Saturday, June 21, 2014
The Three Lost Children Walk, Daylesford. June 2014.
I'll get my disclaimer out of the way early. This upcoming post will be word heavy, so don't even contemplate thinking you'll read it on the train home. Not unless you're on the Trans-Siberian Express of course. There will be plenty of mind melting massive photos as well, so I apologise for the inability of your page to load.
As I'm in an apologetic mood, I must also apologise to Farmer Hubert, who owned an apple orchard near where I grew up. I'm sorry, but I stole apples off your trees every time I walked past on my way home from school. If it's any consolation Hub's (even though you're dead, I'm sure you don't mind me calling you that), they tasted great. Lastly, within this online confessional box, I'm sorry to the celebrity who lives in the inner city of Melbourne. A few years back I lived next door to you and in the front room of my house I could access your Wi-Fi. I'm sorry, but I regularly used it to download things. If it's any consolation, it's partially your fault, as you didn't have the skills or couldn't be bothered to put a password on your Wi-Fi.
Now that's out of the way. What about this walk? I was thinking this is a bit of a first for these pages. This only exists as a walk, as it follows an event, which occurred way back in 1867. Off the top of my head, I can't think of many walks which are similar? Oh, I'm not using Google and I'm run down with the 2014 special limited edition Hades cold, so I apologise if I'm wrong (okay knackers, the apologies were in the last few paragraphs. Can you move on now please?)
Do you know I knew nothing about the events of this walk until last year? I'll fully admit I have a complete lack of knowledge regarding Australian history. I could tell you more about the aerial battle of Schweinfurt than recount details of our early explorers. Maybe I should have pushed past Year 11 at school? I might be smarter as a result.
There are two things, which came to mind when I spent my day strolling through the forests near Daylesford. Firstly, I remember back to when I was about 5 or 6 years old and sometimes I'd have to accompany my mum to the shops. She didn't have a car, so we'd walk. The thing is, the shopping centre seemed an absurdly long way away for my spindly, junior legs. I can recall it felt like the distance was eternally long and I'd be exhausted when I got home. I just checked the length we walked on Google maps and I kid you not, but it's 1.1 km. Make a note of this.
Secondly, there's a thing I've mentioned previously in the blog. I can believe something, but if someone comes along and says the opposite, but are insanely confident as they say so, I immediately begin to doubt myself. My brain will start ticking over with thoughts such as, "I don't know. They must be right. They're so confident. How can they be wrong?!"
So, there are the two thoughts and I'll revisit them later in the post.
The story attached to this walk isn't pleasant at all. Three young children, aged 6, 5 and 4, left their homes near Daylesford for a day spent looking for wild goats in the gold diggings area nearby. Even now, it's hard to fathom, but they continued to walk on a route, which took them further and further away from home. They were spoken to twice by people they encountered, who advised them they were lost and even told by one of the direction they should take to get home. Somehow though, this advice was ignored and they continued on until they were swallowed up in what's now the Wombat State Forest and were never seen alive again.
An extensive search failed to find them and the cold June weather sealed their fate. It wasn't until three months passed before their remains were found, sheltered in the trunk of a large tree within the forest. The impact of this event is still to be seen in the Daylesford district. A memorial stands near where they were found and a communal grave was paid for by public subscription. The father of two of the boys, established a scholarship, which still continues at the Daylesford State School.
Now, how was I going to do this walk? It's not a circuit, so I'd have to work out some other way to get back to the car. If anything, I wanted to do it in winter, so I could get a sense of what the weather could be like and if possible, with mist in the trees, just because I like mist in the trees.
In the end, I picked out a day to do a walk in Daylesford, but guess what I found as I drove there? Melbourne was sunny, but as I drove past Wombat State Forest, the sky was overcast and there was mist in the trees. I decided it was now and never, so I abandoned my original plans and decided to tackle this one. I'd broken one rule though, as officially it wasn't winter, but I could live with this as it was only a few days away. I may have an unhealthy addiction to carbohydrates, but I do have some positives. My GPS was preloaded with about a dozen walks and I had multiple bags of notes with me, so I can make up my mind about what to tackle when driving to the area. Aren't I clever?
You can find the walk notes online, but I turned to the usual suspects. GT's, 'Victoria's Goldfield Walks', plus the DSE provide both notes and a blurb, which tells you all you need to know. I wasn't sure what to expect for the day though, as the walk notes say it, '...follows the approximate route the boys walked...'.
Time for some pictures? In a moment, but before I do, guess what happened when I was about a kilometre into the walk? You know the answer already. The mist cleared and the photographic look I was after was gone. Instead, I had to admire the sheets of bark left from the trees within the forest...
...whilst I followed an open track.
It was pretty early on when I realised what I faced, was going to be both my walk and surroundings for the day. Strolling on wide vehicle tracks which appear to be open to the odd car. Are they? I guess so, as at one point a 4WD came heading my way. I stood aside to let it pass, but it stopped and I was forced into one of those weird moments, where the bloke appeared to want to speak to me, but didn't, and instead, just stared, as if he was waiting for me to talk first. Huh? Why did you stop then?
In the end, it was pretty brief. The bloke asked me what I was up to. I would have thought it was self-explanatory, as I was wearing a daypack and carrying a camera. When I told him I was walking, he asked me, "Why? For fitness?" Really, can I say this now? The conversation was killing me, so all I did was agree and after a bit more pain, he drove off.
Left alone again, I wandered on...
...as the track continued to unfold. There was a brief moment where I was almost run over by a horse, but it was okay. The horse was being controlled harness racing style. You don't believe me, do you? Well, there it is heading off into the distance. Unfortunately I had the wide angle lens on, so you'll have to utilise your portable Hubble telescope to see it.
It was easy walking, as I strolled over a few small hills...
...before having one last look at the trees around Sailors Creek...
...before the track headed out into civilisation. Actually, it was never very far away, as I could hear cars and the odd chainsaw for the entire walk. Some colourful trees kept me interested, as I followed Hogans Lane.
Well, the photo above may look peaceful, but I almost lost my hearing from dogs frothing at the mouth, barking as I walked past.
Other than track markers, there are no signs or spots along the way, which tell any part of the story. The DSE map mentions where they spoke to people and I was going to take photos around these areas. Unfortunately, without some sort of pointer reminding me of these moments, I missed my chance, due to my zen kicking in and leaving me in a meditative state.
The track follows a few roads and they were impressively straight, so I took a few photos, but surely you don't need to see them? What I did notice is I'd covered 10 km quite quickly, but began to wonder. How did they feel walking this distance? One child was only 4 years old. I contemplated this, as I recalled my feeble efforts at walking a round trip of about 2.5 km with my mother. All these years later I remember how interminable that minuscule distance felt.
I also wondered, why did they ignore the advice of the people they spoke to? Apparently telling them they were going in the wrong direction and paying no heed to the information given? I wonder what they discussed? You would assume the eldest became the leader, as he took them further and further away, but who knows? This is where I thought, did they rely on the confidence of one in their group? One who emphatically thought he knew the way, causing the others to believe and follow. Trusting the directions or instinct of their leader?
This brought me back to my experiences where the confidence of another can suddenly cause self-doubt within myself. "This seems wrong and I'm not sure, but they're so confident. They must know what they're doing". I could see a similar scenario with these three children, but of course I'm only surmising, but it was food for thought whilst I wandered on. I do have another theory entirely though, but I'll leave it until the end.
The final chapter was when they entered Wombat State Forest as they were never seen alive again. To my eye, it looked like any other Victorian forest. Quite featureless with no landmarks to distinguish it from one part to another. In 1867 I can imagine they'd be minimal tracks and obviously no infrastructure. Unlike my walk, where I could constantly hear the sound of traffic and machinery in various directions. I'd imagine they heard nothing, that would help indicate which way to walk. It might have been only 15 km from Daylesford, but they may as well have been a hundred miles away.
During my pondering, I was still taking photos and as you've noticed before, the fungi was out and about everywhere. These looked quite interesting on a sawn off tree stump...
...whereas this, whatever it was, looked huge.
Oh, doesn't look too big? Okay, here's a size 48 boot to help put it into scale.
The fungi kept coming and there were some beautiful examples tucked away at the base of trees...
...with one holding a small pool of water...
...and others clinging to the base of a blackened, burnt eucalypt.
It wasn't just delicate fungi clinging to charred tree stumps. A long lost pair of glasses sat perched on blackened timber.
By now the end was near and it was a strange finale. Arriving in an isolated picnic area, with no information I could see to say the walk was done.
This isn't the end though. The children were not found at the official walk conclusion, but a few kilometres further on. There's a memorial in the vicinity of their found location, but firstly I had to work out how to get back to Daylesford.
I could have followed roads all the way, but after a short stroll on Wombat Dam Road, I was keen to find an alternative. It was monotonous and trudge-like, so I opted for a track, which appeared to run parallel to the road for quite some distance.
It was a good choice, as I had easy walking, but there was one problem. It was getting late in the day and with the grey skies, it seemed the light was fading quicker than I expected. I maintained a reasonable pace before I came to this gate. Is this private property...?
I made a decision to utilise an age old walking principle to these things. I ignored it and imagined it was never there, by passing through and moving on.
By now, light was well and truly dim. A blazing sunset created a glow, but it was being overwhelmed by low passing, dark clouds.
There was some stumbling, as I reached a point where the track petered out, so I made for the nearby road, taking time to capture the silhouettes of surrounding trees...
...and in particular, this impressive example.
I eventually stumbled out onto roads and then picked out the most direct route back to my car. I wandered down Hallenstein Street, enjoying the surroundings, which revealed an open sky filled with the last light of the day...
...and then turning down Patterson Street...
...as it continued in a straight line to Daylesford, before turning downhill and it's here the camera was retired, as by now the evening light had gone.
By the time I reached my car, it was well and truly dark. For the last couple of kilometres, I had to use my headlamp to pick my way over rough and ready footpaths. I imagined falling or twisting my ankle within the developed outskirts of Daylesford, so I took my time before finally the wheels of mobility were reached.
Before wrapping up this walk, I must mention a completely unexpected postscript to the day. The carpark at the start of the walk isn't illuminated and I was packing the car under my headlamp. An occasional passing car on the nearby Midland Highway would momentarily light up my surrounds as I did so.
This passing light occurred a few times before an intense, strange glow lit up the area. As I was bending down, I thought it was just another car, but was confused by the lack of vehicle noise and how different the light was compared to before. I looked up into the sky and was stunned to see a meteor in fiery, glowing segments pass by before their light extinguished. It's hard to describe the light, but I liken it to an enormous candle in the wind. The hill around me was covered in a silent, flickering, golden glow for a few seconds. It was stunning and a short time after the light vanished, there was a heavy crump of what sounded like a sonic boom.
I wondered, "Surely I'm not the only person to see this?" Later at home, a search on Twitter revealed a few others in Melbourne asking whether anyone had seen the same thing and heard the thumping sound afterwards. At least I wasn't alone.
So, what to make of the walk? Well, the sights are not earth shattering, as it's a bit of a meander on wide forest tracks, with no distinct stand out feature to admire. Although of course, it's all about the story and the walk takes a back seat. It would be nice to have a couple of interpretive signs along the way, so one could reflect a little, but I'm pretty realistic. They probably wouldn't last and the exact route is not known, so it is what it is.
There's a nagging thing in my mind though and maybe it's a little cynical. The story has an innocent narrative (children looking for goats), but it's told as a bit faux Victorian childhood nostalgia. I wondered if there was more to it, which would explain them wandering further and further away? Maybe they didn't want to go back? Maybe they were running away? Then were too scared to go back? Who knows, but I'm left thinking there's a bit more to the story.
Do you want to see the GPS route for the day? Okay, if you insist. At nearly 25 km it was a fairly long session. Also, again, I have to apologise for the acre of white space around the embedded Garmin map. It's their fault, not mine.
Well, that's the walk, but there's a bit more to get through before concluding. I wanted to visit the memorial where the bodies of the three children were found, just to tie up the entire story. Oh, it required my trusty time machine though, as I had to go back a few weeks to the past, when the sun was still up, but low in the sky.
A short drive from Daylesford and I was soon at a quiet spot alongside a rural road. A small memorial sits against a farmland fence. The area though is unrecognisable to what it looked like in the past. The forested area where a large tree stood and the children sheltered under has long gone. Apparently it was preserved for as long as possible before succumbing during a storm in 1950. There's an old photo of the tree at the time of the discovery of the boys remains. I considered using it here, but I couldn't get a reasonable copy online and any enquiries I made have gone nowhere. Anyway, it's difficult to produce a 'then and now' photo, as the location where they were found, is now an open paddock.
How about the photo above? Does it look familiar? Seen it somewhere in the past? Sorry, but I'm just interested if you've been paying attention, as it's the same picture at the start of the post.
So, viewing the memorial was completed and now all I had to do was visit the Daylesford Cemetery, where the children were buried together. It's only a short distance away and with the sun setting and an icy chill in the air, I had to move quickly. It's quite a large cemetery and just like all the others I've visited in country areas, it was very intriguing...
...especially some of the old, worn statues.
I didn't know where the lost children's grave was located, but knowing a monument had been built by public subscription, I knew it was substantial in size. Their final resting place wasn't hard to find and this brought an end to my travels regarding this tragic story.