FROM Cradle to Grave is the latest literary effort from Mildura’s Vernon Knight who, on this occasion, is aided by schoolmates and co-authors Robert Braby and Philip Hughes.
Together the trio recount their experiences on the ‘Overland Track’ in Tasmania’s high country almost six decades ago.
The book was prompted by Vernon’s return to Cradle Mountain with his wife, Chris, earlier this year when memories of his trek came flooding back.
“It’s a bit of a ‘Boy’s Own’ adventure really because when I was a kid, I loved the outdoors and I still do,” Mr Knight said.
“On the weekends I used to go hiking with mates and we’d often catch a train and go bush in places like Lerderderg Gorge near Bacchus Marsh, or Tynong in Gippsland.
“I wasn’t a Scout, but I knew how to use a compass and read a map.
“There are only two hiking trails in Australia listed in ‘Walking Distance’, a directory of the world’s best walks – the Overland Track and the Great Ocean Walk.”
Mr Knight said that as a youngster he had a passion to walk the Overland Track.
“At the end of Year 11, along with two of my mates – they were both 16 and I had just turned 17 – I hatched a plan to walk the Track,” he said.
“I now look back with absolute amazement that my parents were happy to let me do it. Rob had a bit of a battle to get his parent’s approval, but it was a bit easier for Phil because his parents were overseas and he just had to get the nod from his older sister.
“We all had after school jobs so we were able to fund the ferry trip to Tassie and buy the ex-Army gear that would be needed for our trek.
“In those days, it needed a bus ride to Sheffield and a four-wheel drive trip to Waldheim to reach the foot of Cradle Mountain.
“The road to Waldheim was a very rough track back then and the Waldheim chalet was a rustic, bush building, comprising a kitchen, an eating area and bunk rooms.”
Waldheim was the base camp constructed by the legendary ‘discoverer’ of Cradle Mountain, Gustav Weindorfer.
“Weindorfer built his retreat in 1912 and with his wife Kate, was for many years the mountain’s genial host,” Mr Knight explained.
“They were plant botanists and nature lovers and they quickly recognised the region’s potential to become a tourist destination.
“Weindorfer famously pronounced it as ‘A Park for the People for all Time’.”
Cradle Mountain rises to an altitude of 1545 metres (5069 feet) and is known for a range of features including jagged contours, wild landscape, beautiful rainforest, alpine heath lands, glacial lakes, and a wide variety of wildlife.
Earlier called The Ribbed Rock, the iconic peak was renamed Cradle Mountain by Van Diemen’s Land Company surveyor Joseph Fossey, inspired by the mountain’s now-familiar ‘dipping profile’ between the main summit and Little Horn.
Carved out by glacial action 20,000 years ago, the mountain was named after its resemblance to a gold mining cradle.
It forms the north end of the National Park which stretches south to Lake St Clair.
“We arrived at Waldheim on the evening of December 5, keen to prepare for what lay ahead,” Mr Knight recalls.
“Our arrival coincided with a school group from Launceston who had been doing a day trip at the base of the mountain.
“We were greeted with the news that one of the students had become separated from the school group and there was a call for volunteers to undertake the rescue.
“While we were only too happy to help, our offers were declined when we had to ask directions to the mountain.
“Sadly, the student – Edward de Boer – did not survive and we had our first introduction to the risks of hypothermia.
“As luck would have it there was a British mountaineer staying at Waldheim and while he wasn’t planning to walk the Track, he was quick to identify three boys who could easily be the mountain’s next victims.
“He persuaded us to do a day walk with him – to test our gear and get a feel for the mountain.
“While it was December, de Boer’s school trip coincided with a blizzard which was said to have dumped 40 feet of snow on the plateau.
“Conditions for us were much kinder, but we were accompanied on our ‘orientation’ by a European woman who would not have survived without the help of our mountain climber friend.
“Snow sickness is said to be a condition where the body’s organs shutdown and the victim is content to sit comfortably in the snow and slowly die.”
While the mountain was to claim other lives, today’s conditions are very different and there are many safeguards which have been developed to ensure the protection of hikers.
“I guess we wrote the book to share our adventure and hopefully tell our kids and grandchildren that there is still a world which deserves to be explored, in addition to the one which appears on some digital device!” Mr Knight said.
“It will likely be of interest to anyone of any age who has done this wonderful walk.”
‘From Cradle to Grave’ is a fascinating read. Sadly, copies are no longer available. Anyone wanting a digital copy can contact Vernon on 0418 502 957 or email@example.com. A small donation to Princes Court Mallee Living Histories would be much appreciated.
People can also listen to an interview Vernon is doing with Donna Campisi on her ‘Hello Mildura’ program on 106.7 Hot FM this Sunday at 10 am.