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Racecourse Creek

 (Girraween National Park)

by Dominic Ward

This is the place.  A magical place.  The most magical place.  This is the place where my soul will one day rest.  And I will be gently put amongst the sedge, the cold, Catherine nights laying their dew down on me and ever so surely I will become again as earth.  The pademelons will continue their days on the long dry banks aside the single deep channel and South Bald Rock will continue its heavy, silent decomposition nearby, unaware that I will have joined in its melancholy dissolve.  Indeed, our minerals will even mix but a hundred metres further down the flow of the creek.  Racecourse Creek.  Girraween National Park.

Racecourse Creek takes it source in the highlands of the Granite Belt.  It flows through the guts of the national park, collecting dinosaur sediment and background radiation as it goes, burbling with rains, less sure in drought, all the way into the Murray-Darling.

We camp high, not far below the first waters of the creek, in the shallow valley the waters have chosen as a course.  Roughly 1100m above sea level, frosts are oft and extreme temperatures of down to -10C are not uncommon.

You will never go there and happen upon anyone else.

It is a secret place.  You will never go there and happen upon anyone else.  The Ranger may or may not have been out that way that same year.  There is no walking track to Racecourse Creek.  Access is via a subtly maintained fire trail.

The walk to Racecourse Creek begins at the stone gate where the graded road darts left up towards its Mt Norman, leaving the rutted fire trail to begin alone its short climb.  The graded Mt Norman Road is decidedly weather-beaten – my little hatchback still aches with the arthritis I forced it into some years back.  Granite outcrops excite in the freedom and the road does its best to jump around them.  Farms line the road on both sides and only bracken and barbed wire fencing end them before they can crawl out over the road.  Giant gums stand quiet and continue their un-ending offer of protection to those less hardy.  One particular bend of the road brings you quite close to a shady old gum.  It hangs down its branches as a willow, shading the two granite boulders underneath it.  A great place mid-afternoon to take a pen and paper and get down some thoughts, graft yourself to a book or just cool off with an intoxicant.

The National Park itself is entered at an aluminium gate.  Girraween is not a mere geographic curiosity; as you enter the Park you suddenly become reacquainted with this intuition.  It is not the kind of place you describe with a loose tongue.  It is largely above the confines of human analysis.  Anybody who asks you out for a deeper explanation of its magic has just put you in a fix and you will need all your wits to remove yourself from this constellation. 

Girraween is the “Place of Wildflowers”.  The wildflowers are inordinately superb – the heath lands built out of the sandy soils tidying the betweens of the granite are resplendent in winter and spring with golden wattle, trigger plants, billy buttons, bluebells, sarsaparilla vine and daisies.   Pea-flowers dominate the undergrowth.  Flannels and orchids run the gutters of the great rocks in summer.   But do remember, while it is safe to enjoy the wildflowers, a whole passage of growth and decay is running underfoot – remain mindful of this and you will remain open to the magic.

Because Girraween is a total experience; the kind that was once described as a ‘peak experience’ by some great mind...

Because Girraween is a total experience; the kind that was once described as a ‘peak experience’ by some great mind, the brain entirely swathed in some cosmic force, lifted above the mundane of commonplace human reckoning.  And you must be in tune with the vibrations of the place to get that, to be able to listen in on this majestic frequency, to be able to become a participant in the experience.

And then there’s Racecourse Creek. 

Approximately ten kilometres further along the fire trail from the long-abandoned and now decrepit farming cottage that sits in ruin at the head of the trail, just at the top of that first climb, the camping zone at Racecourse Creek is set into a narrow band of grass that follows the creek in between the walls of the treeline and the sedge marking the flow of the creek.  This zone is not hard to find: once the fire trail intersects the creek, you simply dart right and wander the creek’s banks, dodging a fair outcropping of granite in the process, a further hundred metres or so until the land opens out into the grassy flat described above.  And from this zone, what a view you will have; you will know you have arrived when you feel a certain awe come over you – the powerful South Bald rock dominates the view east and you may climb it to take in the sunset. 

Camp can be made anywhere in the zone, although I prefer to set up a little back from the sedge, closer to the treeline.  Being set in a highland valley, it gets cold here and quickly.  Down is a must; a winter sojourn will provide you icicles, their silvers slivers prettier than almost all else, but also a frank reminder not to underestimate cold.  Even in summer, I have made use of down.

Go, but go quietly.  This is a secret spot after all.  Enjoy it, but don’t take it lightly.  Go with an open heart and go to be inspired.  You will be.  You cannot but be.  It is a magical place.  The most magical place.