Sunday, 8 February 2015

Australia: Bushfires on the Bibb and looking to the Cape to Cape

Day 14: Long Gully Bridge
Long Gully Bridge, Bibbulmun Track
This has been a sad week for me. With thoughts now turning to my Easter tramp of the Cape to Cape Track, in Western Australia, memories of my previous long distance outing in the state have come to the fore.


On Thursday morning, I received an email from the Bibbulmun Track Foundation. It was a sombre read, with warnings of bush fires, track diversions, closures, and fears of at least four camp sites lost.

They are, presently, in the process of contacting international hikers preparing to walk the track this season. They also advise those with plans to do an End to End in 2015, to put their plans on hold for a while, given the level of devastation expected to be encountered when the fires finally die out.

Later that day, a Facebook update from Explore Parks WA announced the devastating loss of Long Gully Bridge.

The week before, a lightning strike in the Lower Hotham area ignited a fire that raged on to burn more than 50,000 hectares. The 128 metre wooden trestle bridge stood no chance, despite valiant efforts to contain the fire.


Built by Western Australian Government Railways, in 1949, to service the timber industry, the railway closed in 1961, when another great fire swept through the Dwellingup region, taking the timber mill. In later years, the bridge had a new lease of life as it provided the only viable crossing point of the Murray River, for walkers on the Bibbulmun Track.

I have strong memories of the section of the track where the bridge once stood. I had spent a couple of troubling days, walking from Dwellingup, to Murray shelter, and then on to Dookanelly. Both the rain and lack of company were beginning to tell on me and this was my lowest point on the thousand kilometre journey from Kalamunda to Albany.

Day 12: Murray River Shelter
Drying out at Murray River Shelter
It was particularly frustrating, reading in the logbooks, that Dropbear, my trail buddy for five days before my break at Dwellingup, was likely just one shelter ahead of me. With another few days still to go to Collie, I was resigned to the journey being made alone.

Day 13: Drying out at Dookanelly
Drying out AGAIN at Dookanelly Shelter
The next day, I left Dookanelly shelter, in better mood after a good nights sleep. It was a tough but rewarding day, tackling a challenging collection of hills nicknamed "The Four Sisters". My spirits were further lifted by an encounter with a large kangaroo before dropping down to the Murray River, and the bridge.

Day 14: Large Roo
Stand off with a large roo
Today was already turning out to be a good day, and my mind was positive. I was further delighted by the sight of this magnificent feat of engineering, which appears, unexpectedly, in this remote area.

Psychologically, I had definitely turned a corner. Looking back, I feel that it was on this day that I first realised I had what it takes to finish this walk, even with nearly 750 kilometres still to go! It was a defining moment, so to hear that one of the highlights of that day had been lost, saddened me. 



So what does the future hold for this section of the Bibbulmun Track? The Foundation were already raising funds for the restoration of the Long Gully Bridge, but with it now gone, there is uncertainty as to what to do next. They have suggested that the funds may go to another wooden bridge in need, at River Road.

Day 34: Me crossing bridge
River Road Bridge
Another thought, and my preferred one, is that the money is put to the cost of building another bridge to cross this section of the Murray. Any suggestions of building another wooden bridge, let alone an exact copy, were immediately dismissed.

Whilst the loss of the bridge is devastating, it is the people who live and work in the areas affected that matter most.

On Tuesday 3rd, the residents of the town of Northcliffe were advised to evacuate, a report HERE. The majority have been anxiously waiting news, holed up in Pemberton for the past week, and I have heard they were given permission to return home on Saturday; report HERE

I remember fondly, the warm welcome I received from Alan and Glenda, at the Bibbulmun Break Motel, and I wish them well. These communities rely on tourism and the Bibbulmun Track is an important source of income. With the track currently closed for the foreseeable, my thoughts are with them.

Day 35: Northcliffe and a third of the way to go
Arriving at Northcliffe, and a third of the way to go
Looking to the Cape to Cape Track, I wonder what awaits me at Easter. The latest reports from Parks and Wildlife state; "Major recreation sites in the Leeuwin-Naturalist National Park are closed due to bushfire activity, including the Cape to Cape Track. The Track is not safe to use under any circumstances."

Sugar Loaf, Cape to Cape Track
Sugar Loaf, Cape to Cape Track
I can only hope it escapes the worst and survives the rest of this hot summer. Should it suffer badly, I doubt there will be time to rebuild and have it fit for purpose before I arrive. I'll just have to wait and see. For now, I'll continue to read the bulletins, and get regular updates from my friend in Perth, Andrew, who will be walking with me.