ETTREMA TOPS – 13 – 15 July 2018
An IYDM trip is something I really want to do, but it would challenge me, a trip along the lines of “In Your Dreams M”. I met up with the Legendary Louise out on Ettrema Tops last Easter and her enthusiasm about the area was contagious. We started talking about all the places to explore including Perryman Falls. By this time the long fire trail bash was a distant memory – I’d forgotten my words at Easter were “never doing that again”!
What’s so challenging about it for me? Well, it’s that tedious 16k walk on fire trail, I try to avoid long fire trail walks – they’re both mentally and physically exhausting, but with Ettrema Tops, particularly the good parts, you have to put in the hard yards first. Even though it only takes 4.5 – 5 hours, my legs and hips are stuffed when I get there and the rest of the day’s shot. Nevertheless, Louise (bless her heart) did the walk a few weekends ago and timed it all, suggesting one day to walk in, one day to walk out and a day in the middle to go down to Perryman’s (a 5 – 6 hour trip). So, Louise and I set a date, I contacted Melinda T and John L’E and they jumped at the chance! It almost became a count-down, Louise, Melinda and I were so excited to be going on a walk together … sounds a bit pathetic doesn’t it but not everyone is keen to scrub-bash on the Tops, we’d be amongst kindred spirits (a very Anne of Green Gables experience).
John, Melinda and I drove to Gretas Road on Thursday night. We woke next morning to 1ºC and snow flurries – not a good start, although the weather forecast predicted fine sunny days for the whole weekend. I’d forgotten to pack my gloves and beanie, but thankfully John had a few spares.
We started out for Tilly Anne Gap at about 8.45. But before I get into that, let me fill you in about Tilly Anne Gap. I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating, particularly as Melinda lent me her copy of The Man from the Misty Mountains (memoirs of James Henry Sturgiss 1890 – 1983). Tilly’s story, in fact the only evidence there is of this part of local history, is told in this book and Tilly Anne probably “lived unknown and died unremembered” except for the anecdote by Sturgiss.
In the 1850s, Tilly Anne lived with the Street family in the Ettrema area (Sturgiss is a little vague here). In 1853, six “well-bred” mares (in foal) had wandered off and no-one had been able to find them, but Tilly Anne, bored with farm-life one day, announced that she would take off on one of the Street farm horses (that had recently had a foal), to find the mares.
She locked the foal up for the day and set off with lunch and a box of matches and it sounds as though she headed out onto what we now know as Ettrema Tops but was known then as the New England Run. Tilly wandered along the plateau, following what she thought were horse tracks (possibly kangaroo and wombat), eventually coming to a grassy plateau where she found the 6 mares and their foals. Scared, they bolted off and she followed them, getting herself hopelessly loss. She wandered around for five days trying to find the way back home, milking the mare into her shoe for sustenance. On the fifth night she set up camp above a deep gorge and lit her fire. She heard a faint sound and called out a coo-ee which was answered, she approached the cliff edge and called down intermittently until the next morning when she was able to get close enough to call down to the man (a gold miner) and get directions on how to get down to him. He was lying with his foot in a cleft of rock with a boulder on top of that preventing him from getting his leg out of the cleft. With Tilly Anne’s help he extracted himself and took her back to his camp to give her some food and the next day took her to another gold miner’s camp and they helped her to get back home. The gold miner was apparently going to sell his mine and go back to Tilly’s house and the assumption was that he’d propose to her (which is where the story ends with her preparing for him to arrive on the Sunday and tell of his intentions). I’m assuming that they married and moved away to buy a farm with the money he’d received for his gold mine, because if that didn’t happen, surely local lore would tell of her languishing for her beau.
The Gap was known in the old days as Tilly Anne Gap, but at some point in time was renamed Manning Saddle (maybe by Paddy Pallin who named a lot of passes in the area). In recent years, application was made to the Central Mapping Authority to revert to its original name and if you look on new maps, there it is, Tilly Anne Gap.
It’s worth noting that in all of the stories Sturgiss tells of the area, no mention is made of the horrendous scrub and hakea that we now walk through, so my assumption is that this whole area would have been regularly burned out by either the aborigines or Europeans, I cannot imagine any self respecting horses forging their way through hakea.
So, on to the walk!
In the book The Man from the Misty Mountains, at the end of the chapter about Tilly Anne, is a paragraph which notes “in a ledge near the top is a cave, beneath an old bloodwood tree. Here, primitive men have sheltered occasionally” and he says that he used it when mustering livestock. Louise suggested that we look around a bit to try and find this cave. John stayed in camp to build the fire and Melinda and I happily went along exploring.
Despite the fire and Louise’s hot buttered rum that she shared, eventually we retired for the night, it was cold and it had been a long day.
Next morning Melinda said that she’d have to walk out, she’d freshened up a head cold and felt that it was best to cut the weekend short so she wouldn’t miss a day’s work on Monday. We were sad to see her go, but she’d be able to do the walk out at her own pace – and there’s always next time! Louise and I set off at about 8.45am for our day’s adventure, leaving John to explore around the area, sit in the sun and collect more fire wood.
We were back at camp by about 4.30pm and Louise headed off to another cliff-line still looking for the Sturgiss cave, and came back elated with the news that she thought she’d found it. So, we decided to go check it out in the morning before walking out.
Lots of wine, camembert and more buttered rum and stories around the campfire meant that we didn’t hit the sack until 9pm (a record!).
We’re not altogether sure that we found the “right” cave and there wasn’t evidence of a bloodwood tree either above it or in front of it! But until something better presents itself, we’re assuming this is the cave.
It was then time for the slog out. John set the pace in front, there was lots to see along the way, and towards the end we even ran across some random guy on a mountain-bike and two young guys from Wollongong checking the fire trail out.
So, I survived the IYDM walk – only just, was stuffed at the end of day 3 and if it hadn’t been for John doing some of the driving, would have had to pull over somewhere and spend the night, definitely couldn’t have driven home to the Central Coast by myself.
My memory of that fire trail will fade with time though, so in another six months or so I’ll have forgotten about it and John and I plan to go out with Louise again (and do other cool stuff with her). It was a fabulous weekend, great company, and a magic place to visit, thanks Louise for taking us there – and will see you on the next one Melinda.