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Becoming a maintenance volunteer

Peter Evans, WA

23 January 2012

I visited the Bibbulmun Track Foundation Office to discuss becoming a Track Maintenance Volunteer. Gwen Plunkett advised me which sections of the Track were available, and I nominated one.

“Okay,” she said. “ This is now your section of the Track.”
“My section,” I thought. “Hey, that’s pretty cool.”

Fine, but this was a two-way deal – I had the incentive to get back to bush walking, and The Foundation and the users of the Track would benefit from my input. I have dreamed of “doing the Track” ever since I was posted to Perth. Unfortunately, because of injuries sustained in the work place, I have been limited in what I can do physically. My ambitions have often outstripped my capabilities.

To remedy this, I could think of no better way than to volunteer my services, which would force me to do something about “going bush”.

It was shortly before Easter before I could get out on to the Track. Gwen informed me that the section between Wetherley Road and the Brockman Highway had not been attended to for some time. I could afford two days. I threw some things together, trying to limit the weight in my pack. Over 30kg! But it was only a four-kilometre walk… 

I made a quick phone call to DEC Officer Dave Lathwell to inform him that I was going out, and asked if he wanted me to do anything specific while I was “on the other side of the wire”. Dave suggested that I report on the presence of the “The Bucket Bush”. This, according to him, grew on each side of the Track, and then joined together. It makes a barrier for hikers, and dumps water on anything that passes. I assured Dave I would watch out for this predator, (not sure whether he was having me on), and headed south, from Joondalup. I arrived at Karri Gully later than expected. I was weary from the drive, but the smell of the bush had me eager to get moving.

Getting my pack on wasn’t easy (it has been a few years). After about 200 metres I thought, “Bugger me, this pack is heavy. I’m only here for two days. However do people manage on an end-to-end?”  

Then I had my first contact with the dreaded hiker predator, the “bucket bush”. Let me tell those of you who haven’t experienced this dreaded creature, it is a major pain. Not only does it grow profusely, but also has a tendency to grab you on your way past. Forgive me, Dave, you were accurate in your description. When disturbed, it lets go buckets of water gathered during the rain, and soaks unwary hikers. It had rained earlier, and I got absolutely drenched. I elected to take my revenge, and pruned this evil plant away from the Track.

I walked on and noted the worst places for regrowth across the Track, including a few fallen trees. I was enjoying being in the bush again. I trudged into the campsite about one thirty in the afternoon, and was impressed with the quality of the construction and the layout. I took off my pack and had that incredible “I’m going to fly away” feeling.

The campsite area needed a lot of work, as did the Track to the south. I decided to clear the worst parts of the southern section. After two hours, I figured that I had covered about 500 metres. Enough was enough; I got back to camp about four o’clock. I had a quick look at a hundred metres of the Track north of the campsite, which looked worse than the southern part. It was seriously overgrown. Enough. I returned to the camp, made notes for my report and cooked a meal, which I savoured with an excellent bottle of Victorian red.  After cleaning up, I sat back and enjoyed the rest of the wine, the solace, and the bush. “Ahhh, the serenity!”

I realized how important the job of the Track Maintenance Volunteer is, to both DEC and the Foundation. With that in mind, and a plan for the next day, I settled down to sleep. I woke and lay back in my sleeping bag for an hour, enjoying the sounds of the bush awakening around me. Then, after a couple of mugs of coffee, a hearty breakfast and a chat with a few friendly robins, I started a major clean up of the campsite area.

I cleared the ground around the hut, cleaned the gutters, removed the regrowth on the tracks leading to the tent-site and the toilet, and cleaned the toilet.
I finished by early afternoon and I was making notes in the campsite register when my first human visitor arrived. He was doing a solo end-to-end—sorry, mate, I’ve forgotten your name, but I have no doubts that you made it!

Two couples, who have lived in Nannup for the past fourteen years, turned up on their first visit to the Track. They were suitably impressed and swore to return, with their families. They departed a short time later, and so did I. My pack felt a lot lighter. As I left the campsite, I turned and looked back at the hut. I felt sadness in leaving a place I had really enjoyed. But I’ll soon be back!

I trekked back to Karri Gully, and noted any obstacles to hikers along the way. The trip home was long, but safe, and I thought a lot about how much I had enjoyed the previous two days. Although I might have not been refreshed physically, the time that I spent working on the Track had been unbelievably good for the soul. I felt a new appreciation of the work being done by the Bibbulmun Track Foundation.

I would suggest that anyone who is contemplating becoming a member of the Track Maintenance Volunteers should do so without hesitation. You won’t regret it!