Sunday 28th January, 1962
The first thing I really liked on the trip was when we came to NorthLake. It was very cold and we were battling through the mist and rain. I was admiring the pretty pink flowers growing round about in the coarse moor grass and suddenly there it was through the mist, just the near shore its flat water and a few rocks. A few yards further on the view broadened out and it looked bleak, windswept and exciting. There were no rocks anywhere else. Just the coarse moor grass down to the edge. It was just after that that we got lost for the first time.
I’m writing this in my sleeping bag in our yellow tent at night, by the light of a candle set in a tin filled with wet earth – wet because all the ground here on the edge of the lake is sodden. Don is going to sleep beside me. The others are reading by a candle in their tent and I can just see the golden-orange glow it makes through their door flap when I look back through the opening of out tent. Our door flaps are slightly open and the tapes are hanging down. We’ve got our rucksacks up at the end of the tent and also the two air-drop tins full of food. I’ve again got sticking plaster all over my hands, covering the wounds I got probably from rock and scoparia. They don’t seem to heal quickly on their own. I’m wearing Father’s Oxford Blue athletics jumper over my blue and green striped one. It’s a yellowy-white now, with blue letters and wreath on the front. I like to think it’s being used again now, in such a different way, and I’m Father’s daughter.
The second thing I really loved was coming down Blandfordia Ridge in the evening.
Monday morning, 29th Jan.
Just while it was dusk and peaceful we were walking through fields of white flowers which seemed to glow and blossom in the half-light. The ridge was broad there on both sides of the path so that they seemed to spread away all around us. The views on both sides were beautiful, soft in the evening, all the colours half-turned to grey. On the right were wooded mountains and valleys with great streaks of grey-white dead trees across them, the trees killed by bushfire. But what I loved most was walking through the flowers, knee and shoulder high, sometimes seeing a bush so thickly clustered with flowers that it seemed to leap out, white and vital, ecstatic, from the darkened vegetation. The next day was spent walking across button-grass plain and over a few hills, between the Cracroft and Pass Creek. It was quite heavy going because the grass grows in hard clumps and you have to step between and the ground is often marshy. The views were lovely, peaceful and pretty, of the surrounding mountains. Somehow the yellowy colour of the button grass seems to set off the view very well. Towards evening we climbed over a little ridge and made our camp just above a little creek that ran behind it. Although the view was blocked the sky looked a beautiful blue against the yellow grass ridge and pure white clouds, wispy and thick, sailed across, sometimes half below the ridge. Luckman’s Lead stretched up behind. I had a little time, being lazy while the boys collected wood, to appreciate the evening there. Lately I have come to love the evening. Towards the end of my day at the Ringroks I sat out on the grass every evening I could and watched the sunset and its close, at about 7 o’clock. This is one of the happiest times of my life. And the song I sang to myself and the beauty of the landscape and mountains, and the evening, I keep now for these times.
This morning I am up by myself in the saddle just before the southern traverse of Federation sitting on a rock and I can see the view over the Eastern Arthurs, which we traversed to get here, and the Western Arthurs, further away and bluer. On the other side there are mountains too, but not so rocky and impressive. The white brittle daisies are scattered over the mixture of immature vegetable sheep and moor grass on the ground. It is cold and I shall have to go soon. My legs keep getting pins and needles. It’s before breakfast.
Yesterday afternoon I sat up on the top of the rocky ridge on the western edge of HangingLake, by myself with a view for the first time and looked back over the massive Federation group and I loved it. I read poems from “The Knapsack” and liked Elliot for the first time, in a few landscape poems. Blake has been impressing me again lately – in “Auguries of Innocence” saying that man is made for joy and sorrow and it is right that it should be so. And last night in my tent I read and was impressed by his “Proverbs of Hell”. The one saying that we should think in the morning, act at noon, eat in the evening, and sleep at night has stuck in my mind and I have inclinations to apply myself to it, though of course I can’t and won’t entirely. But I’d like to think along those lines.
Yesterday afternoon, sitting on the ridge, I also read “Illumination”, an extract from possibly the diary of possibly an Austrian soldier, about the sickness and death of the kitten and the reactions of those around it, written with a sensitivity and feeling for small events and a quality of reflection on them which I liked to find in someone else, carried to an extreme which I would probably never allow myself to express. Ken and Gordon had gone off rock-climbing. After a while I saw two tiny figures coming down the mountainside opposite. They walked together, then separated, waited a while, then came together again. One wandered down off the hillside to the left for a bit, then came back. All the time I could hear their voices very clearly and almost distinguish phrases here and there, although they were so far away. Gordon was singing “Run Around Sue” and “Walking Back to Happiness” as they walked up the edge and to the camp site and it came up to me as loud and clear as day. For a while I wondered if it was really them for the singing seemed better and fancier than Gordon usually is, and they wandered about in a way I didn’t expect of those two, but by the way they went into the campsite I knew it was them. It gave me a nice feeling to sit and watch those two little figures moving about far below. It was a friendly feeling to see two other people about although they didn’t know I was there. Later they wandered up Jeeves Bluff and I called out to them and went round the rock ridge to meet them and we sat on top and ate boiled lollies. Then we wandered down. They played about a bit throwing rocks over the overhang on the left on the way down. When we got to the campsite I’d done a complete traverse of the edges of the lake.
It always fascinates me the way flowers tremble in the wind, ever since I noticed it in the beginning of “One Summer of Happiness”.
I had lots of worrying dreams last night. Plum dreamed that he had murdered someone and was condemned in court to be executed and he and I were walking off hand in hand singing happily, towards his execution.
The part perhaps I loved best to see of the trip in a happy joyful way was walking up to the beginning of Thwaites Plateau. All the moor grass was shining a rich yellow in the sunlight, with grey chunky rocks sticking high out here and there and smaller bits too scattered about and the sky was blue against the yellow. It was late afternoon. It reminded me of something, I can’t think what. Perhaps something prehistoric and in England, perhaps Stonehenge. I never really liked to look at Federation when we saw it on the way in. It looked rather silly. But soon after this we saw it close up. It is a whitish grey rock and from this angle had a couple of gendarmes at the side. It is sheer rock without vegetation. I looked at it unimpressed and then suddenly saw its beauty. There was a sort of purity about it that I’d never seen before. I took a picture of it.
Last night round the fire we talked and talked for almost the first time on the trip – mostly about our childhood and the fights we used to have. We started off about poetry. Plum likes humorous verse and Browning. Gordon loves Coleridge and seems to have good taste in poetry, because of a good English teacher at school. This morning we talked about films. Don doesn’t care about poetry and is tone deaf.
Tues 30th Jan.
Walking back from Federation with Gordon today in the rain the alpine daisies were all closed up into tight round little buds with pink round the bottom of the outside petals. Closed up against the inclement weather, it seemed.
I shall be sorry to leave here.
There are white stiff alpine daisies and yellow ones the same. There are also irises. I don’t remember noticing any of the lovely pink flowers which grow in a raceme about here. They were at Goon Moor at least. The irises are very pretty, white with blue (purple?) yellow and black markings. I think at one place on the southern traverse there is a great clump of them. The soft daisies are nice the way they grow in clumps in green nooks. There is one minute square “sunken valley” with several yellow ones growing beautifully in it near the foot of the climbing gully. The alpine daisies grow in more open spots on the ridges and moors. They are tough. They are nice to see scattered about.
Tues. 6th Feb 1962
We’re almost out. I’m writing in my sleeping bag in the morning before getting up for the last walk out through country which will no longer be the Federation type. Yesterday we walked from Quartz Knob, almost at the bottom of the Pictons. It was a gorgeous day, the first really fine one since the weather set in a week ago, and there were lovely blue views to both sides of the range. The sky was a beautiful blue with white clouds again against the yellowy mountain-top vegetation.
The day before was all cloud although little rain, and we could see even in the evening Federation still up among the mists. We saw some clear sky far down on the S.E. horizon which Don thought presaged fine weather. At night we were talking. We said how clear it was from Federation the last morning we were up there.
“And then the rain came.”
“And it hasn’t gone yet.
But we have.”
That evening there was a beautiful view from Wilsmicro Lead back down the CraycroftValley and a valley to the left and of the three mountain masses which contained them, Hopeton on the right and two others. The colour had a hidden luminescence and glow which was subdued yet almost dazzling at the same time. There was the khaki of the button-grass stretching ½ way up the mountains then the dark of the trees both coloured by a purplish tone. There was grey dead timber among the trees near the bottom of Hopeton. And the end ridge of the centre mountain had a beautiful curve to it. I sat out and watched for a while. In the morning there was a cloud sea and Federation came out of the clouds at times looking massive and rather sublime. It seems so much bigger from that angle for all the lower level slopes become part of it.
We moved round to Bechervaise on the second afternoon of the rain, and the wind there was terrific. Ken and I were in his tent and it was quite frightening at times the way it flapped up and down and bellied in and out in the wind. The wind drove the rain right through in a fine spray and through the second night made us quite wet in our sleeping bags. The wind kept up all the second day reaching a peak late in the afternoon just at about the time the Victorians arrived. The tent probably looked worse from inside than out. Sometimes it made me quite scared and I was sure it must suddenly be snatched from over us and blown away. I began to feel a need for such Catholic expressions requesting succour as “Holy Mary pray for us now in the time of our need” which I inwardly muttered, calling on God and the angels. Strange that these expressions come to one. One needs to call for help where there is nothing and religion provides the formula. Perhaps it is another example of substituting words for action, as we learnt in Linguistics the swearing at a kicked table was. Next morning when we looked out there was snow everywhere, piled along the edges of the tents and scattered all over the ground. It snowed more, really sleet, and it was very coarse snow, and we walked on it a bit, My toes felt like blocks of ice in my sandshoes. It was snowing still in the morning and later we had hail, but the wind had dropped quite a bit. During the worst of the wind Ken and I had been unable to cook in our tent for the wet and the walls blowing right in almost on to us. We lay on our backs in our tents for two days and they went amazingly fast. Every movement takes so long in a tent that I expect this helps to fill out the time. Twice every day I went for a walk about outside, needing to get out for a while, doing the washing up and just wandering about, usually in gaps in the rain. The first afternoon I was out in the driving wind and rain in just my red thing and sandshoes. I wandered over a bit out of the wind and when I came back there were people clustered round our tent, packs on their backs. It was the Victorians, just arrived. They scattered to look for a campsite. I stayed out for a while and it was sweet and funny to watch them running through the mist and rain, hurrying for the cold. They were all little black figures, black parkers, gaiters and boots. They ran with long steps, hands in their pockets, as if trying to avoid the rain and wind, which of course was impossible. They looked somehow very sweet, rather quaint, moving to and fro, small, a short distance off, not seen too clearly through the mist and rain. Three of them had beards and I talked to two for a while as they sheltered behind the rocky bushy mound near our tents. That was sweet too, the way they sheltered sitting against it, though I had done it too the previous day before we had the tents ready.
I read, talked, drew, and sang and slept for those two days, and was never bored and it was always later than I thought. As dark came down it reminded me of being sick in bed at home and I thought of my lovely check blankets on my bed.
The third morning we packed up in the mist and occasional fine rain and set off down Moss Ridge.
The last few days we have been constantly saying what day it is, probably because we have to get out at the right time, but it doesn’t mean anything as it normally does. We know the name of the day but it doesn’t seem to sink in any further than that. It has lost its connection with life, with our life in here.
I heard the bird sounds coming up from down below again this year as I sat on Quartz Knob. It gives a feeling of peace and detached isolation, and also appreciation of the beauty below.
As we came down round and off Hewardia Ridge yesterday afternoon the broad panoramic view of blue ranges, one mountain after another, disappeared. I looked back and saw the last glimpse of Federation before it was hidden by the shoulder of a mountain, but it had already lost its special position and beauty and was just a funny shaped block of rock sticking up higher than the rest. However the scene was beautiful and I looked at it and remembered what it was like when one is actually there, amongst all its size.
The bushes on the hillside twinkled with bright shining spots all among the green leaves. The leaves sparkled as brightly as the sun because they were so clean after all the rain and there is no dust. These sparkles were all over the mountainside as one looked back towards the sun.
The white trunks of dead eucalypts on Wilsmicro Lead rose up above the view from near our campsite there. They threw up their few writhing spare branches with a sort of distortion and wildness and also a helplessness and vulnerability.
Sydney 20th February
Perhaps the thing that assumed most importance for us while we were in there, quite differently from when living at home, was the weather. As time went on we came to feel our happiness or misery more and more dependent only on it. Specially after the first day or two of the bad weather at Bechervaise you can’t imagine with what trust in its decree for our happiness we looked out each morning at the sky, and the disappointment when always it was misty. We watched the weather with such care for the mist lifting and coming down again and I heard with frustrated jealousy the news that sun could be seen in the Craycroft valley. On Moss Ridge when for a moment or two we stood in sunlight it cheered us up tremendously, unconsciously almost, although we also openly rejoiced, and we went on our way singing loudly. It was wonderful to have really fine weather on the Pictons.
It was strange in Canberra to be alienated from the weather. I tried to keep up an interest in it but it was no longer the legislator for my happiness and now I no longer notice it much, or somehow not with the intense reality I did before. Before it was an important thing in my life, now it is just an interesting thing to notice. It was strange but good, I loved it more than anything, to have all these physical things – weather, rest, food – the important things in one’s life. These were what made up my life in Federation. Rest and food assumed an enormous positive value. The scenery and poetry were my joys. I like this allotting of elements.
On the days when we were confined to our tents, as night came on we used to get tired and subside and try to sleep for a while as it got dark, and then after a while we’d rouse ourselves in the dark and light the candles and primuses and cook tea. On the last evening at Bechervaise while Ken was sunk into this half-sleep I was half-dozing with my eyes shut singing softly to myself all the lullabies I knew. When I’d finished I announced “That’s all the lullabies I know.” Ken said to go on. He’d liked it. That was all my lullabies so he asked me to sing the Elizabethan songs, which I’d been singing the other day. He must have liked them, and I was pleased because he usually only likes funny things. So I sang them but not so well as the lullabies because I was singing to someone and conscious of my voice. I felt very tender towards him in doing it. When I’d finished, the others called out and we cooked dinner. It was dark.