We were three days into the Carnarvon Great Walk when the storm rolled in from the southwest an hour before midnight. While the lightning flashed and the thunder bellowed around the hills we rescued our packs and gear we’d left outside and huddled inside my two-man tent. We had been careful to choose a tent site that was clear of overhanging branches, not trusting the tall eucalypts that dominated the grassy campsite on the West Branch of the Maranoa. Yet we need not have worried, for though the lightning show was dramatic, there was very little wind and only a few small branches, twigs and leaves fell around us.
As the rain drummed on the tent fly I put on my head torch, took up a biro, and began to write. It was nothing special, just a narrative poem telling a story of how Policeman Percy goes to the rescue of campers in trouble on the Maranoa. Just something to pass the time really, since my companion and I had no room to stretch out with all our gear stuffed in with us inside.
Policeman Percy heard the storm
His look, you would say, was quite foreloin;
He wondered about the Maranoa,
Would he be able to cross in the landrover.
There were walkers arrived at the West bank camp,
Their eperb had gone off, maybe by chance.
If there were threats to a camper’s life,
It was his job to get there and sort out the strife.
Little did I know that by writing that poem, all twelve verses of it, and sharing my words with the walking group the next day, I would fire up their creative imagination and by the end of the six days we had a number of other ‘literary masterpieces’ to share.
There were five of us, two of my orienteering friends who like me had not done a long pack-packing walk for many years, and two members from my bushwalking club. It was my fifteenth trip into the Carnarvon Ranges of Central Queensland, the first back in 1966, and I had already explored most of the spectacular range country; but it had been niggling at me that I hadn’t yet done the Carnarvon Great Walk opened in 2008. It was a chance to re-visit some of the places I had written about in my novel, Cave Hill, published earlier in this year, and feel I was reliving the hardship and joys of the characters in the story. The novel begins with a memoir of a student expedition in 1967 that ends in a tragic death, then tells of a nostalgic trip by several of the original party who venture back to the accident site thirty-three years later in the year 2000.
Fortunately there were no accidents on our six day adventure, and but for the storm and a shower of rain on the last day, we had perfect weather for the walk. The trek begins with a ten kilometre tramp along beautiful Carnarvon Creek to the Big Bend campsite. The Carnarvon Gorge is lined with the spectacular white Precipice Sandstone cliffs, the signature rock formation of Queensland’s Sandstone Belt. This rock type also outcrops well to the east in Isla Gorge, near Taroom; and well to the west in Salvator Rosa towards Tambo. It is a stunning glowing white in the sunlight and often turns pale pink or orange in the early morning or afternoon light.
The second day involves a demanding 600m climb to Battleship Spur with the iconic view over the Gorge from the lookout. The third day takes the walkers past Mt. Percy (1151m) and Police Peak (1174m) out to the Maranoa West Branch where we experienced the storm. On the fourth day it’s a long slow trek back up the Great Dividing Range to where the range butts onto the 1200m Consuelo Tableland. Here the silver-topped stringybarks dominate an understory of Macrozamia palms, native grasses, golden acacias, and beautiful wildflowers – the purple Hardenbergia volacia vine gone rampant, the stately yellow Gompholobium, and the dainty Dionella lily, to name a few. A second day is spent on the basalt-capped Tableland, sometimes called The Roof of Queensland, before descending via the Bnangala Ridge to the Arch Creek shelf and out to the Boolimba Bluff lookout. Here you can survey where you have been before tramping back down via steps and ladders to the Carnarvon NP ranger station, and hearing the poet’s salute to what you have achieved.
Why not share some of your thoughts with your companions by composing poems during an extended walk? It adds a gloss to a memorable experience.