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These days, if I don't dawdle, I can get to Walhalla from my front door in Melbourne's outer eastern suburbs in a little over two hours without risking the wrath of the law. It's a scenic and very pleasant drive east down the Prince's Highway into the LaTrobe Valley to Moe, or down the old timber road from Yarra Junction through Powelltown and Noojee, then a brisk run for 50 kilometers north into the Baw Baw Ranges, on sealed roads all the way.

But it wasn't always so easy -- this article, first published in the November 2000 Walhalla "Chronicle", takes us back to a time when the round trip took more like two weeks on horseback, and suggests an overall tempo to life that was quite different from today's. It also provides an interesting view of Walhalla during World War I, at the beginning of its decline, and long before its more recent revival.

Safari to Walhalla on Horse Back
[From the diary of the late Miss Louisa M. Saunders, of "Mayfield", Doreen, Vic.]

Left "Mayfield", [Thursday] 29th March, 1917 at 10 a.m., via Nutfield to Hurstbridge. Reached Warrandyte for lunch, over bridge by Yarra.

Mr. W. Edge accompanying Mr. Edge Snr., and grand-daughter making advance guard, pack horses following. Mr. and Mrs. Lobb per wagon, Miss Edge and I as rear guard with Mr. J. Edge. Slight shower fell at Warrandyte. Mr. W. Edge left here after lunch. Yoked up and made for camping ground 6 miles before Lilydale near Wonga Park, with good paddock for horses, Mrs. Slade’s kindness.

Safari setting out for Walhalla
The "safari" party about to leave Doreen, north of Melbourne, in March, 1917. The
photograph was supplied by Mr David Edge Monkhouse, the author's son, who
contacted us in October, 2004, after reading this story.

Pitched camp and got nicely settled; rain fell all night, had to stay all day and next night. Messrs. Edge rode to Lilydale; grey fell, injuring Mr. J. Edge’s leg - hot foments made good cure.

Next a.m. exciting times trying to catch a bad horse. Friday night, got him lassoed and hobbled at last. Struck camp about 10 a.m. Saturday. Mr. Edge and Mrs. Lobb in advance; Miss Lobb and Joan in wagon. Got good start. Sunshine. Lunched 11.30, rain delayed us 2 hours.

Rode on again as before. Passed thro’ Lilydale in a.m. Boys remarked re: pack horses - "those horses broke from a circus?" Another query, "Is this a circus?". "Yes". "What battalion do you belong to?"

Rained for an hour after leaving lunching ground (about 2 miles after leaving Lilydale). Reached Launching Place, passing thro’ Wandin, Seville, Worri Yallock - beautiful road here - before had some steep slippery hills. Camped 2 miles east of Launching Place, 200 yds. from the Yarra, close to railway line. Had best night of the 3.

 

Sunday, 1st April. Trains passing - Sunday excursionists. Pretty scenery - hills, dales, orchards, strawberry, logan- and raspberry country, partly cleared other wilderness, like Gippsland, Gembrook, Foster, etc. Camped near flats all hemmed in with hills - scrub, bracken. Had fish for breakfast Monday morning, caught by Messrs. W. Lobb and J. Edge, also an eel - all were delicious. After breakfast, struck camp for Warburton. Yoked up again and off to Rufton for 2 nights. Mr. Edge had bad head so had to stay 2 nights. Much to our satisfaction for we were all tired after long ride with the cowboy hunting us along. This was the nicest place for a camp, close on river. We went fishing; Mr. W. Lobb got 2, the others scored 2 also in the afternoon - had these for breakfast next a.m. A lovely flat here surrounded by river, old house on it and every accommodation for weary travellers in wet, cold weather.

We left here Thursday, 5th April, for the mountains, packed ready with pack saddles, etc. before dinner. Got to McVeigh’s about 1, loosed all our neddies in paddock and had good dinner at hotel after which the packs were fixed on 4 horses - then the fun began. Took leave of Mr. and Miss Lobb here - all very sorrowful by reason of parting. They were to leave here and meet us further on next Thursday.

Away we went along a narrow track, one behind the other, up sidling, passing like teeth of a cross-cut saw - zig zag, for miles, of beautiful gullies of tree ferns. Got to miner’s camp for night at Contention, a lovely place, good stream. The men got the horses fixed. The women gathered gum leaves, made good beds of gum leaves and were very comfy for the night in tents. This place was good mining camp 8 or 9 years ago. Mr. Edge says he used to carry 40 or more letters from McVeigh’s. The only occupant now is one Ferguson who was very kind helping the men to make a yard. He prospects and manages to make a living.

 

We struck camp at 9 next morning, for the hut. We all sailed along at a good bat to the Falls entrance, a track to the right. Messrs. Edge and Lobb took charge of all the horses at the 1st hut and we all went with Mr. J. Edge to the Falls. Took us nearly 2 hrs. to walk to the top. There are 5 drops in all, about 700 ft. (?) This was a grand sight. Government or Tourist Bureau have cut good tracks along way. The 1st hut is here and has 7 wire mattresses, frying pan, groceries of sorts, notice on wall asking tourists to keep hut clean, leave wood and kindling for next party, - a suggestion we found on reaching here in the dark last night to be very good.

As aforesaid, we walked up to the Falls and met the men and horses at the top, with the billy boiling for lunch. Horses ate wild oats for lunch, higher than I am on horse-back. After lunch we set off along sidling over creeks. Got into beautiful lot of myrtle forests where fire has never been. These patches look as if they belong to some old country, gnarled trunks, all moss. Some most grotesque-looking; one expected to see old witches bobbing about or squirrels. Then on along forests of straight high gum, mountain ash, etc., the musks and all sorts of bush scrub, ferns, acres of them off all descriptions. Another forest of myrtle would follow this. Riding under the mossy branches then thro’ avenues of wattles or other scrub of various kinds. After some miles of alternate scenery (at our feet always) could not see overhead because of the tall trees and hills beyond. We had 14 miles to do after lunch. The pack horses got scared and made several breaks, hindering us. Coming thro’ the flats of ferns, with fire weed, etc. on either side, down came the rain. Fortunately, light rain fell at lunch time, so we had put our cloaks handy and were ready for it. It rained on and off all the time. We passed 100’s of trees completely covered with long moss, stag fern on the myrtle branches. Got into a belt of snow gums, then thro’ another belt of straight timber; on again into the granite and snow gums, short timber shoots up from the ground into a wide squatty tree of many trunks.

Rained all the way. Got late and we began to fear we had missed the hut. Miss Edge’s horse had a bad time with my horse close on her heels. Mine had the same with those behind, so when she (my horse, Fan) let out with both heels at the pack and began to bite Kitty’s tail because she would not go forward quickly enough, I got in front and kept on til we came to the hut after dark where the Commander stood to welcome us.

A paddock for the horses and a 2-roomed hut with a heap of wood all ready. We were all soaked through, more or less; the blankets wet, so built a huge log fire to dry out. Dry wood had been left inside for coming visitors, 6 wire beds, 2 forms, frying pans, axe, broom, empty tins, salt, S.R. flour, etc. Dirt floor, leaky roof, no ridging on, paling rooms, rain came in or snow. When we got up this morning ground was white with snow, every leaf bowed down. Mr. Edge joked laughingly about being snowed up.

We dried the blankets and clothes. Miss Edge was about done, having got wet to the skin. Mrs. Lobb and I stayed up til 1 a.m. or after, drying clothes. Got nearly all dry. Went to bed; had not been in bed long when two of the men got up to have a warm - could not stand the cold any longer. They sat up all night by the fire, keeping us warm and getting hot water bottles for the invalid. Snowed up this morning for an indefinite time. Icicles on the window. Will go on if possible today, Good Friday, to Mt. Erica hut so as to be near Walhalla if it gets too cold and snowy.

 

Saturday, April 7th. Snow eased a bit yesterday and it was agreed that if it kept fine by 2 p.m. we’d make for Mt. Erica hut 8 miles away, so as to be near communication if we got more snow. Had a hurried lunch. Men fixed up the horses (they are feeding 2 in stable in case have to go for help). We are about 29 miles from McVeigh’s and 24 from Walhalla, the tracks from here to Mt. Erica being bad. They had a consultation and agreed to break camp for Mt. Erica hut. It was acted on and great excitement for a while, bustling, packing, etc. tent pulling down, blankets packet, when the Commander called a halt and said he’d not go, as the next hut would most likely be occupied and there’d be no time to go to Walhalla so we were to start early this morning for latter place. rain kept falling thro’ roof, wet the bedding, etc. Had to dry same again. Men fixed up a tent in each room over wire mattresses and we were warm and as comfy as possible. In night, awful wind blew as if all the demons in and under creation were let loose. A lonely bullock weirdly bellowed for his mates which have probably been taken away from the mountains before the snow comes. We should lasso him and use him for larder as we are on rations.

The wind has blown all the snow off the leaves of the snow gums. They had a roaring fire which set the chimney alight last night and scared us all. The wind was simply awful, never heard such a row all night. Morn broke and we could not face the journey. Great debate on how we’d do if snowed up. Commander and son to go for help, bring experienced pack from Walhalla to take us there, then pack all ladies home on train.

The horses are scraping away the snow to find the grass. The oats are about run out and we are contemplating which one we’ll eat if kept here for the winter. The snow is 1 ft. deep about the door and in many places 3 or 4. This hut lets the water is so the tens are a great accommodation besides being cosy. Today after lunch - it is still too bad to venture.

 

Sunday, 8th April. The Commander had us up at 4.30 this morning, getting things ready for an early start, as it seemed fine. Horses were fetched to the door when everything was ready and given a cup of oats while saddling. The ladies were mounted so as to be kept dry, and given a riding horse to mind while the packs were fixed on, which takes some time.

We left our solitary hut in the snow at 8.15 a.m., horses ploughing thro’ snow up to their girths along the track in the snow gums. One horse got cunning and found the black one carried oats in his pack so he was not long before he had his teeth into the bag. This, of course, made a small delay.

The track was well defined for a time as the water had begun to run along it. The wind had blown all the snow off the leaves of the scrub (while we had been holding the horses before we started, they had nosed and pawed the snow away about the bushes and got a small bite). Up and down thro’ narrow granite passes, then we got into a part with no track at all but the blaze on the trees. These had been made years ago and the track for some couple of miles was pretty hard to find. Mr. Edge and Mr. Lobb had to take turns walking and scraping ice off the trees, looking for marked trees. But for them we would have been lost for certain. For a little time sleet and mist fell and wind blew a blizzard when we passed thro’ a cloud. The dead trees (low scrub) had each bough and twig stuck with icicles, like feathers with a dark stem in the middle. As far as you could see, the ground was covered with snow and these ice-covered trees. the snow was so hard the men could walk without sinking in. We saw footprints of deer, fox and dogs in the snow. We had a lot of boggy ground to go thro’ but stakes were put in around the edge of the morass to mark the best track. We were to spend an hour or two on Baw Baw but had to abandon that pleasure, as it was risky losing our way and the mist was too dense to see anything. Later on, the mist cleared and we got an excellent view of Gippsland. We got over 8 miles done in 5 hrs. (a little less) and arrived here at Mt. Erica hut at 1. We found provisions here so ate our dinner, salmon, bread and fried pudding, with a relish. We all feel more comfy here as we feel we’re near civilisation and first fine day can make for Walhalla, 14 miles away. This is an iron hut - 6 beds, enamel mugs, frying pans, etc., plenty of dry wood in and the floor with 2 inches of snow on, which had to be scraped out.

We came thro’ some myrtle and other scrub but stunted, nothing like the beautiful trees we passed under last Thursday. The granite boulders here are immense, all about the hut and capped with snow. A beautiful view is to be had from the top of a huge one out the door. We struck some vegetables here, so are going to have them for supper, also a tin of pork sausage. We found the hut with a few inches of snow on the floor of both rooms. Mrs. Lobb quickly had it out. Got our fire on and the men put horses in paddock, got in extra wood.

We were waiting for tea time after getting the vegies ready, when we heard a loud "Hullo there". Opened the door to behold pack horses and in tramped 8 men and boys for the night, soaked through. We had our company to dry, so here was a crush. Our tent was pitched in the inner room with 3 wire mattresses. We shifted all things in there, also had tea of vegies and pork with was much enjoyed. We gave the outer room to the visitors, all except Mr. Edge (J) who stuck to a corner of the fire while one of the fellows tried in vain to shift him by saying "Pass the toast". We moved our bunks up and let the other men have the space on the floor, else they would have had to sit up all night in the cold and wet.

This other lot had tea, a sumptuous repast, then rolled up in their oilers on the floor. When they rose they were all ice and snow which had come in thro’ the roof. Mr. Edge got a move on then. As we were breakfasting after them in the outer room, one poor kid said "Oh father, I feel so bad." "Do you, dear," says father. "Take him outside, quick," advised Mr. J. Edge but he was too late and there was a resurrection of cold tomatoes, snow, apple tart, bacon and eggs, pasties, chocolate, tea, saveloys, etc. etc. We all turned our faces and put our lids on our swallows tight. Poor father got the broom and deplored the situation, gave the boy brandy, tea and tea again. Poor kid got little better and was put on a horse for home. They had 2 hrs. start on us, but we never caught up. As we were on rations they very kindly left us some provisions at their lunching place, on the spur by a small creek. So we partook of ours at the same place and were glad of the little extra.

 

We left the hut at Erica on Monday, April 9th, and were glad, as the cold was too intense for horses and oats scarce and grass covered. In spite of this, the poor beasts came out well. We had no difficulty finding this track as it was better defined. We could also follow tracks of those in front thro’ about a couple of miles of snow - bleak looking place. All had our photos taken here, also at Mt. Erica hut with the other pack men. We passed thro’ dirty boggy tracks, slippery granite boulders, snow gum, gradually thro’ scrubby paths, down steep grades then thro’ passes of huge granite boulders. Left snow behind some distance. Some of the boulders are like great ships’ hulls, immense, hundreds of tons weight. Then on down and up slippery places. In going up one of these scrambles, the saddle came round as Fan was struggling up. I freed myself and grabbed a branch of tree thus keeping my feet. Mr. Edge saw me off and advised me not to walk, but how could I ride with saddle on side of horse? He quickly adjusted things and we were off again, one behind the other. Had to walk from about here and let the horses get down themselves, thro’ mud, slush, over logs, rocks, slipping down on our broadsides, for a long way. Thro’ narrow avenues of immense straight trees towering into the sky, undergrowth of tree ferns, tecoma, creeper with purple berry like painted on Mother’s handbag from Tas. Shrubs had a waxy red berry, large green leaf, musk and a variety of other vegetation, small ferns innumerable. Reached the bottom at length, a drop of 3000 ft. in 3 miles, then mounting our horses we gradually struck a spur and the way was easy from then on to Parker’s where we camped for the night, about 5 p.m. Horses and people were glad to get away from snow and high ranges. Mrs. Parker was very kind and hospitable.

 

Next a.m. we left for Walhalla, about 8 miles, arriving there to lunch - bacon and eggs. The way there was very good road, long steep hill, creek below us, 250 to 300 ft. deep, straight down and railway along bank of creek for miles. Before this we crossed the Thomson River - fine wide stream - Walhalla mines nearly all run out, many houses gone, old ruins left on top of creek, Stringers Creek. I think Fan ricked her hind leg a bit when I let her walk without me on her back when coming down that steep hill before the Thomson R., as she’s been going a bit lame since. Remains of old ruins all along the way, strong wire cable suspended overhead across chasm, over creek, railway and road, used to bring wood for mines above us. Good road cut out of side of hill all way from Thomson R. to Walhalla, only wide enough for one vehicle. Most of houses are removed having been built right up to top of hill. Many interesting walks about, but short, and easy to lose one’s way. Good view of lakes from top of hills to the left, winding up pathway. Homesteads and fruit orchards on top. to the right on top of hill is the Town Recreation ground - football, etc. made by the Council. Winding tracks thro’ the scrub up the hills. Stringers Creek running along the centre along side the main street, prospectors washing the bed of the creek and making a fair do. Remains of homesteads built over top of creek. Long Tunnel mine huge affair - sheds, etc. all dismantled. Ch. of E. stands high up overlooking valley below. Methodist Ch. on main street. Only 1 public house in town which boasted of 6 few years ago. Many business people leaving. State School 120 children. Mr. Rawlings, the P.C., very kindly showed us thro’ the Free Library, well stocked with books, papers, etc. Nice fire for evenings, so tourists can pass a pleasant and profitable time here looking at photos of old Walhalla as it once was. Miss Edge and I spent the evening at Mr. Rawlings’, chatting and had supper. Our horses got well fed here and we women stayed at Phillips Coffee Palace for 1 night and 3 meals, after which we felt ready for another week of snow, almost.

Mounted Constable Fred Rawlings
"Mr Rawlings, the P.C." --
Mounted Police Constable Fred Rawlings

In the morning, as we left we saw the city milkman with his kerosene tins in bags slung over his horse. The Private Constable saw us safely out of Walhalla, along the Happy Track to Moondarra where Mr. Rawlings left us after taking us a short cut along a tram track near a railway station, thro’ Coopers Creek copper mines, and past lime kilns. Found good track, more open soil like Somerville, to Tyers River, by Cecil Inn, where we got good grass and water for horses, saw few pretty ferns.

After camping for night here we left, crossing the Tanjil and Latrobe Rivers, thro’ heathy country, sandy at first then red, like Emerald, to Trafalgar. Camped this side near open drain, good grass paddock. Made beds of leaves and bracken. (At Cecil Inn we had sheets of bark under our green mattresses which made our beds anything but springy).

Cecil Inn(8k bytes)

The Cecil Inn at Gould was originally Walhalla's Presbyterian Church. When Gould was subsequently flooded to form part of the nearby Moondarra Reservoir, the building was preserved as a rest shelter, where it can still be seen today.

After good breaky, we were packed up and off again, passing Yarragon-Darnum, along railway line thro’ Warragul and Drouin. High School at Drouin. Plenty plantain, dandelion; small flats, cows looking well. Had lunch at Drouin in Methodist Church ground. Rev. Wm. Williams and wife kindly made us comfy with table and forms in yard. After lunch, Mrs. Williams sang solo "The Shepherd of the fold", very nicely. Mr. W. joined her in duet "The Ninety and Nine". We mounted again and off after 2 p.m. for camp this side of Longwarry, where we had camp of blackwood leaves. It rained and we had to cuddle up in middle of tent to keep dry. Had most uncomfy night. Glad to get away next day, passing thro’ Bunyip, Garfield, Tynong, Nar Nar Goon and Pakenham. We are camped about 2 miles from Pakenham in a dense scrub. Rained yesterday afternoon just after lunch which we ate by the roadside. Mr. Edge always finds a beautiful spot for camping, away from the crowd. Got here tired after an irksome ride some of the way, as Fan goes lame at times. The rain came again as we were just here. Soon got a fire and tents pitched, leaves spread for beds. Men got some chaff and made us more comfy for night. All had good rest and sleep. I, for one, was ready for it.

 

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Home This morning Mr. J. Edge treated us all to coffee and biscuits before breaky as it was Sunday. When we got out they had nice forms fixed for seats, quite rustic looking. Tomorrow it is proposed to make an early start and get home sometime before Tuesday a.m. - travel all day and night. Our comfy chaff beds were devoured by the horses for Sunday night’s tea. (The men have been very good and made us as comfy as possible whenever opportunity offered.) We slept again on gum leaves and had a fair night. Rolled up about 5, got breaky by fire light - toast and bacon, good satisfying meal for riding on. Struck camp and away by 8.30 thro’ Officer, Berwick, Beaconsfield, Dandenong. Grey horse got tired and made across footpath to Tharle’s Butchers shop. I called, saw Walter. Bart was at slaughter yards. All well. We lunched...

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