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BUSHWALKING - A WAY OF LIFE Fred Hillas, November 2000

The meeting place in those days was the "Man in Grey". I arrived in plenty of time, but knew no one. Then a young gentleman approached and asked if I was waiting for someone. "Yes, the Catholic Walking Club," I said, to which he replied: "My name is Joe Cotter." So began for me a new, rewarding outdoor activity.

In the previous weeks I had been directed towards John Nuttman, a fellow apprentice, who was a few years ahead of me. I had been informed that he was a member of the Catholic Walking Club. John gave me a walks programme, and advised me about some suitable walks from which I could choose. He was there on my first walk.

That day I met a very young David Hally and his chaperone, "Auntie Hillary". Hillary Lysaght and her friend, Hazel Merlo, were stalwarts of the Women’s Walking Club and were frequent participants in our Club walks. Also there were a quiet, reserved John Byrne and Jenny (Lawler). John was Club Treasurer, and was persistent and firm when annual subscriptions were due - one could not avoid him. Tony Brown was another regular and frequently offered me good advice when I sought it.

In the weeks that followed I made many new friends, some of whom have lasted a lifetime, and include Kerry Maher and Brian Nuttman. In fact, my friendship with Brian blossomed more and more in the last six months of his life, and my respect for him strengthened. It was a privilege to have known him and to have enjoyed his company on so many occasions.

These early days of walking were carefree, and were our salad days. The Club’s "elders", Joe Cotter, John Vanderfeen, and George O’Brien, controlled the running of the Club. All we had to do was to turn up for walks and to enjoy ourselves. Sub-consciously our expertise and bushcraft were developing, and, eventually, we were given some responsibilities such as party whip and as leader of elementary walks.

In those days we met a Club legend, a young tear-away walker named Adolf Kempf. Strong and solid, and with a unique bush sense, he would grow impatient with the slow speed of the party, and would lead a few of us "youngsters" at a fast pace, well in front of the group and out of sight. After being chided by the "elders", he did slow down to a limited extent.

Wedding bells soon took their toll of the Club’s leadership, and the next group of experienced walkers assumed control of Club activities. These were the Geoff Luscombes, Des Carrolls and Hilda Bowens. And of course, there was Adolf Kempf, the best Walks Secretary in my active walking days. However, the "elders" kept a watchful eye on the Club’s progress. Then, eventually, these members also married, resulting in personnel losses from the Committee, and the task of organising Club activities became ours.

When Kerry Maher took us on a weekend walk to Polly McQuinn's, we camped the Friday evening near Euroa. During the night, awakened by a disturbance, Kerry saw a possum tail protruding from his rucksack, like a periscope. Boots and all were flung at the poor creature without avail, and he fled only when threatened by human hands. Inside the rucksack were the remains of a fruit cake that Mrs. Maher (Senior) had made for our Saturday evening supper. Bad luck for the three Ms in the party, Marcia, Marg and Marie.

In December one year, for a weekend walk over Mts. Stirling and Buller, the leader had warned us to expect a hot dry walk and to bring our water bottles. As we climbed the eastern slopes of Mt. Stirling

we were caught in a severe snow storm, then trudged through snow for the entire weekend. So we put away the water bottles. Regrettably, I was whip on this walk, and when we reached the Woollybutt Saddle late in the afternoon, one girl sat down in the snow and announced that she was going no further. Most of the party were well ahead, so with a couple of other male walkers we carried her pack, and half carried her, the rest of the way to the V.P.I. Lodge on Mt. Buller.

Similarly, a few years later when Richard Lye led us over Mt. Ritchie to Mt. Strickland, we walked along the Divide in unexpected snow all the way. Late on the first day, one rugged male walker sat down on a log in the snow, consumed the remains of a flask of brandy and announced that he was staying there for the night. "Not so", we told him, and pushed and urged him on to our planned camp site at Ritchie’s Hut.

Over the years we were privileged to accompany Father Frank Ruth on many memorable trips into Gippsland. Possibly the most memorable was a week’s camp on the Snowy River at McKillop’s Bridge. Some of us had been walking in the Cobberas and met up with the base camp party at the end of that walk. In glorious weather we had outdoor Mass each morning, followed by a day’s walk in the delightful surrounding country. One evening Father Frank taught us how to catch eels. David Hally’s job was to carry a calico bag to contain the eels that we, or rather Father Frank, caught. As David opened the bag to add yet another captive, one would escape. We were fortunate on this trip also to have the company of Mr. and Mrs. Hopcraft senior, who really enjoyed their week’s camping with the Club.

Brian Nuttman’s favourite walking area was probably the Mt. Kent-Castle Hill divide. He visited there a number of times, and at Christmas 1958 took a party of relative newcomers into the area. During the walk he proposed a day return trip to Castle Hill, and warned the party to carry parkas as it was going to rain. Some of the party did not believe him, and returned to camp that evening thoroughly drenched. The lesson, here, is to take note of the leader’s advice.

A man named Mihram Haig caused a large scale search in June 1955 when he became lost somewhere between the S.C.V. Hut and the summit of Mt. Baw Baw. On this search I achieved a personal ambition when I came face to face with and met the legendary Board of Works ranger, Jackie Lewis. Jack was noted for his bushcraft, and was credited with having rescued a number of lost people. At Neulynes, on this search, the Club first came into contact with Niall Brennan, the noted author, and founder of the M.U.M.C. In the years to follow Niall hosted the Club on a number of occasions at his Gladysdale property "Kingajanik", and was also guest speaker at one of our anniversary dinners.

Bushwalkers frequently met up with mountain cattlemen in the fifties and sixties. The ones we met the most were the Guy brothers, Arthur and Jack, at that time owners of Wonnangatta Station. When we last met them in the early sixties, they were taking advantage of the ingress of forest roads and were travelling by 4WD vehicle. It appeared that horses were becoming a thing of the past. They were on their way to check their cattle in the valley. The previous Christmas, as we walked along the Crooked River, we had met their sister, Mrs. Gibbs, well known for her hospitality to bushwalkers. Further along we diverted to the ghost town of Talbotville. It was still intact, and sitting in the lounge room of a house which had an extensive library, I was reading a large Bible which listed the B. D. & M.s of many of the Guy and Hurley family members. I considered this book to be far too valuable and historical to be left there, but resisted taking it, as it was not mine. I regretted my decision later that year, when a bushfire swept through the area, totally destroying Talbotville.

Further on that walk, we (i.e. Kerry Maher, Piero Pagliaro, John Walmsley, Peter McDonald and myself) climbed out of the Dry River and onto the Howitt Plateau, to be greeted by thick, low lying cloud and nil visibility. After finding the cairn on the plateau, we walked abreast on a compass bearing and found the Howitt Hut. Around the fire that night we held "serious" discussions about many topics, when someone said: "Where is Peter?". No one knew and his absence was forgotten as we continued our discussions. About an hour later Peter entered the hut, cold and exhausted. He had gone out to collect firewood and lost his bearings in the fog. His constant calls for help were answered only by the lowing of the cattle, but eventually he stumbled upon the hut.

When married life finally caught up with our group it was encouraging to note the emergence of future Club leaders like the Buykx and Delaney brothers and David Warrillow, among others, who were to take control of the Club. We were confident that the Club would continue to grow and prosper.