by Dorothy Greiveson
It had it all — driving, camping, views and drama. There were heroes and villains. The villain? Dave's Subaru Outback. The heroes: Jamie and his Land Cruiser and Rick’s patience and good humour.
Now our adventure begins …
The destination for this year's trip was the high country. North of Omeo, Hells Hole, Davies Plain, Mt Pinnibar and finally Tom Groggin.
The company started to assemble at Bentley's Plain campsite on the 26, with a number of us arriving at 27th. For the early birds the 27th was spent exploring the area. Bentley's Plain campsite was bordered by a corral fence with a large kitchen shelter in the centre. While Jessica played guard dog, loudly enquiring how many members would be arriving every time anyone else drove in to the campsite, we ended up with the whole site to ourselves. We had all assembled by evening, checked in with our intrepid leader. We heard stories of Stephen's folly which became evident during the day's drive. That clanking noise he could hear was his wheels; had been caused by loose wheel nuts, on not one, but all tyres. One was so loose, it had actually gone. Stephen, so meticulous: how could this have happened?
The next morning saw light rain and the area was covered in mist- absolutely beautiful. We started with a short drive to Moscow Villa a lovely hut built in the 1940s by Bill Au Do, a fire spotter who wanted a comfortable place to return to. The unusual name relates to the battle for Moscow, which was being fought when the hut was built.
Then we turned our attention to the driving for the day. In the mist, Dave spotted some brumbies and Stephen heard them. No sightings for the rest of us. Our first big challenge came when we attempted Hells hole. It was already evident that the tracks were not good, so when the tail-end Charlie crew heard a rather intense call from Dave calling for assistance, we hung back waiting to hear more. Meanwhile, drama was unfolding at the top of the hill. Dave was wedged against a tree after losing grip on the shale-strewn track. The rescue mission then saw Dave slipping side ways out of control for about 20 metres. As Dave remarked later, "Not good". The ascent to Hells Hole was abandoned, with mutterings about the deterioration of the tracks.
However, this was not to be end of the drama for the day. The return journey required the negotiation of a nasty steep river crossing exit at the Tambo River. In the centre was a very large piece of horizontal rock with nasty wash outs around it. Ouch. Now Jessica became the focus. Her Outback is a standard non-lifted car. It was going to be challenged. Rick and Dave gave instructions. Jessica insisted that speed was her friend. Picture, the car crossing the water, gunning up the exist, hitting the rock and then a loud bang and hissing sounds. Oh dear! A burst tyre. Rick shook his head. He is the great exponent of slow and steady ...
But there's more. Jessica had not originally intended to do this part of the trip and she only had her narrow spare. It was not good enough for this driving. Dale worked out that his space could do as a substitute and Jessica was towed then the tyre changed.
The remainder of the day was uneventful. However, a new tradition was initiated by Jean, leaving a lolly on the gate post for the last car through. Rick was certainly not adverse to this notion. We went via Omeo and Benambra and eventually arrived at a lovely campsite, Buckwong Hut - on a large secluded grassy area with a trickIng steam and plenty of evidence of the elusive brumbies. There were also lots of places for the kids to climb and play.
The morning bird song was deafening and woke us for the next journey- Davies Plain. Jessica left for her slow journey home on her dodgy spare after being escorted out by Dale and Martin. After a very leisurely morning, we started the trip. It was both beautiful and fire ravaged, the extent of the 2007 fires evident everywhere.
Buckwong Creek campsite, about 4 km from Tom Groggin was our next campsite. A number of us took a dip in the creek and washed off the dust of the last few days. Others dipped their toes. Tom and his family left us at that point in order to join his brother further on. Another beautiful night by the campfire, preparing for out next challenge- Mt Pinnibar.
The day started with a briefing. "It is going to be a long day," said Dave and so it was to be. It became apparent early in the day that the Pinnibar Track was in poor condition. The slopes were shaley and rough. Early on, Jamie's vehicle, aka The Subaru Recovery Vehicle, was in action towing cars up some gnarly slopes. Even Dave was struggling. Martin lost a tyre, punctured in the side wall. (So much for that brand new tyre)
But worse was to come. Dave was struggling up a nasty patch when his drive shaft broke. Lucky he had a spare! While he and Rick set about fixing it, it was time for a lunch break, beside the track. A succession of vehicles passed us, telling us there were more shaley, very steep sections ahead. Drive shaft fixed, we moved on.
Dave loved the next steep slope. Then, half way up the second slope, a dreaded call over the two way, " I have no gear box". This was a blow. What now? No spare this time. Anthony later commented that his dad needed a spare car! In the meantime Stephen had also wrecked a tyre. The tally was mounting.
However, as Dave said, "Pinnibar or bust", so a number of us took on the final climbs to reach the top. And we did. It was steep, rocky & shaley, but Dale, Stephen, Martin & Peters' vehicles made the ascent and conquered the challenge of Pinnibar. The views were spectacular and it was worth the effort.
On our descent, we were met by hard working people who were making Dave's car ready for challenge. At 7 pm the decision was made to split the group. Three cars, including the children ensconced in Stephen's car, started to make their way down the rocky slopes home. It was a treacherous trip in the daylight with functioning vehicles.
Soon after, the descent of the Dave vehicle commenced. With a stick wedged on the clutch, Dave came down these slopes on his brakes. Occasionally, the word would come across the two way that they were stopping to cool brakes. The car was then hooked up to the recovery vehicle and towed up the slopes. Rick and Dale followed behind as tail end Charlie's
Back at camp, as the children were fed and put to bed, snippets of the descent were heard. We were very impressed at how accommodating and patient the kids were.
All were relieved when at 10pm, we saw the car lights of the vehicles as they crossed the creek, having left the disabled car at the Murray Crossing. Around the roaring fire, folks relaxed and the trip was recounted. All were in amazingly good spirits considering what they had just achieved. The major disappointment seemed to be that was too late to have a much anticipated swim in the river. We felt Jamie had earned many credit points towards future fines, however, he lost a couple because he had wrecked a tyre when taking a descent a little carelessly. Rick, quiet and steady seemed take all in his stride and Dave, ever optimistic, was coping well.
At this point I did suggest that Dave's Subaru was really a Peugeot in disguise. ( This cheeky remark was prompted by my memories of living with old Peugeots. I often felt we needed a spare car!) This supercilious remark earned me the task of writing this report. Good flick pass, Dave.
Still, the adventure continued. Dave needed to get the car to Corryong, along the narrow, windy and hilly Alpine Way It also included the extra challenge of of other cars. Once again we took off. This time we crossed the mighty Murray, a manageable stream at this point, and headed off. At times, Dave was pulling Jamie down the slopes. Some exhausted travelers arrived in Corryong, only to be almost trumped by a man in an electric wheelchair, blocking their way. A most interesting last negotiation.
After a wait in long Corryong to establish the future of the car, we all went our separate ways for New Year.
It was a hard trip, but all declared it a very enjoyable trip: beautiful countryside, challenging driving, good company, wonderful campsites and all safely home. Thank you Dave for organizing another memorable Christmas adventure.
David, Anthony and Justin Wilson (Outback)
Tom and Isaiah Boltadzija (Forester)
Jessica Walsh (Outback Diesel)
Stephen Whittaker (Forester)
Peter and Jean Bellis (Forester)
Rick and Josh Koster (L-series)
Jamie Scott Toyota (LandCruiser)
Martin Foot and Dot Greiveson (Forester)
Jan and Dale Rebgetz (Forester)