High on the Point Hicks dunes the wind races up the westerly windward slope sending the sand grains tumbling one over another in multitudes on their slow journey to the top and then down and down the steep slipface into the winding Thurra River below.
The constant movement blurs the surface of the sand into a faint haze and soon fills the imprint of my boots. I stand on the top, my back to the wind, clothes flapping wildly, as I try to keep steady as I frame and expose my picture.
Just after dawn, on the 19th April 1770, Captain James Cook wandered up from the Southern Ocean in His Majesty’s Bark, Endeavour, and saw the granite peninsula he named Point Hicks (after the officer that first spied land). Cook recorded his landfall in his journal“Thursday 19th In the PM had fresh gales at SSW and Clowdy Squaly weather with a large Southerly Sea – At 6 took in the Topsails and at 1 AM brought too and sounded but had no ground with 130 fathoms of line – At 5 Set the Topsails Close reef’d and 6 saw land extending from NE to West at the distance of 5 or 6 Leagues having 80 fathom water a fine sandy bottom We continued Standing to the westward ^with the wind at SSW untill 8 oClock at which time we got topgt yards aCross made all sail, and bore away along shore NE for the Eastermost land we had in sight, being at this time in the Latitude of 37°..58′ So and Longd of 210°..39′ West. the Southermost Point of land we had in sight which bore from us W1/4S I judged to lay in the Latitude of 38°..0′ So and in the Longitude of 211°..07′ Wt from the Meridion of Greenwich. I have named it Point Hicks, because Leuitt Hicks was the first who discover’d this land —“ (http://nla.gov.au/nla.cs-ss-jrnl-cook-17700419)
Because of poor visibility Cook did not describe the land he sighted in his journal. But as I look out over the meandering Thurra River below, the dunes stretching off further west to the horizon, and the forest all around, I think that it all probably looks much as it did then. Protected within the Croajingolong National Park this landscape has probably changed little since he first sailed past. The wild beaches, dunes, heaths and forests that he might have glimpsed, are still there.
As he rounded (and named) Cape Howe (now the border between Victoria and New South Wales) the next day, he favourably wrote “… The weather being clear gave us an oppertunity to View the Country which had a very agreeable and promising Aspect the land is of moderate height diversified with hills, ridges, planes and Vallies with some few small lawns, but for the most part the whole was cover’d with wood, the hills and ridges rise with a gentle slope, they are not high neither are there many off them”.
Cook kept sailing, right up the east coast, carefully charting and recording all he saw. Eighteen years later, nine years after Cook had been killed in Hawaii during his third voyage, the First fleet sailed into Botany Bay with its strange assortment of sailors, soldiers and convicts. We know the rest of the story only too well since we are all part of it.
Getting there … The Thurra River campsite is about 40km along a partly dirt road south of the town of Cann River in East Gippsland. This wild and remote corner of Australia is well worth a diversion if you are traveling Highway One between Sydney and Melbourne. Camping does not generally need to be booked outside of the summer school holidays and Easter, and for the well-heeled, the lighthouse cottages would be an unforgettable experience: http://pointhicks.com.au — use this site for camping inquiries as well.
The 4 km Dunes walk starts from the Thurra River campsite (near site 14), and climbs and winds its way along a sandy track through coastal banksias and heathland before leading out high on the expanse of open dune — make sure you carefully note where the track emerges since there are no signs out on the dunes. From there you can climb the slope to the ridge and see the Thurra River below, the bridge into the camp site, and the dunes and sea beyond. A wild and beautiful view — well worth the couple of hours walking. Try leaving early in the morning or late in the evening when the low light highlights the patterns in the sand, the day is cooler, and the sand less dazzling.
image & words © Keith Mallett 2016