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Packrafting the Old River via the Eastern Arthurs Range

The precedent for smaller river travel had been established by Helen Gee’s party on the Jane in 1976. Lilos, rucsacs on backs, hand paddling (1979: ACF; p170). We planned for a twelve day journey down the Old, starting and finishing at Scott’s Peak. Our gear had more in common with the primitive equipment of the 1960s than with the gear we enjoy today. I had an H-frame Mountain Mule rucsac from New Zealand, a brute, like a brick wall with shoulder straps. Rob and I shared a Paddy Pallin Japara tent. Our clothes were woollen. Not luxurious Icebreaker stuff, but itchy stuff that would matt into misshapen lumps when wet. Dehydrated meals were primitive, and we used to eke out dry rations that use more fuel than today’s best outdoor foods. Although we carried an Optimus Choofer, we also had the fall-back of occasional camp fires! I think our maps were the old green 1: 100,000 series with 40 metre contours. Navigation was very imprecise!We were young and soft, and moved a lot slower than we do now. Our approach? Across the Arthur Plains and a traverse of the Eastern Arthurs via Luckman’s Lead. Although just a pup, I’d been through that way before, having done a 28 day SW walk the summer before as a boy of 15, with three older lads of 17. I recall that the weather was constantly cold, wet and blustery on our Old River trip, typical south-west summer weather! We chickened out on the summit block of Federation because of poor weather. I’d bagged it 12 months earlier, and the other blokes have been back since.

I can remember some camp-sites, but not all. I don’t know where we frittered all the days away, but I can remember a few quite vividly. We climbed over Geeves Bluff, and dropped down to the small plateau a third of the way down the infamous Gorilla Ridge, where we spent a shocker of a night. Rob and I had our A-frame Paddy Pallin Japara tent pitched tight as a drum to withstand the storm, and I remember lying and watching the rain being forced through the single thin woven fabric wall by the force of the wind. The Taylor boys’ tent collapsed on them that night. We picked up Olegas Truchanas’ axe blazes the next day, which eventually brought us down to the Old River valley, whereupon we eagerly advanced to the river’s edge. What a disappointment! The river was completely choked with logs! There was an impassable jam about every 20-30 metres! We pushed on downstream adjacent to the river, and traversed Gorge Ridge, eventually putting in on the lower Collins River at the far end of Gorge Ridge. We had observed from the slopes of Gorge Ridge that the Old had become quite negotiable by the time it reached Gorge Ridge, and would plan to put in upstream of Gorge Ridge in future.

So how was the Old? We missed paddles. They would have been handy. The river was quite sweet, a bit like the Crossing, some easy rapids, and mostly clear of forest on the flanks. How long do you get on the water? About one day only! We left the river near its mouth and walked around Bathurst Harbour to the Ray River. We hoped this part of the journey would be straight-forward, but for us, it was a shocker. Constant gale-force winds compelled us to attempt an inland crossing of the Ray, which we found to be a tangled jungle-infested delta of fast-flowing streams under killer sieves. We had a nightmare time crossing the Ray River, and spent a leech-infested rainy night in the most uncomfortable site I’d experienced to date. Leeches were everywhere. I woke up during a fitful sleep with one latched onto both lips. Rob got one in his eye. He migrated to Europe shortly after, and for many years I addressed letters to him in London to “Ray River” as a cruel reminder of the time we spent there.

We eventually forced our way through the then untracked Moulters Gap and walked in to Melaleuca from the east. As we approached Melaleuca on one of those days when stinging squalls are separated by shafts of inspirational slanting sunbeams, a figure approached to meet us half way across the final button grass plain. It was Deny King. He said he had downed tools and came out to meet us because in all his life there he’d never seen a party of walkers approach from that direction before. He was genuinely curious about where we’d come from and how we’d found the going. He shared a few stories about his own forays across Bathurst Harbour. Deny also remembered me from our first meeting the summer before, when I’d walked in from Cockle Creek. Although I was just a young boy in awe of this living legend, he was very respectful and interested in our humble recreational efforts. He was such a kind host to us, particularly on this second visit to Melaleuca. We had spent far too long fighting our way down the Old and around the Ray, and were quite low on food. Deny gave us wonderful fresh bread he’d baked, loaded with strawberry jam, made from his Melaleuca strawberries. Deny kindly ferried us on his boat to Bathurst Narrows the next morning, to commence our journey back to Scott’s Peak.

Some years later Deny died, and I reflect now upon how lucky we were to experience the hospitality of this most intelligent, independent, solitary, and yet intensely empathic and sociable man. A truly great Australian.

Our return to Scott’s Peak was far from straight-forward, as the rain lashed us from Spring River to the Crossing. The Crossing was far too dangerous to cross, even with lilos, and we were forced to camp on the button grass tussocks about 100m back from the riverine forest and regular flood line. Eventually we walked out to Scott’s Peak on day sixteen of twelve, with little food remaining. These days we would do it faster, stronger, more purposefully, better equipped, yet those formative trips served a valuable purpose for me, and I’m still hooked on our Tasmanian wild rivers.

These are just a few teaser shots; I will develop this page in time.

Old River 1

Old River 2

 

Old River 3

 

 

bathurst harbour

 

bathurst harbour 2

bathurst harbour 3

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