December 1998

The party at Beechmont rejoined old and good friends and found new ones, it was the penultimate event of two weeks on the Gold Coast, a place and people I love because there I am loved.

Duty and work called from the South, however it was well past time that the rolling stone retuned to the moss gatherer. A detour was needed. Wombelong in the Warrumbungle National Park has long been my thought place, a surprise of ancient bones of mountains in a flat plane, endless to the West.

The family went there when I was young, so young that when we returned it was a blinding revelation, the sight of the great dome of Siding Springs Observatory, I had forgotten it and now it dominated my view coincident as astronomy dominated my teenage imagination. It had a special place in fantasy an ambition from there after. The weather is mostly fine, the main reason the observatory is there. At night the stars blaze bright amidst black infinity.

Wombelong is across the Warrumbungles from the observatory, it is the highest and most remote of the peaks, it has a wonderful narrow but flat place to lie, sit and look at the end of its summit spur, there other places more private as well. For many years I have gone there on occasion to spend the night and some time regaining perspective. There are higher peaks and grander vistas that I have seen, but this place is ancient beyond the short existence of man and even the grandest mountains of the world. Time lies deeply and lightly here.

The apres party breakfast at Beechmont , the pleasant regale enjoined with new found friends and old comfortable ones determined a late departure. The commitment to the Warrumbungles was made at the turn off at Warick, the shorter road home or the longer journey to Goondowindi then south to Coonabarabran. The Land Rover pulled in at camp Pincham at 9pm just as the last vestige of twilight pulled out. This was not my usual access point, normally it is via camp Burbie, following the fire trail, the summit was much closer when one could drive to the camp and there is water there, now the road is closed adding 4km of road walk I could do without.

Setting off with the normal necessities of camping: the five basic food groups; avocado, camembert, smoked salmon, olives and champagne plus the Puccini aria CD and CD player and leaving the non essentials such as a tent behind, my trustee petzl head lamp illuminated the way along the track. It is several years since I came this way, the track is now paved with bricks in places, wide and easy for "wombles" a term of derision crafted by a friend for those less able in the bush, a group with which I am converging as the years pass. Thankfully the paving and pristine track relented after a kilometre.

The unusual and most welcome tinkle of water in Spirey and West Spirey creeks soon dried into silence. a medium size kangaroo was so phased by the light from my lamp that I actually walked past it within 2 metres, and turned to greet it before it thumped off into the night. The track climbed more steeply, zig zaging into Ogma camp. I must have been tired, I looked around the camp clearing and did not notice the track to the west, the only one I noticed was the eastern one which I followed passing another camp site with Bluff Mountain looming large in dark silhouette. There was no westward track here either, on and up till, the petzlŐs battery of several years, finally died. After pulling out the back up torch, my tired brain was convinced that there would be no ridge to the west. I returned to the Bluff view camp and something inside me turned the energy off: time to stop. I set camp, ate well, drank better, saluting life and all who sail in her. Puccini would wait, the silence of the night the massive silhouette of Bluff Mountain the peace of the place was my wholesome lullaby. I slept well, occasionally waking as the full moon rose and traversed, softening the sky, fading the milky way and lighting Bluff Mountain with soft steely hue of blue.

In the morning, while the water boiled on my stove for the plunger coffee, a brief trot up a hillock showed my error. The track westward would have to be at Ogma camp a short back track from where I slept. I felt rather silly. I had been to Wombelong so many times, it did not even occur to me to check a track map, even though I was walking in the dark. In the light of day the track was obvious and so was the lesson I had learnt anew.

The morning was pleasant a nice breeze, plenty of shade while the sun was low, a hot sting whenever it hit skin, promise of a hot day. Danu camp was not far, very familiar territory, now only a few kilometres to the summit. Along the way groups of spear tree flowered: magic moments as flutters of butterflies rose all around me, fairies in the garden, I laughed with the god of small things. I thought how much those I had loved who could not ever be here would have liked this act and stumbled over unexpected emotion, the mountain was working its magic on me.

Reaching the summit ridge there was a wedge tail eagle regally spiraling on the thermals. Quickly a magpie and an even smaller bird engaged it in a dog fight, probably trying to drive the eagle away from their nests. The eagle was much bigger the serene predator, top of the food chain, seemingly not sullied by anthropic principals, it did not attack what it did not need to eat and after some awesome manoeuvres on all parts the eagle cruised off elsewhere. The magpie dived away like an arrow, whimsically I thought it was pleased with its success, its comrade in arms fluttered proudly another way.

The summit reached, the familiar view drunk in, I had had my thinking on the way up, the journey not the destination is the purpose, the means determines the end. Truth affirmed. Everywhere is down from here. The return trip is different, gradually, slowly and more easily lowering myself back into the world of schedules. Finally to the car, the road and the city. Wombelong will echo in my mind for a time when tested by stress, it rises quietly giving perspective.