The northern section of the Grampian Ranges in Victoria has some stunning scenery but is less visited than the areas to the south near Halls Gap and Dunkeld. I spent four days of this week camping at the Troopers Creek Campground with my good mate Rob Neal..
This area is dominated by Mt Difficult (Mt Gar) with its steep bluffs and craggy rock formations. Many years ago I was bushwalking across this mountain when I sprained my ankle badly and had to hobble, in quite some pain, off the mountain. We lost the track and ended up on the top of a high waterfall. Eventually, we found our way down the side and ended up at a camping area where some kind campers drove us back to our car. Across the road from that camping area is a signboard that describes the original purpose of the camp site.
That camp ground had existed since the 1850s when a detachment of police troopers were stationed there to protect travellers and arrest illegal Chinese immigrants who were walking to the goldfields at Bendigo and Ballarat.. (The Colony of Victoria had banned the Chinese from arriving by ship so the crafty ship captains dropped them off at Robe in SA, making them walk around 400 kilometres to the goldfields). That original camp site was burnt out in a bushfire and the National Parks Service have built a new one about three kilometres to the north.
We were blessed with fine weather for the first three days of our stay. There was hardly a cloud in the sky and the days were warm. However, the clear skies resulted in temperatures below freezing point overnight. I’m glad that I took my warm sleeping bag rather than a lighter one that I had initially considered. At our camp site, we had plenty of space for our tent along with a table and a fireplace. There were some ‘newish’ composting toilets nearby. I was very impressed with our Dometic brand fridge which ran off a lithum battery about the size of a small car battery. The fridge was full of food and a bottle of wine or two and after four days, the battery still had over 40% of its charge. It was probably helped by the cold overnight temperatures when it would have been warmer in the fridge than it was outside!
The new camping site is on Dead Bullock Creek (no prizes for guessing how that name came to be) with views of Mt Difficult. now known by the Aboriginal name of Mt Gar. It was lit up by golden light at sunset and looked quite spectacular.
There were plenty of birds around and a mob of kangaroos that were feeding very close to our tent. Each morning we were woken by the grunts and snarls of a couple of larger male ‘roos who were standing on the rear legs and engaging in a bit of ‘biffo’ to determine dominace of the mob. Many of the females had joeys which is a sign that conditions were good for breeding.
We filled in our time with a number of short walks along the network of tracks in the area. One took us along the creek to a number of increasingly high waterfalls and cascades. While a lot of the state has had considerable rainfall in the last few months, this area has had very little, meaning that only a trickle of water was flowing over the falls. This track was a section of the new thirteen-day peak walk along the entire Grampians range.
Another track took us on a 1.4 km walk to Beehive Falls but they were also pretty much dry.
Not far down Mt Zero Road on the other side of the range is Heatherlea Quarry. It was the place from which the sandstone of many prominent Victorian buildings was quarried in the 1850s . These include Parliament House, the GPO, Treasury Building and the local Town Hall in nearby Stawell. At one time, the quarry employed around eighty men, had its own little town and even had a branch train line with three trains operating each week to take loads of 4-ton blocks of rock away. There are a number of relics there now and the main historical site is well signposted.
There is nothing at the old town site of Heatherlea anymore but you can walk down some of the old streets which are now just foot pads. This is a good time of year for wildflowers and there were many varieties growing in the scrub. We met quite a number of people who were out searching for specific species of plant.
A few kilometres to the south, along the road, was the site of the original Zumsteins Homestead. Walter Zumstein ( originally a Swiss-German man) first visited this site in 1906 while working as a young beekeeper for Barnes Honey. In 1910, he established his own apiary, with 60 hives and a small timber cottage. He saw active service in World War One, and when he returned to Australia with his Scottish wife Jean, he decided to supplement their modest income by establishing a small ‘tourist retreat.’
During the 1930s the couple built three pisé, or rammed earth cottages, plus a tennis court and a large swimming pool. Water for the pool was taken from the nearby MacKenzie River. Soil excavated to create the swimming pool was used to build the cottages. Their hospitality and community spirit became a hallmark of Zumsteins’ legacy. The picnic area by the road was once a camping ground and in our early days we spent a few nights there. Most of the cottages were destroyed in a bushfire and only two remain.
Our final night was overcast, making it much warmer. There were a few drops of rain overnight but, thankfully, it was dry while we were packing up to leave. We could hear helicopters overhead as the Rangers were shooting feral deer in their annual cull. Some of the tracks were closed but it didn’t bother us as we had alread walked over them in previous days.