Monday, 5 November 2018

The Waterfalls of Cabone Benel, Caladonia Australis, Gippsland

Beehive Creek Falls, Hopping Joe Cascades, & Winnot Creek Cascades

In the south-east corner of Australia is a vast area of unexplored wilderness full of rivers and dancing waterfalls.
Today, officially, it is called Gippsland - a name conferred by the Polish explorer Strzelecki in honor of the hard-working Governor Gipps (1836-1847), sent to an early death by rapacious squatters. The First People of this area, the insular Kurnai called it Cabone Benel. Some of the older residents remember other names, including 'Caledonia Australis' conferred by the first Scot to enter the region.

At the border of rainforest and eucalypt forests, the confluence of
the cascading McKenzie River and the dark still Bemm River

In the moist valleys, eucalyptus and rainforests vie for supremacy.
There is magic here, at the bottom of the world, magic enough to convert the dour Scottish shepherd MacKenzie ("O solitary life I lead, less happy than the flocks I feed") into a person of substance, substance enough to rename mighty rivers.
But the magic is fickle, as the Kurnai, the first people of this region know all too well. Since settlement, the area has had a perplexing history of dark secrets and shared forgetfulness. Many of the ancient names of this place have been replaced with Celtic names transplanted with the Scottish clansmen that settled in the remote region, before they too, disappeared into history.

Hopping Joe Cascades: Genoa River Wilderness

Hopping Joe Cascades

Some say Hopping Joe was an old Scot adrift  from his homeland. Others say he was a prospector left behind by the 1859 alpine gold-rush.  He wandered the lonely highlands along the old colonial border between Victoria and New South Wales. It is not known whether he took his name from the creek (the first people custom), or gave his name to this lively tributary of the Genoa. A superb horseman, in later years, he lived in a bush tent along the creek with an old grey mare.
He is remembered imperfectly for providing hospitality once to a royal party travelling by horseback from Rockton to the Cann River. He is said to have prepared tea for a visiting Duke by first boiling creek water in an old billy can, blackened from long usage over fires. He then threw in a good handful of tea leaves, before removing the can from the fire. The creek still retells the story: how with a mighty circular swinging of the billy, Hopping Joe air-cooled the contents for drinking, telling the Duke that this was the 'Real Mackie' and it 'wouldn't curl a hair of any man's head'.

Hopping Joe Cascades
I am fond of coffee with a little cream - but years of fighting bushfires taught me that, in the bush, only black tea will do. It is true, that in summer's heat, these streams evaporate and fall silent. But, if you follow a creek bed, you will most likely eventually come upon the legacy of a long silent waterfall - the fall might have long retreated, but it will leave behind its plunge pool. Over the years these can fill in, but the area will continue to hold water - although sometimes you must dig for it. Our streams sometimes resemble interconnected pools.
Against the flood, the tuffs of dead grass are a stark reminder of the drought, yet they help light up the scene.


Winnot Creek Cascades - Mount Coopracambra 

Winnot Creek Cascades

There are few places more inhospitable than the granite highlands of Coopracambra in Gippsland, Victoria. Neither the established nations of the First People nor the European colonials ever laid claim to this wilderness. Even today, few people venture here and, those that return, speak loudly of the silence of the place.

It is reported that the remote fire ravaged area once provided a refuge for those escaping the justice of the First People - the Biduelli. Here, it is said, the survivors fashioned a community of 'broken men' (Howitt) living next to open areas of creeks and riverland.

Even the colonials avoided this place. Hopping Joe and his grey mare stayed to the north of the plateau. Today it is regarded as the most remote and least visited parts of Victoria. When one leaves behind memories of leeches, mosquitoes and flies (the unsung constants of the Australian bush) the isolation of the place leaves a pristine wilderness area. Perhaps the lack of systematic human occupation means that ancient tetrapod footprints (flat-bodied, lizard-like creatures up 2-3m (8-10') long with stout legs) can still be found here. Victorian authorities believe these to be the oldest record of any land-dwelling vertebrate. The streams are said to be a haven for rare frogs, the sooty owl and bats. For myself, I can only speak of the howl of the dingoes from the fractured landscape.

The silence was broken for me by the creek that rises on Mount Coopracambra. The stream is called Winnots on local signage, and Winnot in official records back in civilization. Perhaps it is the more lonely 'win not'.

Beehive Creek Falls


Beehive Creek Falls, in flood


This is the most 'developed' of this groups of falls - there is a sign and a 'track'. This is a lively stream that drops through a series of unique red-rock chutes in the  Coopracambra National Park, in North Gippsland, which the First People of my part of the world, to the north, called Cabone Benel - the South Land.


Beehive Creek Falls, in flood (note foam covering plunge pool)

The water in Beehive Creek was crystal clear - fizzing with air from its drop through the high alpine forests. Coopracambra is a high, remote Victorian wilderness area full of undiscovered wonders.

Beehive Creek Falls, inset, in flood

I first ventured here a couple of years ago, but i fell into the ravine and was chased out by a couple of dingos. More recently, i played it very safe, initially avoiding the area because of floodwaters (the road in was well under water) and only entering the park late this afternoon, when the water fell to safe levels. I am glad i waited, floodwater adds layers of uncertainty to any adventure.

Floodway on access road (note that there are two floodways - the second, out of sight, would be more dangerous in flood

The name of this fall may come from the native bees that swarm along this creek - or perhaps because of the strange patterns made by the water at the top of the fall.


Beehive Creek Falls, slight flow, showing patterns at top of fall

Modern names of waterfalls leave a lot to be desired - it always seems absurd to name a waterfall after some British nobleman and to strip away a name the fall may have had for hundreds of generations.
This name has a touch of the local associated with it.
I can understand the pools around the waterfall being call 'beeshive' for native bees love the certainty that deep pools of water give and the blossoms that it attracts.
I hope next time i come here with a reduced flow of water i will be able to explore the surface of the top of the fall more closely. I see shoots of water that seem to be deflected at about 30 degrees, giving an apparent angle of 120 degrees, and which is unique to this fall - the shape of a native bee honey comb. The number and variation of deflections may point to deliberate etching on the surface.
Of course, the name might simply be a pointer to colonial practice nearby or to the geological fault giving rise to the fall. Either way, the name seems relevant to this place, rather than some long dead irrelevance.

Beehive Creek Falls, slight flow

The creek is a pleasure to walk - below these falls it consists of scores of dancing cascades connecting pools of still water. I spent a little time climbing to the base of the fall (there is a rough path and, although part has collapsed, it is still manageable if you tread slowly). The path itself may be thousands of years old.

I found access to the top of the falls is a little more challenging. Not because of the steep sides of the ravine, but because as i came closer to the top, a sense of unease overcame me. I am a rational person, but i have learnt to listen closely to the bush (when i may be hours from a settlement or hospital). There are the obvious dangers that can be smelt or seen. Then there are those disclosed by other eyes - the bird in a high tree screaming out a warning of something below or a mob of roos startled in a particular direction. But then there are the dangers that cannot be seen or smelt or felt or inferred, save from shiver that runs down your spine. The First People at this place had myths about a stone being that detached itself from the rocks and would trap unwary travelers - a Nargun. The myth was not without evidence - in the stone canyons of the nearby Genoa River are fossilized footprints of an alarmingly large crocodile-like reptile.






Location


The falls themselves are remote and undeveloped.
There is some minimal signage directing hikers to the Beehive Falls, but the tracks are indistinct and small treacherous side streams can be easily mistaken for paths (there was some signs of road work, so improvements to the locality might be in the offing). This is a wilderness area, but when i explored the park in 2016, i found clear signs of wild dogs, pigs and deer (all to be wary of, and all signs near the falls tracks). This place may be full of unpleasant surprises.
The creek valley itself is very pretty, with plenty of water holes and cascades. However, access to the water is difficult, and you will probably need a decent zoom camera to image the chutes.


Access is from the Monaro Highway near the locality of Chandlers Creek. A gravel fire trail (?) is signed at the highway with the name of the Falls and there are a number of minimal parking areas some distance into the park next to Beehive Creek.



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