By Field Naturalist
We cross the Yarra at Hawthorn and do not cross it again until e reach Walsh creek 66 miles from Melbourne and 920 ft. above sea level.
Leaving the Upper Yarra Hotel ( McVeigh's ) near the junction of Walsh creek with the Yarra one fresh frosty morning last Easter my companion and I recross the river Yarra to the south side and get amongst land forested with stringy-bark gums and eventually overtake our packhorse which had proceeded us in charge of a man who is going to join the track markers at the falls.
In wayside water-tracks some handsome king
( Osmunda ) ferns are passed and on the river flat tall white gum blossum; indeed some specimens are so "flower full"that the branches as if crowded with mayflowers. Nothing further of note attracts attention until we reach Bromley's reef-gold workings at Contention Creek, seven miles by marked tree from Walsh Creek. Two bark made miners huts beneath the shade of splendid silver wattles compose a pretty picture for the camera. As our pack contained the mailbag the diggers turn out to meet us. Two miles further on, after passing over 4 or 5 ting fern feathered rills, brings us to what we have called Oldham Creek because Mr. F. Oldham ( a prospector ), his plucky young wife and two children, reside in a tent there near the river. This family has the distinction of comprising the highest home on the Yarra. Here, too, the glories of the great forest solitude appear to increase. In the neighbourhood of Walker Creek, or the eleventh-mile tree, 1,350 ft. above sea level, the character of the country slightly changes. White, smooth-barreled, lofty gums give place to rough-barked messmates, and woolly-trunked Dicksonia tree fern become more abundant than the palm-like Alsophila hill tree fern, and the path amongst the slaty ridges becomes rougher. Where the Yarra valley narrows, near the 13 mile tree, a splendid stream ( Thomas Creek ) comes in southward. We have lively recollection of this creek. Two years previously our pack horse fell here and rolled down many yards, nearly into the stream. No one was hurt but our billies were turned into frying-pans. Emerging from this steep densely-wooded vale, brings us to a bold vantage ground - a siding overlooking the course of the Yarra hidden amongst the darker shades of beech, and from whence one can look into swelling bosoms of mountain forms opposite, supporting regiments of straight tall trees, nestling fronded crowns of tree ferns at foot. There also is the home of the funeral cockatoo, for we we hear wafted across the valley the harsh, grating cries of young, in answer to the weird and wailing call of the parents. Proceeding on our side, a prolonged sweet whistle arrests our attention, and, in the bracken, we see the performer an olivaceous thickhead.
Towards evening we get a glimpse through trees of the new shelter hut built specially for tourists by a benign government and arrive there - our destination - in due course. The hut is twenty-four feet bt twelve feet, in dimension, has a division, a good fireplace and is furnished with a limited number of stretchers and cooking utensils. It is situated about 30 feet above the river, near the junction of Falls Creek, or exactly fourteen miles sixty chains from Walsh Creek, or McVeigh's - a good tramp of five hours. We took longer in order to dwell on the picturesqueness of the sylvan scenes by the way, and to photograph some. Camped in tents, near the hut, we find four men, under direction of the indefatigable Engineer, Mr. C. Catani, who were engaged in clearing the track to the seven hundred feet of picturesque cascades on Falls Creek, My companion and I are made heartily welcome. We make our "shake-down" in the new hut - its first tenants; but rations are very much at a discount. Our order to convey stores in advance has miscarried, while the men in camp. also awaiting stores, were flourishing on boiled potatoes and onion. Misfortunes never come singly - the splendid weather and exhilarating mountain air had us enormous appetites. Providentially we had carried some dates and oat cake, which would help us over temporary difficulties till we levied toll on the well-found packs of unsuspecting tourist en route for Baw Baw who were expected to put in an appearance on the morrow and following days. What with bacon on bread and raspberry jam from one kind scholastic parts, raw beefsteak and a junk of cheese from another and a small bag of oatmeal from a vegetarian, our plans to temporarily furnish a larder succeeded beyond our most sanguine expectations, and we were able to keep alive til our own belated stores arrived two days afterwards.
The surroundings here abouts are very charming, and the tiny settlement - a hut and half a dozen tents, cosily situated in the heart of the "Big Bush" big mountains, big trees and even big grass ( wild oats several feet high ) ; only man seems small.
It is noontide of a perfect autumnal day, sunshine alternating with light, cloudy weather. The singing in the wind of a sea of foliage above vies with dense vegetation dark olive-green of umbrageous fronds beneath, and occasionally relieved by lighter coloured sassafras or bluish-green figure of stately silver wattle. On either hand rises a heavily timbered cone, shafted with upright trees closely crammed and sparingly tufted with fine foliage of geyish-green, while downin the valley, and where visible between the trees, the more distant spurs are dressed in an indigo tint. Without moving from the spot one can hear the crack of the coachwhip-bird and the loud and merry calls of the pilot-bird arising from the ground scrub. Tits, white-shafted, and rufus fronted fantails are actively chasing insect prey above. Some white-throated tree creepers and a pair of flame-breasted robins are about the tree boles near. While sweet-voiced yellow "vested" thickheads and Lewin honey-eaters, with trilling song are heard on high. There also comes from the opposite hill the single winter note of the harmonious grey thrush, and lugubrious wails from the cockatoos. In connection with birds, we heard a streperd, or grey magpie, call twice at midnight - a most unusual occurrence. We afterwards ascertained that the time ( ten minutes past 1 o'clock a.m. ) was coincident with shock of earthquake in various parts of the state. Did the shock awake the bird?
The first day we make it our business to renew our acquaintance with the falls by the new track made for tourists. Instead of toiling through a wealth of vegetation for two or three hours along the bed of the creek, as we did on the former occasion, the first and finest falls may be reached in half an hour by comparatively level track, cleared through the scrub on the left hand hill-side. When abreast of the fall, a zig-zag path branches and descends to the creek, where the beholder finds himself facing a beautiful twin waterfall - two parallel silver band, set in a natural chamber being ornamented with fresh-ferns, both great and small evergreen from the constant spray which is always illuminated with a rainbow under an afternoon sun. Retracing our steps to the principle track, we proceed to the second set of cascades, where we meet the track clearers at work. Being about lunch-time, the billy is boiled on a ledge of rocks - a romantic situation. Below are foaming falls, beyond an outlook down a densely-wooded vale, and behind us a steep descending hill, with tilted outcrops of silurian slate, where trees and shrubs cling on with rock-encrusted roots. During our rest a snake crawls ( from under some flood drift ) to examine us, but ere we can produce a stick the reptile vanishes. Another snake incident. Later in the afternoon one of our party was descending a natural chute where mountain rubble comes down. Unable to stay his progress he shot some distance on his back, overtaking, on his way, a large snake across the track. Things become decidedly mixed for a few yards, when a man was seen hastily scrambling up one bank, the snake did likewise on the other, while the rubble, on which both rode, tumbled into the gorge below. The track above is only partially cleared ( but since completed by aid of dynamite ) and we find travelling difficult and dangerous, especially with cameras, chiefly on account of the loose rocks, which give insecure footing, and often yield under slight pressure, go crashing down hill. Eventually, we view other falls, and safely reach the topmost leap. The Falls Creek track then rises a couple of hundred feet and rejoins the Baw Baw track on the summit of the hill - a ridge erected with giant gums - two thousand eight hundred feet above sea-level. The descent of one thousand feet to our camp is easily negotiated. Near the bed of the creek we pause to hear a lyrebird, which is whistling beautifully, every now and again interpolating his own calls of other forest fowl - gang gang and black cockatoos, pennant parakeet, grey magpie, coachwhip-bird, etc. - the counterfeit being as clever as it is complete. But we did not recollect hearing the cheerful notes of the pilot bird ( Pyenoptitus ) and yellow-breasted thickhead reprodeced before.
We spend another instructive day along the Yarra, a continuous ferntree-gully above its junction with Falls Creek. The stream ( now at summer level and easily jumped in places ) trends easterly, then northward, and again veers eastward. The bed is more shingly, except where blocked with fallen logs, and the beauty of its course indescribably grand. In places one continues under a perfect roof of fronds, each averaging ten feet in length, the interlaced verdant roof, being supported, as it were by avenues of natural pillars - fern trunks bedecked with innumerable tiny and tender vegetation. In more open vistas between the banks are seen the regiments of tree-ferns protected above by sassafras, bearded with trailing mosses or venerable beech, with rough and gnarled trunks or occasionally lofty blackwood acacia, while on either hand rise tall rank of eucalyptus, and with the ascending ground seemingly tree upon tree til the topmost tier on the summit, tassled with mistletoes, pierces the skyline. Looking to the earth again, how prettily decorated are some dead and decaying logs, with lichen and fungi rare, the latter in various striking shades - amber, purple, brownish-black. One whitish variety has the appearance of coral. Another shield like, a foot in diameter, is attached to the under-side of a suspended log.
At about five miles we enter an enchanted nook, a veritable sylvan retreat, about 50 yards in length, which we have christened "the arcade". Its floor paved with shingle and partly washed by the crystal stream, is walled with green and refreshing frondage, while moss- bedecked and fantastically-shaped limbs form the rafters of the roof. Soon after passing through "the arcade" a mountain streamlet comes in on our left hand, and shortly after noon we reckon we have traveled about six miles, while our aneroid indicates we have risen between five and six hundred feet above the level of our camp. We halt, have lunch, and take a photograph, our highest picture on the Yarra, at approximately, two thousand three hundred feet above the level of Melbourne.
We had hoped to meet cascades, as described on Hoddle's original plan of 1845, but discovered none. Did we travel far enough, or are there none? Apparently the stream - very much shrunken in size here - plays itself out in some romantic gully or heads four miles away on to the height of "Soldier" Wright's Range the true fons et origio of "home river"