over the weekend (1.5 inches)
We set up our camp on Friday night at Starlings Gap, the site of one of many timber mills that operated n this area up until the 1930’s. It was drizzling rain while we cooked dinner and it rained heavily overnight. We woke to a very foggy morning although it cleared to a bright sunny day by late afternoon. On Saturday night it was quite cold with fairly steady rain and hail. I found that the seams on my tent leaked with the rain and I was a getting wet in my sleeping bag. As a consequence, my tent has been consigned to the garbage bin. It was a good little tent and I have used it for many years, It has just passed its use-by-date. Fortunately, the outdoors stores currently have a sale on tents and I can currently buy a new one for 70% off the full price (assuming that I can find one that I like as much as my old one).
In the 1930’s this area was one of the two most prolific timber felling areas in the world (second only to an area in California). There were over 15 mills scattered through the rainforest, all connected by a series of narrow gauge tramways. Logs and milled timber were hauled by steam engine out to the road and the main train line at Warburton for transporting down to the city. The timber cutters believed that the forest here was inexhaustible. The tramway lines have long since gone, but their routes are now used as walking tracks. We walked 12kms along the old Federal Mill Line past the sites of the Ada Mill and the New Federal Mill. The area was totally destroyed by wildfires in 1939 and the timber mills were relocated out of the forest and re-established in the local towns. Along the way, we passed the remains of some old timber bridges that once crossed various gullies and creeks. I can remember some of them still standing from earlier trips to here, but they have all now rotted and fallen over. The only one still evident is made of large logs and crosses the little Ada River.
The forest was stunning with tall mountain ash trees – tall, straight, and up to thirty metres high. At ground level, the undergrowth was too thick to push through and the enormous tree ferns were profuse. The track was very muddy. This is a great area for leeches. We must have seen hundreds of the little buggers. Some were only 5 – 6 mm long but the biggest were 25 – 30 mms long. I don’t know how they survive here as there can’t be enough animal life here to support such an enormous leech population. Perhaps they only need to get a feed of blood every few years? I thought that I had escaped any bites but I now have a few that are very itchy on my wrists.
Back at our camp site, we saw one of those rare and magical sights that you can only see in this type of rain forest. We were able to watch a male lyrebird courting its mate in full display. Lyrebirds are somewhat related to a chicken. They are very shy forest birds with tail in the shape of the lyre – the instrument of medieval musicians. They are great songbirds and we could hear their rollicking voices around us. They mmic sounds exceptionally well. We could have been thinking that we were listening to crows, kookaburras, cockatoos and whip birds but all these sounds (including the sounds of a saw) all come from the one bird. We couldn’t get too close, but I was able to get a distant photo of the male lyrebird going through his display routine with his tail over his head and quivering as he faced his mate.
We called the weekend off after breakfast on Sunday Morning as it was so cold that our fingers had stopped working and we were getting quite wet. The mobile phone signal was just strong enough to let us see that the rain radar was showing very heavy rain advancing on our location. We were wet enough as it was so we hightailed it back down the mountain and headed off towards home.