Leave the caravan at a coastal caravan park, park some light weight camping gear and take Bucketts Way through Gloucester for what is a steep, scenic drive up to the ‘Tops.’
This is a World Heritage Park covering 74,000 acres of bushland, with nature camping and well marked walking trails.
This area is a feast for the eyes. Fauna and flora are abundant.
National Parks and Wildlife Service is a great website.
Try National Parks NSW for guidance for visitors to this area.
Nearby Manning Valley is a great place to stay if you want more overnight comforts than a tent.
"Ladies Well" can be found in the breathtaking Barrington Tops NSW.
It is an amazing place, and it has to be one of the most beautiful rain forest areas in Australia. When I visited in July 2013 there was free camping here.
It's the journey that matters, not the destination.
There was plenty of fresh water and unspoiled countryside when Visited "The Tops."
This was a free camping ground in 2013. Check with the National Parks services for current fees. Back then, there were some bins and a drop toilet. The old fashioned 'drop box.' hole in the ground with a seat over it. I'd be happy to pay a camping fee for improved toilet facilities. But, what a beautiful environment to camp.
You will discover "Boot Hill" along the way. This is hundreds of thongs, boots, sandals, water shoes, joggers, pairs, singles, you name it, tied to a fence. Your car will get filthy, the road curves will try you, and you will reach Ladies Well via Allyn River Road.
Every city needs a quiet haven, and Newcastle has the Barrington Tops only two hours away.
Ryn Shell's Australian rural-lit writing is enhanced by personal experience of nature and days spent with family in the Australian bushland.
“Sure, Emily,” Iain said. “In the past, the Woggan-Wandong never camped near water. We believe the Dreaming Spirits are in our waterholes. We’d camp far enough away so strangers wouldn’t find the water if they came to our camp. Then the other part of Jarrah and me, the Fife family, came and camped right at the Dreaming Billabong. That’s when things began to change. In fact, I rather like camping near water.”
“But we can’t bury our waste here,” Jarrah said. “We need to take it away with us and bury it far from the water’s edge.”
“I think sometimes the old laws were right,” Iain said. “There are still strangers who do not understand that rivers and waterholes are sacred places.”
Emily felt her line jerk and then go slack. She wound the line in. Jarrah jigged with excitement until the empty hook appeared at the water’s edge.
“Fish nibbled your bait off.” Iain baited her hook again and stepped aside well up the bank and let her cast the line in. Then he came back and picked up his rod to fish within talking distance. “When the spirits become angry, they’re dangerous. That’s why we Aboriginals don’t want strangers to camp at waterholes, because we don’t know how strangers might behave.”
“What about our great-grandmother Jane? Were they angry with her for camping at the Dreaming Billabong?” Emily asked.
“I don’t think the Dreaming Spirits felt Jane was a stranger,” Iain said. “I’m sure they saw her as someone who belonged to the land. But, the settlers weren’t all like that.”
“What happens if bad strangers find the waterholes?” Emily asked.
“We’d set the bunyip onto them.” Jarrah laughed, wound his reel in and recast.
“Bunyips aren’t real.” She mimicked how Jarrah wound his reel in and walked along the bank, dragging her line along in the water.
“Sure, we made up stories of bunyips in the billabong to try to keep strangers away from the waterhole, so they wouldn’t disturb the Rainbow Spirit.” Jarrah kept a supervising eye on Emily as she flicked her fishing line. “But don’t think there’s nothing in the water. I know there are powerful spirits at Dreaming Billabong. If the spirits are troubled, if they’re threatened, they hurl wind and rocks.”
“Do they ever hit anyone?” Emily asked.
“I’ll protect you until they know you’re not a stranger.” Jarrah squatted beside the water, digging into the bank with a stick and flicking worms into a pile.
“Eeeee, Oh, I love this!” Emily inspected the fist full of wriggling worms he held out to show her.
Iain dragged in the net and shook a couple of yabbies in the bucket. He grabbed a thick worm and baited her hook. “If you get a tug, yell; Jarrah and I’ll show you how to reel in.”
The line jerked. Emily squealed, and two additional sets of hands immediately clasped her rod handle with her.
Iain released his grip. “She’s all yours. You’ve got it, Emily. Reel her in.”
Jarrah guided her right hand onto the crank and indicated for her to wind. He watched her actions and the water’s edge, then pounced and flicked the fish up the bank the moment it emerged from the water. He grabbed it, removed the hook and brought the fish over to show her.
Iain ran up the bank towards the ute. When he came back, Emily was dancing on the spot, tears of excitement in her eyes. Her face glowed as she held the fish up high to show him. Jarrah stood behind her, and his hand clasped over hers, helping her hold the golden perch.
“Yellow belly—you little beauty.” Iain bent, holding the Brownie box camera to his eye, and took the children’s photograph holding the fish with the river view behind them. “Now that photo is going to be a keeper for the family album.” Iain took the camera back to the ute and dug in deep behind the back seat, searching behind where the swags were stored. He found a tin picnic set and frypan and returned to clean the three fish they’d caught.
After opening the picnic set, Iain unwrapped butter from wet paper and dropped a chunk of it to into the sizzling hot frypan.
“The early settlers didn’t know about the Dreaming stories of the Rainbow Spirit or the hairy men. They could sense the strength of the spirits at some of the waterholes.” Iain deftly slid the fish fillets into the sizzling butter. The steam rose and wafted the aroma of fresh cooked yellow belly and caramelised butter.
Jarrah gathered the fishing rods and put them away, then took Emily to help find something to eat with the fish. He pulled a handful of vines and washed the white, round tubers at their base in the river. He peeled these and dropped the small tubers in the pan beside the fish. Iain stirred them a few times and then flipped the pan to turn the fillets over.
Emily sat cross-legged beside the fire sniffing the air. “Mmmmm, absolutely scrumptious smell.”
Jarrah held the plates near his uncle, and Iain served the fish and bush tucker vegetables. Emily unpacked the knives and forks from the picnic knapsack. Jarrah set her plate in her lap.
They ate together amidst the sounds of Emily’s “ooh” and “aah” and plates being scraped clean.
“Emily.” Iain poured flour into the camp oven. “Jarrah and I decided that you should know the truth about the massacres that happened on Fife Downs and Woggan-Wandong country.” He added baking powder and water and began mixing the damper with his large hands. “You’ll hear about them at school.” He set the camp oven in the coals at the side of the fire and shovelled more coals over the top of the pot. “We felt you should hear the facts from your own family.”
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