Friday, 11 January 2019

Genoa River - Falls of East Gippsland (part 1/9)

The Genoa River rises in the Nungatta Mountain, home to the platypus and the black snake.

The river wanders through long gorges in the high wilderness area of the Coopracambra NP before sweeping through farmland to the extensive Mallacoota Inlet.

'Just Add Water', wet water yacht, on the Genoa River at Mallacoota Inlet

Rockton Falls

The Genoa River once marked the border between the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria. The border has now been shifted further to the south. The river rises in the mountains nearby. On the Victorian coast, in the tidal stretches, the river is a couple of hundred meters across. But up here, near the headwaters, the river most usually takes the form of a long series of pools connected by a slight stream.

In the headwaters of the river is Rockton, a once a vibrant frontier farming community in the rocky headwaters of the Genoa. Today, the casual traveller might be forgiven for thinking that the area has faded from living memory into the plantation forests that now dominate. Some may remember that the area is troubled by an unsolved death.

Rockton Falls was once a popular local swimming hole. Today, it sits unsigned along a 4WD forest track. In is best to come to this fall with lightning from an afternoon thunderstorm crashing around, hugging the side of a deep gorge, through a dark forest.

In the old days, water was diverted from the top of Rockton Falls to a waterwheel to cut logs and mill grain for the small Irish community. In the old days, girls from the coast would spend a full day riding up from the coast to attend the local dances.

The pool, like some of the other granite waterholes nearby, is deep and pleasant to swim in. The falls enliven the place, and make it special. It is still visited by the young to cool off and laugh with friends, or foresters taking respite from a long day’s work.

Tom, a young local, laughed off the water’s chill and resting with his friends on the warm granite rocks fronting the fall’s broad plunge pool. He grew up in the district and works with in the forests. He said, sometimes, the falls stop running altogether (although the pool does not completely empty) but other times it can be a dangerous torrent. The coastal beaches have their allure, but it is nice to relax near home.

Despite appearances, the Rockton community is still very much alive and the locals describe this place and its’ workings with pride.

Hopping Joe Cascades

Further south, the Genoa River meets a number of tributaries, including Hopping Joe Creek.

After rain or snow melt, the creek swells into a torrent of small falls and rapids capable of carrying whole trees away. In summer heat, it disappears into interconnected pools.

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 Cann. 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’s voice can still be heard when the creek swells to a torrent and swirls through blue granite. You invoke his spirit when you boil water in your billy in the bush, and swing it in a circle before pouring tea.

Genoa Gorge

Downstream, the river enters two long gorges that are difficult to access. After rain in the highlands, the two gorges become 50kms of rapids (experienced kayakers have classified this as a Class III-IV waterway, making it a dangerous place for those with insufficient experience of wild river kayaking).

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 is not without evidence. In the Genoa Gorge are fossilized footprints of an alarmingly large crocodile-like reptile. The fossils, 350 million years old, probably only survive because of the remote location and the lack of any systematic human occupation. The tetrapod footprints (flat-bodied, lizard-like creatures up 2-3m (8-10') long with stout legs) can still be found here are believed to be the oldest record of any land-dwelling vertebrate.

Geona Falls

Downstream of the gorges, near the rural village of Genoa with a campground a tributary of the River, the Genoa Creek joins the river near the old town of Genoa,which is slowly disappearing back into the countryside.

These falls, while close to the coast, cut a pretty sight flowing over and among granite rocks. The falls are a little hard to find, but are fairly easy to access down a dirt track and a well formed path.

We walked here and sat, wondering how to capture the span of falls, runs and hidden glens, until a passing dragon stopped and regarded us for a while.

Close by you can climb the coastal range, and look back over the fractured mountainous landscape of the inland mountains. Here you may come across one of those rare gifts of the bush, much prized by the first people, a tailfeather of the lyrebird.

Mallacoota Inlet

With 10kms left to flow, the Genoa River enters a series of coastal lakes, bounded by dense natural forests but tamed by navigation markers and occasional wharfs.

When the wind drops, the tidal waters of the lakes become mirror still. In the early morning mist rises and rainbows form at the end of this fossil pathway, sea eagles nest in dead trees along the inlet and patrol the waterways. All is not quite what it seems. This is a wilderness without the edge, where the sea eagles dive from the sky for fish thrown by a local tourist operator, for the benefit of city photographers who cluster for the shot.

Perhaps, once, the ancient tetrapods stalked here, watching rainbows in the mist. Long gone, today water dragons catch the first rays of the sun, and goannas wait in ambush for the houseboats that ply the network of moorings along the lakes. Lake edges suffer the gentle wash marking the passage of  tinnies (small outboard boats) and wet yachts cutting their way from the coast to Gypsy’s Point. The point was named after a reprovisioning schooner that serviced the coastal towns, but which lies in some unknown grave offshore after a fierce gale.

At the base of the inlet, a small tourist town clusters on the western side of the river. Visitors swim at small beaches along the coast, among twisted rocks and mountain sides decorated by the past.

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