Walking in convict footsteps

Once allowed out of our Local Government Area, Mr S and I headed off to a walk I’ve wanted to do for a while – the Old Northern Road built by convict chain gangs. The recalcitrants, the wrong ‘uns of the wrong ‘uns, were sent to clear a path through trees and bush, up a vertical cliffs, so the colony could reach the plains of the Hunter Valley.

The walk has plenty of information points so the steep climb is relatively easy. Some info plinths have recreations of artefacts, like the leg irons Mr S is wearing below.

Flannel flowers abounded. A clever sign of spring. I’d say there were fields of them except they were growing out of vertical rock faces.

The road was quite wide – two cars could pass easily, though it’s closed to traffic, only walkers and bikes allowed. Most amazing was the culverts, drains, buttresses and curved stone walls supporting the road. Imagine! All this carved from solid rock, by hand, on a diet of flour, tea and, often rancid, meat. Colonisation was brutal on the colonisers too.

The view across the Hawkesbury River was beautiful. Spoiled by the noise of the masses of motorbikes on one of the favourite weekend motorbike routes.

The plan was to do the gentle walk, up and down the same road. But we decided to do the loop and return via the narrow road that was the first attempt by the surveyor to create a road, until the governor, rightly, declared it too steep and the second attempt was made – the track we took up.

Before we hit the down hill (read down cliff), we walked along the ridge. An interesting walk with views west to a swamp and through bush, where we saw a goanna and a lyrebird, and masses of Gymea lilies.

Then we hit the downhill track. Oh my god. It was steep and more like a water channel for stormwater run off. A goat track maybe. It was hard going. Lots of unsteady footfalls with loose rocks and pebbles.

From the bottom of the track we had 2km to return to the ferry. Mr S volunteered to walk the extra distance to our car, so I waited for his return. I’d done nearly 10km. But it was the downhill goat track that did me in.

After crossing back to the Wiseman’s Ferry side of the river, we had a little picnic.

Oh it was lovely to be out and beyond our LGA. And amazing to know that this wild beauty is only 45 minutes drive from home.

A Very COVID Easter

Just when lots of people who had been isolating for weeks were over it, I started my isolation.

And I loved it. It has truely been a time of restoring my mind and body.

Before term ended, before the lockdown laws had come in, I popped into a major shopping centre to pick up some hair colour solution. (The restrictions would mean I wouldn’t be able to make my hair appointment so I had to risk doing my own colour. “What! You’re not a natural blonde?”)

Once at the shopping centre, I felt sorry for the businesses; even though the restrictions hadn’t come into effect yet, the centre was so empty. So I bought some stuff besides the hair colour stuff – clothing and Easter decorations.

I’d love to share the table setting and front door decorations with you, but I forgot to take any photos. And now they’re all packed away.

Easter autumn weather is among my favourite in Sydney. It’s finally cool. But still sunny. The light is soft. The sky a brilliant blue.

And now we could enjoy it with forced rest.

Long slow breakfasts on the front porch, in the morning sun. The new Easter plate held a hot cross bun. Hot cross buns – another reason to love Easter.

I am lucky to live in the suburbs but surrounded by national park and bushland. Nearly every day, Mr S and I have gone on a bushwalk, exploring tracks that we didn’t know about or rediscovering ones we hadn’t ventured on for years. I can feel myself getting fitter. Although the walks are only around 10,000 to 15,000 steps, they’re up hill and down steep paths, scampering over fallen trees and boulders, constantly paying attention to loose rocks and sticks and uneven surfaces. All while enjoying bird song, fresh air and golden light.

There have been moments on the shorter walks were it has felt like Pitt Street. Who are all these people? We don’t normally see so many on the bush tracks. (A neighbour who walks her dogs daily around our suburb, says she didn’t know there were so many dogs here – she’s never seen them out before.)

In other places it has been oh so quiet, hard to believe we are so close to suburbia.

Flannel flowers – they are soft, like flannelette, to touch. They don’t like domestication, always a joy to see them in the bush.

Scampering down the path

Contemplating jumping over the roaring creek. OK, it was more like a big step, but I psyched myself out. You had to walk down the rocks to the creek which was narrow at this point so made a lot of noise. I was sure I’d fall into the deep washpools and break a leg.

Here’s how loud it was:

On other walks, other creeks are quiet and prompt more calming contemplation.

One day, Mr S was heading off to work (his work is a 20 minute walk from home), and I accompanied him as a friend lived near his workplace and I wanted to drop off a birthday gift to said friend. On the way, we made a spur of the moment decision to turn right and take a longer bush track rather than take the direct route by road. I felt like Little Red Riding Hood – but without the cloak or the basket.

Our area has steep hills. The main thoroughfares stick to the ridge, so the area looks flat. Deep gullies are full of lush plants – not all natives.

Along with daily walks I’ve been pottering in the garden. I’ve put in sweet peas again. This year I won’t be going overseas, so I should hopefully enjoy the cut blossoms.

I’ve joined the world in tidying and organising my house. Our local council had the kerbside cleanup the Tuesday after Easter. I emptied out the junk from under the house. Mr S hates throwing things away. Or maybe he just hates making a decision? So he puts things under the house. Where they get dusty and dirty and damp – our house is on piers and underneath is open to the elements. My neighbours have never seen us dispose of so many things. A 27 year old heater – bought when Older Boy was born. Director chairs from before that. A fussball table bought by Opa years ago for the boys. Old rusty exercise equipment. Not nice to think of the landfill we created but so soothing to know there is clear space under the house. (And I got Mr S to agree to get rid of the beer home brewing bottles he has stored under the house for over 12 years without brewing. He used to be a home brewer. As soon as this social isolation is over I will freecycle the bottles – they are the old, pre-twist top type, perfect for home brew sealing.)

What else have I been doing?

I am trying to reclaim the junk room. I did this back in 2013, when it was called The Room You Cannot Enter, but shit has taken over in it again. First step was to bring together all the Christmas wrapping and cards. Packed away now with the Christmas decorations. Next step putting books on the bookshelf and making a hard decision about my French lesson papers.

I have been doing some German language study, via Deutsche Welle.

I haven’t read much – only finishing one book. My COVID mind just isn’t up to sustained concentration. But this book, Bruny by Heather Rose, is a book for this time. In parts too scary as politicians make decisions for their own power or financial gain. Stuff the environment, the people, quiet, peace, spirituality, culture. It’s all about “the economy”.

I know I say this every break, but I really don’t want to go back to work. I just don’t have time. Too much pottering to do. All this without yoga or personal training sessions as gyms are closed.

I have spent a day at work and hours on other days dealing with work stuff. Blurgh. I’d rather be pottering.

Of course, I’m grateful that I have employment, and that it is secure. I’m also very aware of how fortunate I am that I live in a place I can get out and walk straight into the bush.

Hope everyone is finding things to fill their day!

Covert COVID weekend

Social isolation is not an act of fear; it’s an act of love. Slow the spread.

I like alliteration. Hence the blog post title. And my weekend was covert in that I was not out and openly on display.

Here’s how I spent my weekend, minimising social contact.

1. Sleeping. I was exhausted. What a week! (I may post on it in the future.) I had a few naps. Heaven.

2. Catching up on my blog reading. Almost done. Just need to use my laptop to read ones on Blogger.

3. Mending a pair of shorts. Three, all three, buttons on the one pair of shorts came off. One on the front – kind of important to stop the shorts falling down. This was the last button to fall off. The other two were from the back pockets. I lost them. I really didn’t care that they’d fallen off. But when the one that made wearing of the shorts possible, that one needed to be sown back on or the shorts were useless. So I sewed that one on. And found two blue buttons that would do perfectly for the back pockets. I won’t imagine needing these shorts until next summer, but I feel a sense of virtuousness.

4. Bushwalking. After reading Nathan’s blog, I decided to venture out for a short exploration. I was soundly rewarded with sighting a TORTOISE IN THE WILD.

OK, not the wild. The edge of a bit of wilderness, 50 metres from the road of the suburb. But who would guess a tortoise could live in water that must have so much urban run-off.

The short walk led us through massive blue gums. We didn’t see such tall trees in Europe.

We enjoyed ourselves so much, we ventured out again on Sunday for a different section of the walk.

I love how this gum looks like it is melting over this rock, like a blog of melted plastic or fat.

5. Cleaning. Blah. Washed sheets and clothes and the floor. Recently, I’ve started wiping over high touch stops, like light switches and door and cupboard handles with diluted bleach. (You know why.) I also did two-fifths of the back French doors.

6. Some work emailing and an online course about COVID here

And in non-covert action, I popped it to the supermarket. No panic buying. Just out normal shop which we’ve been avoiding for months.

Bargo River & Mermaid Pool

We drove about an hour and a half south, down to Picton, to join a few friends on a bush walk.

A short drive through Tahmoor brought us to Bargo River.

We walked along the river. It wasn’t a signposted walk and several times we lost the path, scrambling up and down the steep surrounds. Someone has helpfully ties ribbons to guide the way, but we hadn’t seen them at first as we walked along the river bank before it became too steep and we realised we weren’t on the track. Luckily we climbed up, as further along the river drops down between steep cliffs. And we found the track, with a few dead ends!

Then we found signposted trees. I do thank whoever put the little handwritten metal signs up. More useful than the map.

We reached our destination – Mermaid Pool. But we couldn’t swim in it. We were up on the cliff. Our vantage point had us looking directly up the river. Even those people we spied closer the pool, on the flat rock face on the upper side of the waterfall couldn’t get into the pool. It would be a long jump down and a climb up the bare face of the cliff.

Photos don’t show the majesty of the place but here goes.

Walking along the track, we found a tool box. In the middle of the bush!! Inside was a log book and free maps of other areas.

Walking out we found the clearer, and much easier track, up along the ridge.

Today was a hot day, 28°, and sunny. So much for autumn weather. As we neared the end of our walk the river was helpfully not bordered by cliffs. There was a little beach area. I couldn’t resist. I stripped off my shorts and took off my bra from under my t-shirt and dived in. Ahh, the softness of fresh water. Soo refreshing. And my skin felt so soft afterwards. I could have floated there for longer.

But we were going for lunch.

Mr S chivalrously gave me his t-shirt for the short walk to the car. By the time we got there I was largely dry. I popped my shorts back on and they were only slightly damp when we entered the cafe for lunch. My t-shirt was not going to be dry. No worries, I had a long sleeve jersey which I wore instead.

Mr S and I both had a veggie burger with sweet potato fries. Not bad. Not the best I’ve had. The chocolate milk shake I had was lovely, with a big dollop of ice cream.

Before we hit the road home, we popped in a homewares shop. My friends thought Mr S was just humouring me by going in. No way! He loves buying knick-knacks. And we did. Silicon straws – Mr S uses straws a lot. These are reusable. So no more disposable straws. And a new kitchen timer. And my favourite soaps. And slippers for Mr S’s mother for Mother’s Day.

It was a lovely day – all the better for having spent it with friends.

Into the real wild: rainforest

Every time I visit my mother on Tambourine Mountain, I have to go for a walk in a rainforest. There’s a wildness, a sense of the strength of nature, in the rainforest that allows no space for humans to sit. There’s no place for suburban niceties and neat growth. This jungle sits besides suburban blocks. You just know it will swallow the neat grass plots in no time.

As you enter the rainforest, it is instantly darker and cooler. The scent is of sweet decay of plant matter.

It is rare to see any animals or birds. You can hear the birds in the canopy or hopping in the undergrowth. In the past I’ve seen leeches swiggling up from the soil, but this time it was too dry for leeches. Amazingly, this time I saw a wallaby, a brush turkey, several small species of birds, bright blue dragonflies, different butterflies and actually saw a cicada flying from tree to tree. While you can often hear the cicadas, you rarely see them.

There’s generally not much colour. Texture and shades of green.

Any colour stands out as almost garishly out of place. Such blatant lures in the drive for reproduction!

It is not quiet in the rainforest. The cicadas are deafening.

As we entered, my stepfather laughingly told me when his sister visited from Germany. She wouldn’t enter the rainforest. Too dark. Too scary. And she saw a snake. Tee hee. Imagine not wanting to walk along the path. Without the path, yes, it’d be hard work. Even with the path, there’s always lots of leaf litter, palm fronds, branches, small fruits that litter the path, and can trip an unwary walker by hiding small rocks, so you have to watch your step.

I nearly trod on this large frond. And then realised it was not, indeed, plant matter. [Look carefully below.]


I squealed. I ran back up the track. My stepfather was all for stepping over the sleeping python and continuing along the track. No, flippin’ way. My heart pumping as double time, I crept forward to take the photo.

Then I made us return the way we came. Enough rainforest walking. Enough excitement for one day. Be still my giddy heart.

I still enjoyed the return walk, all the time looking twice at each fallen frond, each vine that hung across the path, each tree root. What would happen if another snake was on the path? We’d be stuck between the two!

Who was it who mocked the German aunt? Not me!

Hornsby garden

Mr S and I like to go for a walk in new places. One weekend at the end of April (I wrote it them but forgot to post) I remembered somewhere I’ve been meaning to go a decade: Lisgar Gardens. Full of camellias. Lush with trees and ferns. Building on it started one hundred years ago. 

I especially love the steps leading into a garden. So evocative. And what about the tree growing from a rock. It looks as though it is melting over a rock.

The garden is on several levels, falling down a deep slope. Along the path, among the boulders and trees, were lamp posts. Mr S said we were entering Narnia. Too scary!!!

We ventured beyond the garden boundaries, down the steep valley to the creek below. The track was really not a track. “Should we walk here?” I asked Mr S. 

“Looks like leech territory to me,” he replied.

Yes I squealed. Rightly so as it turned out. Four, yes FOUR, leeches I found in one shoe.  Blerk!!!

“Leech Hollow”, Mr S named it. (The valley, not my shoe.)

Up we went, back along the track, returning to he civilised garden. 

A beautiful public garden. Well worth a visit. Next time we will bring a thermos of tea. And we will be back in camellia season.  

Oot and aboot

Wanna go see whale rock?

What’s that?

A rock that looks like a whale. 


While the rain held, we went off in search of whale rock. The online guide listed the usual safety precautions – water, clothing, maps. Even bush on the edges of suburbia can be dangerous. 

We walked into the bush, down a wide, cement roadway, big enough for firefighting trucks. At the bottom of a slope we could see directional signs. None listed the sought-for whale rock. “I wonder which way we need to go?” I asked Mr S. As I spoke, I turned and there was whale rock. 

For size comparison, here is s shot with a disguised Mr S (though I admit there’s not a lot of hiding one can do in a hippy tie-dyed shirt).

Definitely worth the 5 minute walk from the road! Yes, that quick. Why all the safety advice? Ridiculous! WHS gone mad. Anyway that wasn’t enough of a walk, so we ventured in further. Because of all the rain we had (thanks Cyclone Debbie) the creek was over the path. At the first flooded crossing we debated: should we turn back or just walk through? “Ah fuck it. Let’s just walk through it.” So we did. Several times on the way into the bush. And on the way back. 

At least the water was running which meant we wouldn’t get leeches. Unlike our walk the day before!

A couple of weeks earlier we had gone in search of our secret waterfall in another part of the same national park. But we were thwarted by the rain which turned a track into a pond. 

With still water and boggy ground all around, we were in leech territory. In that brief walk I scored two leeches but they mistakenly suckered onto my shoes. Mr S, who’d ventured further and made it to the waterfall, did his bit for wildlife rescue and fed a few leeches. 

A week later, and the day before Whale Rock, we went off to the waterfall again. Stocked with necessary supplies – a stash of salt to battle the leeches – my friend and I lady-stepped over the water-logged paths while Mr S schtomped through. And ended up to his knees in logs and twigs and leaves which had been washed into a pile that Mr S thought was a solid pathway. 

It doesn’t look clearer than the above shot but trust me, the path was now passable.

Mr S made a hasty recovery. We all made it to the waterfall. Our party of three in tact. 

Hard to believe that these are all within 15 minute drive from our home. (This is the designated comfort zone prescribed by my friend and endorsed by Mr S.)

At the outer reach of the 15 minute zone, is Fagan Park, developed on an old orchard site. We visited here one day in the last two months. While most people clustered around the children’s playground and the interesting “gardens of the world”, Mr S and I picnicked at the old homestead which was open for its only Sunday of the month. Maybe Mr S and I are unusual but we love old places. The homestead a host of farm sheds used for fruit packing and equipment all full of objects from the early settlement, many lovingly restored. The water pumps work. The gardens are peaceful. The actual home has been furnished from the period. 

One of the volunteers was a 90 year old whose extended family owned the farm before donating it to the council for a public park. She recalled not being allowed in the main house as a child, being forced to stay in the separate kitchen with her brother. What a connection! To talk with someone who still volunteered and worked in the garden that she played in as a child. 

Picnicking under the she oaks

Mr S impressed with the working water pump

Room of one of the single farm labourers from early last century. Vastly different from the main home.

Tractor shed

Walking into the homestead site

There weren’t many days with skies as blue as this, so we were doubly lucky to chance upon the monthly open day of the homestead. 

Still, there’s a beauty in the rain as the drops on this she oak show. This was taken in my usual lap around “the block” that passes through the edge of the national park. 

There’s a peacefulness in walking on a known path. You don’t have to concentrate and your mind can wander. You can’t think about other things. Conversely, there’s a mindfulness in walking in the new and unknown. You have to concentrate on the path, you are continually looking at the new sights, your mind is processing all the new information. This means you cannot be thinking of all the humdrum of life, you can’t be planning and strategising and going over things and conversations. This is especially true when the path is a rough bush track. 

Both types of walks are good for the mind and soul. As well as the body. And fun as well!

 Return to Refuge Rock

I just had to take Mr S to yesterday’s find. I wanted to look for evidence of mortar shelling and its shrapnel in the rock and find the natural arch.

The path in is wide as it is used to service the electricity towers and by the Rural Fire Service. (For overseas readers, although I live in the suburbs, the Rural Fire Service, a largely volunteer service, deals with bush fires. The Fire Brigade deals with other fires.)

As soon as we got to the rock, we found evidence of artillery. A website said General MacArthur trained troops here. I went to the public library to look in local history books but couldn’t find any records. Something for further research. 

After you see one, you see the signs everywhere. 

So to our next target: the natural arch.  

The rock is huge so we wandered around the top of the edges, peering down the sides of the rock. At some edges it is a 15 metre drop. For those who’ve not been in Australian bush, it’s not easy walking among the vegetation, so it’s not a case of scrambling down and walking around the edge of the rock. There’s crevices, slopes, dense growth blocking your way, holes. All manner of sticks and rocks set to trip and scratch you. And snakes and spiders could be hiding anywhere.

A big crevice. Can’t jump over it.

A big crevice. Can’t jump over it.


Banskias abound


Back burning on the other side of the ridge. But still no natural arch. 

We followed some tracks which seemed to lead somewhere. Up hill and down dale, past more crevices, and attempts by young geologists/vandals to lever a balanced rock. (Come on if Year 9 Science taught you anything, it’s you need a bigger fulcrum and a stronger lever.)

We reached a very high cliff, preceded by deep crevices in the rocks, leaving large rectangular blocks of stone, looking all the world as the tops of trains waiting in a shunting yard.

Mr S, as the intrepid scout, found a way down. Walking down the slope of a crevice, careful as the leaf litter was deep and slippery. Really it was just a gentle ramp. 

Through the dense shrub to…

The arch. At the base of a 15 metre drop. 

Mr S found what he believed was a short cut back. Let me tell you. I failed on my first attempt. Photos don’t give you depth. And height. The crevice was long, high and narrow. What if we got to the top and were on the wrong side of another crevice?

I let him go first and check it out. Mr S is very slim. Even he had to turn sideways. 

I followed and then, making a U turn, walked up the crevice I walked down. Schimple. 

We were in the bush for about an hour and twenty minutes. Just right. A great adventure for a Sunday afternoon. 

I will return with my walking buddy. But we will take delicate lady steps and head straight for the natural arch.


Bush in the suburbs 

One of the things I like about my part of Sydney is the bushland that surrounds us.  

Walking off a suburban street and into bushland, you feel miles from suburban living, from the press of people, from the torment of traffic. 

Today my walking buddy called to ask to explore a new track. Refuge Rock. Only a short drive from my home, tucked away in a neighbouring suburb I never have any inclination to visit. Why would you go to look at housing in new estates? 

There are no signs to this hidden gem though the track is wide and clear, being used by rural firies and to service the electricity towers. 

Initial arrival is underwhelming. Is this it? as you reach the start of a sandstone outcrop. 

But the rock doesn’t stop. One massive slab with different colours and patterns and weathering and cracks and fissures. 

Smokey horizon from Rural Fire Service backburning

Tesselation in foreground, person on top showing how high the rock goes

Erosion under the rock

Long afternoon shadows

Run-off from moss forms a little erosion stream

On return, I did my usual Google of the place. Seems there are mortar impact craters from WWII artillery training. And there’s a natural arch to find. 

I’m going back tomorrow to find these. 

Hedge of banksia in flower in foreground.