I was a pioneer for a short time, with kangaroos hopping by my window 21



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My husband and I recently spent two days at Halls Gap in the Grampians (Victoria) which is a climber’s paradise. Steep rocky cliffs overhanging thickly treed valleys. Mile upon mile of brooding bushland, silent except for the occasional bird call. One could easily get lost here, and perhaps, as happened in the pioneering days, if you ventured in too far, you would never be seen again. It still looks like an untamed wilderness even now, except for a couple of small hamlets. I could almost visualise the pioneers hacking their way through the heavily treed countryside. The terrain was steep and unforgiving. In some places a fall meant certain death.

I have to confess, we stayed in a cabin, which you could barely discern from the road, as it blended into the background so well. Morning and evening, kangaroos hopped by our window, so close you could almost have leaned out and touched them.

The cabin had all the modern conveniences EXCEPT the heating was an enormous open fire. Hubby and I looked at each other, who was going to light the fire? Thank goodness there was a basket of kindling and a pile of neatly stacked logs. Wielding an axe was beyond us, our pioneering blood was just too dilated, not to mention the arthritis, crook back etc.

I am very proud of the fact that I do come from a pioneering family. One family landed in Melbourne in 1836, but most of my ancestors arrived in Victoria in the 1850s, and took up farming. So, they certainly would have had to fight for survival in an untamed wilderness. On my husband’s maternal side, his family were pioneers in the Blackwood area.

So, we did have the correct pedigree one might say.

Well, back to Halls Gap. I was very pleased to have lit the fire at my first attempt. I wondered if I might not have been a boy scout in a previous life, or perhaps my pioneering blood wasn’t quite as diluted as I had thought.

It was truly an amazing feeling toasting our toes in front of this roaring fire, watching the logs burn, and smelling the wood smoke. It brought back a lot of childhood memories of staying with my grandmother and various aunts in the country. They not only had open fires for warmth but they also had wood stoves for cooking. And boy, could they ever cook.

I can remember once in suburban Melbourne, when I was about five years old, the electricity went off for hours. Luckily, we still had an open fire in the lounge room, (rarely used, but that’s another story) anyway, dad lit the fire and toasted bread over the open flames for us.

As I am a published historical romance author, this experience made me feel quite close to my heroines as they supported the hero, fighting for survival in the wilderness.


Have you ever had to get back to basics and use some real survival tactics out in the wild before?

Margaret Tanner

Margaret Tanner is a multi-published award winning Australian author. She loves delving into the pages of history as she carries out research for her historical romance novels, and prides herself on being historically accurate. No book is too old or tattered for her to trawl through, no museum too dusty, or cemetery too overgrown. Many of her novels have been inspired by true events, with one being written around the hardships and triumphs of her pioneering ancestors in frontier Australia. As part of her research she has visited the World War 1 battlefields in France and Belgium, a truly poignant experience. Margaret is a member of the Melbourne Romance Writers Group (MRWG)

  1. Oh I loved your story it took me back to the Grampians Halls Gap stayed there for two weeks in our Caravans we hiked up Mount Willson and more than halfway up I said I will rest here an get you when you come they said I missed the view I was sad , so home we came , on the news at night some one had sighted a black Panther on mount Willson Ray and I just looked at one another and was shocked and then burst into laughter

    3 REPLY
    • Thanks Patricia, glad you enjoyed the story. We didn’t come across any black panthers, thank goodness. Too cold to do much hiking, well that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Beautiful place though. I’d love to go back in the summer.

  2. We caravan and do lots of non powered stays. We light fires outside to cook dinner and keep warm, it’s the best fun

    1 REPLY
    • Hi Laurelle,
      Cooking on an open fire would be fun, not sure I would up to it though. Bread on a long fork, I could cope with that. The smokey flavour would be amazing.

  3. We have been to the Grampians recently on our stay at a cabin in a caravan park top tourist park. Well we did the same in a half four gallon drum every night it was so cosy and as you say the. Country around you breathtaking. And yes we have photos of the wildlife that comes around every day. Esp kangaroos. Loved it very much.

    1 REPLY
    • Hi Judy,
      We may well have passed each other in the street, and not realized it. It certainly is a great place, I highly recommend it. It is terrific just for a “quickie” getaway, but I reckon I could easily have stayed for a couple of weeks.

  4. I live in a small town in the Grampians region and wood fires are a natural way of life in winter. Wood is a great way of heating a house, no gas fumes (we don’t have natural gas) or high electricity bills! Having grown up on a farm lighting a fire was learnt at a fairly young age. So glad that your readers have enjoyed their time in our little patch of paradise!!

    1 REPLY
  5. Grew up in Scotland and winter was always toady in front of the open fires and stoves at granny and granda’s place. My little brother and I would snuggle Down under our blankets in our bedroom with a fire lighting our way to dreams great memories that I will cherish for all time.

    1 REPLY
    • Hi Christine,
      have visited Scotland, a grand place. Wood fires can certainly bring back a lot of pleasant memories.

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