Camped Dec 28 – 30 2011
In 2011 I was inspired to share the joys of camping and the great outdoors with my family. It had been a staple of my childhood and in our early married life, my wife and I had enjoyed the quiet pleasures the bush had to offer. Having never camped in Victoria before I really had no idea what we were up for and we couldn’t have picked a busier holiday period than that between Christmas and New Year.
You need to remember I grew up in a remote area of the Northern Territory, where if you could hear or see another campsite you were too close, was I in for shock in how camping was done here. Having acquired expert advice from friends on sites and consulted the Internet we settled on Coopers Creek, a camp site south west of Walhalla on the Thomson River, about 3.5 hours from Melbourne.
Unlike an earlier family camping disaster at King Lake in a tent to small, without a fly all the way to the ground in which we got soaked in rain that lasted all night, we now had a spacious 6 person tent with a breeze way and ceiling high enough to stand in.
Thanks to Anaconda we also head everything else we needed for a camp out in the bush including the Kitchen Sink!
We made our way from Melbourne through Gippsland winding between the dairy farms that dot the route, toward Walhalla. Shortly after taking the only road in and out of the small town, a shadow of its former gold mining self, a sharp right leads down a narrow mountain road to descend to the Thomson River and the campsite we would call home for the next three nights.
On our arrival we were greeted with a throng of people who were supplied well enough to be there the whole school holidays and had taken all the drive in camp sites, to pitch their tents, laundries, kitchens, outdoor cooking and dining areas, as well park their cars and motorbikes and house their dogs.
Walk in camping was all that was left and really only one spot at that, oh well at least we won’t have anyone pitch up next us and the site was close to the river. All in all we made it work and it was a pretty good site. With tent up and the makeshift kitchen and dining in place we relaxed for the afternoon, to the tuneful sound of barking dogs, motorbikes and later that evening firecrackers and wanna be DJ’s belting out tunes on their beat boxes.. Ah the serenity!
The kids couldn’t care less and went straight for the river and the cool refreshing respite it offered, on what was a hot but beautiful sunny day, most of the afternoon was spent at the river.
The refreshing water that fills the Thompson River, flows from the dam of the same name. The Thompson Dam, is the largest of the Victorian network (twice the volume of Sydney Harbour) , supplying 60% of Melbourne’s storage and occasionally releases a rush of water that can be rafted. We didn’t need to worry about being washed away while we were there, with drought conditions in place the land was parched and there was no way water other than the environmental flow was going to be released
A short walk from camp is a rock crossing used by the adventurous to move their vehicles and camping equipment from one size to the other. Its slight submerged and is a beautiful area where you can sit in the river without floating away. For those without paddle boats it was the place to be, with parents sinking seats into the shallow flowing water watching their young children playing on the water’s edge, while the older kids swung from a tree rope into the river.
With Tummies rumbling and day moving to dusk, we like many other started the migration back to camp with thoughts of dinner. Our friendly goanna was waiting on the trail, busy sunning himself capturing the sun’s last rays before retiring over the horizon, he’d become like the camp mascot, comfortable visiting all the sites.
Back at camp our Beagle pup was happy to see us and my book worm daughter was still deep in her book. There is nothing like a camp fire, we’d been saving up the timber offcut s for this trip, which compared to what other campers had brought, trailer loads, amounted to a pretty poultry sum and there was no downed branches in site, time to send out a gathering party.
With sufficient wood the fire was well established and I was looking forward to cooking a bush version of spaghetti Bolognese in our new cast iron camp pot, delicious. The kids enjoyed a dessert of cooked marshmallows over hot coals, a family tradition of mine when we would go camping.
With the sun down and kids in bed, Anne and I relaxed back around the fire to listen to the competing serenades of music from the now full campground, we could remain thankful that at least we had our space and no one camping on top of us.
Another warm day and after camp chores it’s down to the river, what a beautiful day. I’m always up for an explore and decide to walk the bank downstream, not far into the journey, I discover a chap digging on the side of the bank, it’s quite a hole he has going and the tools look pretty old school mining, what is going on?
As I round the bank, it becomes clear to what he is doing, panning for gold. Guess that makes sense, after all Walhalla was one of the richest gold bearing areas in Victoria. The area was so successful it had electricity before most other areas and at its height in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s boasted a population of ~5000 and had already produced 55 tonnes of gold. Around 1910 the main mines started to fail, transportation had become easier and with World 1 around the corner, the stage was all but set for the decline of Walhalla. Walhalla today is a beautiful little tourist town nestled in the great dividing range, that attracts many times its population during the summer.
Coopers Creek lies within a Victoria Heritage site, mainly silver and copper were mined in the area and somewhere within the site are the remnants of the old mine. I decide finding it will be tomorrow’s exploration. Striking up a conversation with the elder man, he is more than happy to share the history of the area and the tricks of panning and more importantly reading the river to understand where the elusive gold might lie. There was very little gold found in the hay day, so it’s really for the pleasure of being outdoors and turning my hand to a time long past that tempts his invite to have a go. The first pans produces nothing, maybe I’m not digging in the right spot, but its more likely I just haven’t got the hang of it and what gold dust I do dig up I slosh straight out of the pan. With some mentoring from the elder man I start to get the feel of the it and before long I’m panning like a pro, managing to keep the meagre amount, just a hint of a golden tint in the pan. What fun this is, the kids would love it.
The elder man tells me his going for a break but help myself to go the gear, I retrace my steps and share my enthusiasm for panning with the kids. For me this goes back to my university days where I enjoyed the study of landscapes, climate and rocks, it revived in me my pioneering spirit and early fossicking days, where on a dig in Sapphire I found a party sapphire (mix of greens and yellow), that later formed the centre piece of an eternity ring for my wife, but back to the story.
With gold fever sweeping the kids we made our away along the bank to the treasure spot with high hopes of making our fortune, well at least the kids thought that was possible. After shoveling heavy loads of gravel and not getting much of a result, the kids interest was waning, two more pans and we hit pay dirt, well we found some specs, but it was enough to get the kids excited and competing against each other to be the first to find their own specs.
The heat of the day had started to relent, the sun falling below the tree line signaled time for the evening migration top start from rive to camp site. Walking back thoughts of a relax around the fire and bit of star gazing were entertaining my mind. Rounding the last turn the sounds of camp could be heard, the boom boxes fighting for sound supremacy, dogs trying to serenade them, chain saws tearing through wood and laughter, but there was a new sound and it sounded like was coming from our tent, the sound of shrieking and loud voices, we had company.
Twenty odd Twenty something’s had arrived and with no place to pitch up, pitched behind us, well this was going to be interesting, as the night wore on, things got crazy, getting the kids off to sleep was an impossible task and this was turning out to be nothing like the night I had in mind. Add more wood and alcohol to their party and it was a regular outdoor night club on our back door step. I’d met some of them down the river around meal time and so thought it safe to go and ask them to tone it down, which they did for a bit and eventually we drifted off, in the hot, sticky, noisy night that was the lead up to New Years, what else could we expect.
When morning broke I was pleased this was the last day, it hadn’t been the camp evenings of peace and quiet I remembered in the remote Northern Territory, but then again I wasn’t there, this was days before New Year, 3 hours from a city of millions of people. Crashed out at the back of our tent, you guessed it were the twenty something’s, some made it to their tents and others just found some flat ground. I walked around the site and it looked like someone had a good and got a bit liberal with the tomato sauce, splattered all down the back of the tent. I thought it I felt something hit the back of the tent last night, but passed it off as someone stumbling by.
Annoyed at the mess and our disturbed night I didn’t exactly pack up camp quietly or quieten the excited children who just wanted to get back down the river. None of this had dampened my enthusiasm for exploring and I was determined to find the old copper mine. Crossing the river in the shallows, it was a relief to the feet to allow the cool flowing water to engulf them, the track on the other side climbed steeply before leveling off and diving deeper into the bush away from the river, this didn’t feel like the right direction, but for now we would follow it. Sometime later the trailed opened up and we found ourselves with the river below us and on the right, steep cliffs, cut out, it looked man made and promising. Shortly after a rusty cable half buried in the ground came into view and there in the distance was the ruins of the copper mine.
A light wind was blowing and the loose rusted sheets of metal that once contained the copper within the hopper was flexing gently in the wind, tapping against the super structure like some long lost message of the past. I couldn’t resist but scurry down the steep incline to the bottom of the hopper and explore, mindful of snakes, loose steel sheeting and the general rickety state of the structure.
There was many signs of the copper ore with lots of what looked like copper sulphate rock around, but nothing like the peacock ore I had seen at Mt Isa mines some years before. Climbing back up the incline we explored the steep cut to find tunnels in the side, some covered with steel grates but one without, awesome opportunity for more exploring, these only went in three to four metres and looked like they were used to store equipment.
Back at the car we bid farewell to Cooper Creek and its eclectic community of campers, it had been fun days but the nights left something to be desired. I think if I want the sort of camping peace I had in the Northern Territory I’ll have to turn my hand to hiking and camp where vehicles cannot venture.
Distance from Melbourne – ~180km or 2.5 hrs, closet town is Walhalla
Park Type – State Forest, fireplaces and pets (with conditions) allowed.
Camping – There are two campground areas with pit toilets, dirt sites, with the river a short walk (< 5 mins). There is no booking, first in best dressed. Most sites are drive in, good for camper trailers and tarps off the side of the car.
Water source – There is no potable water however the Thompson river flows year round, recommend you bring enough water for your stay and if you do need to drink the river water boil it first.
Attractions – Swimming, fishing, exploring mining ruins and four wheel driving. Possible to also paddle on the river near the campground.