Snapshots of Wollongong – Ken Ausburn Track

This post returns to the Snapshots of Wollongong Series. I haven’t done one for quite awhile! With lockdown still keeping us close to home in the Greater Sydney region, I went looking for some novel walks. I came across a short track that links to the Mt Keira Ring Track which I have featured in a previous Snapshot post.

The Ken Ausburn Track starts at the northern end of Northfeilds Ave, just near the big roundabout and the University of Wollongong. The track, although managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife, is on land owned by the University and BHP. It is named after Kenneth Ausburn, who was the first Head of Physics at the Uni and a keen bushwalker.

Just a short stroll

The Ken Ausburn Track is very short, only about 1 .5 km but it is fairly steep. There are several flights of wooden steps and boardwalks and other areas with steps made with treated logs. At the end of the trail you can turn right towards Mt Pleasant (a further ~0.5 km) or left to get to the Ring Track. This short section of about 600 m is well used by mountain bike riders so make sure you listen out for them. The track is narrow and it would be a close squeeze if walkers and riders ended up in the same section. The track is mostly bare compacted dirt. It would be a terror in the wet, so I’d recommend avoiding it on a rainy day.

Deer Deer!

You’ll see plenty of deer poop on the grassy lower sections of the track. Feral deer are a big problem in the Illawarra and their numbers are increasing. I have written a post about this which you can find in my archives.

Feral deer are a significant issue in the Illawarra

Accessible by Public Transport

The University is on the free city bus route. You could get off at the main Uni bus area (see map below), walk up Northfields Ave for about 400 m and join the track. The trail head is easy to find although it looks a bit like someone’s back yard. You could use this track to access the Ring Track which is NOT serviced by public transport. If you did the Ken Ausburn Track plus the complete loop of the Ring Track it would be pleasant walk coming in at under 10 km. If you wanted a longer walk you could add in the Robertson Lookout (another 2.5km).

Architectural treats

In addition to the pleasant walk, there are two architectural treats along the way. Firstly, the Lawrence Hargrave Memorial and then the Kermira Brick Ventilation Shaft. The memorial is a modern stainless steel sculpture depicting a flying creature. It was crafted by Bert Flugelman in 1988. There is apparently a small replica in the grounds of the Uni itself. A friend told me that she watched the sculpture being airlifted in by an army helicopter when she was still in primary school. On the other hand, the ventilation shaft is constructed from red bricks and is rather elegant. It was erected in the 1890s. There are several interpretive signs on the route which point out plant species and the history of the track. It was originally a rail line for getting coal down the hill and then on to the harbour.

Best views

The best views are from the start of the track, specifically on the first flight of wooden stairs. You need to walk up a very steep grassed section first. From here you can see the city laid out in front of you and to the south, the Nan Tien Temple. As you get up higher there are too many trees blocking the view. (Darn nature!!) There is a section marked as a lookout a bit further up but it is very overgrown and you can’t see much.

Logisitcs.

As I said, you could catch the bus to the Uni. If you do drive be aware that the parking is limited and most is only for two hours (even on weekends). The section near the Uni colleges is not time limited but I think it would be hard to come by a spare space in peak periods and during Uni session times. There are publicly accessible toilets at the Uni. If you choose to add on the Ring Track, there is a toilet at Byarong Park. There is a coffee shop at the Mt Keira Summit but check the opening hours as it is not very reliable, especially in COVID times. Byarong Park has several picnic tables and is a great place to stop. Take full advantage of being outdoors and carry a packed lunch.

Of course, take enough water. Don’t be lulled into thinking it’s only a short walk and you won’t need water. It is very steep in sections and will get you puffing. If you add on the Ring Track there is no where to fill up your water bottle.

Google it!

Spring in Australia

It’s September 1st and downunder in Australia, we call that spring! As a scientist, I pedantically wait until the spring equinox around the 21st – 22nd of the month to claim it Spring. This seems more in line with the way humans may have done it before calendars. When all they had were huge massive stone structures that were perfectly engineered to allow light to enter a tunnel or shine on a particular inscription on a particular day at a particular time. Nothing special at all. And we use a paper calendar, or even more likely Facebook wishes us a Happy Spring!

How far removed we are from nature! I notice the day length increasing. I notice the few deciduous trees in my neighbourhood re-greening, but I’d be hard pressed to place a rock in a spot to catch the sun on a particular day.

Neolithic knowledge sharing

This line of thought led me down the path of

“How did Sven, the Neolithic engineer, share his ideas on how and where to erect the standing stones. How did he tell his “team” how deep, long and wide the tunnel needed to be so light entered the tunnel and struck the wall in an earthern Broch?”

Robyn eating breakfast…

How indeed? No way to simulate the result before starting. Not even a slide rule! No way to write down the calculations and no way to communicate other than speech. How did the Svens do it? If the tunnel was off by a few centimetres they’d have to wait a year to find out. Did they start with a stick in the ground?

Even with our modern technology and computer simulations we get it wrong. Even with our international teams of technicians and aerospace engineers, a spacecraft bound for Mars failed because one team used SI units, and the other imperial measurements!

Neolithic people must have told their stories and hence they would have to remember them. They would have to remember everything. Can I eat that plant? Without PlantSnap app to give you clues it might be a game of Russian Roulette. [Whispered aside: I feel that Ugg (Ugg being my quintessential Neanderthal archetype), might have done the ground work in passing down the knowledge of which plants killed other Uggs]

Driven to distraction

As humans we still have that capacity to remember great wads of knowledge. Yet we don’t. Instead we are distracted with social media and other forms of mass entertainment. We are kept passive and locked into a white patriarchal capitalist hegemony. We are literally cooking in our own pot yet we are too distracted to get out and turn off the stove. (The lobster analogy is of course not my own original work. I’ve seen it written in many places). Mind you I’m rather pleased we have progressed to the point that we know about hygiene and vaccinations!

This is not exactly where I wanted to go with this post. It was meant to be an exploration of ancient knowledge systems. But these ideas of being deliberately trapped in a consumerist hot pot have been on my mind for a while in case you hadn’t noticed.

Down a different sort of tunnel

As part of my quest for intentional living I have been falling down some deep tunnels myself and widening (or is it narrowing) my information sources. I have recently tapped into a few new podcasts, and subscribed to some online newsletters. You might like to check them out too.

Futuresteading – the byline “living like tomorrow matters” wraps it up. An interview style podcast which explores the greener side of living. One of the hosts, Jade Mills has just released a rather lovely although very gendered book about her rural life in Victoria.

Galaxy Brain. My newest internet vortex find! I subscribe to Future Crunch which is a good news site. It publishes good news that usually gets lost in the regular doom and gloom news cycle. They referred to Galaxy Brain in one of their micro-stories. While not about the environment per se, Galaxy Brain raises ideas about interesting modern issues, like should we work everyday for 40 years in a job we hate to make someone else rich? You can see why I like it!

Orkney Island Neolithic Sites

The images in this post were taken in the Orkney Islands around Skara Brae. In 2019, I was lucky enough to spend a wonderful week walking on the islands as part of my Scottish Roadtrip. I have written some other posts about the travel aspects of this trip elsewhere in my blog.

I still haven’t answered my Sven question but just so the post is not completely off topic, here are some spring flowers!

This is wattle – the Australian National Flower. Sweet-scented and loved by bees but hated by those with hay fever!

NSW Lockdown continues!

We are now entering the 10th week of lockdown in NSW. The COVID case numbers are going up at a crazy rate and it feels like we’ll be locked down forever! In the week from 21 August to 28 August, cases have steadily climbed and now sit well above 1000. (1218 on 29/8/21) Tomorrow they may be higher or lower, who knows but either way, they’ll be too high.

Protest?

There was another attempted protest in Sydney last weekend, but it was shut down very quickly by a massive police presence. Did it lead to a spike in numbers? Probably!! I really don’t get the point of the protest? But then I’m in a position of privilege. Lockdown is not so bad for me. I have a job in an essential industry, viz education.

I still have a job, even though my days look very different now that I am working from home. I can “stay-at-home” in my own very comfortable home. I can go to my workplace a couple of times a week and see a few of my colleagues when it’s my turn to be site manager. My daily walk takes me down to the beach, past the soothing Tasman Sea and I have a shopping centre nearby that has everything I need. I like my own company and I can keep myself busy.

While I’m perplexed and annoyed when I hear about people from south-western Sydney and the LGAs of concern not sticking to the rules, I don’t live their life or have their experience. Perhaps I’m not in a position to judge? I am not living with four or more adults in the one small public housing unit with a leaking roof and dodgy plumbing. I’m not living in a crowded suburb with little green space and no expanse of ocean to calm my nerves. Under those circumstances, I’d want to get out too.

What I can’t understand though are the parties and large gatherings. A few people hanging out on a corner or lingering in the mall while they shop is one thing, but to have a deliberate gathering or attend a protest when we know the Delta Variant has an R-value of more than 1 is mind-bogglingly selfish. It prolongs the lockdown and increases the risk for everyone. 

More carrots, less sticks?

We needed a stronger start to this lockdown back in June. With the horse well and truly gone, we need the people of NSW to stick to the rules and get vaccinated. To do this the government may need to offer more carrots and fewer sticks. In 2020, many Australians received a job keeper subsidy from the Federal Government if they lost their jobs due to COVID lockdowns. This payment may well be the soma that many need to feel supported and more inclined to be passive and stay home. It may make the less-than-rosy living conditions in south-western Sydney more unbearable to those who are trapped there.

Back to School?

Return to school plans were published on Friday (27/8/21) and allow for a return to school even if stay at home orders are still in place. While the lockdown is now scheduled to end on September 30th, these return to school plans project out to early November. Does that mean the lockdown will be extended beyond the current date? Most likely. We will be lucky to get out of lockdown by November. Some schools, especially those in regional NSW are likely to return earlier. It will be mandatory for teachers and other staff to be fully vaccinated. That particular announcement has coped a bit of flack!

I think by then I will be well and truly sick of my own company! And I wouldn’t be planning anything much for Christmas except maybe an outdoor picnic!

At least Jimmy Rees is keeping us entertained! Check out his YouTube channel.