The timing of this trip was sensational. It was a few weeks after the big October rains. The river was ripping along and after years of drought in the region, everything looked green and alive. Except for the drowned bits, that is.
I undertook a reconnaissance mission in the car with the toddler asleep in the back seat. I could see on Google Earth and the 1:25000 map (Taemas Bridge, ref 8627) that there was a road from the Barton Highway, along the Dog Trap Road, down to the river and a small river crossing that led to a road on the western bank of the river that went to our proposed destination, the Taemas Bridge. This would save drigin all the way to Yass and around. The recon mission established that the road down to the river was through private property. The horseshoe sign above the gate helpfully gave the name of the property, Carkella, and phone number of the property owners and I diligently copied the details onto my phone.
The owners were very helpful and appreciated that I had bothered to call. The lady said that a lot of people just drive through without asking permission, so brownie points for that.
The date was set, and we set off via Maccas for an early coffee. The usual car shuffle followed which meant we were on the water around 8.30, from the bridge on the Carkella property.
The water was ripping along after the rains and we made good progress in gorgeous spring sunshine. We negotiated a small set of whitewater without difficulty and stopped for our first break after an hour of paddling.
Continuing on our way we rounded a right-angle bend in the river and I heard the ominous sound of rapids ahead. It was louder than I liked and pretty soon I was frantically turning around and paddling upstream to the river bank. The river split into two channels and both were narrow with raging whitewater in both of them. But it was the overhanging trees and a trapped fallen tree in the left hand channel that had me backing away. Normally I am the most gung ho of our group but this turned me into a nervous nelly. We had no helmets which with the benefit of hindsight was pretty dumb. We also had precious little in the way of actual knowledge or training. We had kind of trusted to good luck and a natural instinct to flee from anything remotely scary.
So we got out, walked the length of the rapids and decided to portage. Ooh how I live to use that word, it sounds so professional! It was a bugger because even though the rapids themselves were not that long, the walk from where we put in to a safe and easy entry point downstream was a good 150 meters or so with fully laden kayaks over rocky ground. It took us ten minutes to traverse that distance and we worked up a good sweat in the process.
Fortunately this was the only set of rapids too risky to negotiate. We passed through half a dozen more on the rest of the trip and for once we had no capsizes! Overhangs were the biggest threat as well as some submerged logs, but for the most part it was pretty high on the serenity scale. For five or more hours we did not see a soul. We passed a few homesteads but for the most part we were disconnected from civilisation. The river level was higher than it had been for many years. Trees that had sprouted and grown in drought were now nearly totally submerged. We entered a strange bayou-like zone paddling through drowned casuarinas and gum trees that were on what was only a few months before, an island.
Eventually we encountered our first people since our start. A couple of blokes had come upstream in a tinny and were fishing at the base of an impressive sandstone cliff. We exchanged g’days before the current took us away.
Gradually the river flattened out. Rolling pasture land became the standard scenery, with cattle running away from the river bank if we got too close. For such big creatures they can be amazingly wussy.
I had been keeping my eye out for one particular homestead. Cavan, the family home of the Murdoch dynasty. Yes, that’s the one, the h#cking Murdochs as they are known in our household. I think Lachlan got married there and I can see why. It is a gorgeous spread, with a turn of the century house built on a hill overlooking the valley, with a green expanse of lawn sweeping down to the river. We stopped so we could take a ceremonial piss on their property. (Note to Rupert: I am quite prepared to edit this section out if you pay me for my writing).
Just below the property the river takes a ninety degree turn to the right (well it wouldn’t be the left now would it?) and the Taemas Bridge looms into vision, and it was a welcome sight at the end of a long day, but at the same time a sad sight as well. But before that, there was echo point. In the curve of the bend, a sandstone cliff, no more than 20 meters high, provided the most marvellous echo. You could literally talk in a normal voice and hear it bounce back off the wall. Lots of whoops and hollering took place to mark the end of what was a top day’s paddling.
Wearily we got out on the upstream side of the bridge and began the hard climb up the bank to the car and a welcome change of clothes.
Footnote: Captain Slow and I parted ways at the George Harcourt inn, a replica English pub in the outskirts of Canberra. My phone rang and it was the real estate agent calling to say we had sold the house! Meanwhile Captain Slow proceeded to break out into a massive hayfever attack and had to pop some pills. Eyes streaming, nose running, it was a more emotional parting than normal.