ON THE MARYSVILLE TRACK
One of the most pleasant features in the administration of the present Victorian Government has been in opening up and making accessible the beauty spots of our State, and most of the many mountains near Melbourne. Some impressions of the track and the country opened up may serve to demonstrate the great asset the people of Melbourne have in this new track from Warburton to Marysville, and the exceedingly fascinating scenery we possess in our southern mountain of the Divide.
There were three of us in the party that set out from town for a weekend of exploration in the mountains. In the train we were met with amused smiles, for the week had been one of almost continuous rain, and the grey, unfriendly sky, certainly did make our packs and duffle look - well, a little out of season. However, the red gods had never failed us before, and soon after leaving Lillydale, a beautiful starry sky, with the mountains away to the right clear cut against it, and the cool bracing breeze, laden with the perfumes of the bush, were the first justification of their call. By the time we reached Warburton the bush had got into our blood again, and we were eager to feel the pack straps, and take what the night had to offer. Warburton ! what a host of memories rise at the name. Going out to the back country, coming in from long trips; camp fires and yarns of early days; and the freezing tingle of the snow. The sight of it always exciting for it possesses the true characteristic of what Stewart Edward White calls the "Jumping Off Place" You are here on the edge of civilization proper, and a few hours puts you beyond it altogether. Here the work not of man, but great things of the earth, forests, rivers, mountains predominate.
We changed into the oldest clothes we could decently bring with us, and in a few minutes, with the breath of the mountains in our nostrils, set off through the town and turned into the Donna Buang road. Our plan was to explore the new Marysville track as far as we could, and that meant camping as far up the road as we could that night. Travelling at night in the bush is exhilarating at any time, and travelling on the Donna Buang road on this occasion was something to remember. We were "travelling light" so the walking was a pleasure. The night was one of those clear still nights only seen in the late autumn or winter and the hills stood out black and massive, as if carved in ebony, while under our feet the road climbed through layer after layer of thin clouds that hung motionless in the valley, which gradually unfolded itself below. Now and then an owl hooted, or some nocturnal animal crashed through the shrub. So we climbed on and presently pitched our tent below the first saw mill, and soon, with supper over, and a dry sleeping place made comfortable with ferns and leaves we discussed our plans for the morrow.
On Sunday morning we left our tent and things as they stood, and in light marching order started off. It seemed in the air that we were to have a great day, but how great we were not to know until it ended. The two miles from our camp to Cement Creek were rapidly covered. The day was a perfect autumn day, the sun warm, and the air full of the freshness of the rains and the flavor of the bush, and a delightful snap. Cement Creek was at its best. The hazels, lightwoods and beeches were decked in their richest autumn color; and the creeks, in full torrent, reared down through its ferns and logs, it sang floating musically in the air from far below the valley.
The Marysville track turns off from the Donna Buang road at the turntable at Cement Creek, and with eager eyes we hurried across the bridge to the big red blaze showing through the bushes, and there it lay before us, a long inviting vista along the hillside. For the first few miles the track follows the contour of Cement Valley, high up on the side; it has been excellently constructed, and the easy grade makes it a delight, with no trace of labor attached to it anywhere. From the broad road we plunged into the long forest aisle, and at once we laid under the spell of the track. We had entered the realm of big trees, and magnificent specimens of the king of the mountain forests, mountain as, reared their huge columned trunks in stately dignity on every hand. For miles along the track, up to the top of the ridge, and down to the very bottom of the valley, their ranks extended, lending an air of grandeur to the scene. It was a paradise of trees for among the giants, the lightwoods and blackwoods flourished in great abundance, adding their sparkle and beauty; and the deep silver grey of the wattles formed a contrast that made the scene down the valley one of arresting beauty.
No finer sight could be desired than this valley of great wealth of green of every shade, with here and there deep yellow autumn foliages and the grey and silver columns of the mountain ash. A slight breeze stirred the leaves, and a shimmering wave of color would start across the forest. The light effects were delightful. The sun would strike through the long aisles that constantly opened, and burst into a blaze of gold and silver on some mass of foliage that would sparkle like a great diamond, or again it would strike one of the massive trees and break into shafts of silver that darted here and there among the tops of the wattles and lightwoods. Constantly we were calling one another's attention to these light effects, for they form one of the charms of the scenery.
There on the track we saw a curious sight - a huge mountain ash, with a large boulder some six feet through, embedded in the trunk and clasped by the roots, which had evidently drawn it up from the ground as the tree grew. As the track turned away from the side of Donna Buang, the view opened till the whole of the Cement Valley lay under our feet. Far below we could see green clearings at the head of it, like parks or meadows; then it opened out and merged into the larger valley of the Yarra, which we saw in the distance, a silver line along the valley floor; and beyond it a brown thread winding away into the distance marked the Wood's Point road, and across the valley the ridge on the opposite side rose abruptly, and beyond tier after tier of forest clad ranges, with huge valleys sunk deep between them in paralleled order, with here and there connecting ridges and valleys - a little known land, and in the far distance the peaks of the Baw Baw Ranges rose on the horizon. It was a sight to fill the soul of anyone, and it laid on us a great calm - the serenity of the everlasting hills.
The country from here on becomes more closed in as the track winds back into the curve of the hillside, and the sound of the hurrying waters of the main creek grow fainter. The big trees become scattered, and the hazel and lightwood reign. Soon the sound of water brought us to a mountain creek that plunged headlong to the main stream in the valley, and here we came on our first fern gully.
Monster tree ferns, perfect in symmetry, a rich, velvety green color, covering every inch of the sides of the gully and about the hillside hazel and lightwood trees standing silent guardians of this mountain gem.
As the track winds further back these gullies add another feature to their attractiveness - the beeches. Who so has not seen a fern and beech gully has never seen the real thing. The great, hoary trunks, the pulsating silver-green leaves shimmering in the breeze, and the gnarled and twisted branches, covered with moss, scarred and torn by the winter storms and fierce winds standing about the edge and now trespassing over the side among the ferns, make the gullies along this track simply irresistible. And here the beech flourished in triumph - not trees of a few feet in diameter and insignificant in height, but giants and kings. You may see them anything up to 200 feet high, with a girth of 10 to 12 feet. How many centuries they have passed in reaching their magnificent old age! As we pushed on the beech groves became the feature of the country. At one point the track for several minutes passes through a wonderful grove, like a meeting place of the things, of the forest, a great open space under the shelter of a group of ancient monsters, walled by tree ferns and paved with soft moss, and patterned with the twisting roots that hold the pillars of the place strong and upright.
Soon after passing this we entered at the extreme head of the valley a beech forest. If for no other reason than to see this forest, the trip is worth making; for they are becoming rare now, the bush fires having wrought great havoc among them. This forest is extensive and perfect in its virgin impressiveness; nothing but gnarled, moss covered, trees on every hand in closer serried ranks. It is the dampest and coolest spot on the track, as we walked through which it seemed little light ever penetrated, we could fancy we were in some primeval prehistoric country. It had an indefinable influence on us. We walked in silence for we felt here the breath of ages; and for all the stillness of it, we caught from the weather worn trees the breath of winters that had so deeply left their mark. So dark and gloomy was it, so utterly strange and foreign to the brightness of the rest of the valley, that we could have expected almost anything from this abode of silence. Withal it possessed a strange beauty all its own, and hel a queer charm.
It would have been a full days pleasure to have turned back here; but the lure of the track was on us, and we passed on out of the Beech Forest into daylight, around an elbow of the track, and found ourselves in another strange place. This was a gap in the ridge towards which the track had been working. Through this gap the track passed out of the Cement Valley, and found its way up to the main ridge, which it was now to follow. This gap was an interesting place in any way. It was first of all dead land. Connecting as it did, Cement Valley with the head of the larger Acheron Valley, the wind and storms had free passage through it, and they they and the snow that lies here in winter, had killed almost every tree, till the flat depression was covered with dead trees and rotting logs; a place full of desolation. This gap was also a wonderful place. A gateway in the mountains it was also a banner. On one side of its short half mile, the ridge sent the waters down into Cement Creek, then into the Yarra, and in a few hours they found their way over the 60 odd miles to be lost in the sea. On the other side of the ridge sent its waters down also, but with what a different outcome. First the Acheron into the Goulburn and from that along the Murray - a long and changeful journey, without pause, through every kind of country, till at last after many months, they found the sea 2,000 miles from this ridge and gap.
The track was new through the mountains and we were high up on the main ridge, the summit of the ranges. This also was evidently a place of storms, for the predominant feature was the snow grass that covered the ground, with only here and there a big mountain ash; and pervading the atmosphere was that particular stillness that is characteristic of high ridges. We were now well above the head of the Acheron Valley, and the view was a unique one. Far below, from under our feet, almost, the upper valley twisted and wound round peak and saddle while, till on the far horizon it turned out of sight into the main valley. The views here were remarkable for the effect of great distance, the great height of the track ( 4,000 feet ), the windings of the valley and its funnel shape between the great ridges, and the clear air, all combining to leave an extraordinary impression on the mind of immense distance, actually at the most ten miles.
After a while we began to cross tributaries hurrying down to join the Acheron, the tree ferns flourished along their banks as in the other valley. We were now in the very heart of the Dividing Range, and on every hand mountains upreared their massive heads. No more remote and no lonelier spot could be imagined. After passing several creeks the track comes to the Acheron proper. We had not the time to explore these upper reaches of the river, but from the track they were a delight. The river comes racing down a series of cascades and plunges over an immense rock filling the bed of the stream and falls away below, through a tangle of bushes and fallen trees and a wealth of fine ferns. It is a wild and beautiful spot, for the gully is a big and deep one, falling at a sharp angle, and all around it giant gums stand sentinel to the river. After crossing the river we passed a strange and natural phenomenon; a group of three huge gum trees all growing together, the track passing through the two largest. A bend in the track further along led to another beech and fern glade, through an avenue of big trees like an aisle in a columned cathedral. Here, some ten miles out from the Donna Buang road, we were reluctantly forced to retrace our steps by the rapidly closing day. Night overtook us with still five miles to travel. Those who have not travelled on a mountain track at night can never know the sensation of it. We had
much more of this amazing walk description still to come