Gifted writer Peter Mathew, a former Glen Innes resident, captured the spirit of the Old Grafton – Glen Innes Road when he wrote evocatively:
Sit quietly by the side of the road and listen carefully. In the stillness of the deserted valley, you may just hear the snap of reins on a Cobb and Co coach team, the thud of the timber getter’s axe or the cry of the bullocky hauling down the track to the Clarence River. And, he went on, don’t be surprised if a ghostly form emerges for its just the magic of the valley working its tricks on your imagination.
There is so much beauty and untouched wildness in these parts, we could have been forgiven to think our eyes were playing tricks on us the day we ventured through the rugged valleys and terrain along steep and narrow tracks that is the Old Grafton Road. We admired the wild rivers as we drove parallel to the rocky cliff faces that at any given moment could release their giant boulders, then through an impressive 20-meter hand-cut tunnel dating back to the 1800s. On this land, cows for the most part roam free, and small villages 180 years old, once buzzing with pioneers, gold miners and bushrangers still eerily remain abandoned.
As enthralling as this all sounds, my mind wandered further back still, imagining what it would have been like prior to European settlement when our indigenous people owned and walked the land. A story not told and one I would be much more interested in hearing. This along with how the indigenous tribes of the region were treated during this settlement, so conveniently skipped over in the brochures. That’s the thing about Australia and I think most of the world, they tell history as they want it to be known, as if that is all there ever was, but there is so much more, and I can’t be the only one craving this knowledge.
Halfway through the 180km stretch, we see to the side of the road in the thick of the long golden grass a beautiful brumby and her foal. As we pulled over to stop and admire their wildness and beauty, to our surprise, she left her foal and made her way over to our car. Usually so timid by nature, we assumed she would not come too close, but to our astonishment she did. Exotic and wild, it was in that moment we realised we were not only admiring a brumby but a mother, a brave and fearless mother protecting her young.
She came right up to our 4WD as if to size us up. She inspected all the windows to see what she was up against. She stared at me through the window with her deep brown eyes, eyes that know so much more than I. My size was not a threat, or perhaps she sensed the same protective mother in me. She then made her way around the back of the 4WD bypassing Phoenix, sniffing the paintwork and glass, using all her senses to pick up on any danger. She arrived at Lucas’ window, which he quickly put up. This was where she felt the threat, he was the biggest in our pack. She placed her body firmly against the door so he could not get out; her face toward the window, locking eyes. It became apparent very quickly that we were going nowhere. We were stuck in the Wild River Country, not a soul in sight, just us, a wild brumby and her little foal, who had now risen from the grass where it lay to spectate and no doubt learn from his mother.
We felt no immediate threat or danger, the whole experience was surreal, however, we were now in a bit of a predicament. I tried to tempt her with an apple, but she would not budge. 10 minutes past and it was clear we were no match for this wild creature. She demanded our respect. We each bowed down with our heads between our knees, including Phoenix who was midway through a picnic in the back seat. We counted 1, 2, 3, lifted our heads, and just like a ghostly form she was gone.
We continued on our way through the winding roads back to our camp. As the sunset, I couldn’t help but wonder as I looked across the rugged terrain and river, what other mysteries and magic lay before us. What other lessons are we to learn from the wild we are supposed to be a part of yet are so far removed? I feel miles from the connection to nature I deeply crave, but I also know that one day it will come, but for now, it is all about embracing the journey.
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