Cattle country trek: the Green Gully Circuit

By Dave Cauldwell 16 July 2012
Reading Time: 3 Minutes Print this page
This 65km walk takes in the rugged gorges and former cattle country of Oxley Wild Rivers NP in northern NSW.

IN THE DEPTHS of the Apsley-Macleay Gorge system, in a creek bereft of sunshine but not adventure, I wade against a current that is seemingly intent on knocking me over. The water level is above my waist.

As it tickles my bellybutton, I eye the banks of Green Gully Creek for alternative routes. Clusters of stinging nettles and bramble bushes grow everywhere, and it feels like I’m charting unexplored territory.

The four-day Green Gully Circuit opened in northern New South Wales April 2011 and it traverses steep tussock-clad hills, bush-bashes through undulating country and follows 4WD park management trails.

The 14,120ha Green Gully station was formerly populated by stockmen who grazed beef cattle here. The circuit follows in their footsteps: hikers even sleep where the stockmen once did, in a series of three restored huts.

Bushwalking in the footsteps of Green Gully stockmen

National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) only allow one group in each hut per night, guaranteeing wilderness seekers privacy and ensuring that they’ll bump into nobody else for the duration of their walk.

NPWS ranger Piers Thomas was inspired to create the Green Gully Circuit after collating handwritten stockmen’s accounts and historical information about the huts, which he made into a series of booklets.

“I wanted to highlight the cultural significance of these huts and provide a more intimate way for visitors to connect with the past,” he says. “By walking the trail and staying in these huts, hikers can imagine what it would’ve been like to muster cattle out here.”

Most of the stockman’s shelters in Oxley Wild Rivers NP had been decimated by fire or termites, but the ones in Green Gully were in reasonable shape, Piers adds.

Dangerous business of mustering cattle

“In restoring these huts, we’ve tried to maintain a traditional feel so visitors get a more authentic experience. We’ve left in old meat safes and hessian sacks that the stockmen used to put their muddy boots on before climbing into bed.”

Mustering cattle in Green Gully was dangerous business. Stockman Alan Youdale punctured a lung and broke his pelvis and several ribs when he fell off his horse one night. The 77-year-old might have retired after that, but he was back in the saddle within three months.

“I don’t want the blokes who busted their guts on this land to be forgotten,” says Piers, as we clamber out of the Green Gully Creek and onto a rocky embankment. He’s talking about men like Jeff O’Keefe, one of the last remaining Apsley-Macleay Gorge stockmen.

Jeff sold Green Gully station to NPWS in 2004 having mustered cattle on the station since the late 1950s.

“You don’t feel real good when them bulls are charging after you,” Jeff says of mustering. “You’d go to drive the feral ones but they’d just chase you. And when I say chase, these beasts would gore you to death if they ever got you on the ground. You had to rely on your horse to get you out of there.”

He says he used to carry a handgun in case he got charged, adding that some bulls had horns measuring 130cm from tip to tip.

Oxley Wild Rivers NP: Brush tailed rock wallabies and stuttering frogs

I’m beginning to wish I’d brought I’d brought my own weaponry – perhaps a machete – as Piers and I bash our way through dense undergrowth.

“Because the Green Gully section of the national park has only been open for seven years, a lot of people haven’t walked in it before,” Piers says. “This is a major drawcard. Another is that the area has large numbers of endangered brush-tailed rock wallabies, as well as other endangered species such as the stuttering frog.”

There are no wild animals around the fire later that night, although our wet creek clothes do smell a little feral. As stars twinkle through the treetops and the distant screeches of masked owls echo through the forest, I’m beginning to understand how the stockmen, in spite of their dangerous and gruelling days, formed such an affinity with this unkempt patch of land.

Getting there:
The start of the track is a two-hour drive from Walcha or a  two-and-a-half-hour drive from Port Macquarie. The long access road is gravel, but the surface can accommodate two-wheel-drive cars.

When to go:
Spring and autumn are the best times to hike. The area often dips below freezing in winter and summers can get stiflingly hot with high overnight temperatures.

Further information:
 Find details of the circuit and other walking tracks on the Oxley Rivers NP site.