Walking in Henry Lawson’s footsteps

By Barrie Bryan 28 February 2013
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Two Aussies retrace a 300km walk undertaken by bush poet Henry Lawson, from Bourke to the Toorale Woolshed.

IN JANUARY 2011, MY brother Greg and I became the first people to complete a full re-enactment of Henry Lawson’s 1893 trek from Bourke, NSW to Hungerford on the QLD border and back. In total, we walked over 450km in 15 days.

Last year we set a new challenge: to retrace the walk Henry Lawson completed with his great mate, Jim Gordon, to the historic Toorale Woolshed.

See a timeline of Henry Lawson’s life

For us, much of the walk required cross-country navigation using a map and compass. We hardly saw anybody at all for the first seven days of the journey.

The terrain was particularly rugged; at various times we were required to trudge through deep mud, waist-high grass, knee-deep swamps and thick mulga scrub. All the while, we carried everything on our backs.

The route taken by Henry Lawson and Jim Gordon presents its challenges. (Credit: Barrie Bryan)

Henry Lawson’s journey to Toorale

Henry and Jim left Bourke in late 1892 and walked to Toorale Woolshed where they worked as rouseabouts, before walking back to Bourke – a distance of more than 300km.

We set out from Bourke on a chilly winter’s morning in July 2012 and walked 40km before setting up camp on Myandetta Station, on the banks of the Darling River.

After leaving Myandetta we spent a couple of days walking through Glen Villa and on to the vast acreage of Toorale, heading for the historic woolshed.

The terrain of swamps, thick mud and hard ground churned up by feral pigs was very challenging, as were the freezing cold mornings and nights.

The cold nights – with temperatures as low as -4°C – made it very difficult to get the solid sleep that our minds and bodies craved. We would wake during the night shivering with cold, put some more wood on the campfire and struggle to get warm enough to get back to sleep.

On the fourth day we made it to Toorale Woolshed, and although it was sad to see the once majestic building now a dilapidated ruin, this was the highlight of our trek. It was easy to imagine the hustle and bustle of a busy shearing shed in its heyday, back when 250,000 sheep per year were shorn there.

It was also easy to feel the presence of Henry and Jim at Toorale.

The trail of Henry Lawson and Jim Gordon

From Toorale we headed west-north-west towards Uteara, Ballycastle, Goonery and Gumbalie stations, sighting numerous feral goats, feral pigs, kangaroos and emus.

On the eighth day we walked an easy 28km into Fords Bridge, where we were reunited with Annette and Scott Parker, owners of The Warrego Hotel, who spoilt us with their hospitality.

We eventually trudged back into Bourke on July 10. This last day’s walking was done almost entirely in driving rain, so we spent the last day cold, wet, and mainly in silence. Both of us preferred to keep our misery to ourselves and not let conversation spoil the vision of a hot bath, a hot meal and a warm bed, all of which awaited us in Bourke.

On completion of the walk, Greg and I felt privileged to be able to relive a part of Australia’s history. We also felt satisfaction in our achievement, gratitude for the generous locals who supported us at various times along the way (particularly NSW National Parks and Wildlife rangers Bryce, Lennie and Wayne, the wonderfully generous Adams family at Gumbalie Station, and ‘Shirl the Girl’ at Fords Bridge).

We would also like to acknowledge and thank the Australian Geographic Society for their sponsorship of this challenge.

See a timeline of Henry Lawson’s life

An excerpt from Barrie Bryan’s poem He Didn’t Even See Us, That Bloke, inspired by Henry Lawson:

We’ve faced some bloody big battles out here
And taken some pretty big hits;
Wet, swampy ground and overnight frosts
To test our strength and our wits.

Long, tiresome days, walking for hours
Occasionally feeling quite lost;
Blisters, sore shoulders, sore backs, sore feet,
All part of the daily cost.

– Barrie Bryan, 2012