Member Login
Click here to Register

The Melbourne Bushies

- Fifty years along the track (1940-90)

Chapter 5 - The Eightties

Noel Tolley with research by Athol Schafer

I had gone to bed early and was almost asleep when the phone rang. 'Would you give your view of the eighties?' the voice said, and before I knew it I had volunteered.

In a way, it seemed fitting. Although my membership extended hack to some years before (to early 1976, in fact), the eighties have been my real experience of the Club. Even though there were significant personal difficulties for me during those years, it was a period filled with some of the most treasured memories of people, places and experiences of my whole life.

Being a dedicated weekend walker during that period, I only came into contact with a small minority of Club members. As a general (but by no means rigid) rule, there are basically two types of people in the Club - those who prefer weekend (or longer) pack-carrying trips in relatively small groups, and the Sunday walkers (and there are certainly a lot of them).

The Sunday walkers are a particularly social species, and during the eighties they organised a staggering variety of events in addition to the Club's normal bushwalking programme. Food was high on the list of priorities for social events, so there was a great assortment of 'eating-outings' including the traditional Christmas and mid-year dinners, and yum chas, barbecues, picnics, progressive dinners, spit roasts, wine and cheese parties, exotic restaurants, and wine bottlings. (The voracious appetite of bushwalkers has been a serious problem from time to time. On a weekend van trip in February 1980, one ravenous walker was so engrossed in feeding at the Friday night pitstop, that he actually missed the van altogether!)

Films were popular in the eighties, too, so there were not only lots of trips to the cinema, but also several jolly old home film nights which - I am told - were particularly enjoyable evenings! Other social events included such things as the Balnarring Races, tennis, ballroom and colonial dancing, river cruises and rafting, parties, photo competitions, trail rides and star-gazing at the Ballarat Observatory (see 'Social Activities', page 150).

Crossing the full-flowing Cumberland River near Lorne.
Just the thing to get your mind off the week's work problems: a harrowing river crossing; note the concentration. Crossing the full-flowing Cumberland River near Lorne. Club Sunday walk, October 1986.
Jopie Bodegraven collection

Club member Art Terry caught nibbling on a Club Sunday walk.
Longstanding Club member Art Terry caught nibbling on a Club Sunday walk. Jack's Creek near Yea, 1982.
Jopie Bodegraven collection

In particular, three types of 'degenerate weekends' sprang up in the eighties and became regular annual events by popular demand. These were the Marysville guesthouse weekend, the Highfield Park hostel weekend, and the Rawson Resort winter weekend for cross-country skiers.

With a few notable exceptions, weekend walkers are a fairly isolationist lot and are rarely seen at the social events, but they are inclined to undertake brief 'binges'. For this reason I was confident that they would be well represented at such events as the Marysville weekend, but to my dismay when I attended one year, I found myself sitting alone in a house full of total strangers who were obviously Sunday walkers and very well known to each other!

The Rawson weekends are a different matter, of course, being focussed on cross-country skiing at Mt St Gwinear in the nearby Baw Baw National Park. There are more weekend Bushies on those trips. I have thoroughly enjoyed every Rawson weekend I have attended, and would have participated in them all if I could. I even enjoyed the one when there was so little snow that we ended up walking around Walhalla and eating Devonshire teas!

In March 1984 a metal-detecting weekend at the Berlin Goldfield ( a long way to go! ) was organised by Art Terry. Participants were required to obtain a Miners Certificate at $10 from the Ministry of Minerals.

The eighties saw a lot of change in the Club. In the years I have known the Club, even its home base kept shuffling from place to place: for many years the Club was closeted in a tiny upstairs room in Hosier Lane, around the back of the old State Theatre (later known as the Forum Theatre), and dallied for larger meetings in the railways rooms in Flinders Street. In February 1981 the Club moved to what then seemed to be a luxurious permanent home in the 'penthouse suite', a dusty and draughty storeroom on the top floor at Bushgear (now Mountain Designs) in Little Bourke Street.

It must have been the smell of old socks or something, but the time came in June 1988 when we had to move yet again. The rush was on, and led by an energetic and determined Max Casley, the Club frantically scoured Melbourne's back lanes and dark alleys until, at last, the apparently almost deserted Horticultural Hall was discovered and rejuvenated by our influx.

There were some other events of major significance to the Club in the eighties. One of these concerned a dramatic change to the transport arrangements for Sunday walkers, and is reported in detail on pages 122-4: the Great Saga of The Club Van. Of all the Club issues in the eighties, this was by far the most controversial, and generated the greatest anxiety and debate from mid-1984 through into the nineties.

There was formal change of the Club structure, too. In September 1983, with President Geoff Mattingley's guidance, the Club moved formally to incorporate under the relatively new Associations Incorporation Act 1981. A new constitution together with the name Melbourne Bushwalkers (Incorporated) was adopted.

Then there was all that trouble over Wilky in 1989. 'Wilky' is the affectionate name we use for Wilkinson Lodge, a cottage in the Bogong High Plains owned by the Melbourne Bushwalkers (see also pages 64-75). Wilky is just a little hut, really, but for all of us who have stayed there it holds many treasured memories so it is very special to us.

The trouble with Wilky began with excrement. Humans bury theirs, or do it in toilets and septic tanks. But cows and horses have no manners: they do it wherever and whenever they feel the urge. In summer, you can see it all over the High Plains. In fact it is very difficult to find a nice, sheltered patch of ground (a tent or picnic site, for example) that is not literally carpeted with the stuff.

It seems that the water in Rocky Valley Reservoir at Falls Creek was (confidentially now - we don't want to cause any alarm at the resort) found to be polluted, and a scapegoat was needed. Wilky was identified as a suitable target, and right at the beginning of winter, an EPA notice was slapped on Wilky preventing use until major changes were made to the septic system. As you can imagine, this caused a little bit of consternation among the Bushies.

There ensued a flurry of letter writing, meetings and negotiations. A small number of people did a great deal of work, and eventually a compromise agreement was achieved involving the use of a portable chemical toilet and plans for reconstruction of the septic system the following summer. An interesting aspect emerged during all the negotiations: evidence was uncovered in the form of test results proving that there was no problem with septic effluent from Wilky, and that the pollution was coming from other sources on the High Plains - cows and horses!

Then there was the story of Pocock's Patented Possum Protector. When Doug entered Wilky in autumn 1985 with food stocks for winter, he found that lighting the kitchen stove produced voluminous smoke. Investigation showed that the stove was clear and the damper was working, so he suspected the chimney. Scrambling up a precariously-perched ladder, he attempted unsuccessfully to chimney-sweep the flue. After some chimney dismantling work and with the aid of a torch, the problem was finally identified: one rather cranky ringtail possum. Manual eviction of the protesting squatter followed, and then destruction of the nest.

Doug now set his inventive mind to the improvisation and installation of some sort of special device to prevent re-entry and unintentional scorching of the unwelcome chimney squatter. This device was proudly named Pocock's Patented Possum Protector.

I was in the first winter party to arrive after Doug's visit. There was a fair cover of snow, and as I recall the weather was not all that favourable. Doug's notes in the log book were read with interest and amusement, and then the group set about preparing dinner. The stove was lit. Voluminous smoke. Open all the windows. More smoke. Vigorous attempts to get the fire roused into a smokeless blaze. More smoke. Take the burning embers out into the snow with a shovel, and investigate. The stove was alright, so was the damper. Something was poked up the chimney from below, and some straw extracted. More poking up the chimney produced more smoke, and eventually pieces of well-cooked possum. As there had been no expressions of protest and no attempted evacuation, we concluded that the possum had re-entered the chimney, become trapped, and died long before we arrived.

So, there goes another failed invention! Eventually a new possum-proof cowl was placed on the top of the chimney and there was no further trouble of' this kind.

Another great tradition of the Bushies was the annual Walk magazine, which had its demise in 1988. In my opinion, it was a great loss to the bushwalking community. Here was a magazine that I had devoured avidly for years and years. I was entranced by the fabulous stories of back-packing trips into the remotest and most enthralling country imaginable. Here were stories of rich comradeship, of exquisite scenery, of blissful enjoyment.

Through all those years when other commitments prevented me from actively participating in club trips, I was an armchair bushwalker with the help of Walk magazine. I even devoured the track notes – all of them - and visualised which trips I would take when I eventually had the opportunity. And in the eighties, when I had the chance, I did follow a lot of those track notes. I still have my beloved collection of Walk issues, and wouldn't part with them.

Considering my reverence for Walk I was somewhat awestruck when in 1985 I found myself being appointed Editor of the magazine, a function I carried out to the best of my ability for two years. I was unable to continue for a third year, and another editor was found, but the magazine was never published again (see 'Publications' pages 164-7).

As I said in my editorial of Walk 1986, when I began bushwalking in earnest I made a lot of good friends, went to a lot of places, and in less than two years saw and enjoyed more of the outdoors than in all my four decades before.

One such trip was the great National Parks pilgrimage of the eastern states led by Jopie Bodegraven, in April 1985. The one long trip ventured to such places as Gibraltar Range, Lamington, Mt Barney, Girraween, Bald Rock, Mt Warning, and Wollomombi and Apsley Falls. It was a wonderful two-week odyssey in which fourteen people in a convoy of private vehicles travelled thousands of kilometres visiting numerous National Parks and countless waterfalls. Needless to say there was heaps of walking, lots of skinny-dipping, and countless hours of jovial comradeship. All along the way there were the unmistakable jolly shrieks of' Sylvia Wilson. And the whole trip was enormously enhanced by that meticulously efficient planning on which Jopie has since built a very successful travel business with his partner Jenny Flood.

I feel comfortable with most of the people I have met on weekend bushwalking trips, much more so than people I have met in any other environment. Maybe it is because of our shared love of that special, quiet and sometimes difficult intimacy with nature that can only be experienced on a weekend trip. Perhaps it is because the groups tend to he small (commonly around six to eight) and there is plenty of time to overcome shyness without pressure, or maybe it is due to the camaraderie that develops from working through difficulties as a small team. Yet, despite all the attractions, it is interesting to note that throughout the eighties, out of a total Club membership of well over 300 members, only about fifteen to twenty were regular weekend walkers.

This mysterious lack of interest in weekend walking among the majority of' Club members prompted Jopie Bodegraven, who was an active walks leader at the time, to conduct a survey of members in 1984. Only 85 responses were received from members and visitors (the Club membership was over 360), and of these, only 11 had never tried weekend walking, so the results were inconclusive. However, there were indications of demand for more base camps, trips with Saturday (rather than the customary Friday evening) departures, bus trips, and information evenings. The Club responded by scheduling more of these activities, as well as a series of very popular and much-praised map and compass training courses organised by Rob Ayre.

There were times, though, when weekend trips attracted surprisingly large attendances. For example, in November 1980 Spencer George led 30 adventurous walkers over the High Plains. In May 1983 Phil Larkin led a trip to Lorne and the Otways that attracted no less than 78 walkers. And I well remember a sweltering Australia Day weekend trip in January 1985, when Merilyn Whimpey led 21 enthusiasts up Quartz Ridge, over Mt Bogong, down across Big River (we all had lovely refreshing skinny-dips in the river and remarked on the orange glow of the afternoon sun, due as it turned out to the smoke from disastrous bushfires that were raging that weekend on Mt Buffalo), and up to Heathy Spur for a final refreshing dip in the icy waters of Rocky Valley Reservoir.

In the eighties, all the usual places in Victoria were visited on walks, although there was a tendency to concentrate on locations further afield, due to the pressure of the urban sprawl. In fact, in February 1980 the scheduled location of a walk led by Ian Stewart had to he changed to another area because 'the Cockatoo, Pakenham area has, sadly, been overtaken by civilisation'.

The Club often ventured interstate in the eighties. In addition to all the usual trips to Tasmania, there was, for example, perhaps the Club's first trip to the Flinders Ranges a train and mini-bus trip led by Ken MacMahon at Easter 1980 as well as a trip to the Budawangs led by Tyrone Thomas at Easter 1981, and again by Pearson Cresswell in May 1983 and Jopie Bodegraven at Easter 1986.

In March 1984, a group of Sunday walkers had an unexpectedly longer trip than was planned to Mt Donna Buang, and it turned out to be a good test of the Club's emergency procedures. They were thoroughly enjoying the walk when, at about 4.30 p.m., it was discovered that they had missed a turn in the planned route. The group carefully backtracked to the starting point, where one member had left a private car and was dispatched with other drivers to Acheron Gap where the van and a few other private cars were to be met. The remainder of the group then found and proceeded along the correct walk route but time was against them. Darkness fell, they only had three torches between 46 people (including 6 or 7 children), and they reached the rendezvous point for the van at 9.30 p.m., long after the van had departed with walkers from the other group who had arrived on time.

An easy descent off Mt Sturgiss.
An easy descent off Mt Sturgiss, a spectacular sandstone peak in the northern Budawangs Range of New South Wales. Club trip, April 1986.
Jopie Bodegraven collection

A fire was lit, and it began to rain. Parkas and plastic sheeting were shared among the group. Some cars returned, and small groups were then ferried 15 kilometres to Warburton, thanks to the assistance of the car drivers. At Warburton, the Club contacts were notified about the situation, and a local bus was chartered to return the group safely to Melbourne, where they arrived at around 2 a.m.

Perhaps my most treasured memory from the eighties concerns two very special people, long-time stalwarts of the club, who were fantastically supportive towards me personally at a very difficult time in my life. Among other things, they encouraged me to plunge into walking - even offered to pay bus fares for me (because I was so broke at the time)! I am so deeply grateful for their kindness, generosity and friendly persuasion.

There are many people in the club who can tell of similar experiences. It seems that the organisation somehow attracts people who are genuinely concerned for others around them, and it is at difficult times like these that members are readily seen to provide help and support to those in crisis. I feel sure that it is this sort of warmth and care that binds the Club together so firmly.