Graham Wills Johnson Cobungra River - Dibbins Hut area, News, October 1976
A kaleidoscope of lasting impressions, tantalising place names, the joy, the dejection, the satisfaction, the sheer exhilaration, the pain, the frustration, the fun, and the people who shared and shaped experiences - it was all there for the Melbourne Bushwalkers in the seventies. Often these events and feelings were recorded and expressed in the News or Walk, sometimes with hilarity, other times with more of a philosophical bent. All are central to our story.
The seventies for the Melbourne Bushwalkers was brimming with many a fine sentiment and challenging walk. But that decade also held other less agreeable ingredients. At the 1972 Federation Weekend MBW earned themselves the 'Most Antisocial Club' trophy, some members being perceived as 'querulous, clique-forming and spoilsports'. Also deplored around this time were childish actions such as stone or boulder-throwing (the bigger the better) down hills and mountains, and the lighting of 'bonfires', the latter causing 'destruction of habitats and humus and sometimes the inhabitants as well . . . plus giving the Club a bad name as evidenced on the trip to Wyperfeld, when the Ranger told Club members to restrict their blazes'. (News, November 1972)
... Go slow along with me
For all the views are free
And let's enjoy the walk while yet we may.
Anon, News, May 1971
Then there was the perennial question of the 'racehorses' or 'tearaways'. Graham Wills-Johnson (W-J) maintained the leader must bear the greater proportion of the responsibility and temper the 'insensate pacemakers' without breaking their spirit. Another pointed out that, after all, 'we are supposed to be Bush Walkers' (From the President's Pen', News, April 1976).
In an open letter published in the News, the Committee was very critical of nine walkers who went on ahead late in the day, negotiating a difficult cliff scramble on Marijke Mascas's walk in the Lerderderg Gorge in May 1970, leaving the other eleven to spend the night in the bush. 'After much crossing of the river with several wettings, some complete, the nine managed to reach the Ford by 9 p.m., aided by a bright moon and much cajoling by Alex. Faced with no van, they set off briskly for Bacchus Marsh, six miles away, where, to their delight, they found the Gronow's van, having all but given up and just about to depart for Melbourne'. (News, June 1970). The Mt Cole - Ben Nevis weekend walkers, led by Art Terry, had spent three and a half hours searching fruitlessly for the day walkers. Meanwhile the eleven in the bush spent a fairly comfortable night warmed by two fires and providentially dry weather, walking out the following day, none the worse for wear. In fact, they quite enjoyed the adventure.
Charles Knight recorded in the News, May 1970, that 'it is noticeable on walks that status is accorded to those who arrive at different sections first'. He suggested a handicapping system whereby the 'racehorses' could, by mutual agreement with the Walks Secretary, be given extra weight to carry. The walker's agreed weight could be emblazoned on pack and person, thus ensuring the desired status at all times. Obviously the heavier the load the greater the status. This, however, did not catch on. Despite censure the problem did not go away and debate over the 'racehorse' issue waxed and waned. In an article in the News, December 1977, W-J pointed out, 'if the strong are pushed under by the super-strong a break opens up in the continuum and the resulting groups get smaller and more exclusive'. Michael Griffin's thought-provoking article 'Competition and Co-operation' in the News, April 1977, has some valuable comments on this question. Michael encapsulates the principles of the all-important 'Club spirit', which can be selfish and divisive, or co-operative and encouraging.
Towards the end of the decade weekend walking had dwindled to a hard core of no more than 20-30 walkers, less than 10 per cent of membership, with no new walkers coming up the ranks. The Walks Secretary viewed the situation as serious, reporting that the weekend programme had not been financially viable for many months past. The following points were raised in the subsequent Iengthy discussions during the November 1977 Committee meeting:
bridging-type activities such as the 'Saturday start' day walk were flagging;
newcomers found the attitudes of a small group of 'heavies' intimidating;
weekend leaders no longer approached people in the Club room in an attempt to assure reasonable numbers on their walks.
However, no definite conclusions were reached.
In his write-up of Geoff Law's hard trip to Spion Kopje in November 1979, Bob Douglas asked where the old walkers were, and more importantly where was the fresh blood to sustain such trips. 'The Club does not seem to be attracting and/or retaining enough people to make up the numbers of a few years ago. And does this really matter anyway? Are the participants on hard walks just a small, exclusive sub-set of the vast membership of the Club, arcane in their customs, frightening to potential newcomers? It would be a pity if that is the image.' ('The Last of the Hard Walks?', News, December 1979)
Bob had been promoting the joys of weekend walking for some time. In the News, December 1977, he wrote an article 'On Becoming a Weekend Walker'. Here are some of his sentiments: '. . . the camaraderie around a camp fire, the fantastic beauty of walking through a mountain forest, the joy of camping beside a stream and of cooking on a good gum wood fire, the challenge of the elements and the terrain, the feeling of achievement at the end of a weekend'.
An interesting hypothesis has been put forward with regard to the demise of the hard weekend walker burnout. The walking of the Victorian section of the Alpine Walking Track (AWT) had finished them off. In fact it was the swan song of many a fine walker. Most had married anyway and their responsibilities lay elsewhere. Thus the decade, ushered in on a membership boom with a bumper crop of young people, had matured and settled down. Numbers of both weekend and day walkers were declining. Overall, however, membership numbers had roughly doubled, with 190 members at the end of 1969 and 378 members at the end of 1979.
The monthly newsletter is a vital link between members, keeping everyone au fait with the Club's activities. It was no less so in the seventies. Gossip columnists came and went. 'Sue's Snippets' by Sue Filson ran until April 1971 when 'Mummajong' by Alex Stirkul took over until July 1972. 'Shady Scorpion' by Geoff Crapper ran from August 1972 to December 1977 and 'Lopez' by Rob Hayes from January 1977 to end 1979. In a letter to the Editor, June 1978, Lopez is challenged - where did he look for his gossip? Why the same few names? The unidentified writer had immortalised walks with staggering puns and descriptions of hilarious rock-tripping, serious gear omissions, getting lost, wearing bright clothing - all to no avail. 'Is no one else funny? Impossible. After all we are a talented Club: But no, we hear that the ever-viable Fred Nerk has just bought himself another handkerchief.' The little people were starting to demand their rights. The wallflowers were mobilising.
In the News, May 1978, a 'concerned member' enquired, 'Who is the phantom author? I have noticed lately that the News has a half page or so of assorted waffle every month but the only clue to the author is the pseudonym "W-J". Who is the one who pontificates from so great a height? Let him come out into the open and sign his full name.' That 'W-J' made 'Assorted Waffle' his own was a stroke of genius. However Janet White picked up on this theme. In the News, June 1978, she appealed to those esoteric souls who contributed to the News anonymously, or with an obscure pseudonym (and there were many) to declare themselves so that everyone could have the privilege of knowing who they were. Of course the epochal Brigadier J. C. Paddyboot-Twinkletoes (ret'd) and his arch rival Major Grippe Yarfeet did not fall into the obscure category. They were well known to readers and delighted them with their witty repartee as evidenced by this letter to the Editor, the News, July 1971.
As a constant reader of your paper for many years I would like to express a few words of appreciation for the recent issues. The world is light on laughter, although the MBW have always had a good quota of that valuable commodity. All types of wits and nitwitticisms have graced the pages of the News, but never before it seems, has such a galaxy of stars twinkled from its pages, since 'The Brigadier', 'Major Grippe Yarfeet' and 'Certified Reporter' turned their talents loose on us.
Refugee from TV
Little did we know how close we came to missing out on some of these treats. Sue revealed in one of her 'Snippets' (News, March 1971) that 'new member Graham Wills-Johnson nearly missed out on becoming accepted'. His suitability was under scrutiny. Were members ready for a brightly betowelled weekend walker shaving in the dawn light? Apparently they were, and the decade was launched on a rising tide of merry and irreverent levity.
There was a serious side to the Club of course. The seventies witnessed the coming of age of the burgeoning conservation movement with the resolution to fight for our remaining wilderness areas gaining momentum. Bushwalkers, as a body, were being continually made aware of their unique position as key protagonists in the oft murky political waters of conservation. Almost without exception Walk editorials of the decade were devoted to this subject. For further details see 'Conservation and Wilderness', page 147.
Graham Wills-Johnson, shaving. Taken at a campsite near King River Hut on a private trip led by Rod Mattingley in the Mt Cobbler - Mt Speculation area, April 1972. Tim Dent collection
Two things that 'took off' over the decade were cross-country skiing and gear. Langlauf for beginners did not get much of a go until the middle of the decade and even then it was not all plain sailing, as can be seen from Rod Mattingley's chaotic langlauf weekend for beginners on Mt Stirling in July 1975, where the skiers were strung out in confused disarray. The Club's skiing trips were mainly for experienced skiers or took the form of snow walks to various destinations such as Mt Feathertop, Eight Mile Hut to The Bluff, West Kiewa, Tawonga Huts to Mt Fainter. Probably the most serious snow walk in Victoria was undertaken in July 1974, led by Dave Oldfield, up Mt Bogong - definitely not for novices. Jerry Grandage was the first to use the term 'ski touring' in the News for his trip to Mt Hotham in August 1974. In early previews skis were alluded to as 'boards', for indeed the skis were made of wood. This terminology fell away as technology overtook all types of gear, and, of course, equipment became much more expensive.
Inflation also contributed to rising costs in the seventies. Van fares had to be increased as did membership subscriptions. At the beginning of the decade subscriptions were $4 (over 21), $2 (junior) and $6 (couple). By 1979 they had exactly doubled.
Try as I might, I could not find 'good homes' for the following interesting material. Why not an 'assorted waffle' section? I thought. So here it is, with apologies to Graham Wills-Johnson.
'It is interesting to note that the Club was thirty years old last month. The MBW started in April 1940 with a walk from Belgrave [actually Ferntree Gully] to Mt Morton and return. The 10th birthday was celebrated by re-traversing the route of the foundation walk. The 20th anniversary route was modified (because of creeping suburbia) to include Kallista and Sherbrooke Forest. The 30th anniversary? It appears to have been forgotten as no walk has been programmed and no cake has been forthcoming.' (News, May 1970, 'Sue's Snippets')
The MBW hosted the 1970 Federation's Annual Moomba Day Walk. The route ran Bullarto Reservoir - Babbingtons Hill - Lyonsville Spring - Trentham Falls. Leader Art Terry did a marvellous Pied Piper act. Twenty-five per cent of the walkers were Club members. The refreshments were organised by Marion and John Siseman.
An event that was popular while it lasted was the 'Old Timers' Reunion'. Starting in 1967, the last recorded event was in 1974 at Emerald Lake.
Club contacts for the decade were: Graham and Sue Errey, Fred and Merle Halls, Norm and Edna Richards. In 1974 the Halls withdrew and Geoff and Jenny Kenafacke took their places. In 1977 the Richards handed over to Rex and Sue Filson, completing 32 years as Club contacts.
'.. . there is no easy way to end this account of a Tyrone T. Thomas (TTT) spectacular, but perhaps the man himself can have the last word. On the way home, he turned to me with a pleasant smile: "It's a good thing I didn't include this walk in my Grampians book. Some people might have got lost".' Indeed! (Michael Griffin on TTT's walk, Red Rock - Mt Thackeray - Castle Rock, August 1977; News, September 1977).
Tyrone has successfully published many books on bushwalking. Hill of Content, his publishers, were very content in the seventies at any rate: Tyrone was the highest grossing author they'd had in the decade.
The Adler typewriter that was purchased late 1970 for use by the News Convenor and the Secretary is still going strong today. In her 'Annual Report', the News Convenor Barbara Davies comments '... this also means that the Secretary has been able to make use of it at certain times because it is a semi-portable model'. Anyone who has done battle with the brute will agree that this is a very forgiving definition. It weighs a tonne.
Many MBW were involved with the innovative sport of orienteering, which was gaining popularity at the beginning of the decade. The inaugural meeting of the Victorian Orienteering Association and Orienteering Federation of Australia took place at Melbourne University on 21 April 1970.
Mountains did not always have a soothing effect on Rosemary Rider. Towards the end of a very tiring day on a weekend walk, there was a very steep descent off the Crosscut Saw onto Stanley's Name Spur. Suddenly confronted with yet another vertical drop, Rosemary ripped off her pack. 'I've had this!' she declared, and forthwith hurled her pack off into space. It was retrieved several hundred feet down, looking considerably the worse for wear. She seemed genuinely surprised that it was never quite the same again after that.
Not a great deal of track clearing went on during the seventies. Perhaps the most memorable day was in April 1971, when the Club cleared the Bill Gillio Memorial Track in to Lake Tali Karng, just falling short of the lake by half a kilometre. Roger Brown offered to take some road accident casualties (not Club members) down to Heyfield Hospital, then came back and towed fellow member Graham Wills-Johnson's car, which had broken down, back to Heyfield for repairs. The Ben Cruachan Walking Club completed the track in to the lake at a later date.
The News, February 1972, carried an obituary on William Thompson, 1929-72. Bill Thompson joined the Club early in 1956. He carried office as President in 1959 for five years and then again for the first half of 1965. A glance through the old programmes shows that he was a popular leader, specialising in map-reading exercises, and giving theoretical and practical assistance to new members. Bill was elected MBW delegate to FVWC, Search and Rescue in 1959, becoming President of the Federation in 1963 and 1964.
Overseas travel was not such a rarity in the seventies and many Club members took off for The Grand Tour. Peter Bullard so impressed a group of people he travelled with through Africa in 1974 that his praises were sung by way of a letter that was sent to the Club. 'One of our prized members on the Encounter Overland Expedition heading north to London from Johannesburg, is your, or rather our, one and only, Peter Bullard. What a find'. The letter goes on at length and concludes, 'Seriously Melbourne Bushwalkers, this note was written to thank you for loaning us Peter on this expedition, for without him we'd have been lost. He was a tremendous help and you'd be proud of his effort up Kili.' (News, July 1974) What can I say?
Hattah National Park and Kulkyne State Forest was a popular walking area in the seventies. On Art Terry's trip in June 1971, on the way to the camp site at Lake Mournpool, the walkers were more than a bit surprised to find Andy Price's trousers which he'd lost there two years previously. Money and train ticket were still in the pocket.
Fred Halls donated to the Club via the President, Graham Wills-Johnson, a signed copy of his book, Bushwalking in the Victorian Ranges, Rigby, 1978, which received wide acclaim. Alack and alas, Graham had just hotfooted it into the Club room straight from a bookshop with - you've guessed it - a copy of a beaut new book he had spied, under his arm, for the Club library. Ah well, it would look good on his own shelf!
Reported in the News, December 1975, Max Casley placed an interesting notice in Wilky regarding the apparent demise of his tent in the general vicinity of the lodge: 'Lost on 7th December 1975, one yellow tent in green bag (Paddymade, I think)'. The emphasis should have been on 'I think I lost it at Wilky', because it showed up later in the Tawonga camping ground.
Max led a walk in the Castlemaine area, he can't remember exactly where or when, but what he does remember is Stuart Hodgson rugged up against the elements in his shower curtain. He had just moved house - and couldn't find his parka. Janet McCredie (now Hodgson), a first-