Location: Manning Valley
Date: December 2007

December 30, 2007. Well, I dunno if I'm all that thrilled with the Sony Cybershot F717 but I think it's more me than the camera. Today was my first proper photoshoot with it. Another learning curve! Oh well... Anyway, I set off at sparrow's down the Pacific Hwy, then along the road to Forster/Tuncurry until I reached the turn-off to Blackhead Beach. Just before the town, I pulled in to a small reserve where I saw a tree I rather fancied. As I framed the pic, a woman walking her dog (no, not a poodle... I can't remember the name of the breed, but it was poodle-ish and cute) came into view and added more interest to the shot of the tree. "I went to that university," she said, "I taught there." University? What university? Then it dawned on me... I was wearing my Ohio State T-shirt, a gift from Ohio Sean who's sent me more Ts than I know what to do with. "I got my degrees there... my Ph.D and Masters," she continued. "The university offered to put me through the courses so I thought 'why not?'" I asked her about her Australian accent. "Oh, they thought I was good 'novelty value'." Yes, folks, it is indeed a small world. She's a Blackhead resident now and loves it. Then she told me about the headland lookout on the far side of the village, and that I must visit it. Click here for the photo album or read on and click the link at the end of this article.

The first thing I noticed on the headland was a rented campervan... an el cheapo Wicked Van, with a bunch of crazy stuff written all over it. I've seen a few of those vans and they all have crazy stuff splashed all over. I took a short walk through the bush to the other side of the headland and, upon my return, saw a black and tan Kelpie fetching his master's ball. "Good morning," the bloke said. Later, as I enjoyed a cuppa near my car, he wandered over. The ball had landed near my feet and the dog was crouched, itching for me to toss it. I obliged, and discovered to my absolute horror that the ball was drenched in sticky, slimy saliva. YUCK! The bloke was far more sensible... he had a stick with a scoop on the end. So we got to chatting, and I told him about the Odyssey. His name is Snowy. He's late 60s/70-ish and has been a local all his life, born and raised in Nabiac. Nabiac? "There's nothing there, is there?" "My dad had two taxis in Nabiac, an A model and a T model Ford." I couldn't believe it! Two taxis in Nabiac? According to Snowy, Nabiac was a thriving town in the late 1800s and early 1900s with 11 pubs. Gold mining was the main industry, closely followed by timber cutting. Snowy was raised at the tail end of the boom. He didn't mention what he did for a living but I suspect he was a farmer of some sort. He said the Kelpie was one of a litter that a farmer friend didn't want (9 years ago) because it was black and tan... they prefer reddish tan. "Yeah, we've traveled quite a bit in our time... flying as well." "Flying?" "Light aircraft." You're a pilot?" "Was." A fascinating bloke and the reason I've put Nabiac on my next place to visit.

I spoke briefly to a couple of people at Red Head - the next beach north. One had to stop as I photographed a timber viewing platform on the beach. He wondered what the hell I was doing so I explained that a pair of (children's) sandals was rare with nobody in 'em. "I'll photograph anything, mate."

I took a walk through the local bush and arrived a rocky beach area which was pretty much deserted. Only one woman walking her dog and I were present. She couldn't remember where the walking trail was but I did... the exit/entrance barely visible in the dense scrub that borders the beach. That's where I took the pic of the gray log. I also stopped at one place where I saw a few boardriders in the distance, and used the zoom to test the lens. There's a 2 x tele converter on its way so I'll do some serious tripod shots of surfers one of these days.

I saw four powered hang-gliders as well... guys just whizzing around about 500 feet above the beach, having a lovely time. I wasn't quick enough to grab a pic, dangit. Besides, I was surrounded by fairly dense forest.

On my way back through the bush, I saw a man and his little girl sitting on a bench. A BENCH! What a sight for sore eyes, so I joined them. The little girl was a treasure and so cute, blonde and clothed in a red dress, red shoes and a pink hat. I mentioned the Odyssey and asked her how old she was. "Three? Four? Five?" "Four." "Well, you'll be 14 when I finish the Odyssey... and I'll be 102." Her right arm was in plaster, so I asked her about it. "I fell over in the driveway." "Oh, dear! That's awful, darling!" Then she spotted something behind me. It was a single leaf, and I couldn't quite understand its significance until her father pointed out that there was a bug on it. A bug? Oh, there! It was half the size of a pinhead, and she wanted to know if I was going to photograph it. Hehe. "No, darling, it's just a tad tiny... I'd need a microscope." I would have loved to take a pic but... well, I thought it might not be prudent.

Further north (on the way back to Taree) is Diamond Beach. Land sales and new housing is big biz there, catering for the influx of retirees from Sydney. When I arrived, I framed a pic of a couple of beach signs (as I usually do for reference) and heard a bang! A kid on a bicycle - obviously with no brakes - used the sign to stop the bike. "Well, that's one way to stop," I said, then a little later as I followed him along the track to the beach, "You're a scallywag." "Yeah." But he thought about that and decided to retract his answer. "No I'm not!" Then he told me about all the snakes that lurked in the bushes on either side of the track.

On a timber viewing platform a little further north, I spoke to a surfer in his 20s, a Port Macquarie native. "Seen one beach, seen 'em all," I said. "No mate, they're all different." "You're a surfer?" "Yep." "Figures. The only thing I've got against surfing is getting wet." Sheesh, he didn't even raise a smile, but he did say that after a bit more tide, the surf would improve. Those guys can read conditions like a book. Later I returned to TT for a sandwich and a beer. While I relaxed under the shade of a tree, 4 young surfers turned up, followed a few minutes later by another 3. "G'day, mate," was the only exchange. And then I toddled off back home. Click here for the photo album

December 20, 2007. The problem with the HP Photosmart 850 is terminal. Finito, kaputski. It's a sensor fault. However, Hewlett Packard will honor the warranty and provide me with a comparable replacement. What that will be I've yet to be advised. Meanwhile, today I bought a Sony Cybershot on eBay. It's used but a pretty fancy piece of gear! Being Christmas, I don't expect delivery for a while (public holidays, etc) which means no major photo shoots for a week or so. However, the other day I did travel out to Wingham to visit the historical society's museum where I took pics with my Kodak DX3600 of the model of the old demolished Killawarra Bridge as well as shots of old photographs. This weekend, I'll revisit Mt George to gather more photos (using the Kodak) in order to update the Mt George page/index.html of December 9. I'm not happy with that page at the mo because of the problems I had with the previous camera. I had planned to visit some of the local beaches this weekend but that will have to wait until the Sony arrives. So that's about it for the mo. UPDATED April 27, 2008. Check out the new pics here.

December 15, 2007. The name Boorganna is thought to be a Biripi Aboriginal name for the mahogany or lilli pilli trees that grow the the forest. The name Comboyne is derived from Komboin which means the place of kangaroos. I'm not sure I understand that because the whole of Oz is the place of kangaroos! Click here for the photo album or read on and click the link at the end of this article.

European settlers arrived in 1900 and cleared much of the area for grazing and dairying. During that time, the rainforest was logged for species such as rosewood and red cedar. Several stumps can still be seen along the track that leads to Rawson Falls. The area's flora and fauna is now protected.

I left early and traveled up the Pacific Hwy from Taree to Kew where I turned left and arrived in Kendall, the Poet's Town, named after Aussie poet Henry Kendall. It's a very pretty place and I spent a while there taking in the historic scenery, includng two local ducks and a statue of Henry himself. The name of the town cafe and deli is interestingly and - *ahem* - creatively named.

Next was Lorne. If it hadn't been for the sign on the exit side I wouldn't have known that I'd just driven through it! It's a bunch of farms and homesteads.From Lorne to Comboyne the road is gravel, the surface of which ranges from pretty good to pretty rough. But the rainforest and countryside is most attractive... AND, out there you get a wave from every driver you pass. If we did that in cities we'd never stop waving.

Comboyne, as the welcome sign says, is mountain country with lots of valleys and farmland. We've had quite a bit of rain lately and the countryside is almost as green and picturesque as Ireland. A little further on, via sealed road, is the turn off to Boorganna Nature Reserve and picnic area (with a loo!) It's on the southern edge of Comboyne Plateau. I had a cuppa there while I contemplated the 2.7 kilometer hike... easy on the way down, uphill all the way back.

The air in a rainforest is so moist you can almost drink it. In fact, that's what the ferns and many other plants do. The leaf-littered floor of the forest is very damp; like a spongy carpet.

I figured I'd go as far as the Rawson Falls lookout. That's it, no more! BUT... I relented and decided that, since I was there already, and the descent was only an extra kilometer, I might as well do the deed. Again, easy on the way down. The falls are not all that high... 40 meters compared to Ellenborough's 200... but it's wider and more spectacular, especially at the base. At the base, it's all rocks - slippery rocks as I discovered. The air is thick with drizzle from the exploding water as it crashes onto the huge boulders.

It was on the return journey that I became intimately acquainted with some of the native fauna. I had to take frequent (and I mean frequent) rest stops because of the steepness of the climb. That gave certain little nasty critters an opportunity to hop on board  for a ride... and a feed. LEECHES! Eeeek! I spotted quite a few over the period and flicked them off my shoes, hands and jeans before they got "attached"... and that inspired me to keep moving as quickly as I could. Future rest stops were as brief as I could make them.

At one stage of the climb, fairly near the end, I was resting when I heard voices approaching. It was a group of healthy and fit young guys and girls, bouncing down the track without a care. I was livid. "Healthy people bug me," I growled but I got no sympathy... just a laugh. BTW, I did have my trusty stick... a bought one... a cane with a handle and a rubber tip, all for the jolly price of $5... so I bought three. The two spares are in TT's boot/trunk.

Little did I realize, when I arrived back at the picnic and parking area, that I hadn't spotted all of the hitchhikers. Lemme tell you, they are savage, aggressive and determined little beasts. So I cracked a stubby of VB and relaxed for about half an hour before hitting the road again.

I stopped along the gravel road to take a pic. When I returned to the car, I spotted a very large, plump and juicy leech on the floor, trying to make its escape. No problem... I gave it a hand, and it fell onto the dry and dusty roadway. Sorry old chap, I'm afraid it's not your day after all.

When I arrived home, I removed my shirt (it's a hot and humid day) and noticed a large blood stain on the reverse. I asked my roomate if he could see anything on my back... there was a mark but by then the blood had clotted. Leeches, I understand, inject a substance that prevents clotting for a while. So that's where the nasty critter had hidden and was happily feeding. Soon afterwards, I removed my shoes and discovered another two on my ankle... one was plump and the other was about to dine, so it took ages for the wound to clot. Both have been dispatched unceremoniously into the trash bin. Oh, and then I discovered a bush tick that had attached itself to my stomach.

I have a feeling that my bushwalking days through rainforest are seriously numbered.

That wasn't the end of my woes. I'm still having problems with with the HP Photosmart camera and digital noise. It seems that the camera doesn't like sky or water reflections. Grrrrr. After all the trouble I went to to get to the bottom of the falls, half of the pics at the base are unusable. Admittedly, the camera was a superseded model (but still new in the box) and quite cheap, but it's supposed to be a good camera. I'll write HP again and see what they come up with. Last time, they simply sent me a paste of certain pages from the manual. Thanks, guys, I've read the manual till I'm blue in the face. You'll see some digital noise on some of the pics I've posted but that's just too bad... I'm not gonna crop them. BTW, the pic of the giant buttress tree above comes from the net... mine wasn't in focus. Click here for the photo album

December 9, 2007. Mount George, not far west of Wingham, was settled in the early 1800s by timbercutters, gold miners and farmers. Dairy and beef is now the main industry - I saw a huge stainless-steel milk tanker parked in a farm driveway waiting to be loaded. The town currently has a pop of about 400 most of whom live on farms in the surrounding area. There's one main street, one general store, one school, a few dozen houses and a railway line with no station. Quaint, you might say. The area was famous for its oranges and apples. Years ago, trucks loaded with fruit would arrive in Taree and park in the street. There, the drivers sold the produce by the bucketload. Not now, though... naughty, naughty. Local shopkeepers finally kicked up a stink. Click here for the photo album or read on and click the link at the end of this article.

I arrived in 'town' just before 8am. Then the joint came alive, with people - albeit 3 or 4 - arriving at the general store from all directions... time for milk, bread, eggs, etc. I asked one bloke if there was anything further up the road that led away from the town. "Not much." He was right. The thing you notice about such places is that people wave as you drive or walk by. They've never seen you before but that doesn't seem to matter... everyone gets a wave.

Before I turned right to Mount George, I continued along the road (don't ask me the name... I just follow the signs) for a few kilometers to the new Killawarra Bridge. My neighbor Beau recommended I see it. It's a modern concrete structure that replaced the old timber bridge after several decades of major floods weakened the tall supporting poles. The new bridge is curved in order to withstand future floods. I tried to find a pic of the old bridge on the net but couldn't. However, I did find some text written by an amateur historian and asked him if he could help. If I find one I'll post it.

I also wrote Hewlett Packard about the problem I have with exposure when there's a lot of contrast between the landscape and the sky. I took what I thought were stunning pics of early-morning mist hovering in green valleys but they were pretty much useless when I saw them. I don't usually crop the pics but I had to in this case. What a bummer. Hopefully, I'll get a reply from HP before the next Odyssey.

I spent about 3 hours on the round trip. Was it worth it? Yes... the views of the mist and the mountains and the green valleys dotted with farmhouses and cattle were beautiful. The bridge was interesting (as were its resident cows), and Mount George township was a delightful curiosity. Oops! I nearly forgot... when I ventured down a track beside the bridge to take a pic from there, I saw a cow munching happily on the grass. So I set the camera focus and exposure, then yelled the only word I know in bovine..."MOOOOOOOO". The cow looked at the camera, I took the pic, and said, "thank you very much."

Two other events of some interest: as I drove the windy country roads: I noticed what I eventually recognized as a tortoise crossing the road... painfully slowly. I missed him, thank God. Later, I saw what looked like a stick on the road but it was a frill-neck lizard. Fortunately, with mere seconds to spare, he got up on his hind legs and took off like a rocket out of harm's way.

All in all, the kinds of sights and experiences I enjoyed this morning are those you don't see or get at home. That in itself makes it worthwhile. Despite my camera problems, I hope you enjoy the pics. Oh, and here's a small set of pics that has nothing to do with today's Odyssey but everything to do with my young neighbor Josh who is very proud of his woodwork class creation. UPDATE Dec 23. Today I revisited Mt. George and took more pics with my backup Kodak. It's not a patch on the quality of the Hewlett Packard, but the HP packed it in. Last Wednesday, I visited Wingham again and took pics of the old Killawarra Bridge... a model of the original structure in the Historical Society's Museum as well as old photographs. On today's trip, I had just finished my photographic exercise in Mt. George, and was driving back home, when a kid sitting on his porch, eating a watermelon, waved (as all locals do). By the time I went through the whole 'will I or won't I?' routine, I was out of town. I really should have taken a pic of that kid and had a bit of a natter about life in such a tiny village. DAMMIT! Incidentally, the large deserted factory alongside the railway was the old timber mill which, up until about 20 years ago, was a thriving business that supported what was once a prosperous town. Logging these days is conducted very selectively with the emphasis on re-generation of forests. The above link will lead you to the revised set of pics. Oops! A few more things... the old Killawarra Bridge, completed in 1901, was a single lane crossing. Access from the western side was by a road that turned sharply at the entry point so that motorists couldn't see an approaching vehicle from the opposite direction until they were almost upon it! Before demolition, due to a couple of major floods (the last in 1978), some people wanted to preserve it as a pedestrian crossing but the upkeep ($11,000 per annum) was prohibitive. There's no pedestrian access on the new bridge. Did you notice the little box on the side of the model? That must have been for startled pedestrians who sought refuge from oncoming cars. AND, if you look closely at the pic of the old shed with a hole at the rear (the one at Mt. George) you'll see a horse... he was peeking at me before I took the pic. The Kodak only has a 2 x zoom, dangit.

Lastly, I must thank members of the Manning Valley Historical Society, in particular Glenda Smith, vice-president/archives, who organized permission to photograph the exhibits. She's a charming woman and I very much appreciate her assistance. Also museum curator Anne Munns who guided me through the process and, as a bonus, gave me a tip about how to deal with leeches... "a sprinkle of table salt... works everytime." If you're ever in Wingham, put the museum on your 'must see' list. It's fascinating. (So are Glenda and Anne). :o) Click here for the photo album

December 2, 2007. Brimbin Nature Reserve today. Just a short drive NE of Taree, off Wingham Road, via Cedar Party Road and Old Port Macquarie Road. Brimbin has important historic connections with Taree and Port Macquarie's early settlement being located on the original main road between the two centers during the days of horse-drawn transport. The name Brimbin is derived from the Biripi Aboriginal word 'Borembit' or stringybark, a tree species common to the area. Click here for the photo album or read on and click the link at the end of this article.

So up at sparrow's, pack the lunch and camera, and off I went at about 7am. I parked Tough Titties at the Brimbin Picnic Area, had a cuppa, and spent the rest of the morning on foot. Without knowing where the bloody hell I was headed, I took the Dawson River Walking Track which, after 45 minutes, led me back to Old Port Macquarie Road. There, I had two choices, left or right. I chose right, hoping that it would lead back to the Brimbin parking area and TT. After about 20 minutes walking, I began to wonder if I'd chosen the wrong direction. I was about to retrace my steps when I heard the sound of an approaching vehicle, one of only two I saw all morning. I waved the driver and he stopped, then informed me that I was indeed walking in the right direction and not far from where I'd parked TT. Whew! He offered me a ride on the back of his table-top but I declined. "I need the exercise," I lied. Safely back at TT, I had another cuppa and checked the map. "Ah ha! Now I've got my bearings!"

While I was doing that, a second vehicle approached - a Land Rover Discovery. But it did the loop around the parking area and left. I know I didn't shower this morning but... sheesh.

The Old Port Macquarie Road crosses the reserve and now forms part of the Miss Kelly Walking Track. The two creek crossings are significant, Tommy Owen's and Miss Kelly's. They were the first two points at which travelers could cross above the tidal water.

The first crossing is Tommy Owen's, historically named after a local 12-year-old boy who drowned after being swept away from his horse in the floods of 1850. When I first saw it - a series of stepping stones across the water - I thought, no, no, no, no, no. I'm too old for that! I'll go back and have another cuppa. But I relented, thanks to my trusty stick. I picked it up after hearing a strange noise along the way. I figured it would come in handy in case I was attacked by a herd of wombats. Actually, on the first walk, as I picked my way through the forest, a startled kangaroo bounced from the undergrowth and took off. He was startled? WHAT ABOUT ME? I almost suffered a heart attack.

Anyway, the stick proved to be an invaluable asset, not only against a stampede of crazed goannas but also for maintaining balance over rocky terrain and, of course, crossing creeks - testing the depth and assisting with my daredevil  rock-to-rock leaps (with lots of precarious wobbling, let me tell you).

Eventually, after my faithful stick and I walked for what seemed an age, the track forked. The left fork was an easy one so I chose it. It was only a short walk that led to part of the Dawson river where I took a few pics. Then I returned to the fork. No, no, no, no, no, NO! It's too damn steep. I'll never get back up. Besides, it was raining a slight sprinkle. I checked the clouds. Nope. I ain't going another inch! But... I relented, and it's a good thing I did. Just another 20 or 30 meters further along was Miss Kelly's Crossing.

Miss Isabella Mary Kelly was a well-known identity in the area during the mid-late 19th century. She was responsible for producing some of the best livestock in the district. There are many stories about her exploits with bushrangers and her treatment of convicts. She was often criticized by other women for doing "a man's work".

Anyway, that's as far as I went. I left it to Miss Kelly to do the crossing... this Kelly had had enough. Well, not quite... there was still Tommy Owen's crossing to renegotiate on the return trip. This time I rolled up the jeans to knee height and crossed the easy way. My sandals squished for a while but it was worth it. Rock hopping ain't my cuppa.

I was a little disappointed with the camera. It does not like too much contrast, and leaves weird digital markings on some pics if I try to incorporate dark forest with strong light from the sky, for example. Oh, well, practice, practice, practice. Oh, yes, and my ears kept ringing for ages after I left for home. The summer cicadas were out in force, singing their incessant and ear-piercing love song - millions of them! How the hell can one female follow the call of a particular male cicada amongst all that racket? Actually, the forest is constantly alive with the sounds of birds (especially parrots), various insects, the rustling of leaves caused by scampering lizards (and who knows what else - eeek!), the occasional heavy thump of a hopping roo, and the rush of shallow water over patches of stones. It's a different world out there ya know. Click here for the photo album


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