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A walker’s philosophy

Peter Laud, WA

23 January 2012


When I was diagnosed with cancer I turned to the Track.

When I missed out on a redundancy package of $100,000 by resigning five weeks too soon I turned to the Track.

I turned to the Track again when fire – the result of a moment’s carelessness with an angle grinder – swept through a backyard shed destroying, among other items, a lifetimes collection of old tools, resulting in a damage bill which amounted to $25,000. 

Walkers turn to the Bibbulmun Track for all manner of reasons: enjoyment, the joy of the outdoors, the companionship of others or solitude. But I wonder whether the Track, and time spent on the Track, has the power to heal too.

I can’t pretend that walking the Bibbulmun healed my cancer – that had more to do with a surgeon’s skill and a family’s love.

I can’t pretend that the Bibbulmun helped in overcoming the wounds – mental and physical – of the fire. Tonnes of mulch, a revegetation program and time took care of that.

Sadly, walking the Track did not yield a treasure trove to compensate for $100,000 worth of missed redundancy – although somewhere between Dwellingup and Collie on my last excursion I found a red lighter in good working order in the mud, which proved a handy replacement for rain-sodden matches!

But the Bibbulmun has helped to put otherwise dispiriting events into some kind of perspective, reinforcing the notion that life has to go on, come what may. And that is a kind of healing. There’s a neatness, a sense of order about walking the Track. You set off in the morning for a known destination, fully aware that there’s a good chance of a safe arrival by mid-afternoon, in good time for a lie-down and a nice cup of tea before dinner.

There’s a beginning and an end to each day. You know where you’re headed, which is quite the opposite of life itself. Maybe that’s why I like the Track. Maybe it’s simply an escape route from an increasingly silly world. Visitors to Broome often talk of “Broome Time” which I suppose means the suspension of the daily ritual. I suspect that “Track Time” operates in much the same way.

Over the past couple of years I’ve tramped at weekends and on holidays from Kalamunda to Collie—sometimes in the company of others, sometimes solo. I may not have come across unexpected treasure, but I have had rewards of a different kind.

At Ball Creek campsite near Mundaring, a total stranger produced half a dozen Mars bars for his fellow walkers. At Waalegh a family out for the weekend and loaded with gear shared an enormous stew of fresh potatoes, meat and carrots with those of us living on the breadline of two-minute noodles. At Mt Dale I shared a hut with three musicians who played Mozart late into the night, on flute and recorder. At Brookton, while walking with my son, we met Harry, a visiting Yorkshireman, and we swapped our spare tea bags for his spare lump sugar and generally put the world to rights over the camp fire.
Between Albany Highway and Dwellingup I walked with a science teacher friend discussing subjects as diverse as sex, Antarctic exploration and the music of Pink Floyd.

Dwellingup to Collie was my first solo walk, which provided an opportunity for some serious thinking among the grass trees: What is the meaning of life? What are we doing here? Is a dish of two-minute noodles improved by adding instant mashed potato? And is there anything better than licking the top of a tube of condensed milk? Answer: No.

I am what you might call a budget walker. My backpack came from the discount store King Kong and cost less than $50. My little solid fuel stove (“as used by the German army” according to a note on the packet) cost $7. My boots are from KMart, my $20 blow-up mattress is from another major retailer. I have three bits of what you might call quality gear: a thick pair of socks from Mountain Designs, an expensive (about $50) light that straps to the forehead and never seems to wear out, and, following a bone-chilling night at Ball Creek, a decent sleeping bag.

The rewards of the Track have come in so many different ways, not least the well-stocked library at Dookanelly campsite and the spare blankets and pillow, provided by a Track volunteer named Peter, who looks after Possum Springs with an amazing devotion to duty.  On an otherwise cold July night my idea of Paradise is two additional blankets and a bunk at Possum Springs.

But after 25 years in WA I’m about to head east to test my luck in Tasmania, for what may be a permanent move. And while Tassie has walking trails of its own, my chief regret at leaving WA is the Bibbulmun Track, with its intensely varied landscape and shifting moods.

That’s why I plan to get back to WA each September to spend a week or two on the Track. I’ll shoulder my King Kong backpack and, armed with the little German stove and a good supply of noodles, set out once more, heading south through the grass trees on what for me, and maybe others
too, has been a trail of healing, a trail of hope.