Thursday, 3 December 2015

In search of The Falls

In search of the elusive Basin/Ferndale/Griffiths waterfall.

The Falls taken circa. 1913 Fergus Chandeler.
While doing research into James and Emily Griffiths’ now long gone Ferndale property back in July 2015 , I read of the dammed creek above the falls on the estate that was used to irrigate the gardens and stables. It was a reticulation system that was taken low in the dam’s stone and concrete retaining wall and fed through a six inch steel pipe over considerable distance to just above the Ferndale house where it was broken into smaller piping and used throughout the property.
Now all that reference to the marvellous domestic water engineering may be interesting but my attention focused on the word falls. A place often referred to but I couldn’t find a great deal of current evidence of. There of course is the classic photo taken by Fergus Chandler over a hundred years ago of two men posing on the falls below the dam. I had read that back in the day James Griffith had many tracks leading to the falls had installed seating and even had a kettle to use for tea and coffee making for walkers. In the photo there can be seen a walkway above the falls for ease of crossing. Obviously it was a popular spot.

According to Rick Coxhill’s History of the Basin: “The falls were also accessible from the 1 in 20 road (Mountain Highway). In later years, they were a regular haunt for young lovers. In later years, most tracks have disappeared except for the one which follows the creek from The Ravine up to the Falls and beyond”

I made it my mission when I got the opportunity I needed to see these “falls” and that it was next place I wanted to visit. Once again referencing a map found on Mister Coxhill’s web page (www, I had a fair idea how to get there, so come Melbourne Cup public holiday I grabbed the wife and said “we’re going trekking” and go see this local but elusive land mark for myself.

Following the creek up from Golden Grove where the council had just finished stabilizing works we come upon a reserve at the end of the road, this parkland quickly disintegrated into bush. Though there is no sign promoting the trail to the falls which have been collectively known as Griffith falls, Ferndale Falls and the Basin Falls over the years I was still quite confident that we was heading in the right direction.

After less than one hundred metres we found ourselves following the narrow trail into thick bush that hugged the creek. It was here that we literally bumped into two young lads no more than twelve or thirteen running the other way. I asked if we were on the right track to the falls and they replied they were just returning from there. Being local boys it was one of their favourite places and had been there countless times. I asked how far did we have to go, but in old man steps not young man’s running pace? They laughed and guessed about ten minutes but we were to be careful the yesterday’s rain had made sections slippery. The two of them disappeared as quickly as we came across them, they were happy polite boys who were skinny, wore shorts and had muddy runners, off to another adventure, as you would when you have this as a back yard.

Me November 2015
As we moved on the track had remained quite dry and the outside world sounds faded. Soon it was only creek, foliage and bird noise. After another five or so minutes we came to a section where the track crossed the creek via some fallen logs. It was here that the bush got thicker and the ferns more prominent. It was also here I noticed it looked like most people turned back because the track further up seemed less travelled. The forest from this point on becomes other worldly time worn and beautiful. Fallen trees covered in moss and fungai, ferns reaching up to the hidden sun and water of the creek passing under rotting logs and over rounded boulders. The occasional massive dead gum trunk that may or may not survived previous and ancient fires. I have a love for movies that create unreal or fantasy environments, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Avatar, the Wizard of Oz, King Kong to name a few and sometimes I’ll just fast forward to these scenes and forget the story lines. Walking this part of the track inspired these kind of feelings. And here we were not more than a few hundred metres from people’s lounge rooms.

When we came upon the falls it was sudden, we turned a corner in the track and saw the greyish rocks through the ferns, there was no roaring water fall this day.

Using the old photos I had for reference it was nice to see that the falls hadn’t changed that much, of course the bridge was gone and on this day maybe the water wasn’t running as fast even after the rain but I was satisfied it was a trip that worth the taking.

The falls are not “lost” or forgotten- as I had once read in a local reference, the two lads we met on the way were proof of that and there was also a small amount of graffiti on the rocks and the obligatory beer can, albeit the only piece of rubbish I saw. They still however retained their simple beauty as displayed in the photo. I tried to get into one of the classic poses like in the old Chandler photograph but slippery rocks and uncertain legs that long ago lost their elasticity put stop to that. I was however able to cross at the peak and got a photo taken up there. I was lucky enough when putting this article together to come across a pre 20th Century image by A.J Campbell from the
lovely fungai..
Victorian Museum collection which show the falls prior to cross over being built and possibly the dam. So now I had pictures from three different centuries. The walk back was just as enjoyable and a little less daunting now that we had reached our destination but just as we reached the reserve to walk out I noticed a frame and a length of galvanised water pipe leading up the hill on the far side of the creek. The frame I assume was a pump stand and since the pipe disappeared back into the forest I could only guess it was part of the old Ferndale property water system. So now I had more things to look into.

1890 photo by A J Campbell source Vic Museum.

The falls by whatever name you wish to call them is a lovely walk in a place not too far away that has a real appeal because of its history. Time constraints meant we couldn’t search up further, though I didn’t see much more a track. I would’ve liked to see evidence of the old dam wall and pipework if it still existed.

That will have to wait for another time because I will be back. 

originally published in the BBCN issue 241 Feb 2016