We acknowledge the Traditional owners of these lands, the Dja Dja Wurrung and Barengi Gadjin people and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future.
Well, it’s been a minute. Port Campbell National Park feels like a lifetime away from where I find myself now. In the past month, I’ve lost my job, completed the takayna Ultra and now a global pandemic is threatening the lives and lifestyles of people all over the world. I was made redundant on the 20th of February and chose to walk immediately, rather than resign and give my two weeks. I hadn’t been loving my job, so when it came time to rip the band-aid off I wasn’t overly disappointed. The looming impact of coronavirus was starting to impact events we were working on and being a designer, I was the first to go. It came as a massive surprise as we had no idea that the company was struggling so severely. Over the workday properly assessed my options and decided to end it then and there. I packed up my desk and woke up unencumbered and unemployed on Friday morning. I decided to move out of Melbourne for a few months, after returning from a week in Tasmania would move up to the family farm in North-Western Victoria for some R&R. So, that’s where I find myself now. By the time I reached the farm, lockdown was inevitable. My outdoor loving parents were also getting itchy feet at the thought of going into lockdown, so before the restrictions set in, we headed away for a night to the nearby Kara Kara National Park.
My parents brought a Winnebago (named Yam Daisy, known as Daisy for short) on a whim last year so we’d be camping in style. I threw in my tent and sleeping gear despite there being a bed on offer in Daisy. I sat up at the dining table on my laptop as we set off, getting thrown around on the rough country roads during the short 45-minute drive. We headed straight for the Teddington Camping Area, just a short drive from Stuart Mill. We pass through this area regularly on the way to Ballarat, but never before had I ventured off the Sunraysia Highway. The camping area was large and parched, overlooking the empty Upper Teddington Reservoir, surrounded by towering Box Ironbark forest. I sat back and watched as Mum & Dad went through the motions of trying to park Daisy on a level surface, coming to terms with the fact that my parents were now grey nomads. We left Dad to get the fire going and do his sudoku, with me setting off for a run and Mum and bird-watching walk.
With a range of 4×4 tracks criss-crossing the National Park, I was planning on just following my nose and try to find a loop. The track took me past Teddington Hut, which I was also keen to check out. With my headphones in, I set off south down Teddington Road. I heard the Hut before I saw it; an enormous Husky dog ran up to me, slightly too energetic and jumpy for my liking. There was a lot of swearing going on, with a couple of people sitting around a fire under an Aboriginal flag. I took my headphones out and said hello as they tried to restrain the over-excited dog. It was a weird situation and looking back I didn’t handle it too well. I thought this Hut was like all other National Park huts and wanted to have a look inside. As I was chatting to the woman while the two men looked on, the dog became very aggressive as I went to have a look inside the hut. It was full of their food and belongings – it seemed as if they lived there. I felt very uncomfortable, as I was clearly imposing on their personal space and both the dog and the campers were not comfortable with my presence. So, I said farewell and continued heading south with the dog bounding after me. Their attempts to call him were futile and catching him just seemed like a big game to the playful pup. Eventually they restrained him and I suggested they tie him up as Mum would be coming through soon, and she is not a fan of big dogs.
Our strange encounter came to an end and I set off again, reflecting on my behaviour as I put one foot in front of the other. I wondered if they were Dja Dja Wurrung or Barengi Gadjin Peoples and had permission from Parks to live on their unceeded lands. Or if they were just taking advantage of a quiet, uninhabited hut in the bush. The encounter left me feeling slightly on edge, when usually I feel completely at home in the deserted bush. Not too far along, two 4×4 vehicles passed me, with the driver in the lead vehicle saying they saw a lot of smoke on the horizon, so were heading north just in case. He told me not to continue, which instantly got my back up, so I continued south, in spite of his warnings.
As I turned onto Chimney Track, the smoke became more noticeable and I checked the VicEmergency App but there were no warnings for the area. The track was rocky and undulating, surrounded by virgin Box Ironbark habitats. There was so much fallen timber; the place was a tinderbox waiting to ignite at the slightest spark. As I power-hiked up the hills towards the ridgeline, my eyes were peeled for signs of fire, but despite the occasional views to the south I couldn’t see any sign of flames. I’d reached the turnaround point and started heading north along the Mt Separation Track. At the Blue Gum Track turn off, the road descended steadily, as I picked my way down the rocky 4×4 track at pace. The deafening squawks of cockatoos could be heard over my podcast. The track headed west, winding through creeks and enormous gums before re-joining the Teddington Road. All was quiet at the Hut as I passed, and soon enough I was back at the campsite, excited to see it was drinks and nibbles time by the campfire.
I was woken by the birds on Sunday morning, as I threw open the door of my tent so I could enjoy the view while I finished demolishing my super addictive book, ‘The Dry’. After breakfast we packed up, before heading out for a run around the Upper and Lower Reservoirs. I started south, enjoying the rough 4x4 track as it ducked and weaved through dry creek bed and around enormous gums. A very still wallaby caught me off guard and continued to stare intently while I composed myself and fumbled for my phone. In typical form, he took off just as my finger hit the shutter. The track soon joined the banks of the Lower Reservoir, along a degraded track that would soon slip into the lakebed below. Tens of kangaroos were dotted on the lakebed, munching on the parched grass in the morning sunshine.
The Upper Teddington Reservoir was a welcome sight; an oasis in the landscape of brown grass and cracked ground. The exposed flats were covered in green grass, and unsurprisingly, kangaroos. The track hugged the edge of the lake until it reached the access track. The water level was quite low, so I continued along the rocky banks, picking up all sorts of random rubbish along the way. Once the track disappeared, I picked my way through the bush to Teddington Road, before taking the next left to join the Upper Reservoir. A picnic bench and memorial to the local Angling Club suggested this was once a popular fishing destination for locals. I ran along the dry lakebed, scaring the kangaroos, til I reached our campsite, completing the 5-kilometre loop. Mum had headed off on another walk, so we packed up Daisy and met her at the other Reservoir for morning tea before returning home. Despite Mum’s protests, Dad manoeuvred Daisy along the gravel roads and down the to the lake shore, parking on a precarious slope. In true Don fashion, Mum’s questions of safety were met with a ‘she’ll be right’.
It was finally time to head back to the farm as we waited for the chaos to unfold across the globe. We stopped in St Arnaud to stock up on essentials where a sense of uncertainty hung in the air. The toilet paper shelves were empty; hoarding was in full swing. I was thankful for the opportunity to get out into nature, even it was just for a night. I was now 11 National Parks down and with the threat of Covid-19 seeming more prominent by the hour, I wasn’t sure when I would be able to get out exploring next.