Frank Low's first walk in the "Falls Country" in 1958

 

It was the start of an affair with the Macleay Falls country which lingers still today. Today we call the Falls country the Oxley Wild Rivers. I had a yen for exploring from the age of 12 when I saved up for my first camera, a Box Brownie, and ventured into the Mt Mutton Gold Fields which virtually backed onto our home in Uralla. Miraculously I survived the eroding tunnels and shafts.

In 1958 at the age of 26 I persuaded a much sought after builder by the name of Henry Menzies to build our home. During the construction Henry revealed to me his interest in the "falls" country and his exploits therein. Again I went into the persuading program and after I assured him I would be fit enough because of my working on ladders for long periods in my trade he capitulated and made plans for the next long weekend. I was soon to learn that a builder even though 30 odd years my senior was far fitter than a County Council Electrician. He mentioned strange names like Winterbourne Forest and Reedy Creek. Incidentally, he didn't mention that the bed of Reedy Ck was 700 metres below the surrounding terrain. Had I known what I was in for I probably wouldn't be sharing stories with you today but thankfully innocence is bliss.

On Henry's advice I packed my small army disposal haversack with a loaf of bread, butter, a piece of corned beef, blackberry jam, tea, sugar, a water container and an army disposal ground sheet that I had. This was based on what Henry carried except for the ground sheet, he carried a blanket. Doug Faulkner, Henry's son in law to be and already initiated was to accompany us and had similar gear. Incidentally, there may be a few more incidentals as we go, the back packing gear was the barest minimum as was the cost. At the zenith of my back packing days ten years back I would set off with an accumulation of $1500 worth of gear. I have a couple of great mates though, that still travel as light as Henry did, except for some frozen cans and a taste of Port for me. They are greatly amused at what luxuries I pull out of my bag. We parked our wheels at "Paradale" North East of Walcha and set off. We walked

1-1/2 Ks through cleared country till we came to a well maintained dingo fence and had to scale it. We entered a then trackless forest area; it is now crisscrossed with redundant forestry trails. Henry carried in addition to the basic needs, a rifle to obtain further sustenance if needed, a parish map void of contours, a simple compass on his wrist and a canvas water bag, thankfully. Doug carried a billy and I carried my Voigtlander camera loaded with a roll of 10 ASA Kodachrome. The map did have the main streams marked, the Macleay, the Apsley and Reedy Ck which I learned was the destination for the first long days walk. I have since checked the distance on a topo map and found it to be about 17 Ks. Five minutes into the forest and I was lost. The conditions were overcast but very dry and on the first indication of a creek that we came to, Henry decided to follow it down hoping for a water hole to fill the billy for a brew. For the only time on the trek I was fresh enough to get ahead and pushed through some low bushes to find myself on the brink of a sheer drop of humongous proportions. Henry wasn't surprised, he referred to it as the “Hole Gulf” and pointed out to us a spot in the distance where C.G.Cooper and Sons had logged for cedar in the 40,s. By the way, there was no water. He knew where we were, but calling it the Hole Gulf bamboozled me years later when I tried to locate it on Hole Ck. Again, incidentally, I was on an outing years later with a group from Walcha who were going to a place called steep drop falls and enroute I related the story of my first walk in the area. When we arrived at the falls I was astounded, there before me was my sheer drop, 176 metres to be exact. "Eureka" I had found it.

We continued on our way around the rim of the tremendous valley which I now know as Rowley's Ck. We came to a depression dotted with tree ferns and Henry called a halt for the first boil of the billy. It goes without saying that there were 3 ahhhs as the first sips were taken. I haven't come across that spot since then. Eventually we came to a long ridge between Rowley's and Reedy Cks. Henry referred to it as Narrow Neck. As we negotiated the narrowest section of the neck we weren't to know that 100 metres below in the dry rainforest were cedar trees and stinging trees of gigantic proportions which I have only recently been shown. The clouds lifted briefly as we neared the end of the ridge and to what I now know as the north, a flat topped mountain came into view. There, I took my second photo, the first being at the sheer drop. Henry called it Table Top and a projection on the eastern end of it was the Cocks Comb. It is interesting to note that, Narrow Neck Ridge, Table Top and especially the Cock's Comb were names used in the later topo maps. The Cock's Comb was the destination of my second walk but that's another story.

The conditions were still overcast which probably helped me to survive but were not the best for slow film and no exposure meter. The ridge came to a point where beyond, it became a spur and descended to Reedy Ck., 750m below. I took a couple of pics before the descent, one of Henry and Doug and one from a vantage point overlooking our goal. I was thrilled to recognize the same spot 30 years later when climbing the spur from Reedy Ck with a TAFE Guiding class. There was a difference though when compared, the spur in the early pic was clear of trees, 30 odd years later it was covered. It was sheer bliss when we reached the creek and collapsed for a long breather. I didn't dare think about the tomorrows.

The advantages of traveling light were no tent to erect and no trouble preparing a meal of beef sandwiches, and blackberry jam sandwiches for sweets washed down with mug after mug of tea. Chipped enamel mugs of course. It must have been the long weekend in October as I don't remember being cold sleeping wrapped in the ground sheet with a pull over on. Maybe exhaustion ensured a good nights sleep. The morning of the second day dawned with mists rising. Following a breakfast of our standard menu we had a quick look at the Apsley.

Photog raphed the creek landscape and faced the inevitable climb up the spur to what I now know as the Oven Camp Ridge. It was also about 700 m in elevation above us. As we reached the ridge the clouds descended on us and in the murk Henry accidentally followed an offshoot of the main ridge which thankfully was noticed when the clouds lifted momentarily to show the lay of the land. I was silently devastated at having struggled with rubbery legs 1˝ k's out of our way. The experience held me in good stead though for I was to pass that way 3 more times, once being in worse conditions and leading another TAFE guiding class, I was able to pass by the danger spot with complete confidence.

The rest of the trek has mostly faded from my memory for by this time I felt like a zombie as I stumbled along on the heels of Doug and Henry. I do recall though, experiencing the mother of all storms on the evening of the 2nd day when the three of us crouched under my ground sheet and Henry having the presence of mind to fill our billy with the run off from the sheet. The following morning we came across a large tree not far from us that had been blown to smithereens by lightning and firmly fixed in my mind was a furrow, metres long, where a root of the tree had exploded.

The third day was virtually a bush bash all the way with few good vantage points except for a glimpse of an abyss which again I later learned to be Poland's Gorge. Late on the third day we reached the Dog Fence near Paradale and one of the most vivid recollections of the epic journey, with the car within site in the distance, was how I could drag myself over that last hurdle. On reaching the car we had covered 40 odd kilometers over what was then wilderness and is now decreed wilderness. Well, the call of the Falls Country had been awakened and thence commenced a fitness routine for the rest of my able days to be ready to answer the call.

Cheers, Frank Low

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steepdrop falls

Looking over Reedy Creek towards Tabletop

Looking to Reedy Creek