I love bush walking, but I love it more when I get to camp out the night before as it heightens the connection I feel to the elements. This was one of those occasions. A few of us were spending the night at a friends house near Macclesfield catching up after a weekend away together a month earlier. Our evening was spent in a quiet pocket of land cooking on and chatting around a fire. As our conversation dwindled our attention turned to the creek-bed gossip of frogs ceaselessly punctuating the dark.
The next morning broke clear and warm. A temperature in the high 20’s was forecast which is unseasonally warm for mid spring. Fire re-kindled, we ate and digested possible routes for our traverse of Scott Creek Conservation Park.
Over night strong winds had blown through the Adelaide Hills leaving the roads looking dishevelled with a scattering of eucalypt debris. Once off the main arterial road we entered the back-ways, the hidden quiet spaces where tucked away dwellings snooze. Our driving pace slowed as the roads narrowed and we looked for the trail head car park.
Once on the walk a noticeable feature was the delicate wild-flowers which, though small, stood out vividly against the even green. I’ve never paid much attention to flowers, at least not in any concentrated detail, as it seems to require me to slow down, no, actually stop to take them in properly. It could be my unease with stillness (a natural consequence of modern life) or the fact that when walking my thrust is to push on, cover ground. For me, walking, is usually about way-finding, therefore my focus is often on the canvas of landscape. As in a gallery, I take a step back and survey the whole, not the small inflection of detail but the grand gesture, the rise and fall of slope, the curve of contour and the relationship between the here and far. I’m out there, not down here. Walking is many things, the paths are multiple, the opportunities endless.
Still on the theme of plants; Some of the people I regularly walk with have come to know the world of plants well. They have learned names, even the botanical ones, they know when one or the other has strayed from its usual habitat, has become a coloniser and whether or not it is in good health. To these friends flora has become an additional companion on their walk, one they pass by and greet both knowingly and fondly. It seems to me their world is the richer for it. Mine is too, in that I admire their love for it and I know it’s never too late for me to wake up and smell the roses.
Onwards we went looping round to the west towards the historical centre of the park. In the 1850’s this area was mined for silver and copper and some of the artefacts of this period and its effort are still there rusting and crumbling back to the ground. It was hard to get a feel for this time and it’s industry it being so far removed that even the ghosts seemed to have left, displaced perhaps by the spirit inherent in the graffiti that lives there now.
After a steep climb we exited the park briefly across a road and dove back into it along a falling fence line. Affluent properties and their picturesque dams to our right and on the other a rampant colony of Salvation Jane cursing the native paddock with its infectious wild beauty. At the base of this hill we turned into a creek bed and followed a trickling path along its length beyond the park boundary and out to the fringes of a native wood lot and a lonesome dirt track. Power lines stretched above us to a steel tower that stood sentinel over the land around. Big Brother? We turned our backs on it and crossed over a creek back into the park.
We were on one of three walking track loops that divided the park roughly north from south. Having started at the eastern point of the middle loop we were now at the western most point heading eastward. At the point where the loop met itself we rested in a glade, dappled in sunlight, peckish with the need for food. I noted this sites merits as a good camp but also noted that camping within the park is not allowed. Ssshhh.
The trail we were following was marked on a map from the Push The Bush book (unfortunately now out of print). At times it took us to gates bearing contradictory messages, some were locked with definite signs warning against trespassers, and yet the next gate along seemed indifferent to whoever passed through or over it. Plenty of walkers had, the bent and broken steel mesh of the gate and adjoining fences bore witness to countless boots. One gate chain was festooned with padlocks, like a rappers neck-chain, others wore the dents and bows of tussles with 4wd roo bars.
As we crossed over another road we passed a CFS (Country Fire Service) shed, its hi-viz attendees hanging around in case fire should break out in the warm windy conditions. Only a day or two before a fire had been fought in the park and subdued but the risk remained high. Throughout the park there were to be found the remnants of past fires, stripped, blackened trees bare except for a garnish of tender re-growth. So to on the ground where the once thick under-story had been burnt away creating a sight line across previously concealed landscape. Out of the ground sprung a new generation of growth destined to fill in the empty space around them. Such landscape always seems inviting to me, firstly, the contrast of fresh green against the charred black symbolising death and re-birth and secondly, with the under-story gone a navigable way through the landscape is opened up for off-track exploration. But that’s a different kind of walk.
This walk, excepting one or two foot-trails was mostly on fire track. Hard under foot, loose surfaced cuts dissecting the land, sand coloured arteries providing fire fighters with much valued access to dense fuel-laden scrub. The track we were on descended down and then out of a valley, a dusty switchback that led us to an old quarry. Out of easy reach from the road, this remnant of a mining past remained unmarked with spray paint. Looking into it from outside, so to speak, my imagination conjured up notions that this place might hold within it some remnant of ceremonial power, could have possibly once been, still have potential for, a place of meeting, but as I entered this notion was dispelled as it seemed too barren, too impersonal and without embrace.
We fossicked around the mines ‘scars’ admiring the patterns embedded in the exposed rock face, and the decorative wild-flowers that adorned the mines empty ‘rooms’. Nature was, by increments re-claiming this place, prising it from the hands of the ghosts of pioneers back to the bosom of the wild. I took a final look around from the rim above the mine then re-joined the track which fed back into itself completing the middle loop.
We were now walking over ground we had covered earlier but from the other direction. A tree cluttered creek babbled happily to our left bouncing sunlight across its surface. To the right a blush of Salvation Jane and ahead a lush paddock home to rusted farm machinery and the slowly tumbling ruin of Mackereth Cottage which stands as a testament to the perseverance of early settler life. This patch of the park was certainly fodder for postcards images with its wild-flower pretty foregrounds, ageing hardwood fence and iconic ruin, all to a back drop of matured gum trees. Not far beyond this are cars waited. Before leaving we lunched in the shade fed by another idyllic view of gently swaying trees in a sea of soft green grass, a patchwork of sun and shade exchanging places.
The four of us chatted on as we had done all day savouring good company and feeling in our limbs the efforts of our walk. But it concluded here, in the bright mid-afternoon rather than in the fading light of a full day. Most of us had left aside other things to be here and an early finish meant that those things could also be attended to especially as the days stretched so much longer now that spring had arrived. Iain and I considered going on further to do the third loop but by that time I felt the murmurs of a headache and thought it prudent to stop now.
I muse now that my connection to this landscape was shallow rooted. Had I fallen in love with this part of the world I might have gone further, drank a little deeper. But I wasn’t feeling it and home seemed more enticing. My imagination was not wooed sufficiently by this landscape which remained intrigued by the other walking option that had been considered, an off-track foray from coastline upwards to summit via creek gully with some mildly illicit fence hopping thrown in for good measure. But it was on the South coast and somewhat impractical to get too.
I chose Scott Creek for our walk as its proximity made it easy for the four of us to get there. It was a practical decision, a good logistical solution to our circumstances. It wasn’t the most engaging landscape, but that didn’t matter, the days walk was about engaging with friends. As we had done on the weekend away last month, on last evenings re-union by the fire and throughout our walk companionship became the highlight. As I drove home I felt the comforting thought that, both friendships and landscape offer ground to inspire, find fulfilment in and explore possibilities. Until the next. (Ewan)