Page 177

Wangaratta to Porepunkah and the Bright Autumn Festival.


Wangaratta is a large country town on the confluence of the King and Ovens Rivers. It's a pleasant town, large enough to warrant the presence of Woolworths, Big W, Coles, IGA, Harvey Norman and Bunnings stores. The caravan park was on Painters Island which is not really an island though it might have been once. The Ovens River flows along its southern boundary; the water was discoloured by topsoil washed down from Mount Hotham a hundred kilometres to the south east where heavy rain had fallen on the denuded slopes following the severe 2013 Harrietville bushfire.

The park was fine and the staff pleasant but the toilets and showers, though cleaned daily, were a sanctuary for spiders, the webs of which seemed to be invisible to the cleaning staff. Not new webs, webs that had accumulated the dust of ages. They covered the windows, the corners of the ceiling, under the sinks and behind the toilet bowls. But, I suppose, you can't have everything. Perhaps the spiders were a cheap alternative to an electronic fly zapper.

We were only in Wangaratta for the Easter holiday as our desired destination was the Porepunkah Pines Holiday Park (Bright) which was full up. As soon as there was a vacancy we hit the road.


Of course, we've spent a lot of time in Porepunkah in the past. It's one of our favourite places in the whole of Australia, situated as it is on the lower slopes of the Alps with Mount Hotham to the south and Mount Buffalo just west of the village. This park, too, is on the banks of the Ovens River.

Ovens River below suspension bridge

The Ovens River flows below a small suspension bridge which joins the caravan park to a woodland footpath.

The park was full when we arrived, it still being the school Easter holidays. There were a lot of groups, young parents with kids, some in caravans, others living under canvas. Each group kept a fire burning day and night and while the smell of wood smoke is quite pleasant, you can quickly get too much of it. We'd walk past a group which had formed a circle around their fire so whichever way the smoke blew, one or two would be sitting directly in it. These people also stood out for their lack of friendliness; the occupants of caravan parks are mostly very sociable but I think these groups were 'townies' snatching a few days off from work and the stress of everyday life.

The new owners of the park - did I tell you the park had been sold? - are absolutely lovely. This is our fifth visit and we couldn't wish for nicer, friendlier owners.

All the first week we watched a seemingly endless stream of gliders being towed overhead behind a Piper Pawnee and a Piper Super Cub. The gliders were from the Geelong Gliding Club and they move their operation up here every Easter for some mountain soaring experience.

Super Cub aero-towing a glider.

A glider towed over the caravan park by a 180 h.p. Super Cub, registered VH-MSA, built in 1958.

The Ovens River and how is got it's name.

This picturesque river was named after one Major John Ovens (1788-1825) who was born in St Catherine, County Fermanagh, Ireland. Although educated for the church, John entered the British Army at the age of 20, becoming an ensign in the 73rd Regiment. Two years later, after promotion to lieutenant, his regiment was sent to N.S.W. where he was appointed ‘Engineer in General Charge of Public Works’. This story becomes quite bizarre so bear with me ...

John, however, didn’t keep the job for very long. The next year he took leave in England and whilst there, transferred to the 74th Regiment which was fighting in Spain. There he was seriously injured. He was promoted to captain and became aide-de-camp to the commanding officer, Brigadier-General (Sir) Thomas Brisbane who may have taken a shine to John (there's a hint), for when Brisbane was later appointed Governor of New South Wales, he took John with him. There, John was made Acting Chief Engineer.

Ovens’ duties included general supervision of convict gangs. He improved the efficiency of the convicts employed on public works, supervised 'clearing gangs', and ultimately had fifty gangs preparing land to a state in which it was suitable for settlers to cultivate.

At the age of 35 John took on the role of explorer, accompanying Captain Currie on an expedition to the upper Murrumbidgee and Monaro district. Two years later he helped John Oxley to survey Twofold Bay.

Governor Brisbane wrote of Ovens, “No public officer here has rendered me the same essential service, the Colony such general benefit, or imposed upon the Mother Country such a heavy debt of gratitude”. He made John his private secretary and in recognition of his services, he secured his promotion to major in the 57th Regiment. He also obtained for him a grant of land at Concord on the south side of Sydney Harbour, not far from where Parramatta is today.

Major John Ovens, who had been in poor health for some time, died on 7th December 1825, just six days after Brisbane's governorship ended. He was 37 years of age.

Now get this. At his own request, Major Ovens was buried in the same grave as his good friend, Judge Ellis Bent, in the George Street burial ground. History doesn’t record what the Judge’s good wife and five children thought of this arrangement - perhaps she had rather expected to be buried with husband Ellis herself. Nor, for that matter, what Sir Thomas Brisbane thought of that cosy twosome.

According to the Biographies of Ovens and Bent, within days of Ovens burial, both were exhumed and reburied on Garden Island. Even then they couldn’t rest for they were again disinterred and moved to St. Thomas’s, North Sydney, where they finally got some peace.

This data was taken from The Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition. www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A020272b.htm and www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A010086b.htm

Ovens’ name is given to Mount Ovens, the Victorian town of Ovens, HMAS Ovens, the beautiful Ovens River and doubtless more.

Note: Major John Ovens should not be confused with Lieutenant John Ovens, who also served in the 57th Regiment at the same time.

The Ovens River from the old bridge

The Ovens from the 'old bridge', the water still muddy after the big fire on the slopes of Mount Hotham.

There's a lovely walk - well, several lovely walks - from the caravan park. Our favourite takes us over the little suspension bridge (which Pam fears more than dogs) and along a woodland path over creeks and past long-abandoned gold mine diggings. Eventually we come out on the Mountains to the Murray Rail Trail which follows the track of an erstwhile railway line from Bright to Wangaratta, a distance of 94 kilometres.

Usually we turn left and walk the trail back as far as Porepunkah, crossing the river on the old bridge then taking the path along the river back to the caravan park. If we're feeling super energetic - don't laugh - we can turn right along the Rail Trail and walk to Bright. At this time of year many trees are changing from green to shades of yellow, red and brown; it's a lovely walk. Additionally you can divert from the Rail Trail to the Canyon Walk into Bright which is quite spectacular and gets you off the bitumen.

Tree colours

Here the Rail Trail runs alongside the road for a while. That bench is part of it and most welcome.

The big problem when you walk to Bright is how to get home again, the one-way walk being quite enough for this old geriatric though I did do it both ways out of necessity on one of our visits to Bright. The round trip is about 12 kilometres.

Golf Course

Way back when, a giant dredger laid waste to this river plain in a search for alluvial gold. After the earth had been processed it was replaced but the fertile top soil was no longer on the surface and little would grow, so they made it into a golf course! The Ovens flows on the far side of the course and the Rail Trail runs on this side.

I shouldn't tell you this but it was so funny. Remember I told you Pam is more afraid of the little suspension bridge over the river than she is of dogs? Well, as the bridge bounces and sways when you walk over it, I am barred from setting foot on it while she is crossing. On one occasion she was crossing and I was waiting my turn when a large dog trotted onto the bridge and was catching Pam up rapidly. She was about in the middle when she noticed the bridge gyrating more than usual. Naturally she assumed it was me teasing her and was shooting some very angry invective over her shoulder when she caught sight of the large canine coming up behind her.

Usually it is my role to insert myself between the dog and my wife. On this occasion I had to sit it out on the river bank and watch. Fortunately the dog's only interest was in crossing the bridge and the petrified woman clinging to the guard rail was of no concern to him whatsoever; he walked straight past Pam and disappeared in search of his master.

I'd love to know what she'd said.

We meet some lovely people.

One Sunday afternoon we were sitting outside Bright's boutique brewery listening to live music. A lady called Karen approached us and asked, “Are you Pete and Pam?”

Karen, Joe and Jamila

Her husband, Joe, had been Googling four-wheel-driving in Queensland when he came across our web site and began following it. They live in Melbourne and when they planned a trip to Bright, knowing from our site that we were here, they wondered if they would bump into us. At the brewery they recognised us from photos on this site. In fact, they were sitting quite close to us with their little daughter, Jamila.

Joe, Karen and Jamila

But there's more. Karen had shown our web site to her parents who recognised us too. We had met them in Tamworth!

So, Hello Joe, Karen and Jamila, lovely to have met you. Thanks for the photo, Karen.

There, see, dear Reader? I told you that somebody, somewhere might read this stuff.


Soapbox time. Just after we arrived in Porepunkah there was a terrible accident nearby when an elderly woman apparently lost control of her car, left the road, struck two school-age children then a tree. She was killed and the children were badly injured. Two ambulances, two helicopters and multiple police vehicles attended and the Great Alpine Road was closed. The children were flown to the Royal Children's Hospital.

We scanned the news but not one word of this accident was reported. We scanned the internet, both then and since, but those scant details were all we could discover. What caused the car to leave the road? How are the children?

Shortly afterwards two bombs killed three people at the Boston Marathon and every news bulletin since has led with that story despite there being nothing new to report and far worse disasters having subsequently occurred around the world.

What is this fascination the media has with America and Americans? I doubt if anyone in Australia knew or had ever heard of the Boston victims so why, a week on, does every news bulletin lead with rehash after rehash? Am I the only one who is sick to death of hearing about it?

Later Correction: The lady that died in the accident was the grandmother of the two injured children. They were not pedestrians but passengers in her car. They sustained broken legs and were flown to the Royal Children's Hospital. I don't know what caused the accident but I understand the driver probably blacked out as there were no skid marks. She was conscious when taken from the wreckage but died before reaching hospital.

Internet Explorer Update

Version 10 of I.E. has been released and is available for free download. I am now using it and it seems okay. They are playing 'catch-up' to some extent and not before time.

A Microlight Flight over mount buffalo

Microlight Before Takeoff

All strapped in and raring to go.

Ever since first visiting the magnificent Mount Buffalo Chalet I have wanted to photograph it from the air. Why from the air? Because it can't be photographed to best advantage from anywhere on the ground due to its position on a flat rock at the head of a gorge and because it's masked by trees.

There is a microlight aircraft operating from the local airfield so I enquired whether a flight up to the Chalet with my camera would be possible. The answer was no and there were good reasons; I'd be wearing a helmet with a visor and thick gloves as the temperature up there is well below zero and the wind blast considerable. There's also the safety aspect. Any object such as a glove, accidentally dropped, would fly back into the propeller which is just behind the passenger seat, its blades rotating at just below the speed of sound. The blades would shatter and probably damage the fabric wing above. Not a desirable scenario at 6,000 feet above ground.

However, all was not lost. Greg, the pilot, has a special camera mounted under the wing which takes pictures automatically every ten seconds. Not an ideal alternative from my perspective, but perhaps the best I was going to get.

Flying Over Porepunkah

Below is Porepunkah, the caravan park at the bottom. Look for the blue pool just behind the red wheel fairing.
As you can see, the seating arrangement is ... well, cosy.

Zoom into caravan park

The same image as above but zoomed in on the caravan park, quickly identified by its blue swimming pool.
Arrowed are the suspension foot bridge over the Ovens River and our caravan. Note the tree colours in the park.

As can be seen from the picture of Porepunkah, the camera uses a fish-eye type lens which is quite accurate in the centre but produces distortion around the edges of the picture. The advantage is that it captures a far larger area but makes everything more distant. How, I wonder, will that affect photos of the Chalet?

Buffalo Chalet

The Chalet perched on the edge of a huge drop.

The Chalet appeared in twelve of the 200+ pictures that were taken but because the camera was centred on me, the Chalet was always on the periphery, always small and always distorted. In fact, it looked little like the picture above depicts it. If this photo has one redeeming feature, it illustrates why a good frontal photo from the ground is impossible. Even without the trees, the ground drops steeply away from the front of the building and then drops almost vertically into the Buffalo Gorge. When the wind is suitable truly crazy people leap off that cliff with only a hang-glider for company.

On the way back to the airfield Greg allowed me to fly the microlight which is not steered like a normal aircraft but by moving the centre of gravity. My instinct from my gliding experience is to move the control right to turn right. On a microlight you move the control left to turn right. Thus I made a hash of things. Interestingly a microlight is capable of turning so tightly that when circling it can run into the turbulence it generated on the previous turn.

When we arrived over the airfield Greg switched off the engine and, apart the noise stopping, nothing seemed to change. He landed without the engine and taxied right into the hangar. Then it was time to remove the outer gloves, the inner gloves, the helmet and visor, the earphone and microphone head set, the balaclava, the scarf, the boots and the flying suit.

From the photographic point of view it was disappointing but otherwise it was an exhilarating experience, flying around in something not much bigger than a dodgem car suspended from a kite.

Gala Day in Bright

Once again we attended Gala Day but instead of sitting near the end of the parade route we waited at the start. We had heard that the compère was very amusing and worth hearing. It was his wife, Helen, that told us where to stand; she and husband Les are stalwarts of Bright's Alpine Tourist Information Centre. Not only was Les worth hearing but to start proceedings an 11 year old girl sang the National Anthem beautifully and without any accompaniment.

Les, Helen and singer

Les, Helen and the young girl who sang Advance Australia Fair.

There followed the usual gaily decorated procession of floats, brass bands and vintage cars carrying Miss This and Miss That.


A float carrying school children, many holding placards pleading for the environment. Inset: One placard.

There was an addition to this year's procession. Ever heard of a segway? There was a group riding segways . . .


Segways are battery powered, capable of 18 k.p.h. and have an endurance of many hours. They are able to turn tightly and reverse. Apparently segways are an American invention quite new to Australia.

Autumn colours

Autumn Festivals are all good fun but you can't beat Mother Nature!

On that happy note let's go to Page 178.