South coast Pallinup River (Mara) Walk – April 2014

By Catherine

Day 1. Tuesday 15th April

My daughter, me and Bobbie arrived at sunset after a long drive so we missed out on the hard work of setting up the camp site. When putting up the tent I found a basal pith of a grass tree (Xanthorrea platyphylla) to hammer in the pegs. Tea was spaghetti bolognaise. At circle we ommed each other and I was introduced to the other great walkers.

The location of the camp was in a blue gum plantation on the property of Nick and Anna Gorman. It was a lovely sheltered spot with the rows of blue gums radiating out like the spokes of giant wheel. As night closed in the trees looked a bit surreal as they seemed to disappear into infinity. At this location we were lucky to be proximate to some remnant bushland from which bird song was heard. I saw a white breasted robin from my tent window.


As a first time participant in the Great Walk I found it was one of the most amazing and rewarding things I have ever done. It was a rare opportunity for a city person to authentically connect with the land and with others who have or want to have a similar affinity for country. We walked the land that is included in the Gondwana link an ambitious plan to establish a large habitat corridor from the west coast eastwards for native flora and fauna. The impressive site of the Stirling Ranges greeted us all as we approached our first camp site. The following account of the camp is based on my experience as I participated in the walk so it may not apply to everyone.

Day 2. Wednesday 16th April. Down to coast around Boat Harbour

Participants on the long walk went past the blue gum plantation to the limits of the property where it met native sandplain/heath vegetation. We were joined on the walk by Anna Gorman who had much local knowledge of vegetation and birds. Among the many things we saw up to this point were kangaroos, an abandoned emu egg and rock parrots. We had a snack break before continuing to the coast along narrow bush tracks. Some of the plants we saw were Lambertia sp. (a native), Tallerack and southern plains banksia. We arrived at the beach and some people had a swim.

There was slight mix up with meeting times and places where some stayed on the beach and others walked to meet the bus but it all worked out in the end.

Day 3. Thursday 17th April. Pallinup (Mara) Beaufort inlet to Boat harbour.

The long walkers walked from the mouth of the Pallinup River west along the coast to Boat harbour. This walk included the two boys who found a pair of bouys and bringing them all the way back to camp and doing their bit to reduce the pesky plastic. This was a very challenging walk with a lot of rock hopping.

The short walkers of which I was a part took the bus down to Boat harbour for a leisurely stroll east wards along the beach and up over the headlands. There were some lovely little bays and beaches where some participants decided to hang out instead of going further. This was the day that the three teenagers hung out together and did their own thing on the beach. No facebook out here or other trappings of the internet!!! Great!

Day 4. Friday 18th April. Lower Pallinup River Gorge.

The walk started at Wellstead crossing, the location of an impressive bridge over the Pallinup. The short walkers had a look around here before going up to a local bush propertywhere the long walkers ended up later. The long walkers continued up river crisscrossing the water course to get the easiest path through. Here were the southern limit for York gums as pointed out by Basil (Eucalyptus loxophleba).The Pallinup river, known as Mara by Noongah is highly saline with 50 % salinity in summer and 3 % when in full flow in winter (wikepedia). Owing to a change of direction in the course that wasn’t tagged some of the walkers became a bit lost and continued on. They saw a red bellied black snake that was over 2 metres long. But with some cooees and backtracking we were soon reunited.

The course of the river almost exclusively consisted of granite boulders with steep hills on each side. The hypersaline dehydrated rock pools between the boulders contained benthic mats of putrid saline mud that blended seamlessly with the surrounding rocks. There was one unfortunate accident when a walker stepped and hurt his wrist when trying to break his fall.

We stopped for lunch in the shade of small shrubs (tea trees and melaleucas) which was very likely also enjoyed by kangaroos. We discovered later that we probably picked up a quite a few ticks here and as we made our way through the scrub. We found this to be a source of much amusement later one person referring to herself as ‘the tick goddess’ as she seemed to get more than her fair share.

Daniel was seen sitting cross legged at the top of cliff from the other side to where we were walking raising questions like “how did he get there, he was just with us a moment ago?”

Eventually we found ourselves at the final destination with beautiful high reddish hued cliffs where pools were deep enough for a cooling off. At the top of the cliff we met a friendly local family whose house over looked the river below and surrounding bushland.

Day 5. Saturday 19th April. Cape Riche to Boat Harbour

The short and long walkers both started at Cape Riche. The short walkers had a look around this historical area of significance to some early explorers and settlers and had a swim in the Eyre river. After deciding to backtrack up Sandlewood Rd after being advised the headland was impassable the long walkers set out. On this walk the teenagers volunteered to be rear shepherds. After about 4 km Kai and Rebecca had to turn around as they were feeling sick – just as well because there were some arduous times ahead. But Bella continued on with the task.

On coastal 4WD tracks through coastal scrub we reached a long stretch of compacted sand cliffs being eroded at a quick rate geologically speaking by pounding surf. I had a discussion with Jeff about their age he said they were about 20 000 years. There were huge blocks to negotiate over and around and in places beautiful reddish/orange patterns made by an oxidation process. I felt quite small and vulnerable climbing over these large, flaky monoliths with the surf pounding in and sheer walls of sand with blocks poised to fall. It was reassuring to know that the cliff only broke away during high storm surges but I was relieved to finally climb up to the top and walk overland to traverse a long beach. About half way we came across people it felt strange seeing them in their 4WD’s driving out of their comfortable camping set ups as we emerged from what felt like a long time in the wilderness. We finally made it to the headland before boat harbour (already familiar to us from Wednesday’s walk). We were happy to see Deb (one of the founders of the Great Walk) and other great walkers who arrived that day. I walked on inadvertently going the long way to the bus so I probably walked a few km’s more than everyone else that day. I gave my plastic bottles to Trevor that I collected on the way and there were other camping residents there who found this amusing for some strange reason. Some of the short walkers had been decorating easter eggs.

Day 6. Sunday 20th April. Easter Sunday. Time to move to Nowanup

The teenagers had to get up early to hide the eggs for the easter egg hunt and this was conducted before we said our goodbyes to a number of people reducing our numbers going to Nowanup from about 35 to 20. We drove in convoy after packing up the camp.

We entered upon land that is respectfully, quintessentially NOONGAR – it felt different immediately and brought awareness that this land is still essentially living and breathing the heartbeat and breath of the its Noongar custodians.

Nowanup is in breakaway country. I wasn’t sure what this meant until I found the beautiful hills on close inspection looked like the edge of an enormous biscuit. Our camp was located with a beautiful view to the north of the Stirling Ranges standing majestically over flat country and to the south and arching west the ridge of breakaway on which stood well established mallet trees. To the north east stretched golden dried grasses gently vibrating in the cool autumn air. The paddocks of this former marginal farm have long been replaced with plantings of native grasses, mallet, moorts and mallees that graced this land before being cleared for stock and crops.

We were graced with the presence later that afternoon of Eugene Eades a Meneng Noongar elder. We were grateful to be given a welcome to country by Eugene and he joined us for dinner that evening and we enjoyed listening to Eugene’s golden oldie country and western songs accompanied by Brendan and Basil late into the evening.

Day 7. Monday 21st April. Meeting place and walk on breakaway

We walked in silence to the meeting place where our understanding of Noongar deepened with Eugene addressing us on language and culture. The meeting place looks north to the Stirlings – Eugene’s mothers country. We were asked to give out points of view upon being on Noongar ground. The pamphlet Eugene gave us outlined Noongar ways that preceded European settlement as a “time when everything was complete” contrasting starkly with now as a time characterised by loss of land, identity, culture, environmental degradation, introduced feral animals and racist policy making.

Boodja land

Mel Eyes

Balyat Spirit

Noongar Man

Wargyle Spirit or Creation Snake

Wudjulah White people

Mubarn Special Spiritual Power

Waitch Emu

Yonga Kangaroo

Karda Goanna

Fringe Dweller A term describing Homeless people

Kanyana Returning something of value

Corroborree Traditional gathering

Didjiridoo Sacred object of Men

Derbal Yerrigan Swan river

Ochre coloured clay used for ceremonies

Kylie A type of Boomerang used for hunting

Bookah- Yonga Kangaroo skin cloak

Nowanup Kanjana Boodja

Another term we learnt was Kooda for friend.

After the sharing session some people had to say their goodbyes and the rest of us went up over the break away along the ridge overlooking the plain and distant Stirlings. We had lunch together while admiring the view and then walked down at our own pace as the camp site was in view.

On the way back we saw a pincushion hakea (Hakea laurina) in flower.

Some people had a swim in the dam on their return. Once again that evening we were joined by Eugene for dinner and enjoyed some lovely singing with guitar accompaniment. After dinner we were invited to Eugene’s place for yet more entertainment. The women were grateful to be offered showers. Eugene’s friend Bruce from Albany played sax and guitar, Brendan also played guitar and Kai played base for a couple of songs. It was fantastic to be warmed by the music and the fire and warm cups of tea and coffee. On the way back Morgan pointed out the Waitch (Emu) – a huge shape made by the absence of stars. The Waitch in the night sky is known to all Noongar people.

Day 8. Tuesday 22nd April. Corackurup Nature Reserve

We walked around and through Corackurup nature reserve. On this walk we ate dander from gum leaves – formed by thrips and tasting a bit like fairy floss. We saw Mallee fowls crossing the track at a distance in front of us. We also saw their miniature volcano like nest mounds – fine works of natural engineering. It was quite amazing to see these shy, cryptic birds whose numbers have been hit by foxes and cats. On this walk a total of 3 Mallee fowl were seen and two unoccupied nests.

When we returned we had a refreshing swim. It was very cold and the muddy lining from deposits of diatomaceous earth was finely muddy. That evening we were again joined by Eugene and once more enjoyed the lovely entertainment.

Day 9. Wednesday 23rd April. Visit to Bremer Bay with Eugene

Being our last full day we decided we would go somewhere together instead of doing another walk. We were grateful to Ian who changed his plans to drive the bus back to Busselton so we all went in the bus. Daniel drove his car separately. Eugene wanted to share with us his childhood memories of a place of special significance to local Noongar people. This was located on the other side of the river and was accessed via the sand bar over the river mouth. We climbed up a steep sand dune on an undefined path that Eugene remembered as an access point. From the top of this dune we looked down to the area now overgrown with peppermint trees. Eugene told us a few stories of his childhood and youth including when he saved one of his relations from drowning in the area. This is the area from which Eugene was taken from his family to grow up in a mission in the Great Southern. The women were asked to leave while men’s business was carried out. We all met up at a park in town for lunch where some of Eugene’s family were having a picnic. Kai started a tree climbing craze.

Kai, Bec, Bella and Daniel went fishing with Eugene at Cheynes Beach in Waychinicup. The rest of us went to Millers Point reserve and walked up to the look out over the Beaufort Inlet where some of us saw another Mallee fowl.

On returning at around 4pm we packed up the main tent to avoid putting it away wet with dew next morning. Daniel prepared a second fire pit where we could all sit around without the big urn and cooking grates getting in the way. We were joined by Eugene’s nephew Shane and another child in his care Jarrod. We stayed up late into the night and gradually everyone turned in.

Day 10. Thursday 24th of April. Going home

This day finally arrived too soon. We all helped out with packing up. Lots of omms and hugs. Eugene came and we exchanged best wishes and blessings for the future of Nowanup. We threw sand over our shoulder before exiting from the gate. On the way home we went to the Mallee Fowl centre in Ongerup that Eugene told us about. We learnt more about this amazing bird including sex selection by positioning the eggs in the vegetable matter accordingly and how the parents abandons the young once they are hatched to fend for themselves – making them vulnerable to predators especially foxes and cats. At the end there were 12 of us that stayed for the whole 10 days – Vera, me, Bec, Kai, Pauline, Ian, Morgan, Brendan, Linda, Daniel, Tony and Mark.