The long shadows of winter spread randomly across the bleached frostbitten grass, indicating the presence of taller vegetation, mainly twisted eucalypts shaped by decades of seasons, shredded bark at their bases like discarded robes in a bed setting. I started to think about what the night would bring; it had been minus six degrees the previous evening, I saw no reason, with a clear sky, why it would be any different tonight. I envisioned a star studded universe on high, a Milky Way turning to cream above the forest canopy where I would be staying the night.
If I got really lucky, some luminescent white spots might float by the motorhome, indicating the presence of an eastern quoll, but I dared not get my hopes too high there, though they have been reported as being frequent visitors.
The kilometres drifted by and the farms became open woodland, then a more dense vegetation as I turned off to the campground in New England National Park. How different it all was to last time I’d tried. Then it was autumn and I’d spent a couple of hours shooting around Armidale before returning to face a now-famed east coast low that had dumped torrential rain fanned by ferocious winds. To say it was one of the more unpleasant nights I’ve had in the motorhome would be a wise summation. A leak in my roof was highlighted that night but on the coast they were copping a pasting.
I’d been lucky in Armidale. Corellas were making a mess of the trees around the church, gaining sustenance from I knew not what but they were attacking the deciduous branches with a vengeance, leaving considerable leaf litter in rich burgundy and yellow ochres on the ground and squawking their way loudly from tree to tree or whenever a photographer approached. Berries appeared to be their aim, as every twig contained bunches of them.
This time the sky was clear, not even a jet trail disturbed the pristine blue that highlighted the sombre tones of the tree trunks and contrasted with the varying shades of green as I moved past the trout hatchery and into the park.
I pulled up at Thungutti campground, grateful that no trees had been over the road like last time because I’d almost run into one after coming around a bend on a dark night.
It was apparent that it was cold. The previous night at Armidale it had been minus six; things hadn’t improved, I found out, as I alighted and set out to take some star shots. Actually, “cold” didn’t cover it, not even close. It was effing freezing and I was inadequately dressed; after a short time I returned to the motorhome and added a significant amount of robes.
There was another problem of course – no torch. This led to a limping, aged man stumbling blindly in the dark, looking upwards for gaps in the trees indicating the road and feeling for the gravel with my feet, scratching with my shoes to differentiate from dirt and undergrowth. It wasn’t a fast passage but I knew that if you got off track then you’d know immediately due to the amount of undergrowth.
Suffice to say I made it and, yes, the sky was dazzling. Until you’re remote from the cities and towns you can never appreciate what used to excite the explorers of bygone centuries; see the fuzz of the Magellenic Clouds, gasp at a meteoric burn out streaking across the heavens or, try and work out the aboriginal version of an emu in the Milky Way. And, frankly, the magic was all that kept me out in the freezer. No sooner than I’d taken the last frame than I headed back for the blankets and, though I had flannelette pyjamas, a dressing gown, sheets, cotton blanket, doona, a double folded woollen blanket and a beanie, I could not escape the cold entirely. Apparently it was around minus seven degrees.
The morning could not come soon enough and I forced myself out to see if any fauna was around, chasing any sunbeam that breached the canopy as if it were a treasure chest. White browed scrubwrens flitted cheekily on the ground around me, getting as close as a metre on occasions but all the other birds remained on high where the sun was readily available.
I packed up and headed for Point Lookout, hoping for a clear morning sky but even that was denied me as mist thickened with winter smoke haze made for an unclear early morn way across the hills that rolled as far as the eye could see.
I pondered doing one of the walks, but I’d seen the weeping rock, Eagles Nest and done the Cascade Track before and couldn’t excite myself enough to do anything while the freeze still held me in its grasp.
So I motored off towards the highway, crossed the Little Styx River and saw a parking area immediately after. Somewhere I’d heard there was a waterfall around this area, though it was on private property. Still, there was a parking area, albeit half trashed by a significant fallen eucalypt. I imagined if someone had been camping there and it didn’t take any stretch of the imagination to understand why they call them “widow makers”. It had been over a month since the storm and no-one was in a rush to clear it up but I pulled in anyway and couldn’t help but think what a choice spot it was with a toilet and just beside the creek.
The sun filtered through the window as I made a cup of tea and generally warmed up. Life blood flowed through me again and I was off across a couple of paddocks to where I knew, eventually, that there’d be a fall of some sort.
It was the amount of bird life en route that surprised me. All manner of feathered things flitting among the trees; red browed tree creepers, superb wrens, cross bred crimson and eastern rosella and all the usual suspects (i.e. kookaburras, willy wagtails etc.).
I clambered over the first fence and strode across the paddock before walking through a made gap in the second. The warming sun and the sound of falling water hastened my footsteps. Soon the river disappeared into a dark chasm but, just as I neared a point adjacent to the rim, I came across a bog.
It was weird; lovely grassy tufts of what appeared to be solid ground were sitting in a thin band of moving water. I chanced my arm, so to speak, for it was a foot that plunged ankle deep into the mud after I’d placed it on a seemingly solid piece of turf. Luckily I kept my momentum up and splashed a few more murky steps quickly before exiting to the viewpoint.
Have you ever visited New England?
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