Dubbo or bust: the Wellington valley

The Wellington valley has proved a relatively easy stretch of Malcolm Brown's trek.
The Wellington valley has proved a relatively easy stretch of Malcolm Brown's trek.

I am on the 12th day of walking on my trek from Sydney to Dubbo and making good time down the Wellington Valley.

Wellington takes a long time to signal itself with the Wellington Ranges rising to the west and the beautiful Bell River, whose name suggests its nature, winding down the valley, sometimes criss-crossing the highway and picking up more water.

The junction of the Bell and Macquarie rivers beneath Mount Arthur so enchanted the explorer John Oxley in 1817 that he was moved to write in his diary: "Imagination can not fancy anything more beautifully picturesque than the scene which burst upon us.

"The breadth of the valley to the base of the opposite gently rising hills was between three and four miles, studded with fine trees, upon a soil which for richness can nowhere be excelled . . .

"In the centre of this charming valley ran a strong and beautiful stream, its bright transparent waters dashing over a gravelly bottom."

A convict settlement here became the furthest point that the convicts and red coats went west. Lieutenant Percy Simpson became the first commandant in 1823 and John Blackman, chief constable at Bathurst, was given the task of building a road there from Bathurst.

The route he chose was close to the one followed by the present Mitchell Highway.

I have walked down the valley with reasonable ease. My sister Meredith, having taken over road crew duties, insists on spraying me with misty water every five kilometres. I have protested that John Oxley – and Charles Sturt who followed him – never had such luxuries. "But they would have enjoyed it had it been available," she said.

I was going to sleep rough at Two Mile Creek but my sister and her husband insisted I stay at a "farm-stay" bed and breakfast, Banderra, run by Tony and Karen Ward on a 600-hectare sheep and cattle property.

The couple treated me like a prince and waived the tariff in favour of a donation to the Children's Hospital at Westmead.

Mr Ward, a former banker with international experience, showed me the Cobb Co coach tracks to his property.

Before the Mitchell Highway was built, the coaches provided a vital link by going from station to station, which in those days were virtually self-contained communities.

On the top of a hill I saw Mount Canobolas, a glimpse of Stuart Town which was formerly known as Ironbarks, the setting for Banjo Paterson's ballad The Man From Ironbark.

Gold was discovered there and alluvial deposits were dredged from the river between 1905 and 1911 and again between 1938 and 1958.

Every part of the highway has its own history. The story behind Bakers Swamp is a tragedy of Isaac Daniel Baker, who in June 1867 lost his wife and seven of his children in a flood down the Cudgegong River.

A school was established which was known as the Swamp School. But the locals did not want the name and it became Bakers Swamp.

Heading towards Wellington I picked up a discarded video disc on the roadside which might have been a reference to me. It was entitled The Last Boy Scout.

This story Dubbo or bust: the Wellington valley first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.