- Photo Essays
One of my earliest memories is listening to my mum recite the poem ‘The Man From Snowy River’: a story of rugged mountain horsemen who head into the Snowy Mountains of the Australian High Country to track down a mob of wild brumbies.
My brother, cousins and I would sit in wide-eyed fascination during these vivid renditions of Banjo Patterson’s bush ballad, oohing and aahing in all the appropriate places.
I remember wondering what a real-life wild brumby would look like (“Are they actually real, mum?”) and what it would be like to explore those mountains on horseback. I was enchanted by the very idea of ‘Snowy Mountains’ in Australia and wondered why on earth we had a mountain called ‘Kosciuszko’.
Then in 1982 the inevitable happened: they made a film about it!
And I fell in love with the story all over again.
But this story was spruced up a little. It included a love story featuring a handsome mountain-man called Jim and a pretty girl called Jessica who was as tough as nails, loved horses and of course ended up getting aforementioned hot mountain man. She was awesome – an excellent role model.
Fast-forward thirty years and where do I find myself….?
Well, up to my ankles in the freezing water of Australia’s very own Snowy River of course! Where else? The river originates on the edge of Mount Kosciuszko, the highest peak on the continent, which explains why it the water so damned cold!
Post-Bangladesh travel, I am proudly surefooted after traversing many a ‘bridge’ made from twigs. One dodgy river crossing in Australia and a few loose rocks is all it takes to refute that claim.
I allow my hiking shoes fill with water while I steady myself. The alternative of losing a backpack full of camera gear to the river is not an option – I’d rather have wet feet and frostbite. No, really.
My ‘great’ friend, Holly is giggling into her ski gloves from the opposite bank.
“Good friends,” she says with all sincerity, “will help you up with concern. Great friends will wet themselves laughing and take a photo of your misfortune.”
Yes, she did both!
Holly pronounces the loose-rock river crossing Lady Cherina’s Lament while I squeeze the Snowy River from my socks, and then we carry on.
Several locals have told us that if we only do one hike in Kosciusko National Park, it should be this one from Charlotte Pass to Blue Lake, the largest of only five glacial lakes in Australia. Of course we will do more than one hike but the snow is coming so it is quite probable that views and trails may soon disappear.
But it is not snowing today. My feet are numb, but Blue Lake is magnificent.
I try to imagine this landscape in a time when rivers of moving ice dominated the area. 10,000 years ago the glaciers that sculpted this bowl-shaped basin retreated. Now it is Mount Twynam, Australia’s third highest mountain, that is the most imposing feature of this landscape.
At an elevation of 1890 meters, the surface of Blue Lake freezes for about four months of the year. I still find it difficult to comprehend the idea of a frozen glacial lake in Australia. Heck, I also find it difficult to get my head around the idea of snow and mountains in Australia!
We return the way we came and this time the river crossing is without incident.
There were no wild brumbies today, no handsome mountain men or bush poets – but I crossed the Snowy River. I hiked through the Snowy Mountains.
That extraordinary place from my childhood became real…and if I had to fall into a river, I’m kind of glad it was this one.