Here in Delhi summer has arrived. The heat can now be felt during the nights as well as the days. There is a steady rise in temperatures and a steady search for shade amongst many. Water from the water bottle next to my bed is getting warmer when I need to drink during the night. Summer’s here.
This is something to be expected, but it does make me think about the whole idea of our connections with landscapes and city-scapes, as we adapt to these seasonal changes. It actually has also made me think about the ways these landscapes change and the ways they stay the same – a kind of continuity and change with our spaces – something I’ve had with India and with Delhi for a very long time. All this is a continual reminder that history sculpts landscapes in various ways – some more subtle than others. This sculpting is both physical and cultural – the realm of the observed and the understood.
The remembered valley
From afar, let me delve into my experiences and write about a particular landscape that I think is one of the most beautiful around – not the most beautiful because I don’t like that kind of absolute thinking – but beautiful none-the-less. No images because they are on a computer at home in Australia – sorry…The best I can do is this one from Wiki commons
The beautiful King Valley is one of those places that reaches out and touches your heart, irrespective of what kind of slow travel you want to do – you’re a walker or a cyclist. It’s one of my favourite valleys of the Australian Alps because it represents so much of what the valleys, and the Alps themselves, have historically experienced – movements of people, changes to the processes of agricultural development, Australia’s multicultural heritage, and its natural beauty.
The Alps provide a picturesque backdrop from the Wangaratta-Whitfield Road and are a very clear end to the valley. At the same time they represent a clear beginning – of the King River’s journey through agricultural landscapes instead of mountain landscapes as it tumbles out of the Alpine National Park. The valley is a place where mountains, river and valley meet in a uniquely beautiful landscape.
The settlements along the way, and the resultant development of these agricultural landscapes experienced in the valley of the King River, have been shaped by Chinese immigration, bushrangers and, especially post-World War II, Italian immigration.
The Chinese immigration occurred as a result of the development of the goldfields in the valley in the mid-1800s. This wave of settlement brought with it agricultural landscapes dominated by market gardens and tobacco, as well as a merchant class to provide goods and services to gold diggers and early settlers. The Chinese influence extended throughout the northeast of Victoria, spurred on by the search for gold and the development of the services needed for those who searched for it. The town of Beechworth, some 50km from the King Valley, is an interesting place to observe the Chinese heritage.
Along with gold, and settlement, came bushrangers. The colonial history of the northeast is littered with this relationship – gold mining, economic prosperity for some, and bushranging. Two of the most famous in the region were Harry Power (who Power’s Lookout in the valley is named after) and, perhaps the most famous, Ned Kelly.
Harry Power was operating in the area in the 1870s, mostly as a robber. He was unusual in bushranging circles – he was older than most (he was in his 50s) and he supposedly made no pretensions as to what he was doing. Whereas many bushrangers tried to justify their actions, Harry Power didn’t.
The other bushranger, who was reportedly the ‘apprentice’ of Harry Power in the area, was a young Ned Kelly. It is truly difficult to envisage Ned Kelly as the youngster who looked after Harry Power’s horses when he was robbing, rather than the iconic Ned Kelly figure who is so steeped in the psyche of Australian colonial history. The Whitfield Pub in the valley is said to have a connection with Ned Kelly the bushranger.
The 1940s and 1950s saw another significant influx of immigrants into the valley – the Italian migrants who contributed so much to the economic development of the region and the valley. The early period of Italian immigrant settlement saw a continuation of tobacco growing as an important agricultural activity. However, the immigrants also brought with them a body of knowledge and experiences which shaped the agricultural landscape of what can be seen today – grape growing and wine making, using European-style varietals. The La Dolce Vita festival held in November each year, is a celebration of local food, wine and heritage.
The valley provides access to a variety of little known and little travelled walking, as well as quiet country roads for exploring the valley and its neighbours by bike. The roads around Whitfield, Cheshunt and Moyhu provide many cycling opportunities through landscapes which are characterised by farming, vineyards and olives, often with the Alps as a backdrop.
As the rural landscapes are left behind and the Alps begin, there is a combination of public land use – wilderness areas, national and state parks, and state forests. There are consequently many things for a wide variety of recreation types. Unlike in some of the other areas of the Alps, for example, there is a lot of four-wheel driving and many of the walks and rides will be at least partially on tracks shared with four-wheel drive vehicles. This doesn’t mean that walkers get inundated with vehicles, but it does mean care needs to be taken.
Having said that, however, access to some of the remotest areas of the Australian Alps is from this valley, well away from four wheel drive tracks. The walk to Mt Speculation gives access to the remote Barry Ranges and the Razor-Viking Wilderness along the Australian Alps Walking Track. You can walk for days and days without coming across another track. And once you’re on the track, you’re on a track. From the beginning to the end, all 660 kms of it across three Australian states and along the Australian Alps.
It is truly a remarkable landscape and one, like all landscapes, which is sculptured by human experience, both in the past and now.