Old Friends?


Normally we think of friends as being those fellow human beings that we have a bond of friendship with, people we have something in common with. And certainly those fellow human beings are friends. But maybe friends can be more than just human beings. Dogs are often referred to as “mans best friend”, so maybe other non-human things can be friends too in some way? When I was growing up in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges in eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria (Australia), my dad and I would sometimes spend a Sabbath afternoon exploring the national parks / state forests not far from where we lived. My parents still live there, and it is good to go back from time to time and experience the fond memories of days gone by, days that somehow seemed to be more relaxed, less stressful.

Interesting gum tree

Interesting gum tree

Over the New South Wales September 2014 School Holidays I had an opportunity to go on a mini-holiday with Eliana, my youngest offspring, to visit my parents and re-discover some old friends that I haven’t connected with in a long time. At church on Sabbath I had an opportunity to catch up with a number of ‘old friends’ (‘old’ not referring to their age, but rather how long they have been friends!). In the afternoon after lunch mum and Eliana went for a drive and I took the opportunity to do some hiking in the nearby forests. The plan was to hike from my parents’ house along Paddys Track and Neumanns Track to Grants Picnic Ground in Kallista then loop around via Coles Ridge Track and Welch Track back to my parents house through the Dandenong Ranges National Park. It had been many many years since I last walked that loop – at least 30 years I think. Some things stay the same and some things change. Near the start of the walk, just past the bridge that spans the Monbulk Creek there is a location called Jack the Miners in Selby. I have memories of going there for family picnics when I was young, and of it being a big expanse of open space with nicely mowed grass. But today it looks like the photo below.

Jack the Miners, near the Monbulk Creek bridge and Paddy Track.

Jack the Miners, near the Monbulk Creek bridge and Paddy Track.

The obvious source of the name would be that it is named after a fellow named Jack who was a miner. And I have heard that there was once a hut there. But I also read that there was a timber tramway through the area at some point in the early 20th century that ran through the area, and Welch Track seems to follow that tramway for at least part of it’s distance. So Jack the Miners might have been a timber storage area or something else at some point as well. There is no real evidence of what it was used for evident today. So exactly where the name came from or what the clearing was used is not entirely clear. The track itself seemed little changed from what I remembered of it.

Paddy Track joins Jack the Miners and Neumann Track.

Paddy Track joins Jack the Miners and Neumann Track.

I remember the hill in the photo above a bit too well! But I didn’t remember quite how long it was. But in spite of doing virtually no excersize for the previous month I still managed to get to the top of the hill with only a little breathless-ness by the time I got to the top. At the top I heard some lyrebirds – at least I was pretty sure they were lyrebirds. Lyrebirds have been known to mimic all sorts of sounds including steam trains, car horns, chainsaws, someone chopping wood, and all sorts of other sounds. They look a little like a peacock, especially with their tail fanned out.

Lyrebird

Lyrebird

And it must have been breeding season as it was doing it’s dance and song to try and attract a mate. I managed to get reasonably close to the lyrebird I heard, but before I could take a photo of it close up it would scamper off further into the forest. I managed to get this photo of it’s mound.

Lyrebird Mound

Lyrebird Mound

About this time I saw a fellow walker who was walking in the same direction as me. It turned out he was from Ringwood and was spending a day hiking in the forest. For the rest of the walk into Grants Picnic Ground we talked about all sorts of things including religion (he was a Christadelphian), the state religion (Australian Rules Football) and the worship in the temple of sport happening that very same day (I still don’t know who won, but I suspect the Hawks going by the shear number of Hawks colors flying from cars, trains) and how that meant less people in the forest and more serenity for those who were walking in them, our different walking experiences, different places worth a visit (he had walked in the Little Desert near Dimboola, Victoria), the history of the tracks we were walking on, etc.

Dead but majestic looking tree

Dead but majestic looking tree

At Grants Picnic Ground we parted company and I continued along the Coles Ridge Track. Some months ago I purchased a Shofar (probably best described as a rams horn trumpet). The Shofar was used to sound a warning of attack, to call warriors to arms, to call people to religious feasts, and to announce important events. I took it on the walk with me and along Coles Ridge Track, and in a nice quiet spot I got it out and started ‘playing’ it. The echo of it’s sounds in the forest was pretty cool to listen to!

Crimson Rosellas

Crimson Rosellas

Then I continued on to Welch Track, through Jack the Miners again and back to my parents house. Are you are still wondering about the ‘non-human friends’ idea I talked about at the start of this post? In this particular case, the ‘friend’ would be the forest surrounds – the sort of friend that expects nothing of you except maybe a visit every once in a while. The sort of friend who continues to surprise with new experiences, while evoking old memories of past time spent together. And while walking in the forest, it’s hard to forget the ultimate friend, the “friend that sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24), a Divine friend who guides our steps and watches over our path (Psalms 23), who knows our innermost secrets (both good and bad) and remains the most stedfast, truest and loyal friend.

(For some more info on the weekend, see: http://www.jimsmodeltrains.ws/blog.php?id=390 .)

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Nail Can Hill and WJ Steers Hike


Yesterday, Jesse (my 15 year old son) and I decided that it would be a good to spend some time outdoors instead of being inside and attending church. And so after some discussion we decided to do some hiking in an area with a very inviting name called Nail Can Hill (can you sense the sarcasm). Actually the Nail Can Hill reserve is a very pleasant area to hike in inspite of the name, and is very accessible from numerous roads in the Albury (New Wouth Wales) / Wodonga (Victoria) area. The reserve, and the WJ Steers tracks, basically follows a set of mountain ridges between a War Memorial monument that overlooks the Albury central business district to a location called the Jindera Gap.

War Monument Albury

War Monument Albury

The reserve is home to eucalyptus trees and various wildlife, the trees generally being quite short (20 feet or so). The ground is generally rocky. The main tracks themselves are quite well defined and are about wide enough to drive a car along although it is usually used by walkers, mountain bikers, joggers, and the like.

Walking Trail Nail Can Hill Reserve

Walking Trail Nail Can Hill Reserve

View of Albury from Nail Can Hill main trail

View of Albury and Airport from Nail Can Hill main trail

Rebecca dropped of Jesse and me at the Albury Botanic Gardens, and we proceeded to hike up to the monument between the houses and on the well defined asphalt paths leading up to the monument from the urban area. Then we hiked through a ‘wildlife corridor’ into the Nail Can Hill reserve proper. Some of the tracks we walked were quite steep and required considerable effort. But as we are both fairly fit we made it up each ascent without problems.

Along the way we found a side track to a lookout, and decided that as it was only a kilometre to the lookout that we would go and have a look.

View of Wodonga and Murray valley

View of Wodonga and Murray valley from lookout

View of Wodonga and Murray Valley

View of Wodonga and Murray valley from lookout

View of Wodonga and Murray Valley

View of Wodonga and Murray Valley from lookout

Lookout Summit

Lookout Summit Cairn

After that we continued on our way and eventually reached Centaur Road, one of the only about 3 roads that crosses through the reserves. I think at that point the reserve changed name to WJ Steers or Hamilton Range, according to the map I was using to navigate. North of Centaur Road the trail was quite different – it was not as well defined, and so was harder to follow in places, and more ‘wild’. The sounds of the city of Albury and it’s suburbs could no longer be heard either.

Steep trail north of Centaur Rd

Steep trail north of Centaur Rd

The plan was to try to go from the southern edge of the combination of reserves to it’s northern most extent, but along the way we must have taken a wrong turn because we ended up back at Centaur Rd after looping around somehow, and so we decided to have lunch there instead of Jindera Gap like we had planned. Then we hiked back to the Monument, where we had a well deserved rest while we waited for Rebecca and the girls to pick us up.

Fungus

Fungus? Around a tree root on the trail.

The weather was overcast for most of the hike, so the humidity was quote high and so the sweat didn’t dissipate but at least the cloud cover made the breeze on the hills quite pleasant! We really enjoyed the day and the suggestion that we set one Sabbath aside each month we we go for a hike or do something outdoors was well received!

Sweat

Sweat!

For GPS data for the hike, try the following links:

The Rock, revisited


Last year we visited a place called The Rock, and the mountain by the same name. On that occasion I attempted to reach the top of the mountain, but turned back about 500 metres from the top.

Last Sabbath the church we attend was closed due to another function being held in it, and so we decided to have a family picnic at The Rock Reserve, and we went on the same hike. Zoe, Jesse, Sarah (a friend of Zoe’s) and I decided we would try to reach the summit. And we did. So following are some photos of the part of of the hike that I didn’t do last year.

Mountain range from the walking track

Interesting rock formation

Walking track

Above: The Summit

The views from the top were great too – we could see in all directions. Here are some photos of the views.

DSCF5286_500DSCF5281_500DSCF5284_500DSCF5283_500After a bit of break at the top, in which the discussions revolved mostly around music (and I got confused about two bands called back street boys and pet shop boys – well, they do have similar sounding names, and I had never heard of back street boys before), we headed back down to a late lunch. On the way back I noticed some rock formations I don’t remember seeing the last time I did the hike (they were easily seen from the section I did last year), so this seems like a logical place to put some photos of those here…

DSCF5271_500DSCF5291_500While Bec and Eliana were waiting at the picnic area / car park at the start of the walk, Eliana got bitten on her torso by something. And the area around the bite puffed up and got all red! But inspite of that, it was still a good day. Zoe, who was struggling to reach the summit, even said it was a great day.

Is it a park or is it paradise?


The Greek historian, Xenophon, describes a conversation between Lysander and Cyrus, the ruler of Persia in 407BC:

  • “When Lysander brought gifts to Cyrus from the friendly cities of Greece, Cyrus entertained him, and among other things showed him his garden, called the Paradise of Sardis. Lysander was astonished at the beauty of the trees, their regular planting, the even rows, their positions at rectangular angles to one another: in a word, the rectangular symmetry of the whole, and the delightful smells they gave out. He couldn’t help extolling the beauty of this fair scene, especially admiring the skill of the hand that had arranged it.” (Ancient Inventions, P. James and N. Thorpe, P. 567).

DSCF4898_500

The botanical gardens built by the Persians gave rise to the word Paradise, which originally simply meant “park” in Persian. This meaning carried through right through Roman times. The Greek ambassador Megasthenes described with some awe the parks that surrounded palace of the Indian king Chandragupta Maurya, around 300BC:

  • “Tame peacocks and pheasants are kept, and they [live] in the cultivated shrubs to which the royal gardeners pay due attention. Moreover there are shady groves and herbage growing among them, and the boughs are interwoven by the woodman’s art. The actual trees are of the evergreen type, and their leaves never grow old or fall: some of them are indigenous, others have been imported from abroad” (Ancient Inventions, P. James and N. Thorpe, P. 568).

A few hundred years before the Paradise of Sardis and the gardens of king Chandragupta Maurya there were the famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Botanical collections, the precursor to botanical gardens, were in existence from as early as the 12 century BC. The Christian idea of the eternal paradise of the blessed is to some degree influenced by the idea of the beautiful gardens of ancient times. Often the Christian idea of paradise looks remarkably like a well looked-after botanical garden. The fact that there are so many botanical gardens throughout the world in diverse cultures seems to me to suggest that the human race has an built-in desire to have places of Paradise where they can experience the wonders of the natural world, and experience true peace.

DSCF4911_500The first recorded Sabbath is recorded in the book of Genesis, and it takes place in a garden – the famed Garden of Eden. Exactly where this garden was located is not known, although 2 of the 4 rivers mentioned in the description of the garden are clearly in the Middle East, so it seems that would be the approximate region where it was located.  Sabbath just gone we spent part of it in the Albury Botanic Gardens, and that got me to thinking about gardens in general, and our desire to experience them.

The Albury Botanic Gardens, photos of which appear in this post, were established in 1877. Over 4 hectares (10 acres) in size, it features over 1000 native and exotic species. The garden is somewhat sheltered from the cold and hot westerly and north westerly winds which are so common in the region. This, and it’s location on the flood plains of the Murray River, have helped in the establishment of species that are normally found in more tropical areas such as northern New South Wales and Queensland.

DSCF4909_500The gardens of today are part of what was once a 20 hectare (50 acres) allocation of land, most of which has since been transformed into other types of parkland and sporting fields. The botanical gardens were originally laid out in straight paths and rows of various types of trees, somewhat reminiscent of the Paradise of Sardis mentioned earlier in this post. In 1901 a new curator, Mr J.E.R. Fellowes, was appointed who remained Curator for 36 years. During his time as curator the gardens were transformed from having straight paths and flower beds to more rounded / curved elements which gave the park a softer, more natural, less formal appearance. Also during that time shrubberies, borders for annuals, and collections of Australian rainforest trees, exotic trees and palms were established.

DSCF4921_500While some changes have taken place since, the layout is basically the same as it was during Mr Fellowes time.

So back to the question in the title of this post. “Is it a park or is it paradise?”. The answer should be “both”. In any case, to the Persians, Greeks, Romans and Christians of the ancient world it means the same thing!