Chapter 64224551

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter TitleMACEDON AND DIOGENES.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article64224551
Full Date1891-10-03
Page Number1
Corrections1
Word Count2014
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2018-06-11
Newspaper TitleBathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 - 1904)
Trove TitleThe Mount Macedon Mystery
article text

Novelist

AN AUSTRALIAN NOVEL, BY IVAN DEXTER.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

THE Mount Macedon Mystery —————— CHAPTER I. ————— MACEDON AND DIOGENES.

One of the most conspicuous and beautiful peaks on that backbone of Victoria, the Great Dividing Range, is Mount Macedon. Distant forty miles north from Mel- bourne, its blue outlines are distinctly visible to residents in the metropolis, and the locality is a favorite resort for pleasure- seekers and tourists from the southern capital. Really forming part of the Macedon Range, although divided from the main peak by a deep and— from the luxuriance of the undergrowth— almost impassable valley, is the strange elevation known officially as Mount Diogenes, but popu- larly called the " Camel's Hump." When viewed from a distance the peculiar configuration of the summit of this peak bears a striking resemblance to the back of a double-humped camel and the name is certainly more appropriate, even if more homely, than the appellation of Mount Diogenes, which has been pro- bably applied on account of its rugged and forbidding character. The vegetation of this Alpine region is extravagantly luxuriant. Nature seems to wanton in the very excess of her power, and some places her work forms an impassable barrier to the tourist's progress.

Macedon Station, formerly called Middle Gully, on the mainline of railway to Bendigo, is situated at the foot of the mount, and when the visitor ascends from there to the westerly end of the peak, 4,500 feet above tea level, he finds him- self on an extensive clearing. The mighty forest giants that reared their heads to heaven, and were young trees when the Crucifixion took place, had been laid low by Mr. Ellery and his assistants in the beginning of the 'sixties' when they were engaged in making geodetic surveys. The whole summit of that part of the mountain has been cleared and a round tower of stone, sixty or seventy feet high, built in order to allow of observations for trigonometrical measurements being taken.

No lover of scenery will begrudge his toilsome ascent when he looks from this observatory, on a clear day and, sees around him the fair country stretching away on all sides. From the platform of this tower one of the finest— if not the finest—sights of Aus- tralia ia obtained. The woodwork of the platform— and, in fact, the granite coping of the tower— has been almost cut away by tourists carving their names, and who have been delighted with the view. Governors of the colony— and in two instances their ladies— have inscribed their names here, whilst the men who are associated with the history of Victoria — who have helped to make its history— still live here to recollection on the mouldering boards, or more enduring granite of the tower. In a southerly direction the eye wanders away over smiling farms and green pastures until it rests on a white expanse of houses, over which hangs a hazy pall of smoke through which can be seen occasionally, as the sun glances on a gilded dome or glittering spire, the gleams of reflections which tell that the observer is looking upon the capital of Victoria— the teeming city of Melbourne. Further on still the white dots that now and again show themselves, denote the undulating waters of Port Phillip over which vision extends until the misty distance shuts out further sight. To the north the comfortable town of Woodend can be seen nestling under the shadow of the mount, whilst farther on Kyneton, the capital of the " Boroughs''' appears but a couple of miles distant, though it is, in fact, fully ten miles away.

Still farther on, the green hills and vales surrounding Malmsbury are visible, and the panorama ends in the locality of Elphinstone and the heights surrounding Castlemaine. To the west a vast green sea of foliage meets the eye, for the spectator is looking over the wide expanse of the historic Black Forest. Here and there small clearings, showing a lighter green, breaks the forest continuity, proving that the march of settlement is going forward. To the east the panorama is limited, for the Camel's Hump and Mount Eliza block the landscape. In this direction, however, nature is seen at her best. Lofty trees rise mastlike, between two hundred and three hundred feet high, whilst at the base, fenu, ash, mimosa,

musk and dogwood trees, interlaced with innumerable creepers and wild -flowers of varied hues, clothe the earth with an odoriferous mantle of changeful tints. Narrow glens abound, down which spring streams run silverlike on beds of glittering mica sand. From these natural depressions or ravines magnificent tree ferns twenty to thirty feet in height spring from the moist soil. Their um- brella-like fronds branching out forms a a natural roof of bosky verdure, through which is entwined numberless creepers which almost shut out the light of day. A person can wander in these natural arbours for hundreds of yards in a soft and weird twilight with the green roof twenty feet above him and the pellucid stream trickling at his feet, crystal-like on its silvery bed. Occasional breaks are met with where the sunlight pours down its radiance, and these places are the most delightful sum- mer picnic spots it is possible to conceive. They are veritable fairy dells. Between the peak on which the observer stands and the Camel's Hump is the deep valley we have mentioned, called the Devil'sGlen. To cross this place is a feat few people care about attempting. Although from the bird's-eye view which is given from the summit of the mount, it would be thought a simple matter to pass through, the apparently narrow stretch of dense vegetation which covers the valley ; the reality of the attempt is one that few adventurers for- get. For fully half-a-mile the pedestrian — and, of course, any other mode of loco- motion is impossible— finds himself grop- ing along through the giant bush ferns in a sort of twilight. Underfoot, it seems as if one is walking on indiarubber, or on a carpet stretched in the air. This is caused by the fact that each year the lower fronds of the ferns die, and this process having gone on for generations has formed a soft and yielding bed of dead ferns many feet deep.

Occasionally huge, prostrate logs are encountered. These fallen leviathans are so large that it is impossible to clamber over them, and the baffled explorer has perforce to make his way around them. Frequently startled wallaby will be heard bounding away through the scrub within a few feet of the disturber, but so dense is the undergrowth that those mar- supials though so near are invisible. Wombat holes intervene like pitfalls in the wayfarer's path, and great caution is required to avoid these dangers. Although these strange animals have subterranean tunnels extending for hun- dreds of yards in every direction, and so large that a man can creep into them without great effort, no mounds of earth mark their entrances. This is one of the mysteries of the animal's habits, for an immense body of earth must be excavated to make these passages, and what is done with it no man knows. After passing through this difficult and gloomy valley the steep westerly side of the Camel's Hump is met, and a difficult climb it is to the top. Unlike the other peaks of the range this eminence is, with the exception of a few stunted eucalypti and straggling groves of mimosa, quite barren of vegeta- tion. It is evidently of volcanic origin, for a scene of stony desolation is revealed. Granite rocks and protuberances crown the summit, the entire area of which does not exceed four acres. The two immense "humps" which gives it the name are huge masses of granite, honeycombed with numerous caves, the abode of wild goats. On one of these stand a spire-like land- mark erected by the government for sur-

vey purposes. A strange and awe-inspiring freak of nature is seen at the north end of the mount. In that direction it ends abruptly in a sheer abyss at least a thousand feet deep. It is as if some diabolic or Titanic hand had sliced the mountain in twain, and as the whole face is solid granite the opera- tion must have been no easy one. A person not subject to dizziness can look over the edge of this precipice on a clear day and far down below see the tops of the tall trees growing at the bottom. Frequently a mist of fog conceals those ranges from view, and as they come on suddenly the traveller caught in them runs no slight risk of losing his life as well as his way in the semi-darkness by walking over one of the many precipices which abound in the region.

There are many places in this mountain range that have never yet been trod by the foot of man, although they are sur- rounded by civilization, and so near a dense population. The wild and terrible features of nature stand side by side with the peaceful and beautiful. A single step will sometimes bring the explorer out of a dense and for- bidding jungle into a scene of such sylvan- like beauty that no pen could possibly do justice to it. Some of the narrow glens mentioned have probably no equal in natural or arti- ficial loveliness, whilst portions of the range are gloomy beyond imagination, or terrible like the precipices and fastnesses of Mount Diogenes. It is a region of contrasts where nature has tried her hand certainly not a "pren- tice one," at evolving the most varied forms of the work. Animal and bird life are well repre- sented. Conspicuous amongst the former are the wombat and the wallaby, and, of course, the inevitable snake, whilst the latter can show amongst the countless tribes of the feathered songsters that flit from tree to tree the mocking lyrebird and the handsome bronze-winged pigeon, which are numerous enough to afford good sport. Although the peaks themselves are re- served as a State forest, in comparatively few years as settlement advances this picturesque region will be shorn of its primeval beauties, for the hand of nature will have to give way before the hand of man. The villa residencies of the rich will supplant the haunts of the wombat and the wallaby, and the giant gum trees and bosky undergrowth will disappear be- fore the inroad of English trees and park- like shrubs. Many years ago a strange tragedy oc- curred in this district, the story of which will now be told tho reader.