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Tim the Yowie Man: Best family bushwalk is the Big Hole near Braidwood

Discovering one of our region's best family bushwalks to Big Hole near Braidwood can be a rewarding experience.

Just ahead, water rushes over a series of submerged stepping stones. If we are going to cross the Shoalhaven River, and continue our bushwalk, then we are going to get wet.

Mrs Yowie and I sit down on a rock ledge and take off our shoes and socks. We then turn to help our daughters, Emily, 4, and Sarah, 7, but they've already ripped theirs off and are eagerly waiting at the water's edge, splashing the icy water at each other. I think someone forgot to tell them it's almost winter.

"Come on Daddy, let's go," yelps Sarah as she grabs my arm for balance and bounds across the submerged stones, leaving poor dad floundering in her wake.

If you are after an exciting way to kick off a family bushwalk than you'd be hard pressed beating this start to the four-kilometre return trek to the Big Hole near Braidwood. 

I've forded the Shoalhaven here several times before (with a lower water level, and in summer), but it's the first time the entire Yowie Clan has come along for the adventure. 

When you've got a four-year-old and seven-year-old in tow and you embark on a bushwalk, you do so with a sense of trepidation. Not because they might fall over (although we always carry a packet full of adhesive plasters  for grazed knees), nor that they'll get lost (there's little chance of that with the noise the two make!). No, with today's generation of screen-overdosed kids, it's more with a risk they'll suffer withdrawals from modern technology.

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We are keen for Sarah and Emily to embrace the outdoors and to discover and explore. It's good for their minds, it's good for their bodies, and it's got to be much better than watching endless repeats of Frozen (for the uninitiated, a very popular Disney animation based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale The Snow Queen, which it seems every kid in Canberra has watched at least 50 times), indoors on a screen.

In fact, we almost didn't get this far for when I told the kids that we were walking to a big hole, they weren't exactly enamoured by the idea. However, when I explained the hole might be full of gold treasure, their tune quickly changed. I didn't have the heart to explain the gold "discovery" was more than 100 years ago and, further, that it turned out to be a hoax. But, hey, at least I had them interested.

To compensate the kids for the lack of real gold they will likely unearth, I've tucked away a handful of gold-coloured chocolate coins in my top pocket which I plan on giving them as a reward when they reach the Big Hole. I've also brought a gold pan as a prop. Heck, if all else fails, they can use the gold pan as a frisbee.

However, it's soon obvious I needn't have been worried about needing to entertain on them, for their adventurous start crossing the river has left both of them "buzzing" and they scurry up the hill (it's a gentle uphill most of the way to the Big Hole). 

There's much to keep them amused: stairs to count, termite mounds to play hide-and-seek among, fallen trees to swing on, and odd-shaped fungi to gawk at. Clumps of square pooh outside a burrow even prompts Emily to ask "do wombats really do have square bottoms". Well, think about it, how else is there are there droppings so symmetrical?!

After an hour or so as we approach the Big Hole, not once have I needed to mention the prospect of treasure to entice the girls to the top of the hill.

At the top the girls "high five each other. They've made it! As they peer expectantly into the abyss, their little fingers grip tightly around the top of the safety rail. Formed when overlying sandstone collapsed into a subterranean limestone cavern sinkhole, this aptly named hole is more like something you'd expect to encounter on an expedition with Indiana Jones, not on a bushwalk near Canberra. 

A faded interpretative sign at the lookout explains that explorer Major Thomas Mitchell who stumbled upon the hole in 1832 was the first European to describe "its vast recesses" and that in the 1860s, a local man called Boxall was the first known person to be lowered in the hole by rope. These days, abseilers can access the hole with special permits from the park's authorities. 

Stories of an unnamed man who got too close to the edge and tumbled into the hole back in1884 (he supposedly had his name carved on a nearby tree but I couldn't find it) is incentive enough for the girls to retreat well behind the safety fence from where we try to catch a glimpse of the lyrebird which has occasionally been spotted emerging from the hole.

With the girls downing their lunch (and most of their famished dad's), I'm tempted to scoff the chocolate coins still stashed away in my top pocket but Sarah eventually remembers the promise of gold so I reluctantly hand out the coins while recounting the story of the hoax. 

"Don't worry Daddy, chocolate is better than gold anyway," quips Sarah as she shows Emily how to scrunch up the chocolate wrappers to make a pile of pretend gold.

Back down the hill the kids tear off with mum and dad struggling to keep up. They want to find where they scratched their names in the dirt with a stick on the way up, they want a photo at their favourite termite mounds, they want to bellow "cooee" at the top of their voices and see if anyone calls back, and most of all they want to cross that river again.

Back at the car it's time for Mrs Yowie and I to "high five" each other. Mission accomplished. Not one mention of Frozen on the entire walk, although the soundtrack does sneak into the CD player for the drive home, but by the end of the first track, the kids are already blissfully fast asleep. 

Fact file

Getting there: The Big Hole is at the western end of Deua National Park, about 1½ hours' drive from Canberra via Captains Flat or Braidwood. If travelling via Captains Flat, some of the road is dirt/gravel but is suitable for 2WD. The relatively gentle walk to the Big Hole leaves from the Berlang Rest Area (and involves a short ford across the Shoalhaven River), is clearly marked and is just under four kilometres return.

Watch out for: Apart from the obvious (a whopping great big hole!), keep your eyes peeled for echidnas and red-necked wallabies on the walk. You might even be lucky enough to see a tiger quoll.

Don't forget: A wide-angle lens for your camera. The hole is difficult to photograph without one. Oh, and make sure you keep it strapped around your wrist – you wouldn't want it to fall in!

Make a day trip of it: Take lunch to munch on at the platform overlooking the Big Hole. Alternatively, the sheltered campground at the start of the walk is ideal for a picnic at any time of year.

Take care: River levels can change with little warning.

More: environment.nsw.gov.au and search for Deua National Park.

The Big Hole hoax

Following this column's recent expose on "Gold hoax at Mount Ainslie" (March 21) , Chris Woodland of Bawley Point promptly dispatched me a copy of  The Town and Country of July 10, 1907, which outlines the extraordinary tale of a supposed rich vein of gold supposedly hidden in the Big Hole.

The headline of the century-old article screams "A Colossal Confidence Trick" and numerous pages of the historic journal are dedicated to detailing "The Big Hole Fraud" in which Alexander Fraser, a Sydney photographer-come-miner, deceived many businessmen into investing into a gold mine which simply didn't exist. 

Not only did the fraudulent Fraser "invent" the discovery of a monster mother lode of gold buried in a "mysterious abyss" at the bottom of the Big Hole, but he then set about raising funds for an exploratory syndicate to mine it. To persuade potential investors, Fraser resorted to inventing a number of characters including a Mr Stanger, an "English financier of immense capital" along with a South African "mining expert" who not only confirmed Fraser's claims of gold in the wash dirt of the Big Hole, but also suggested the rock may also contain diamonds. 

Whenever investors pushed for meetings with these so-called international experts, con-man Fraser dreamed-up excuses, often outrageous ones, for their inability to meet. On several occasions Fraser wrote back to investors to explain that Mr Stanger objected to a meeting because he suffered a disease which "arose from a fractured leg which had developed into necrosis of the bone causing an unpleasant smell".

Fraser was eventually found out when one of the investors noticed that all of Mr Stanger's letters "whether written in Cobar, and Cairo, and Connecticut, and any other old place, were all written on the same type-writing machine as that which Fraser used for his own correspondence". It turns out "there were a few peculiarities in the machine – the top of a letter missing, a capital letter that was out of alignment, and things like that". 

The fraudulent Fraser received five years in prison for what The Town and Country described "one of the most sensational swindles of this or any other century".

Where in Canberra?  

Clue: You will have a lot of trouble reading these newspapers.

Degree of difficulty: Easy-medium

Last week: Congratulations to Alison Moy of Holt who correctly identified last week's photo as part of the facade at the entrance to Teatro Vivaldi Restaurant on the campus (Arts Centre, University Avenue) of the Australian National University. The walls of the arty eatery are adorned with film and theatre memorabilia and it often hosts cabaret shows.

How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to timtheyowieman@bigpond.com. The first email sent after Saturday, May 30, 10am today with the correct answer wins a double pass to Dendy cinemas.