Sundown: Cactus & Kangaroos
Monday and Tuesday of my trip to Sundown National Park in the granite-gully wilds of the Queensland-New South Wales border. I’d got in the bad habit of telling myself that sans vehicle, most good walking for a Brisbaneite was out of reach for weekend escapes, but this trip reminded me I need to rethink, and I’ll be off again soon…
EASTER MONDAY, 2001
Who needs an alarm? “One thing Australia has over every other country I’ve visited is the birdsong in the mornings,” I remark to Chris as we set off along the fence-line. He concurs.
I’d been woken early by a squawking miscellany of birds in the trees above the tent. Over the firebreak fence, the first rays of sun were bathing the pink-flowering crowns of some venerable ironbarks. Honeyeaters and parrots and who-knew-what-other kinds of birds were squabbling over the nectared spoils.
A leisurely breakfast and we follow the fence south-west. On the map, it will intersect with another. Things soon get a little vague on the overgrown firebreak, but we know we can always take a chance on an improvised descent and luck onto the creek somewhere.
Soon we’re back in Spiderland:
We’re back in the trees and luck upon a trace of bare earth — a track, or the remnants of one. We are navigating by fence intersections, increasingly obscure somewhere in the woods on our right.
I ruminate on the joys of trails — tracks, paths, whatever you want to call them — as we attempt to stay on this vague hint of former footsteps. A footpath is a wonderful thing. Maybe this is where they hike up to check on the fence, offers Chris.
All trace of the track disappears, and after a rest, we give up on fence and footprint and head down. A rocky gully, hints of dry rainforest here and there as it steepens and we are boulder-hopping again.
Gravity and the urge to see something familiar speed our descent. Half an hour of this, and the gully bed begins to moisten.
Suddenly, an intersection: the creek. Well, a creek.
A shaded creek trickling down another staircase of murky ponds. On a nice flat shelf of rock, I fire up the beer-can stove. The sound of water. A big skink hunting beneath a boulder overhang. A pot of pond-water tea and a Snickers.
Funny how a different direction messes with orientation. As we resume our descent, we convince ourselves that this is a different creek. “Haven’t seen these casuarinas“…”Nope, this is new”…”Oh yeah, no way would we have missed this tree with the corkscrew bark”… Then I reach the next pond and…
“Oh, shit. Look familiar?”
We crack up, laughing. The same pond we’d camped next to on Saturday night. We’re back on the Ooline — indeed, we’re almost back at the mother Severn.
Luxury tonight. We have a campsite booked at Broadwater, and with our tents set up on nice, level ground, we check out the only real path, the 4.5km Western Circuit. First a trip to the ranger’s house for some H2O…
..and a gradual climb through scrub dotted with prickly pear to a ridge with a commanding — and very Australian — view:
A golden afternoon. We linger there under a lonesome ironbark and take in the faded grandeur of the Australian bush.
The track loops past more cactus back to the Severn, the soothing flow into the waterhole in late-afternoon light:
That evening — the chilliest yet, but still mild — we sit between our tents. Our neighbours employ blazing fires and multiple headlamps. We enjoy total darkness, Chris sipping whisky, my phone providing a gentle soundtrack — The National, whom we both love, coming up repeatedly on shuffle; these iPhones truly are intuitive. I retire to my bag, novel and snacks. Sleep, aided by my last American sleeping pill, is sweet and features grand and sweeping Vista-Vision dreams.
Up at 5:30, I know the whisky will keep Chris down a while longer. I put on my warm stuff and take my camera back to the area near the ranger’s hut. Early as I am, I’ve been beaten to the dewy foothills by the locals:
I go back for a last look at the river. A few campers are stirring. Pretty soon we’ll be hitting the road back to Babylon — I mean, Brisbane. A last lungful of this crisp morning air, this riverside calm, to tide me over a while back in the big smoke.
So long, Sundown.
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote