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From: Vol.01 N.01 – Ecopoetic Ruminations

Learning on the Line

by Phillip Hall

(Walking Katoomba to Mittagong)

for Alan Wearne


Their parents gone, we start

gathering around, the line

of a fortnight’s challenge-by-choice measured

in meals and scroggin, socks, blister-packs, fuel.

We allocate the group gear – bivvy sheets, billy can

and tarp – adjust our packs, compare

their weight. Studying maps one

more time and, measuring the route

(touch wood) set out.

Cliff Drive to Glen Raphael’s and Narrow Neck Plateau

where morning mist is spilling over

swampy heaths and packed pygmy-

eucalypts bottlenecking our postcard scenes.

Like marauding gang gang cockatoos

the kids start frivolous: Let’s napalm

these trees and snatch a view. We walk

into sclerophyll, the odd face

of sandstone and shale too sheer

for growth; the richer green

of watercourses and east-facing walls.

I look at maps, orientating my high spirits, teaching

navigation basics and joking: Into this measured beauty

as we soar … and it’s Chrissy cutting in:

C’mon ‘Corridor’, while rescue choppers circle

we’ll just bush-bash lost all day.


At last the end of Narrow Neck

and we climb the cliff line, down

to Medlow Gap and two hours more

to the Mob’s Swamp cave, our camp.

What bastard promised this would be our ‘easy’ day?

With sugar levels low, the careless

push for camp fractures certain tempers

so amidst some cranky laughter I readdress the rules,

motivating our final effort when freed of packs,

a coffee and a freeze-dried meal will make

the relief of conversation around

the fire at night, before the luxury

of an overhang’s dirt floor,

the Milky Way and the full moon lighting

its veneer outside.


We wake at dawn, or thereabouts,

a cold fog in the casuarinas

outside. Breaking camp a little later

than I might have liked we look

at maps, measuring the angles

of our route and set to climb

Warrigal Gap; contouring round

the western edge of Merrimerrigal

we traverse Mt Dingo to the Bushwalkers’

War Memorial – Splendour Rock.

Lunching with views of the days

ahead – the Cox’s Gorge, the Gangerang Ranges

to Kanangra Walls – a grasstree – Xanthorrhoea australis

high on conglomerate rock collects

our attention like regimental colours

and provokes Smithy: Come off it Phil, it’s a blackboy,

a spear throwing blackfella, quick, let’s souvenir the shaft.

I sweet-talk the group with the adventure

of bush tucker and craft, a one plant supermarket:

spears, fire sticks, sugar, grubs and glue –

You think this is wilderness. It’s ‘Country’.


Readying for a long afternoon’s

steep descent past fruiting geebungs,

gums and sarsaparilla, turpentine, stringybark

and angophora, I keep the strugglers

near the front, sharing the navigating;

the distraction and group momentum carrying them.

On chocolate breaks the sugar gliders crash

in wonder; I look to trees, withdrawing, while drinking water.

Our way soon brings us to stands of blue gum,

with that aromatic eucalyptus trait and towering

marble columns peeling rough dark bark

at their bases: Ah, the stockinged pillars of Rivendell.

But, Shut-up ‘Corridor’, it’s Boaty chipping in, forget

the view, we’re scratched and tired. Yet as packs hit

the ground their grins shut tight –

one perfect snapshot view.


On dark we make the river flat and two ks

more to camp, in knee-high stinging

nettle and wet boots, to trudge

an hour more – a canvas castle

and our pit-fire star-vaulted hall.


That night we lay below the mountain,

creek side, like trout facing upstream, still,

against the flow and waiting.

At dawn we crossed Kanangra Creek

for two days climbing, then another with burning

aching knees, gingerly down. Our transit over

these Gangerang Ranges – Mt Strongleg,

Mt Cloudmaker, Stormbreaker, High and Mighty,

the Rip, Roar and Rumble Knolls – we debriefed

each night, grim if elated. Our camps were eyries

along the Gandangarra’s ochred line,

and as I spotlighted their middens

the kids mimicked me, hooting open-eyed;

at the campfire Denash (in parody) stoked the embers:

This is journey as metaphor,

the summits lighting with tolerance and testing

with fire. At last we climbed the Bullhead Ridge

and Cambage Spire down to the bushwalkers’ grail –

water running cool and clear over

river sandstones, cream and pink, the breeze singing

down kurrajongs and myrtles, casuarinas and figs –

our prize, the Kowmung Gorge. Setting a base camp, we swam

and explored: the Chiddy Obelisk and Red

Hands Caves. Climbing Mt Armour’s columnar basalt cap:

This perfection was valued

as limestone slurry I preached. The kids broke into

‘Love Is All Around’ whilst Boaty chimed:

C’mon ‘Corridor’, aren’t you finished

with yourself up there?


We stand about the fire tonight

and talk, in drizzle, joyful for

three days rest, the balm

of being wild. It ends

tomorrow, breaking camp, weighing down

our packs as muscles tighten.


Next day climbing, in rain, the Bolga Cone

and Axehead Mountain to Yerranderie, a silver city

ghost town built on lucky claims and bitter

strikes; a sanctuary with arsenic pools.

Late that afternoon, we find the lodge and resupply,

closing the door against the cold outside

as the kids collect each other with food and games,

drying around the hearth and cheering:

Tonight we sleep in beds!


Early next morning we leave Yerranderie

for King Billy’s Tree and a rock grinding site

where basalt was scraped to axeheads

and chert flaked by percussion into edges and points;

a scarring in Country sloughing (yet again) the terra nullius lie

as the kids sit foot-sore in quiet, learning from the land.

After, to savour their redolence,

we crush sassafras leaves by the handful

and walk on.


Fording the Wollondilly we seek sustenance

in scroggin, tuna and flat bread before climbing

the Wanganderries and down to the Nattai on dusk;

a casuarina-and-wattle-bloom gorge, so sandy poor,

yet teeming with scribbly gum, coachwood and silver-top ash.

We camp in a grove of ancient

paperbarks, stinging nettle cramping

us in. For five more days we make-and-break camps,

hiking on. Often we wade in the Nattai’s nourishing

brown flow, secure in water-proofed packs and maps;

as well (we joke) a resiliency born in blister-packs.


Our final campsite: tonight

the kids string their bivvies together

and celebrate tall stories: a thunder-and-blood

Black Panther and Cannibal Kev, the near misses,

their rolls and rolls of strapping tape. They prepare

each other meals, a billy of tea

and amidst rounds of song forecast

the luxury of their next fast-food.

Published: January 2014
Phillip Hall

works in remote Indigenous education in the Northern Territory; he has also worked extensively as a wilderness expedition leader. He has recently completed a Doctor of Creative Arts externally through Wollongong University, under the supervision of Alan Wearne and Peter Minter. In his outdoor education programs, and in his poetry, Phillip hopes to explore a sense of place informed by the orientations of postcolonialism and ecocriticism.

An Australian and international
journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics.

Plumwood Mountain Journal is created on the unceded lands of the Gadigal and Wangal people of the Eora Nation. We pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to elders past, present and future. We also acknowledge all traditional custodians of the lands this journal reaches.