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The Melbourne Bushies

- Fifty years along the track (1940-90)

Chapter 4 - The Seventies

Tracy Guest

'.. where you could imagine nobody has ever been'

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.

Bare bones

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:

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.

Dear Madam,

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.
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.

Assorted waffle

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-

The walks

The Why of Bushwalking

Bushwalking is not so much a sport
As a way and a philosophy of life .. .

The challenge of mountain peaks and cliffs and canyons,
Of time, distance and weather .. .
The tests of physical fitness, mental alertness,
Commonsense and bushcraft .. .
The beauty and quietness of the wilderness, the birds,
The flowers, the forests and streams,
The overwhelming awareness of clouds, storm, sunrise, and clear, brilliant stars
The comradeship, the singing, the long, late discussions
By flickering campfires .. .

These are just some of the reasons
why we people of the little tents
shoulder a rucksack and head off into the blue.

Stuart Hodgson, News, August 1978

The early and mid-seventies were noted for enthusiastic weekend trips, often sleeping in the van on the Friday night. Ken MacMahon recalls these as 'bitter sweet' affairs. The travelling was painfully long - six hours or more. Marathon singsongs helped to while away the time with Graham Hodgson leading many a bawdy ballad, so we are told, not to mention 'On Ilkley Moor bar tat', ad nauseam. Some members claimed the van trips were more fun than the actual walks.

'Wet-blankets' and Sundry Others

'Whoever said where there is smoke there is fire
evidently has never camped out with the MBW.'

Anon, News , November 1974

Sifting through walk reports it becomes apparent that some leaders had an affinity with dampness. It was said that Rex Filson broke many a drought in his time. During his legendary foray into the Barmah Forest, June 1970, it was reported that dry land was sighted at least twice during the weekend, though nobody could remember exactly where.

Major Grippe Yarfeet best sums up the monsoonal TTT as follows: 'It rains in the east, it rains in the west, but it rains on Tyrone's walks the best' (Tyrone's medium-hard trip, May 1971, Mt Terrible - Big River).

A fire of minimum requirements
A fire of minimum requirements, after the party ascended from Mayford Dargo River) to Mother Johnsons. A bus trip led by Tyrone Thomas, circa 1977.
Ken MacMahon collection

However Brigadier J. C. Paddyboot-Wrinkletoes (drowned) pointed out (News, November 1971) that Tyrone was not the only pluvialist in the Club.

'The weather doesn't look the best,' said Artie with a frown.
'Let's take your car, Spence' Susie said, 'And head straight back to town.'
The sky went blacker overhead, and Hughie sent 'er down.
We floundered up through bracken wet upon Mt Warrick's side,
(Or should I say we swam upstream against the rushing tide?).
The wind it howled, the heavens were open, we thought they'd never close,
And then we sploshed down to our camp, upon the River Rose.'

(Art Terry's medium-hard weekend trip, October 1971,
Paradise Falls - Mt Warrick)

Art Terry's association with Jupiter Pluvious had of course been firmly established long ere the Mt Warrick affair. Take, for instance, his trip to the Bogong High Plains at the beginning of the same year. A waterlogged Alex Stirkul recorded how it was only the promise of deliverance into the bosom of Wilky that kept Art's party going. Sound familiar? (Art Terry's medium-hard weekend trip, January 1971, Mt Bogong - Big River - Ropers Hut - Wilky). There were three other walks up and beyond Bogong that weekend, led by Roger Brown, Michael Griffin and Robin Mitchell respectively. Ian Sheehy was piloting a trip to King Island on the same weekend. He suggested that those with more than the long weekend available could use the regular air service for $31 return. It is now $258 (Ansett, December 1994).

The Why of a Walker

It's doing, that's the thing I like
Especially on a lengthy hike
To see what's next around a ridge
Or over mountain, under bridge.
The scene that takes your breath away
The scene that makes you want to stay
The flower that calls the bee around
Or flashing bird with happy sound.
These things do make it all worthwhile
To come and walk that extra mile.

The Author's Apprentice, News, August 1979

The leader, John Siseman, billed his prophetic Purgatory Spur 1974 Easter trip as 'a chance to enjoy a pleasant weekend of real bushwalking, away from jeep tracks' famous last words. Mr Harding, Mr Bover, Mr Griffin, Mr Mattingley, Mr Grandage (alias Pancho Batterson), Miss Ball, Mr McLeish and Mr Siseman expunged their collective sins on that trip. Had they reached the Pearly Gates by way of the spur, St Peter would have met them with a 'minimum requirements fire' and hot drinks all round. In his entertaining poem, 'The Men from Purgatory' (Miss Ball - the one woman in the party notwithstanding!), which appeared in Walk 1975, Pancho Batterson's ultimate thoughts are these:

At eventide the Sentinels and Gable End aglow
With sunlight - our reward was grand indeed
To see our Mother Nature with her greatest gifts on show,
This satisfied our spiritual need.

The Bogong High Plains

before this alpine grandeur we are diminished,
yet somehow share its strength for awhile

Rosemary Rider, News, September 1971

Hardly a walks programme passed without the alpine country getting a guernsey. The Bogong High Plains became a popular walking and skiing area during the decade and provided the setting for many an adventure. In his article 'Wild Weather at Wilky', News, July 1977, Geoff Law recalls how in May, congratulating themselves on having achieved their objective - Wilky - the party left the cars at the barrier with the conviction that getting them out on Sunday would be no trouble. The cars stayed there for five days, snowbound. To cut a long story short, the party ended up walking to Falls Creek on the Monday. The drivers collected their vehicles the following Thursday at a cost of $20 per car, and lost three days' work as well. What Geoff got was his own long-awaited 'epic'.

Mt Bogong was the epicentre of many a good shake-up in the seventies, notwithstanding its belittling brush with metric conversion. 'A piddling 1983 metres instead of 6508 feet. It robs the mountain of its character. Why can't we stick with the good old British Foot?' asks Rod in the News, October 1972. In an exercise of controlled endurance one of the service clubs in the Kiewa Valley held a Bogong Conquest-a-thon on 9 March 1975. The route was up the 'Staircase' and down the 'Eskdale' spur, then back to the starting point. Our Tim Dent accomplished this in two hours nineteen minutes. He was third. The winner took two hours two minutes.

The Battle of Barmah

June 1975 saw the Barmah Forest host to yet another memorable occasion: Geoff Crapper's base camp. It was reliably reported that four bright green canoes were hired at the Doncaster Shopping Town and transported together with a gaggle of Bushies in the fabled Gronow's van to the vicinity of the 'battlefield'. After various aquatic reconnaissance exercises of dubious merit, the party found a camp site and 'dug in'. It wasn't until breakfast-time Monday that the furore broke out. The official report was gruesome. Graham Hodgson had declared a vegetable war from the shelter of his Flinders Ranges fortress. His sneak attack was quickly repulsed as everyone gathered their wits and anything else to hand and entered the fray. Brussels sprouts, onions, carrots and pumpkin began to rain down from both sides. The carnage was awful. Finally an exhausted Graham was routed from his fortress home and put 'to latrine duties' for the remainder of the sojourn.

A Galaxy of Stars

Glancing through the notes that I have left, I see loads of interesting material untouched. For example, the Mascas family used to go away together with Club members every August-September school holidays to places like the Flinders Ranges, Ayers Rock and Alice Springs, the latter via a journey on the famed Ghan train; mid-air 'snap-frozen' bush-flies on the High Plains at Christmas; trips to Lamington National Park, the Cobberas, Moroka Valley, Lake Tali Karng, Wyperfeld National Park; forays into Wilsons Promontory before the days of sticking to the tracks and having to book far in advance for camp sites, and skirmishes with the rangers (I never did learn exactly why the rangers at the Prom and the Bushies didn't get along); trips to McAlister Springs, Melville Caves and Mt Teneriffe.

The Christmas line-ups alone were outstanding:

The galaxy of walks spiralled its arms across the decade.

During the seventies the Mascas family made a tradition of spending their Christmases at Wilky. A charming story unfolded on their seventh season. Marijke's mother, Atie Kappelle, was visiting from Holland. True to form it snowed, much to Atie's disgust. Our story however is concerned with the cooking of a Dutch specialty for New Year's Eve - oliebollen - a yeast batter containing apple and dried fruit. As 22 people were going to share the meal, the only container big enough to allow for the rising of such a large quantity of mixture was a dustbin. This was skilfully strung up above the stove by Peter Bullard. When the feast was ready Atie, seeing the enormous quantities of food, thought they had overdone it. Little did she know the Bushies' legendary appetites.

Trio in tent: Ken MacMahon, Geoff Crapper and Rob Harris.
Trio in tent: Ken MacMahon, Geoff Crapper and Rob Harris. Near Pigsty Ponds, Southwest Tasmania, circa 1979.
Rob Harris collection

There is hardly a temerarious walker who has not had a brush with the elements while in Tasmania. However, a quirk of nature revealed itself in the form of an Easter trip to the Walls of Jerusalem, led by W-J. '... before I end this tale I must explain that our Easter trip to Tasmania was a complete disappointment. There we were in the Central Highlands with every scrap of warm and waterproof gear we possessed and the fickle Tasmanian weather just led us on and let us down. Yes, we tried all the various tricks such as not putting tents up, packing our parkas deep in our packs, even setting up tents in dried up pools, and for all our trouble we were blessed with five drops of rain - for some mysterious reason they all fell on the leader's tent. Oh well, I guess we'll know better next time and leave all that surplus gear at home'. (Ken MacMahon, News, May 1979)

In New Zealand in the summer of 1972-73, under the leadership of TTT, a party of MBW did some gruelling walking. Near the end of the fifth week our intrepid band were camped at Tongariro in one half of the two-roomed Mangetepopo hut. A party of Venturer Scouts moved into the other room. Everyone, although fairly fit, was by this time also fairly tired. The quiet of the night was shattered by an unholy racket erupting from the Scouts' quarters. Rosemary (of the rucksack fame), not one to suffer fools gladly, swept from on high, trampling the sore and hapless W-J who occupied the lower bunk under foot, to deal with the miscreants. The effect? Mirth, and absolutely no diminution in volume. The All Blacks were playing in Dublin.

President's Weekends

I feel that my reputation is at stake! Just because I led one medium-hard day walk does not mean that all my subsequent walks will be hard. I intend to preserve my position as most frequent leader of base camps and other bludge-like adventures. So please don't be put off by a single aberration on an otherwise unblemished reputation.

- disclaimer from Graham Mascas, President 1971-74
News, November 1979

The decade would not be complete without mentioning the popular President's Weekend. The Mascas dynasty gave us the 'Golden Billy' awards for cooking excellence in the bush. It was also renowned for the mulled wine. Dave Oldfield introduced the spit-roast variation in 1976 on the Avon River, ably directed by Spud (Mattingley). However the most memorable must have been Graham Wills-Johnson's weekend on Geoff Crapper's legendary estate in 1977, then just a block of bushland with a toilet (across the creek). The gastronomic highlight was to have been a barbecue. Everything was in readiness. Sylvia Withall (now Andrews) had her fridge groaning under the weight of the meat and trimmings. Then a terrible thing happened. The appointed day was declared a day of Total Fire Ban. Sylvia did not have a phone on at the time. Intrepid individuals came knocking at her door all Friday evening to tell her the sad tidings. Never had she had so many gentlemen callers. What would the neighbours say? On into the wee hours Sylvia did battle with the beef, in the electric frypan, on top of the stove and in the oven, until every last chop was cooked. The day was saved and the President's honour defended.

Spud Mattingley eating a spud.
Spud Mattingley eating a spud. Campsite at Boobee Hut, Far Bald Mountain, Kosciusko National Park. A Cup Day weekend trip, led by Tyrone Thomas, 1979. Ken MacMahon collection

Day Walks

Day walkers had their share of 'happenings'. Paul Baxter recalls how the van failed to stop at the pick-up spot at the Blackburn pub one Sunday late in 1972. Another bushwalker, who had joined the group, wasn't the least perturbed when Gronow's van flew past. Sure enough another van, full of bushie types, pulled up. Then it dawned on Paul and his companion that they had been picked up by another walking Club - the Victorian Mountain Trampers on their way to Black Spur. (News, December 1972)

On the agenda for memorable day walks, surely the one led by Glenda Alexander deserves a guernsey. With the help of Athol Schafer, Tim and Helen Dent, Peter Bullard, Geoff Greenwood, Joan Cerutty, Richard Merlo, Alan Crocombe, Dorrie Warton and staff from the Janefield Girl Guide Camp, a party of 20 mentally handicapped children were taken walking in the Kinglake area - an ambitious project, both rewarding and tiring. (News, September 1972)

The following is an extract from the News, December 1975:

Marysville is fast becoming a hoodoo area for Sunday walks. First there was John Siseman's epic trip where an enforced overnight stop was made near the Armstrong river, and now, latest but not least, is Otto's wayward whip and the loss of thirteen from the party. It happened when Otto and his band of sprinters took off after Keppel's Lookout, leaving the end group well behind. On reaching a major track junction someone in the front of the stragglers called back to the whip, 'Right?'. The whip, understanding this to mean 'Right!' yelled back, 'Right' and so off marched the wayward thirteen down the track into history.

They soon realised their mistake however and tried to relocate the main group, without success. They made their way back to Marysville and located the van. Meanwhile Otto had continued on his merry way, not realising that he was 13 people short until the afternoon tea stop. Imagine Otto's surprise when confronted by his 'lost souls' coming to meet him from the other direction, at the end of the 19-kilometre ridge walk.

Lopez reported in the News, December 1977, that Graham Hodgson's Airey's Inlet beach walk turned into a stroll through Geelong after the van caught fire. The scene was set when the van started spluttering at Geelong, near the Ballarat turnoff, finally coming to rest outside a milk-bar. Denis piled everyone out and attacked the black smoke billowing from the engine with the fire extinguisher. It must have worked very well, because by the time people got out their cameras there was nothing left to see, although the fire brigade did make an appearance.

The Saga: The Alpine Walking Track Project 1977-78

Stop again. Look. Remember these mountains. It is for them that we came.

Rosemary Rider, News, September 1971

The walking, in eight stages, of the Victorian section of the Alpine Walking Track (AWT), from Walhalla in the south to Tom Groggin on the New South Wales border - a distance of 264.8 miles, 21.5 days' duration and 57,800 feet climbed (Graham Wills-Johnson's records) - transcended the mere epic. It was the brainchild of the Walks Secretary Graham Mascas, of 'exploratory walks' fame. Graham did not take part in any of the walks ('he wasn't silly'). It was enough apparently to have hatched the diabolical project that brought the cream of the Club to their collective knees (preferably in deep snow). The details of this saga are to be found in Walk 1979, collated by the editor, Arthur Francis.

At the rendezvous point on the first night of stage 1, Walhalla - Thomson River, van drivers Rob Hayes and Hugh Duncan discussed the size of the 'minimum requirement fire' necessary to light the walkers across the Baw Baw Plateau. Meanwhile Graham Wills-Johnson's party had encountered extreme weather conditions, with deep snow covering the track. The going was painfully slow. Two dropped out earlier in the day due to cramp, and a third was near collapse as the day drew in and the light failed. A forced camp was made on soggy ground. The situation stabilised. A sleepless leader estimated that they were in fact very near to their intended camp site. In the pale morning light his calculations were confirmed.

Route of Alpine Walking Track

Reunited with the van, three more walkers decided to drop out. Now there were thirteen. The day that followed was no kinder. Snow and hundreds of fallen trees brought down by heavy winter snows obstructed their every step. Greg Hutchinson records in 'Along the Track', News, November 1977, '... I have been on a harder walk where we finished later, but I have never struck a walk with such a variety of weather, vegetation and physical conditions. My image of the MBW as being an easy club was surely shattered forever by AWT 1.' The walked distance was 38 miles (60.8 kilometres), the longest on any weekend; both days consisted of 12 hours and a snow walk of 10 miles (16 kilometres), the longest in a weekend. 'The walk graded "hard" probably also contained lessons for those who had forgotten what this grading meant'. (Bob Douglas, 'Along the Track', News, November 1977)

Those on stage 2, Thomson River - Mt Shillinglaw, fared only a little better. Lopez reported in the News, November 1977, '... after the walk a few were heard to mutter "never again" and Ken MacMahon was so tired he forgot to count the survivors to see if he had lost anyone' . Snow again caused havoc. Well, dear reader, I know it must have been awful with the heavy snow overnight, and Ken's blisters and all, but I am consumed with mirth. 'After breakfast', spake Ken, 'I hobbled off in the lead and was hobbling along so well (apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan) that I hobbled past the correct turnoff and took nine others with me.' Four in one group took the right track, as did two others who had fallen behind. As recorded in Walk, 'This started a Gilbertian sequence of events where the stragglers became the leaders and the leaders became the stragglers, but the leaders weren't sure if they were the stragglers and the stragglers didn't know that they were leaders.' How the 18 starters miraculously managed to reunite still remains a mystery.

By the time stage 3, Mt Skene - The Nobs, came round, there were 17 starters, as Otto Christiansen very cunningly advertised his walk as being one of the easier ones and by all accounts he was right. They enjoyed pleasant walking conditions and splendid views. Lopez reported in the News, December 1977, '. . . At 5.30 p.m. on Saturday the drivers-cum-tourists (Shelly, Rob and Bob) decided to walk up the track to greet the walkers. After pushing through the scrub for half an hour the 'tourists' heard the walkers coming towards them and decided to wait for the party. Otto however decided that they were on the wrong track and proceeded to reverse, with the 'tourists' quickly catching them up and falling in step behind the last walker. After moving in this fashion for a few minutes the party stopped and was extremely surprised at finding its numbers swelled. Amid cries of 'we weren't really lost' the 'tourists' and the 'walkers' headed for the camp site.

This is in sharp contrast to the next stage, The Nobs - Mt Speculation, led by Alex Stirkul. The ravishment of the alpine country was shocking as evidenced by views from Mt Magdala and thence for the remainder of this trip. There was no getting away from the scarred landscape in this most picturesque section of the track.

Stage 5, Mt Speculation - Mt St Bernard, led by Graham Wills-Johnson, was postponed until later in the year.

Stage 6, Mt St Bernard - Wallaces Hut, led by Bob Douglas, and stage 7, Watchbed Creek via Mt Bogong - Mt Wills, led by Dave Andrews, encompassed among other things our beloved Bogong High Plains with their lovely camp sites and spectacular views. On Dave's leg the walkers attained Mt Bogong by way of Quartz Ridge. The walking in this area was exhilarating and enabled the racehorses to strut their stuff. The group encountered the annual Fun Run near the summit. Where was Tim then? Evidence of logging again at the end of Long Spur dampened spirits, but the stage ended on a bright note with granite country, twisted snow gums and bright green alpine grass around the Mt Wills area. 'Out to the east, under a lowering sky, spread endless ranges of tumbled, ragged ridges that we would have to face on the final stage'. (Walk 1979)

Stage 8, Mt Wills - Tom Groggin, led by Michael Griffin, consisted of approximately 85 miles (136 kilometres) of solid walking over five days and contained the whole gambit of experiences we have come to associate with bushwalking. You name it, they had it (except snow). Long days, aching limbs, little treats like chocolate liqueurs (courtesy Krystyna) and luscious blackberries. Splendid views, geographical embarrassment (by some) and then, early on day five, the party descended Mt Hermit and approached the flats near Tom Groggin. This exacting stage was completed. Well, not exactly. Michael engineered a forced fording of the Murray, which for some was the greatest thrill of the trip. Amen.

Krystyna Watters and Graham Wills-Johnson were the only walkers to complete the eight stages of the project. On Tuesday 7 November 1978 the assault on the final leg was dispatched. This was stage 5, Mt Speculation - Mt St Bernard, which had been postponed from earlier in the year due to bushfire hazards. Arriving at the saddle just before The Twins, after a morning of scrub-bashing in drizzle and fog, Graham was all for taking to the road with the other exhausted walkers, thus forgoing the final assault. 'No' said Krystyna, in her distinctive accent, 'you must go over the top Graham' and they did, over The Twins and into Club history, Graham on his last huffs and puffs and Krystyna taking it all in her determined strong stride. Krystyna returned to the Poland she had fled to care for her mother. She is remembered with great affection.

Norm McLeish performing an early morning crossing of the Mitta-Mitta River at Yankee Point.
Norm McLeish performing an early morning crossing of the Mitta-Mitta River at Yankee Point. This section of the old Alpine Walking Track now lies beneath the waters of the Dartmouth Dam. This photo was taken on the final stage of the Club's project to walk the AWT, 25 March (Easter) 1978.
Bob Douglas collection

I started jotting down leaders' names as I thumbed my way through the walks programmes. After about seventy names I gave up. You can see, therefore, that the few names herein mentioned fall far short of the many contributors who made the seventies such a memorable decade. It is the same with the walks. Only a few of an overwhelming number of great walks are highlighted here. To all those who helped the seventies be the great decade it was, we owe you heartfelt gratitude.

To illustrate this narrative I have drawn on the inspiration of others regarding the burning question of why we walk. In the closing lines of his Editorial for Walk 1974, W-J writes, '... if as Geoff Mosley has it, we can ensure the "preservation of danger" so that no-one may feel that he has reached the end of the world and found it tame, then perhaps the bushwalker has something of importance for the post-industrial society of the twenty-first century'.