Autumn leaves, gold mining history, pretty river views, tasty treats… and a little dip, of course!
We were in the Ovens Valley for a short stay after our Melbourne sojourn. After a cloudy and drizzly start, our second day dawned with bright sunshine and the promise of temperatures in the mid-20s. There are plenty of options for walks in this area, ranging from flat and accessible (e.g. sections of the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail) to epic ascents (The Big Walk up Mt Buffalo rises 1000m in about 10km) and everything in between. As this was our first time here together (and I hadn’t been since I was a kid) we decided we’d stay around Bright and explore it in more detail.
We strung together two of the walks in the very good guidebook that you can pick up for free at the visitor info centre (or many shops around the place). First, the Canyon Walk, which heads downstream along the river, crossing swing bridges to head back on the opposite side; second, Cherry Walk, which heads upstream and back in much the same fashion. Both walks are pretty easy, though not fully accessible - and the rockier sections of the Canyon Walk on the northern side could be a bit slippery when wet. Both walks are about 5km (though you can do a shorter version of the Canyon Walk by turning back at the first swing bridge).
The morning was glorious, and currawong calls echoed across the valley as we set off on the Canyon Walk. There were a few other people strolling along the river, even though it was mid-week and not yet school holidays. Bright is a tourist destination - and for good reason! The autumn leaves on the deciduous trees might not have quite reached their full glory, but there were flashes of colour wherever we looked, and the smell of fallen leaves was starting to scent the air. The views along the river as we headed into the small gorge were absolutely stunning.
On the way up, we noticed some water falling out of a split in the rock slabs opposite and wondered how it got there. On the way back, after crossing the swing bridge and making the short extra trip up to the old rail bridge, we learned that it was coming from an old tail race. These deep channels through the rock were cut by miners during the gold rush to drain water from the claims where it was used in the extraction of gold from the soil. The path crosses several of these channels and it’s boggling to think of the amount of work that must have gone into their construction.
There is a darker side to the gold mining history here. Mining started in the 1850s and by the end of that decade most of the river (alluvial) mining was run by Chinese miners - it’s probably these people who cut the tail races we crossed over. Two years after the anti-Chinese Buckland race riot, which occurred just downstream in 1857, the camp near Bright was also attacked by White miners. One man was murdered and another severely injured. Anti-Chinese racism has been a continual issue in Australia since these gold-rush days.
Back in Bright, I tried in vain to record some black cockies, which stopped squeaking every time I hit the button. I did, however, manage to record a few gang gangs - probably the cutest parrot, in my opinion. We enjoyed watching a few blue faced honey eaters, which I can’t remember having seen before. They look fake! Incidentally, the magpies up on the north side of the range have black backs, rather than white, which I also found interesting. We grabbed cake and coffee (cake and chai for Dan) from Ginger Baker (not the drummer) and sat beside the river to eat. Yum!
After a nice break, we headed off upstream on the Cherry Walk - named after a local family rather than the fruit, alas. In fact, along much of the south side of the river the path runs beside plantation pine. Again, we saw a few people out and about, though it seems to be a less popular loop. It’s a little less shady and maybe not quite as spectacular, but I really enjoyed meandering beside the river, past multiple picnic areas and popular fishing spots. A series of informative signs taught me a great deal about fly fishing, none of which I have committed to memory as inflicting injuries on fish does not seem like an enjoyable or ethical pastime to me. I will, however, concede that standing in or sitting beside a river for hours on end is a great way to spend a day, so I do understand the appeal. Especially on a day like this was, in a river like the Ovens.
As we headed back, the path passed through patches of mint, overgrowing reeds and blackberries. It also, on this walk, suddenly occurred to me that the Ovens wattle - of which we saw plenty - is so called because it’s named after this valley. We finally found a spot without fishers to have a paddle, and I recorded a little bit of audio for the next issue of Queer Out Here. The water was brisk and clear. It was lovely.
Soon enough we were in town again, and we headed to Clean Bowled for a fresh lunch. It was super tasty, and the weather was perfect for sitting in the park and relaxing. Afterwards, we did a couple of chores then headed back to our accommodation in Porepunkah, where I went for a proper dip in the river. It was definitely on the invigorating end of the nice-refreshing-invigorating-freezing scale of coldness. I loved it. My hands stopped working properly and they stung like anything when I had a shower to warm up afterwards. Would recommend!
Again, this hardly counts as training! My only complaint was a sore lower back, but a little stretching mid-walk and a bit more afterwards helped with that, as it always does. My new shoes were fine, apart from a slightly annoying bit on the outside of the right foot where the crease of the shoe pushes into the side of my bottom toe joint when my foot bends. Not enough to make a blister, just enough to be a slight mental irritation. I had ordered (and received just after this trip) another pair of the Lone Peaks (in the bright colour, yay!) and I’m interested to see if the same happens with them or if it’s just a quirk of this pair in particular.
I also ordered the full set of the Heysen Trail paper maps when we got home from the trip. I will get a lot of enjoyment looking at them before and after the hike. I don’t plan to use them that much while on the trail, but I’ll carry them for the very good reason that they never run out of batteries. Anyway, this is exciting and makes it all feel a little more real! Next step... is maybe buying plane tickets to Adelaide?!
This area is Taungurung and Jaitmathang Country. Sovereignty was never ceded and this always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
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