Courting Kurrunganner

The sunlit spur shows almost exactly where we marked a path up Kurrunganner

Ages back I’d planned to write something about this year’s pilgrimage to Mt Bride in March, part of our annual Walking the Mountains of Home project. But that event was wedged between two paradigm-smashing events: the climate change bushfires and the pandemic. We’re in the midst of strange, unsettling, complex times. Topics that once were easy to write about are less so. Even just taking a walk! And our event was not the relatively simple and joyful connection-to-place project of the five previous years – this year our walk was part of the strategy to try and protect this special place from extinction-inducing, bushfire-proliferating, industrial-scale logging. And then our event changed, quite wonderfully, in the planning, when we learned, through Wurundjeri woman Mandy Nicholson, the old name for the Mountain – Kurrunganner.

So there’s my preamble. Perhaps an account of a day with community –  adults and kids, trees and water, slope and sun – can now be found, sitting lightly within the tumult.

  It was six years ago some friends and I began a ritual that has since become an annual event. We call it Walking the Mountains of Home. Every year for five years we walked two different mountains, one on each side of Birrarung, the Yarra River. We call them our yin and yang mountains, Donna Buang so moist, dark and fecund, and Little Joe dry, bright and sparse. But this year, with the threat of logging to another prominent mountain overlooking Warburton, we aimed to direct attention there. Mount Bride, to the south of Warburton and upriver from Little Joe, is not easy to get to, although the lovely walk to La La Falls goes partway up a valley upon her flank. But there the track stops. And while there was a road further up traversing the contour of Bride, and a track to the summit from that road, there was no path from village to summit.

That became our project. Prior to our pilgrimage, together with my friend, the bushwalking guide Don Butcher, and armed with GPS and maps, we clambered through the state forest from La La Falls carpark to Burns Road, marking out a route with tape. Our going was slowed by fallen trees and the steepness of the way, but from this act we’d have a walkable track all the way from the river to the peak. By doing so, we sought to make this beautiful place more accessible. By enabling access to walkers, we hoped this mountain would become more known, loved and valued. And because of this, perhaps more resistant to destruction by those whose measure of value was the worth of trees that are dead, milled and pulped.

On the day of the walk we did as we always do – we started at the river. Yet this walk, at the dawn of covid-awareness was to be different, as we sought to keep distance between each other, and Don, fellow trail-blazer, who woke up sniffly, had to bow out.

From the river, each of us collected a river stone as a token of our gratitude and appreciation. Hand in cold water, each sought something firm to hold our love of this terrain. in warm sunshine we set off uphill to the start of our new trail. The pink-taped trees revealed a path for us to follow through the treeferns, gums, wattles and creepers. After an hour of careful climbing we met up with the rest of the walkers at Burns Road. Those with kids had elected to meet us there by driving the back way up part of the mountain. Our combined group set off up a steep ridge track to find the peak of Kurrunganner. This mountain is smaller than Donna Buang but taller than Little Joe, and the forest also feels in-between – drier and less dramatic than Donna, but taller treed and softer than Little Joe. Yet it was every bit as interesting, and more varied and surprising, than the slopes we’d come to know over the past years.

   Our path was piecemeal – we had to wayfind between narrow paths and tracks made for cars. Being state forest rather than national park, there’s plenty of wilder use of this place, and I grieved the piles of rubbish and shotgun casings strewn between exquisite bush. We shared one tight path with a mob of teenage trail bikers. We heard them approaching a long way off and so flattened ourselves into the shrubs, clutching the kids.

We found a tiny drinkable creek to fill our bottles before the final ascent to the summit, where we placed our stones and our hopes at the base of an old-timer mountain ash. The vision that many of us share is that this peak could be included in an expanded reserve, the Great Forest National Park. So far only Donna Buang is protected from logging, but this whole ring of hills surrounding Warburton could be brought into one park. In consultation and ceremony with Wurundjeri, these mountains could be given back their old names, and old knowledge shared, and new love kindled. And from this new and ancient way, Kurrunganner, her gliders and owls, lyrebirds and lichens, wallabies and wrens, all that is forest, this vast interwoven intelligence, could be courted, with the dream of being worthy of her wisdom.

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