by Diana Temple
Some now-aging bushwalkers may remember giving up time and effort way back in August 1948 to join search parties for a missing bushwalker on the Kowmung River. These events were precipitated by me, then Diana Marmion, a member of Sydney University Bushwalkers, who became seperated, from two companions near the start of a 3 day walk from Kanangra Walls Road to Yerranderie. (in 1948, before the Warragamba Dam isolated Yerranderie, there was a regular Sydney-Yerranderie bus service which was often used by walkers going to or from Colong Caves, the Kowmung River and such locations).
In all the years since, while the other two bushwalkers and I have remained friends, and I’ve put up with intermittent teasing about being “lost in the Blue Mountains”, I’ve felt guilty about the people who gave up several days to fruitless searches. These mostly started from Jenolan Caves, though some of my friends were about to set off from Yerranderie when I walked in. All of them, I thank again, and hope this story may provide an object lesson in making plans to cover such a happening as this.
What follows is my side of that story, written (I think for the Bushwalkers’ magazine?) soon after the event in August 1948 of which I found a faded copy.
It seems that often when the Press reports “missing hikers”, and police and volunteer search parties prepare to sally forth in the wilds, the supposedly missing party turns up, perhaps a day or so overdue, and express great surprise at being the object of an organised search. So that among your readers there are very likely some who, like myself, have experienced the embarrassment of that position.
Because the Press strives for sensationalism, perhaps you would like to hear “from the horse’s mouth” about the recent case of the Missing Hiker.
Three of us from the Sydney University Bushwalkers decided to spend a three day long weekend during the University vacation walking from Rocky Tops on the Kanangra Road, down Misery Ridge, along the Kowmung, up Church Creek, and so to Yerranderie. On Friday night, we taxied from Blackheath to an iron hut some 14 miles along the Kanangra Road from Jenolan Caves, where we slept that night.
Early Saturday morning saw us taking to the road through heavy mountain frost and climbing to the Tops themselves, inspecting the glorious vista of views to the north, east and south. Then we turned due south, making for the top of Misery Ridge through scrub, using map and compass. We struck what was apparently the blazed trail (marked on the map) from the road to Misery so after a cheerful smoke-oh, fanned out some hundreds of yards apart to pick up further blazes. The scrub was thick, and it was all too easy to lose sight of each other – which is just what happened. At this point, had I only foreseen what would happen, I should either have stood still or turned back for the road. Such a course of action did not occur to me, unfortunately for the searchers that were to come, and after cooee-ing into the raging wind, and inspecting the scrub from the top of a few hillocks, I tramped on southwards, to the top of Misery, expecting all the time that the other two would do the same. There was no sign of them at the top, so down I went. What a ridge – it was aptly named, indeed. Masses of prickly scrub, and precipitous rocky cliffs necessitating a bit of contour crawling. Somewhere at this stage I must have dropped my map, which was stuck in my belt to facilitate the constant references to it. Useless, of courss, to look for it. After three hours of sliding and scrambling came the sublime feeling of seeing the beautiful Kowmung just below. What, still no Ian and Harold?
Actually I struck the Kowmung River just where Matheson’s Creek joins it; I must have left Misery Ridge somewhere on the way down if I was ever on it. It was 3:30, and I expected the other two any time. I lit a roaring fire on the green bank, left a note under a stone telling them I would wait a mile or so downstream, and moved on, leaving a trail of arrows. That night I spent a yard from the edge af a moonlit and wonderfully peaceful river, curled around a fire. “The others”, I thought, “must have gone to the hut when they missed me, but they will follow me down this morning”. So another little note: “Ian and Harold. Will move on slowly down the river, waiting for you to catch me. How are you getting on withaut the tea and sugar? You ought to try dried potato without salt. Plan to reach Church Creek by to-night, if I can recognise it without a map”.
And so a whole day of slow progress along the banks of the Kowmung. It was fairly rough going, with much rock-hopping and an apparently infinite number of crossings. There is no sort of track for the first few miles east of Misery Ridge, and those nettles! What a calamity, on one of the crossings (many of which were waist deep for me) when I lost my footing and “drowned” my watch! There went my one means of estimating progress and of finding north. (No, no compass).
There is one fascinating place, which I imagine to be Rudder’s Rift, when the river concentrates itself into a turbulent stream only a few feet wide and plunges down into a great funnel of rock with a deep throated roar. That is one of the parts rather difficult to pass.
On the lighter side, when I stopped about midday that day I was getting cold, so I decided to to dry out my wet shorts by the fire. They were hanging limply on a log, when along came one of those mighty blasts of wind which so characterised the Kowmung that weekend, and my shorts were in the fire. Had anyone seen me dressed in them during the next two days (which they didn’t) they would have had a good laugh at little Orphan Annie in the most tattered, hole-riddled shorts ever seen.
In between singing all the songs I knew to myself, wondering about my two and enthusing about wallabies and rabbits, I would study my mental picture of the map, trying to visualise how much of the Kowmung I had still to cover. The mental image let me down badly, for I camped that night at the entrance to a creek which I took to be either Lannigan’s ar Church Creek, but which actually must have been a little creek some five miles upstream from Lannigan’s. Here I slept in a gale with my ground sheet pulled over me to keep off the occasional fitful showers of rain. Between showers, I was able to get my bearings from the Southern Cross. At the top, I believe it snowed that night, and the newspapers were giving Sydney people visions of a woman hiker’s body, lightly clad and of course without a sleeping bag or anything in the May of equipment, being covered by the falling snow! Had I any inkling of the headlines of the following day, I should certainly have slept less soundly.
Morning came, clear and cold. It was a gamble, but I thought I’d go up the creek. Another little note telling Ian and Harold of my plans. It was the sixth and last of the series of notes scribbled on cigarette packets and paper bags, which together with my many arrows must have amused the search parties which followed two days later. What a dreadful creek I chose to climb! I chased half a dozen cattle up the first few hundred feet, until it became too steep for them and the dumb creatures let me pass. For a long time it meant scrambling on all fours, clutching at tufts of grass and bushes – ask the unfortunate search party who followed it up! It was obvious that I had gambled on the wrong creek. At last came the very top, and the rather frightening vista of mile upon mile of rolling hills and valleys stretching to the south and east with never a sign of civilization. Then I recognised Mount Colong, and decided to make for it, though I did not like the look of what lay in between.
Rather depressed, I plunged down into the next gorge – Waterfall Creek – and ate some sultanas at the bottom. Strange how one loses one’s appetite when forced to live on uninteresting food like bread, bacon and sultanas for three days. At the top of the next ridge, I thought I was having hallucinations, for there was a car track, even to the tread of a tyre-mark some weeks old! The track seem to be running due east, exactly what I wanted. I reasoned that it must be the Oberon stock-route, which I had thought to be much further south.
Singing blithely, and thinking “Yerranderie tonight”, I strode out along the track which keeps to the tops of all the ridges and supplies some truly magnificent views. I must have followed it for about six hours. It seemed unwise to leave the blazed track and hunt for Colong saddle or Colong swamp and so reach Yerranderie by the river track. Had I only left the Kowmung via Lannigan’s Creek I would have been in Yerranderie that afternoon. As it was, I was determined to reach some form of civilization, as I thought if I did not arrive that night, people might begin to worry!
Several hours after dark, the moonlight gleam of an iron roof was a welcome sight. I charged down the hill, to the music of barking dogs, and found to my annoyance that the occupants were away for the night. Having let myself into the unlocked and unlit house, I rang at their telephone to no avail, the Yerranderie exchange being closed. So, too tired even to eat, I fell asleep on a bed on the verandah. At dawn, I tried the phone again, and decided to walk on. I dismissed the idea of following the telephone line into Yerranderie, as it seemed certain that the stock route would strike the main road soon.
It was 9 a.m. when the road brought me into Big Hill, a very pleasant looking cattle station. I rang the postmistress at Yerranderie, not knowing quite how to ask her whether two bushwalkers had been enquiring for me. She quite stunned me by her excited story about search parties. Needless to say I was horrified, but the reaction of the kind old farmer was, “You don’t say! Have a cup of tea”.
The three days lone peacefulness ended in a panic of worry and dismay. From the moment I reached the main road from Yerranderie to Camden, I was besieged by reporters and photographers. And you know the rest – the exaggerated and distorted accounts that had news value for a day.
The whole unfortunate episode was nobody’s fault, or perhaps mine? My only regrets are that the press caused such an unnecessary panic, and that I did not manage to phone Yerranderie on the Monday evening of that long weekend in time to stop the search parties setting off from Caves House.