Thursday 6 June 2024

Talleh Tales: Chapter Three

So I am on the plateau again, having gone round it like a dog in circles to see if it is a good place. I think it is, and I am to stay up here for a while. - Nan Shepherd


Channelling the wonderful Scottish geo-poet, Nan Shepherd, we widened our walking circle the next day. Our home lake was clearly a good place, of that we were certain. But what of the other two lagoons that make up the Talleh Lagoons?


We hefted our day packs, lunch and wet weather gear inside, and left camp after a leisurely breakfast. This time we went north, then briefly east to cross the top of our lagoon. Next we turned north and walked up the eastern side of the middle lagoon. The sky was a mix of blue and non-threatening cloud, and a brisk breeze blew from the south. We’d chosen this side of the middle lagoon, the smallest of the three, as the vegetation was low and relatively sparse. Across the lake the going looked steeper and more scrubby. 

[An old fence post at the middle lagoon]


On the lakeshore ahead we saw what we thought to be the stump of a dead tree. Instead, to our surprise, it turned out to be a fence post, some rusty old fencing wire still attached. This part of the plateau was used for summer grazing, mainly of sheep but also cattle, from the early 1800s until the mid 20th century. We presumed that these old lichen-covered fences near Talleh Lagoons were once used for stock management, ‘though they may also have been boundary markers. By coincidence we saw on our map that the western shore of Talleh Lagoons marked the eastern boundary of the Walls of Jerusalem National Park.

[The old fence line extending north from Talleh Lagoons]


When we reached the top of the northern lagoon, the sporadic fence posts turned into a line of posts stretching a long way north. I followed it a little way up Quaile Gully, more a shallow creek than a gully at this point. Jim and Lisa waited as I wandered, wondered and took photographs. Some of my wondering was about how Tasmania’s palawa Aboriginal people would have seen and used this place. I knew that they seasonally harvested swans' eggs up here, and from what we’d seen there would have been plenty of those. As well they patch-burned up here, to encourage “green pick” that would have made it easier to hunt marsupials.

[Fenceline in the Quaile Gully]


I returned to the others, and together we reckoned we’d gone as far as we wanted. But so we could explore some new country, we made our way to the western shore of the northern lagoon. Thankfully this wasn’t too scrubby, but rather a delightfully undulating checkerboard of green cushion plants, red mountain rocket and lichen-dotted dolerite boulders.

[Lisa and Jim near the northern lagoon]


On our journey south we’d planned to avoid the scrubby western side of the middle lagoon. But we were still kept honest by the scrub that stood between the end of the northern lagoon and the top of the middle lagoon. Warmed and a little scratched, we reached the route we’d taken on our outward journey and paused for lunch. Then, bringing the day’s circling journey to an end, we returned to our home lake. 


Later that afternoon we caught up with our neighbour Steve, who had successfully hooked his dinner: a good sized brown trout. We were a little envious, especially Jim, who was on a minimalist trip in terms of food. He’d even decided to go without a stove, so would “borrow” hot water from Lisa or me. And at dinner time he didn’t decline offers of any spare hot food from our dinners. We laughingly we told him it was as good as having a dog to clean up after us.

[Any spare water, Lisa?]


In the late afternoon I noticed some movement at the far end of the lake. I saw what I thought was people scrambling down the scrubby shore and getting in for a swim, near where the inlet stream joined the lake. It was too far away to make out details, but I watched for some minutes as these people splashed and swam and had a good old time in the water. I guessed they’d get out of the water soon enough, and we’d see them coming this way to camp.


I decided to get a little closer, and walked up to where Steve was camped. But by then the swimmers had gone. I asked Steve if he’d noticed them, and he shook his head, saying he’d only seen swans. Jim joined us, and he too reckoned it was probably swans. I looked up towards the tracks leading in and out of our lagoon, but saw no sign of walkers. I was mightily puzzled, as I was sure I’d seen people, and that the swans were further out in the water. 


I pondered this later, and wondered whether my reverie of palawa people around these lagoons had over-fired my imagination. Perhaps it had just been swans, but … my cogitations continued. There are those who are somewhat in awe of the pioneer European trappers, shepherds and cattlemen who braved the often bleak conditions up here for nearly two centuries. And certainly they have my admiration. But the Big River band, and others of the palawa people, were up here for 60 000 years plus, including through a couple of ice ages. Admiration doesn’t even begin to describe what I feel about that. Perhaps I might be excused for engaging my imagination a little more than usual.

[View towards the Walls of Jerusalem on our way out]


The next day we packed up and left, and headed for a place that Jim knew would feed him well without the need for a stove or for any “borrowing”. As we sat and reviewed our great experience of “slow-packing”, the Great Lake Hotel fed us very well. 

Friday 31 May 2024

Talleh Tales: Chapter Two

[Water lillies in Talleh Lagoon]

Warming to this new style of bushwalking, with its less-is-more vibe, I retired to my tent after the "ripples at dawn" event (see here)With our plans for the day decidedly low-key, and neither Jim nor Lisa up and about, a lie-in seemed appropriate. 


Some ambient bird song helped me doze until the strong sun warmed my little red tent a bit too much. Time for breakfast. We’d made a kitchen space between some boulders, and we relaxed in its comfortable warmth, sipping and chatting about our options for the day. We decided that a circumnavigation of our lagoon would be a good way to get to know the immediate neighbourhood. 

[Exploring the neighbourhood]

So from our little bay we walked south through light scrub to the next bay. Water lillies dotted the shallows and carpets of red seedheads of mountain rocket brightened the whole scene. Nearby we found an elevated open place beside a large eucalypt, with room for many tents. Feeling the generosity of this whole lagoon, we agreed this spot would have made a good alternative campsite to our own. 


[The next bay south]

We wandered on, enjoying being off-track with only a vague agenda. At the southern end of the lagoon we needed to cross the outlet stream. Here the scrub thickened markedly, and boulders joined the party, necessitating a little scrambling, some bush-bashing, and a small leap across the stream. Once on the other side we could turn north and walk up the eastern shore of the lagoon. 

[Lisa and Jim cross the creek]

Of course it wasn’t that simple, but after some creative meandering, we found ourselves more or less opposite our campsite. From our “home” campsite we’d looked across to a grove of pencil pines near a beach, and had wondered whether it might hide a pleasant, pencil-pine-shaded, lakeshore campsite? Now that we’d reached it, we saw that the answer was NO. The only campable spot was the beach itself. This was well away from the pines, and was both sloping and very open. Still, it was a very pleasant spot for a break on this calm, warm day. 

[An alternative campsite?]

We reclined on the beach, watching swans on the lake, which were no doubt watching us back. We’d taken lunch with us, but as it wasn’t even midday yet, we made do with a snack and a drink. We’d save lunch for when we’d got “home” and could add a hot drink to it. 


The afternoon continued warm and sunny, and two of us talked ourselves into a post-lunch swim. The lake was quite shallow, and not too cold, but there was no persuading Jim to come in. If the urge to swim ever comes over him, his response is to have a good lie down, or else to book a flight to Queensland. After the swim we all toyed with the idea of heading to our tents for a nap. But by now the sun had grown fierce, and the tents were unbearably hot. So I decided to continue my day the way it had begun, with a quiet sit by the lake shore. 


I shuffled my Helinox chair into a small patch of shade and sat still for a very long time, just looking out over the calm waters. Swans drifted in and out of view, rising trout occasionally rippled the water, and tiny wavelets made the softest of splashes beneath me. I’m not always good at stopping and being meditative, but this was an opportunity too good to miss. And wasn’t one of our reasons for going “slow-packing” the chance to feed our souls?


As I pondered my morning experience, and the sense of God hovering quietly over the waters of creation, I thought back to the old testament prophet, Elijah. This gifted man had suddenly met life-threatening opposition, which had plunged him into a period of dreadful anxiety and depression. He’d hidden on a mountainside hoping to be rescued by some words of reassurance from God. Instead Elijah experienced a series of intense natural events. First a mighty whirlwind, then an earthquake, and then a fierce fire passed by. But, we’re told in I Kings 19, the Lord was not in any of those. It was only after all of those natural dramas had subsided that Elijah heard a “still, small voice” (as I learned it in Sunday school). Other translators have it as “a soft whisper”, or “the voice of fragile silence”. However we translate it, it was in this surprising, quiet, and extraordinarily personal manner that God chose to speak to Elijah.


Someone closer to our own time and place, the bush bishop E.H. Burgmann, may have had a related experience. In the 1940s, writing about his time in the Australian bush, Burgmann says:


The bush . . .  will not speak to a man in a hurry. Its message is worth waiting for. Only the soul that is stilled in its presence can hear the music of its song.

[Looking across Talleh Lagoon]

Here, now, by this softly whispering lake, I felt I had come to such a still point. It was no mountaintop experience; there had been no spectacle or miracle. But I had experienced both a quiet awe and a deep joy. And as American author, poet and biologist Drew Lanham recently put it: 


Awe is a kind of prayer. Joy is my praise.

Thursday 23 May 2024

Talleh Tales: Chapter One

The call came just before dawn. A call of nature? Nothing unusual about that. But this was more. In the dim light, as I stood relieving myself, the call continued, drawing me to the lake shore. A light mist lay over the waters, blurring the line between a metal grey sky and the silver grey water. 

[Dawn at Talleh Lagoons[

All was perfectly still, or almost so. I’d thought the lake to be mirror calm, but a tiny, silent ripple just below me caught my eye. Concentric rings, like those created by a small rock plopped onto the water’s surface, gently ruffled the calm. But there was no rock thrower. Rather, as the sun began rising, I could see there was the smallest movement of air, a drift of mist coming across the lake. It didn’t make waves as such, but there was sufficient movement to cause the water to lap against a barely submerged rock; to winkle ripples out of the almost inanimate water. 

This movement of air was not wind, the sort depicted coming from the puffed cheeks of a huge humanoid cloud. No, this was a mere whisper, like a breath of God hovering over the waters of creation: a picture from the opening verses of Genesis; a poetic depiction of The Beginning of all things. 

* * * 

The (lesser) genesis of this walk came from the creative mind of our friend TimO. On a walk in Tasmania’s Central Plateau back in December ’23, Tim had posed the question: what if, instead of doing a long through walk, or a circuit walk around and back, we just walked somewhere and stayed there? For days. It would be a quieter, more meditative trip. If we wanted to we could amble around, experiencing or photographing details at different times of day. If we stayed longer we’d be able to know the one place on different days, and in different conditions. We’d be aiming for deep rather than wide. 

[Cushion plants and scoparia, Central Plateau]

We’d liked the idea, and the seed had grown. But ironically when we nailed down a few optional times in February ‘24, TimO himself wasn’t available. In the end our group was whittled down to just three: Jim, Lisa and myself. Our destination was Talleh Lagoons, a place we’d “discovered”, with TimO, on the last night of our December walk. 

Two things about the proposed walk appealed to Jim. Firstly we could start early by staying overnight at the Great Lake Hotel, and secondly the campsite was only about two and a half hours from the road end. A nice cushy walk, we (quietly) thought to ourselves. 

Lisa kindly provided the transport from Hobart, and after a pleasant night at the hotel, we reached the start of the track quite early. The “cushy” walk began, and we wandered gently along the known route. This being the plateau, the going was undulating at worst, and the conditions were clear and pleasantly cool. We were soon getting views towards lakes and mountains, the former nearer than the latter. 

But two and a half hours in, we realised we were still a long way from Talleh Lagoons. We’d made the mistake of taking Jim’s exit time from our December walk, and imagining we could match that pace on today’s inward walk. We had to admit that a Jim-headed-for-home pace was unmanageable. 

We eventually arrived in time for a late lunch, and had soon settled our tents into the lakeside camp. It was as beautiful and tranquil as Jim and I remembered, and Lisa shared our enthusiasm. Scattered trees gave us some wind protection, and strategically placed rocks divided the campsite into “rooms”, as well as offering seats and wonky tables. If we had to stay in one place for a time, we could do a lot worse than here. 

[Campsite at Talleh Lagoons]

Across the lake, the southernmost of the three lagoons that make up Talleh Lagoons, we could see the track we’d descended to get here. Mid-afternoon we saw another walker coming our way. We watched as s/he eventually reached our side of the lake. As they were setting up a few hundred metres away from us, we wandered up to meet the neighbour. The walker admitted he’d been planning to come to the site we now occupied. But seeing us ensconced, he’d chosen a (less ideal) site well away from us. 

We introduced ourselves to Steve. He turned out to be an ecologist currently working for the same department I had worked in prior to my retirement. Yes, Tasmania is a smaller world than many places! For a time we talked workplace politics, before moving on to the much more interesting topic of pencil pines: his specialty, and one of my passions. He eventually set off to indulge another passion: fishing for trout in the lagoon. We wished him well, and left to get our somewhat more certain evening meal together. 

[Jim settling in at Talleh Lagoons]

With the meal over we had a quiet wander along the shore, sometimes looking back along the lake to see if Steve was having any luck. The weather was calm, but the lake surface had plenty of ripples from trout activity. Our neighbour might yet have a special dinner. We stretched and yawned and left him to it. As currawongs and honeyeaters sang farewell to the day, it was time for us to get horizontal in our own little nylon nests.