Carnarvon Gorge

We’d bought supplies at the IGA in Clermont– bacon, eggs, bread, fruit. Now I was standing at the barbecue in the camp kitchen, the bacon beside me on the bench. A flash of wings and it was gone. A kookaburra flew off with a full beak. Hm. Just eggs for tea then.

Carnarvon Gorge is a famously spectacular place, with a clear, permanent creek, fine sandstone cliffs, palm trees, cycads and rock paintings.

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Con and I were staying in a cabin at Takarakka Bush Resort, in a bend of Carnarvon Creek five kilometres from the start of the main gorge walking track. It was winter, and the temperature fell overnight to near freezing.

This was Con’s first visit, but I first went there as a teenager with my family, and I wrote about it for my school magazine.

Beside the creek, under the trees, blady grass grows four feet high, and through the grass winds a narrow track, running down to meet the creek bed near a neat pile of stones. Across the creek, where the track begins again, stands another pile.

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There are now stairs to the hanging gorges we scrambled up to fifty years ago. Guardrails and security cameras protect the ancient Aboriginal images on the Art Gallery cliffs: stencilled hands and boomerangs, crosshatching and engravings in the sandstone.

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There are public toilets in the gorge now. People no longer camp in the Cathedral Cave. Fifty years ago, we spread our blankets under that high, wide arch, on soft sand eroded from the roof above and mattresses of the dry palm fronds that lie everywhere in the gorge.

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As we lay huddled under our rugs with two great fires between us and the freezing night, we could see beside and above us, from one end of the cave to the other, ancient Aboriginal prints and images, even a child’s tiny handprints.

That night, years ago, a film crew had gathered piles of palm fronds, lit them, and filmed the arch above us in the glow of the fires.

The marks on the Art Gallery cliffs have ritual significance, but the Cathedral Cave art seems more domestic. Excavations in the floor of the cave have revealed that people were camping here at least twenty thousand years ago.

In Takarakka, people cook and eat together at the camp kitchen. We talked to friendly and interesting people from Canberra and Sydney, France and Austria, while the kookaburras lurked on the rafters above us.

On our first day, walking up one of the outer gorges, Mickey Creek Gorge, we met a man coming down the track with a bush walking stick. “You have it,” he said to me. “I’ve finished with it.”

It was a fine piece of eucalyptus, straight and carefully trimmed, and I accepted it with pleasure.

“We’re leaving tomorrow, so you can take my map of the gorge, too. The National Parks office doesn’t provide them anymore.”

A map is useful. The Carnarvon Gorge walks are well sign-posted, with distances marked, but it’s good to plan your walking day ahead of time.

Back at the car park after the walk, I leaned my stick against a nearby rock, near others left by returning walkers. The next day, I saw a woman using it in the main gorge. I hope she, too, left it for someone else to use.

Carnarvon Creek is cold and clear as it runs over its stony bed. There are platypuses in the creek, and birds in the bushland.

The white sandstone cliffs of the gorge can be seen from a distance as you drive in. When I was at university, visiting with a group of students, we climbed up to Battleship Spur where we could look down on the gorge and its branches curving like white ribbons below us.

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We lay on the grass and went to sleep, and when we woke up it almost evening. Darkness fell before we could get back to the base camp in the gorge, and we spent all night marooned on a point of high land with cliffs falling away on both sides in the gloom, singing songs and telling stories with only a small fire for light and warmth.

Next morning, we found our way down to our campsite and gear. The porridge we cooked in a billy for breakfast was the best thing I’d ever eaten.

When we turned for home, I was sad at the thought of leaving this gorge, with its creek, its greenery, and its vast cliffs.

In the camp kitchen on the evening before Con and I left for home, I asked if anyone wanted our left-over eggs. A young Austrian couple took them and made pancakes for everyone.

We also offered our map of the gorge, and an Irish backpacker put his hand up. We gave it to him and he poured us a glass of red wine, and we drank together to the pleasures of the bush.

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