This week is the anniversary of the WHO declaring the Coronavirus to be a pandemic one year ago. At that time, we were cautiously doing a tour of the art silos of northern Victoria. At this time, we are doing another trip across the Victorian ‘High Country’ after giving away any possibility of taking our planned Indian-Pacific train trip from Sydney to Perth. The train is now running but the Western Australian Government is not letting people into the state from Melbourne, probably in the belief that we are all contaminated with the virus and dying in the streets. Actually, there are only 118 active cases of the virus in the whole country and 117 of these are from returned overseas travellers who are locked up in compulsory quarantine. There is almost no community transmission of the virus whatsoever in the entire country.
We left home by driving through the (temperate) rainforest and over the famous Black Spur just to the north of Melbourne. This is a beautiful area of Victoria with a winding road with tall and straight Eucalyptus trees that were planted after the disastrous 1939 bush fires. It is very scenic route.
We were heading to the scenic town of Bright in the north-east of the state and we chose to travel through a more scenic route than just belting up the Hume Highway This took us through the towns of Alexandra, Mansfield and Whitfield. We had lunch in Mansfield which has a cemetery in which the three police officers murdered by Ned Kelly and his gang are buried. Ned has some folk lore fame of being a champion of the poor, but he was really just a criminal.
Further north, we stopped at Power’s Lookout that gave us some great views across the Upper King River Valley. It is so named as it was the hiding place of Harry Power, the last of Australia’s infamous bushrangers. He was captured here in 1870. Harry had connections with the famous Kelly Gang. His lasting fame was guaranteed when he took on 14-year-old Ned Kelly as his ‘apprentice’. Together they carried out a string of robberies and holdups in which Ned learned the tricks of the trade, including bushcraft, as they moved from one crime scene to the next at bewildering speed. After his release from jail in 1885 Power led an honest life for the next six years and accidentally drowned while fishing in the Murray River at Swan Hill in 1891.
Time has changed the nature of farming in the valleys in this area. A generation ago, the main crop grown in this area was tobacco. That has now changed and wine grapes are now the biggest crop. Some of the old kins in which tobacco was cured still exist but there are now a good number of boutique wineries producing excellent wine.
After descending from the mountains and into the valley, we came to the little town of Whitfield. There is not much in the town apart from a pub, general store, a police station and a few miscellaneous buildings. Some years ago, along with my son, David, I did a hiking trip across the Wabonga Plateau near here and we finished in time to be back in this town for lunch. We expected to find typical pub food (which after a weekend of hiking, we would have through;y enjoyed) but we were quite surprised to find that the pub specialised in much more gourmet food. I can still remember the taste of the duck and venison sausages that we enjoyed.
We had a little time to spare before reaching Bright,. So we did a detour towards Mount Buffalo and stopped at the Eurobin Falls for some photography. There wasn’t a great deal of water in Eurobin Creek, but there was enough to capture some decent waterfall images.
The main falls flow over a large granite outcrop and unless the creek is ‘running a banker’, there is just a shimmer of water rippling across the granite rock face.
We reached our motel by late afternoon and made our way to the local boutique brewery for dinner. This area was originally explored by Hume and Hovell in 1824. They found, and named, the Ovens River. The town of Bright was first known as Morse’s Creek but in 1861 it was renamed in honour of the British orator and politician John Bright. During the Victorian gold rush there was a stampede to the nearby Buckland River. As the gold deposits gradually diminished, Chinese miners arrived in the area to sift the abandoned claims. Tensions over Chinese success from Anglo-Irish miners caused the violent Buckland Riot in 1857, resulting in deaths of Chinese miners and the fleeing of 2,000 Chinese. The riot was eventually quelled by the Beechworth police under the command of Robert O’Hara Burke (of Burke and Wills fame). Bright is spectacular in Autumn with the many introduced trees in the area creating stunning Autumn colours. There is some colour around now, but we are really a few weeks too early for it to be very colourful.
Today (our second day of this trip) we drove up the Great Alpine Road to Mount Hotham and Dinner Plain. These are one of the three, or four, main skiing areas in Australia. Our mountains are simply not high enough to have sufficient snow for more that a couple of months each winter.
On the way, we drove through the town of Harrietville. The road into this town is beautifully edged with deciduous trees that don’t really make one feel that you are entering a town. Harrietville, like so many mining towns, is a settlement that once stretched for miles along the Ovens River valley. Today it is a sprawling, almost disconnected town with plenty of history. Between 1941 and 1947, the Tronoh Company dredged for gold on the Ovens River. Their dredge was the largest in the southern hemisphere and only one of a few used in Australia. As a result of this dredging, Harrietville has been left with two artificial lakes joined by a narrow neck of water. Both are located within 1 km of the centre of the town. Lake Tronoh is the largest of these bodies of water in the Ovens Valley and today it does a great job of acting as the town’s swimming hole.
The road up to the ski fields at Mount Hotham was narrow and winding. We had frequent views across the mountain ranges and the evidence of the 2003 fires that completely burnt out this area was stark. The skeletons of snow gums line every ridge across the landscape. New plants are growing from the roots of these trees but it will be decades before these grey coloured skeletons are replaced by new trees.
After reaching Mt Hotham, we drove across the High Plains as far as the little airport, some 25 kilometres away. At the edge of the airport carpark we found an apple tree full of fruit and we picked a couple just to see how they tasted. They were small and a little tart but quite nice to eat with our lunch. It just goes to show that you shouldn’t throw your apple cores away because the seeds take root and grow in the most inappropriate places.
We found a nice spot for a picnic lunch at the ski resort of Dinner Plain. This recently built community has a rather nice collection of buildings, each with a similar, but different, style. They meld into the landscape and surrounding snow gums nicely.
As one enters the village, there is an area for day visitors with picnic tables and a playground. Amongst the buildings is a hut in the form of a cattleman’s hut. It is not original, but built as a community resource in the form of one of the historic huts in this area. Cattlemen used the high plains around here as grazing areas for the cattle over the summer period.They used the huts as a base when they rounded them up before winter to drove them down below the snow line.
As a final memory jogger for me, there were two places that took me back to my bushwalking days. One was the start of the Cobungra River Track which is where David and I once camped overnight before beginning a four day walk down to the Cobungra River, then up to the Bogong High Plains and finally back again via the Red Robin Mine. We stayed at a couple of bush huts along the way on that trip.The place where we initially camped now has a picnic shelter in a little opening in the snow gums.
Further down the road is the Diamantina Spur which is one of the main routes to Mount Feathertop, the second highest peak in Victoria. We could see a number of hikers along the spur and if I was ten years younger, I might have joined them.