To Borumba and Back

                                                by Glenn Burns.

The Mt Borumba circuit. A golden oldie. Just like some of the nine  of us who lined up for this enjoyable ramble through the Imbil State Forest in South East Queensland to the fire tower on Mt Borumba. The 11 kilometre circuit, mainly on forestry tracks in the Yabba and Borumba logging areas, starts with a steepish climb. Then it wends its way gently uphill for another three and a half kilometres, first through park-like open Eucalypt forest and as it climbs towards the summit, it enters the cool shade of mature rainforest. The summit is topped by a decidedly rickety wooden structure known as the No.8 Fire Tower, now ringed with security fencing. The return trip, mostly downhill, features a gravelly descent and then a soggy track out to cattle yards.

Mt Borumba Cross section Blog image

Meanwhile back at the start of the walk our little band had formed up, my good bushwalking mate Brian Manuel in the lead. A quick vault over the locked gate and then up the dozer line that climbs vertically for The Beacon at 423 metres, an altitude gain of nearly 300 metres in one and a half kilometres. This must have been one intrepid dozer driver, no pussy footing around with zigzags, contouring or switch backs. Just straight up. And as I tottered my way up, one of those pesky elderly hares bounded by, calling out: “A good heart starter, hey”. No doubt about that. Fortunately for me, Brian called time, a welcome smoko break on the summit of The Beacon. A grassy glade shaded by gnarly old bloodwoods, a cooling breeze, fantastic views and a good feed.

On a crisp autumn day like this we had extensive views over Lake Borumba and the Yabba Creek catchment to the west. To the east and south were the high rugged hills and deep valleys of state forests, a verdant patchwork of rainforest, wet and dry sclerophyll forest, and plantations of hoop and bunya pine. These hills, now little more than 400 metres elevation, are the remnants of an ancient mountain chain planed down to a dissected plateau. The hard metamorphosed sediments, the Amamoor Beds, have resisted erosion, thus forming the elevated ridgelines that we were now following. Forestry areas are always full of places with tantalising names and intriguing stories to match.  Names like Breakneck Road, Derrier, Little Derrier, Tragedy, Buffalo and Gigher. One of my favourites was on a faded little sign outside Imbil which said: “The Foreign Legion.”  Not as in French Foreign Legion but an encampment of 150 displaced persons from World War Two.  Known generically as “The Balts”, they came mainly from Eastern Europe, few speaking English, and were allocated plantation work at one of three camps: Sterlings Crossing, Derrier and Araucaria.  The Balts lived a hard life in tent camps without electricity and running water. The children had a different take on any perceptions about hardship: “It was the best years of my life. We kids were allowed to run riot through the bush…It was simply fantastic.”

After The Beacon, we briefly took to a cattle pad before dropping down onto the Beacon Road. The route now meandered along forested ridgelines at about 400 metres, winding inexorably upwards towards Mt Borumba. Through gaps in the trees we caught occasional glimpses of the Borumba tower which was number 8 in a network of more than 30 fire towers spread across South East Queensland’s forestry areas. This 20 metre, three storey tower and its neighbours No.5 Mt Allan, and No.12 Coonoon Gibber, were used to fix the location of fires by triangulation. Interestingly, a large number of these fire towers were built by a Sunshine Coast resident Arthur Leis, all in days before fancy construction gear. Some of the higher towers like Jimna (47 metres) took Arthur three years to construct. No. 8 is a four -legged tower built in 1958, but variations included a three-legged tripod and the cheapskate model with boards nailed to a tree trunk. You can read more about Queensland’s fire towers in Peter Holzworth’s: Silent Sentinels: the story of Queensland’s Fire Towers.

No.8 Firetower. Mt Borumba
No.8 Firetower. Mt Borumba

It was not long before we swung south onto the No 8 Tower Road, as did a battered old 4WD ute, which caused a ripple of expectation among those of us plodding along in the rear. I recalled with deep fondness bygone days when said ute would grind to a halt and its driver, fag glued to bottom lip, would beckon walkers over: “Everything OK?”.  A longish chat about the weather, cattle prices or his bee hives, and then our Good Samaritan would say: “Wanna lift?”  This was the signal for us to pile in. But our latter day 4WDer merely glided past, stopping occasionally to nail up ever more  Horses Ahead signs in preparation for an Easter horse endurance ride.

At the intersection with Borumba Mountain Road we swung west and climbed the final kilometre to the summit. As a veteran of Brian’s many forays into peak bagging I knew not to get overly excited about the possibility of majestic views over golden plains extended. And so it was. A view obscured not by the usual wreaths of claggy mist nor by sheets of bucketing rain. Just a wall of trees. Still it was a thoroughly pleasant spot for a lunch break: plenty of shade, grass to stretch out on and time to cast a covetous eye over one of Kiwi Ross’s mouth watering lunches. Take a chunk of crusty bread, add layers of rich red sliced tomatoes and then haystack the top with several acres of fresh alfafa sprouts. Joe to Kiwi Ross who was just about to sink in the tooth: “Hey, Ross. Would you like me to run the mower over that lot before you eat it?”

Lunch time on Borumba
Lunch time on Borumba

 The inbound trip involved some backtracking for two kilometres until Brian suddenly executed a sharp left, and then plunged down an ever steepening trail mantled with loose gravel. Marbles on tiles.  Believe it or not, the best strategy is to jog down, skating over the top of the rolling gravel, just like those flocking sheep on NZ high country sheep runs. Michelle, Brian and Kiwi Ross, who are skilled exponents of this arcane ovine art, arrived first, fully intact. For the rest of us it was a matter of gingerly picking our way down, unfortunately not without mishap to a derrière or two. And then came the trudge along a sodden track before fetching up at the cattle yards. Leaving plenty time to scrape off the mud and head off for cold beer, coke or water at the Railway Hotel, Imbil. My thanks to Brian (leader), and fellow Borumbians Alf, Joe, Ross, Linda, Michelle, Robyn and Samantha.