‘We ride where the man from Snowy River gets off’, the man in the magazine article boasted.
‘ I like to let people read that article so they know what they are in for when they go down into the gorge’, explained Louise, whose house we happened to be staying at and one of the many generous folk we met on Kangaroo Flat Road.
Louise has a marvelous collection of Hoof and Horns magazines dating back to the 70s, at which Zaydee was delighted to find that she would have been able to buy a pair of jodhpurs for 20p. But the article that had put the fear of god into me was about riding in the Kunderang- how steep and slippery it was, how wild the rivers could be, and how very remote this part of the country was. Nothing I hadn’t already heard, but it didn’t do much to quell my doubts. Indeed, I had been anxious about this part of trail for weeks, especially given our donkeys’ rather dubious reputation for water crossings and the fact that the Kunderang section involved over 50 of them.
So what does one do when it all seems a bit much? Call mum, of course! Several weeks before, my mother had expressed an interest in walking some of the trail with us, and I felt like having another adult might be practical for safety reasons and donkey haulage (the two are inherently connected actually). I was a bit worried they may master a few and then decide they didn’t like crossing no. 25, at which point we would literally be left upstream without a paddle.
Anyway, mum agreed to come along, ever one to give things a go, and eased her way into the long days of walking by starting at New Country Swamp in the Mummel Gulf National Park.
We stayed a few days at Louise’s place trying to get everything sorted- new hoof boots were needed for Fly but it took a while to find the right size. We also managed to connect with Bernie Brady, a highly skilled saddler in Walcha who managed to fix up the donkeys pack saddles by adding a felt and leather lining underneath. They have been amazing ever since and never seem to cause the donkeys any discomfort.
Incidentally, while we were at the saddlery, who should come in, but Bob Beer. Now Bob Beer is one of those people who most people probably havent heard of, but should. Bob is getting on a bit now, but in his heyday, he ran across the Simpson desert, rode his bike around Australia, and paddled the Murray River, among other great feats of endurance . Now that is grit! I bought a copy of his book.
So all geared up and with our hearts in our throats, we made the long descent from Mooraback to Youdales hut. Rounding yet another slippery hairpin bend, we could see the river below snaking its way to the north through the distance.
‘Why would anyone bother trying to farm down there?’, we thought, as the Kunderang has a long history of white settlement. But once we were enclosed in the valley, sheltered by the slopes of Oxley Wild Rivers National park and with lush feed and water in abundance, it was love at first sight. Yes, it was steep, yes there were a lot of river crossings (and the donkeys mastered every one), and yes, my mother and I found it quite physically challenging to walk. But there is nowhere else on earth like it, I am sure.
As I walk I like to come up with random ideas- it helps pass the kilometres I guess. One of these was to hide away in the Kunderang- you could build a little river stone hut off the beaten track, smuggle down a few vegie seeds and have a little garden, and never want for fresh water. The water was so clear that at times it only looked shallow, but upon closer inspection was well over a metre deep. There are fish in the river and wild pigs if you were that way inclined. We happened to surprise a few who were having a mid morning nap in the bushes on our way past. But as it is a National Park, I guess my little utopia will have to wait for now…`