First published in the Leader (Melbourne), 22 February 1868.
The Dandenong Ranges, Victoria (Etching) 1873
“Australia”; Edwin Carton Booth F.R.C.I.; Illustrated: with drawings by (John) Skinner Prout, N. (Nicholas) Chevalier, &c. &c.; Virtue & Co., London; 1873. [British Library]
After a few weeks’ drudgery in a Melbourne office during the sultry season, at the desk with little interval from nine in the morning till ten at night, in an atmosphere where the thermometer rarely falls below 80 and sometimes rises above 90, the soundest liver grows sour, and sluggish, and the system generally gets degenerated. Such was my case when a friend from the Upper Yarra suggested a day’s ramble in the Dandenong Ranges, and coupled the suggestion with the information that with coach fare to Lilydale at five shillings, and the moderate charges of the unsophisticated hotel keepers in that district, the whole trip would not cost above a pound. So tempting a proposal could not be resisted, and accordingly I selected a few friends whom l invited to join in the excursion.
To the number of seven we mustered at the Star Hotel; at three o’clock p.m., and started under the pilotage of Patsy, the most popular driver on the road. His exhilarating “geet-oup” as we rattled through Kew, past the White Horse to Box-hill, and over the stringy bark ranges of Nunawading, soon caused office cares to be forgotten. His merry chat as he told of the boy bushranger, who made his unsuccessful debut, on this road; at Sandy Gully, a little beyond Ringwood, and pointed to the horse on which Morgan came to Victoria, now bestridden by a sober, burly road contractor, or informed us that the jolly bushman beside whom we took our refreshment at the wayside inn was cutting his tobacco with the knife taken from Burke when he murdered Hurst, sent all recollection of bygone troubles thoroughly adrift; and as we spun down Bird Hill and across Brushy Creek, we one and all had abandoned ourselves to the influence of the scene, and were ready to make the most of our holiday.
Sunset found us at the door of the Lilydale Hotel, where we were heartily welcomed by the friend who had proposed the excursion, and who had walked nine miles to meet us. After a hearty tea and a moonlight stroll, we turned in.
An early hour on the following morning found us all astir, and as soon as breakfast had been discussed we started, to the number of nine, our party, having added to it Mr Walters, the indefatigable portrayer of our wildest scenery by means of photography, and the worthy postmaster of the village, both excellent guides to the picturesque gorges of the surrounding mountains. A walk of four and a half miles brought us to Swift’s Saw Mill, on the Olinda Creek, and then the climbing began. A light and springy step was recommended by one of the party; but slow and sure won the day, and the light and springy step had subsided into a very sober tramp ere we reached the summit of Mount Coorhanwarrabool, where is erected the stage and flagstaff used in the trigonometrical survey, and on account of which it has gained the name of the ‘Observatory.’
Admirers of distant scenery will be well repaid for their labour by the view from this eminence. To the west Mount Eliza on the left, Mount Macedon on the right, and the You Yangs in the central distance, surround a rich and varied landscape in which Melbourne and Hobson’s Bay are clearly mapped out; and though the day was not bright, the Nelson and Great Britain could be clearly made out from the smaller ships at anchor around them. On the other side the view was more abruptly closed by Mount Monda, Mount Juliet, and sundry other mounts too numerous to mention, but in the valley of the Yarra the vineyards and cultivated lands of Mr Castella, Mr De Paroy, and their neighbouring vignerons, formed a pleasing contrast to the dull, dingy green of the forest which clothed the heights.
Our descent from this point was made by a group to which we believe no name has yet been given, but which is remarkable in all its features. The trees are of stupendous height, some which have been cut down measuring over 400 feet. Their girth is not great, though one over which we had to scramble in our deviation from the path in search of the picturesque was at least 5 feet in diameter, and so smooth and slippery that more than one of the party came to grief among the rotten bark and moss by which it was, surrounded. Fern trees fill all the hollows, and the note of the lyre-bird is no infrequent sound in this secluded region. From this our route brought us suddenly on a picturesque group of settlers’ cottages in a sheltered nook, to which has been given the euphonious name of Harmony Vale, a name most applicable, it is reported, to the life of the families who reside in it. We visited one of the settlers best known to our guides, and the hospitality shown to the whole party would put to shame many of our wealthy and pretentious squatters.
The best of everything was spread before us, and with such appetites as hill-climbing alone can give, the good things were enjoyed, but fee or payment our entertainer would have none of, his little folks were fortunately less scrupulous, and so we could save ourselves from feeling mean by making their little hearts happy, and their money-boxes a little the heavier for our visit. From this point we entered by far the most picturesque of all the spots we visited. The local name is Blackwood Gully, but its main feature is the profusion of fern-trees with which it is clothed. Nowhere in the vicinity of Melbourne can anything like it be seen. These trees, mingled with sassafras, are countless in number, and so close that daylight can scarcely penetrate to the sandy watercourse by which the ascent is made. They assume the most grotesque forms, and as the bed of the creek meanders for nearly two miles under their shade, the variety in which they group themselves is endless. Two of our party who had provided themselves with colours and sketching blocks would gladly have lingered here; but the day was far spent, so they had to relinquish the hope of doing anything in that way at this time, and solace themselves with the prospect of returning shortly to enjoy the scene more at leisure.
Leaving this lovely glen, we crossed a spur of the mountain into the valley from which we had started in the morning, and, retracing our steps to Lilydale, reached the hotel at our appointed time, six o’clock, where a good dinner, accompanied with copious draughts of excellent colonial wine from the neighbouring vineyards, was a welcome refreshment. Fatigued in body, but vastly exhilarated in spirits, we soon retired to rest, and at eight next morning started for town, which we reached a little before twelve, all delighted with the excursion, but regretting that we had only one day to spend over it; resolving, however, at the very earliest opportunity to return and visit some of the other places of interest in the locality.
To conclude, let me state what may not be without interest to my many fellow workers, who may derive healthful recreation by following our track, that without stinting ourselves in anything, our total expenses amounted to only 22s each. M.