Turtle Rock - Aussie Bushwalking

Girraween National Park


by Dominic Ward

Me:  Turtle Rock is the lesser of the two.  That walk out there is all about the Sphinx.  I don’t need to prove it; it just is.  Sure, it’s a worthy climb, though nobody would ever say it’s the best in the park.  Not even top five, really.  Been up there a few times – it’s really just a vantage point, the best spot from which to view the Sphinx.  My brother went out there a few weeks ago to check it out…

Leon:  I have Fridays off.  Just got sick of giving my life all to work and not having any time for myself.  I like my job, sure.  It pays great.  And I work a lot with clients, directly, so it’s a very social job.  I’m out of the office doing meet and greets quite a bit.  And while this certainly has its perks, such as plenty of paid-for booze, it does get tiring, all the schmoozing.  I’m an extrovert essentially, so I think I can deal with all that better than most people but even so, it does get…it wears you down after a while.  All that small talk, you know.  So, I’ve taken Fridays off now, to make the working week a bit easier.  And besides, I’ve got this serious hobby to indulge now…

Me:  Yeah, the silly bastard got into photography some time back.  Hiking came first, mind you.  We have always been a camping family and then when career success meant access to better equipment, hiking became a serious proposition.  And I don’t mean those pissy little day hikes that your hippy Aunty loves bragging about.  We’re talking about three, four days, deep out in the bush, bunyips, min min lights, the ghosts of Burke and Wills.  Get your head ripped off out there; and the weather can change on you all too quickly.  They’re always pulling bodies out of the bush, you know.  Just last week that German backpacker…But that’s when he’s at his most comfortable, when shit’s going downhill fast.  And with all this divine stuff going on around him, the logical thing to do was to start recording it all for posterity. 

Leon:  That first camera was, by comparison to what I walk in with now, a piece of shit.  But it got the job done; and it helped me to understand that technique was more important than the hardware.  So I became a serious student of that, getting right into the nitty gritty of composition and all that.  It was a hard, long apprenticeship, but I eventually got there, and now I can say I feel reasonably comfortable with my current level of skill, though there is still so much to learn.

Turns out they were trying to smuggle an Echidna out of the park

Me:  The guy’s inordinately talented.  I mean, I know what I like, I know what is good and what is not.  Don’t bother trying to tell me otherwise.  It just won’t happen for you.  I mean, his stuff will be hanging in New York one day.  And sooner rather than later.  Think I’m exaggerating?  Well, let me tell you…

Leon:  The Sphinx has that classic form that photographers love to shoot.  It’s one of those objects that need no extra work from the photographer.  Really, the shot is yours to stuff up.  Yes, it’s already been shot plenty of times.  But I wanted to do my own thing with it, put my own spin on it.  I have my Fridays to do just this kind of stuff.  So the plan was simple – drive down Friday lunch, hike in and climb Turtle Rock, shoot the Sphinx in the twilight and bivvy down on the rock and get the sunrise the following day before heading home.  A fairly standard plan.

Me:  Except he was carrying ten kilos of equipment, leaving very little room in his kit for the essentials…

Leon:  I had to save space.  Hell, it was summer after all – I wouldn’t need the heavy down gear.

Me:  The open rock face of Turtle Rock, even at the height of summer, is going to get cold once the sun goes down.  I mean, you’re over a K up and that wind isn’t just going to quit for your comfort.

Leon:  The walk in was easy enough.  Leaving the day use area, I headed up through the Castle Rock camp site to the Castle Rock track.  From there it’s a pretty straight forward hike over easy ground all the way to the base of Castle Rock itself.  I passed a Korean couple on the way, lending them some water as the female seemed to be somewhat dehydrated, red in the face and not sweating.  They should do more to educate foreign travellers about the dangers of the bush…turns out they were trying to smuggle an echidna out of the park.  I heard later the rangers caught them and took them back to their hut and pulled their fingernails out with pliers before handing them over to the authorities.  Pretty vile stuff all round.

Me:  I should add at this point that an exhaustive search of the relevant news services produced no hits on any report detailing any such incident in the park, or any park anywhere on the continent for that matter.  I think it safe to say that this is an embellishment.

Leon:  Dry sclerophyll for the most part, with bracken and sedge in the gullies and swamplands.  There’s quite a bit of water there, even in the dry.  Many of the famous wildflowers were still out although the wattle was, of course, resting.  After some way, the track jumps up the lower ridges of Castle Rock; it is on the shoulder of one such ridge, a higher one, that the track divides, carrying you either up the pleasant climb of Castle Rock, or shooting you off towards the twin delights of Turtle Rock and the Sphinx and Mt. Norman.  I was not in the mood for the side trip up Castle Rock this time and so I neatly switched to the fast track out to my destination.  A little further on, I came on the further division that sent the track both my way, and out to Mt. Norman…

Me:  The track quietens down again from here and for some way after.  It’s almost a horse latitude; oftentimes it feels as though you’re not making any ground at all and time has slowed right down so as to become positively boring.  The sameness starts to play with your mind at this juncture and many times I’ve simply felt like turning back, go back and put a sausage on the grill, cut some apple up for the possums, whatever... 

Me:  He froze.
Leon:  Yes, I froze.

Leon:  Not I!  Forge on, I say.  I’m stubborn about meeting my goals.  Always have been.  I could never give up for the sake of boredom.  That’s just weak.

Me:  And so he got there…

Leon:  Turtle rock is a free climb.  You get up it any way you can.  If you fall…well, they’ll find your body eventually, I’m sure.  But falling is for losers.

Me:  It was getting late.

Leon:  The perfect time to set up for the shoot.  There is something absolutely magical about the twilight; get the angles right, the aperture, the timing, and you have one hell of a good looking shot.  I don’t mess about though.  I had three batteries with me and four SD cards.  Time to get snapping.

Me:  Girraween is a funny place in summer.  The twilights can linger right into the night.  I’ve been near Mt. Norman and it was still light at nine o’clock. 

Leon:  I burnt through all three batteries, leaving nothing for the sunrise. 

Me:  And now, it was starting to get cold…

Leon:  To save space, I’d only brought a thermarest, a down jacket and a silk bag liner.  The plan was to use my pack – all 100 litres of it – as a bag, the liner and jacket providing the extra comfort. 

Me:  He froze.

Leon:  Yes, I froze.  But, somehow, between the usual bush paranoia about wild dogs, pigs and bunyips, I got some sleep.

Me:  And he got some damn good shots, too.


Girraween National Park walks