Sunday, 19 July 2009

Federation Peak - Part 5

[part 5 of a 15 part series describing an ascent of Tasmania's Federation Peak]

5) Passing Wargata Mina

Farmhouse Creek to the South Cracroft, Tuesday February 5th, 1991

To the left is the indistinct track to Lake Sydney, a remote glacial lake cupped between Mt Bobs and The Boomerang. I passed that way another day, and got close enough to a platypus to hear it breathe. But on this day we go straight ahead, up and over the lushly forested saddle, and on towards Federation. In the distance some currawongs send out their claxon call, to me the signature sound of the highlands. Immense King Billy pines, metres in circumference, deep green with deeply furrowed trunks, guard the track. They are ancient outposts of Gondwana, common here in the high rainfall high forest, but increasingly rare in the drying climate that begins to take hold even here in southwest Tasmania.

From the saddle the track has been re-routed, out of respect for other ancients – Tasmania’s Palawa. Aboriginals lived here thousands of years before Abraham or the pyramids, and they left hand stencils at Wargata Mina, a cave west of here. At the request of their descendants the track, which once went by the cave, has been re-aligned to give the sacred site wide berth. It is now one of the few pieces of land under direct Aboriginal control.

Over lunch – mine a squashed but still-fresh bread roll from home – I think about Aboriginal presence in this area. To our group this is wilderness, the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. But to those who left hand stencils in Wargata Mina over 10 000 years ago; who spat paint against outstretched hands in the deep dark, it was home. They and their descendants have walked and worked this land ever since. The extensive areas of buttongrass are partly a result of Aboriginal burning, and some of the tracks they used have become the tracks we use.

But not the new section of track beyond the saddle at the top of Farmhouse Creek. We’re among the first to use it, and we make rapid progress down the slope towards the South Cracroft River. As it flattens out the track moves out of forest into more open heath. It looks to have been hastily cleared, with the stumps of felled paperbark, ti-tree and bauera protruding everywhere, and some of the cut foliage still strewn about among the buttongrass. We adopt a four wheel drive-like gait, lifting our legs high to prevent us tripping on the low stumps. The literal downside of this is that we’re more prone to slip on the almost grassy, sometimes mossy surface. At least with so few feet having gone before us, there is mercifullly little of the usual southwest mud to mark our occasional falls. It also helps that the threatened rain has been little more than a thin drizzle. And not long after we cross the South Cracroft, we even begin to see Federation Peak – a cloud-shrouded giant looming before us.
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