Run to the Front Gate and Back

The front gate at Gundawanna was one mile from our house. That’s 1.6 kilometres today, but when I was growing up it was precisely 1.1 miles, as measured by my Father on the car odometer. That made the run there and back a two mile run if you stopped at the water trough at the top of Guanna Hill, .2 of a mile on the same car odometer from our house gate.  When I was 17 I was playing Rugby for the school and the athletics season was about to begin. For training I would run to the front gate and back when I got home, because I couldn’t always get to training at school which was 20 miles away (about 32 kilometres). At that age you love to compete and I would compete against myself, timing the run each day on my wristwatch. I would start when the minute hand reached one of the lines and keep an eye on it as I went. No “fitbits” then!

The road leads away from the gate as shown here in the photo I took fourteen years ago:

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It flows past the Shearing Shed and the dam next to it on the left where the trees in the photo stand, across three ramps separating four paddocks until it rises up the hill to the water trough at the top of Guanna Hill where you first see our house and the land falling gently away in the distance to the clear blue line of the Caleula Hills beyond the Bell River valley. That’s how it appears as you drive in, but the run I remember from fifty years ago went something like this:

I felt fit and strong. I knew athletics season this year would be a good one and I felt confident I could beat the other sprinter who had just got there ahead of me in the 100 yards last year. I’d won the 220 yards, but I was always a slow starter. My warm-up consisted of a few stretches of the legs, open the garden gate, check that the minute hand on my watch was lying along one of the number markers, and set off. The road was gravel with heaped stones pushed up the side and centre from the wheel tracks made by passing cars where the ground was smoother, but in some sections loose dirt and larger rocks could make even that surface slippery. I had done this run so many times I knew the best places to go and could concentrate on just running hard.

I had never been a good distance runner. Perhaps it was all the bouts of bronchitis I had as a child, perhaps it was just that I had never run very far when younger, spending most of my time on horseback. I was a reasonably successful sprinter but I had never run a fast time on this front gate run. Today I felt confident; I decided 10 minutes for the two miles could be my goal, something I’d never done before.

As you run down Guanna Hill away from our house you come up to the ramp where magpies swoop you in nesting season when you try to open the gate that always stands next to it on fences. No magpies today and no need for the gate either as the ramps offer no obstacle to me. They are meant to keep stock from crossing into other paddocks and are officially known as a “cattle grid”. It was always a “ramp” to us, and looked like this:

pa6OPvistock image

I have seen some sheep jump across the gap, not always successfully, and I don’t jump, I just need momentum. It’s all in the timing, plant your leading foot where the underlying support is and you have no chance of falling because the bar won’t move and in one stride you’re over.

After the first ramp the road flattens out and runs through a stand of gum trees – Yellow Box, the best wood for the fire, my Father would say, because it generates good heat and burns slowly. The limbs shed regularly by the trees provide a steady supply of winter warmth after they dried. Today my thoughts were more of the coolness you feel as you run through the stand, and the way the light changes subtly to that slighter darker, softer hue you get under a group of gum trees growing tall and strong.

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I still felt strong, over the next ramp, down the slight incline to the last one then across the creek that carries the overflow out of the dam near the Shearing Shed. In this paddock a mob of sheep do what they always do when something startles them. They race together across the road in front of the oncoming object which is no problem to me as I run, but always causes my Father to curse them as he drives out in the car. He often claimed sheep were dumb, but as a child I thought chooks were dumber! That’s another story!

The Shearing Shed, or as we called it, the Woolshed, is always recognisable by the smell. Two decades of mobs of sheep all gathered in tight enclosures, all kept there for several days ensure a considerable depth of manure. Inside the shed that aroma mixes delightfully with the smell of lanolin from the wool and whenever I smell wool today, it takes me back to that place of magic and excitement for a growing boy. No magic today, just strong steady breathing and my heart pounding in time with my feet as I reach the half-way point, the gate and glance at my watch as I turn to head home. Just on five minutes! I think I can do this! Let’s go!

The run back goes well, the feet gliding, the heart thumping, the breath steady. As I run up Guanna Hill I realise I am right on my goal of ten minutes. I push it hard and race up there easier than I ever had. I breast the “tape” at the water trough and look down at my watch. Yes! I did it!

I stand soaking up the elation and breathing in the joy. Alone, without assistance or coaching I had achieved a significant personal milestone. As I walk down the hill towards home with head high, breathing deeply of the clear air, I look out towards the Caleula Hills in the distance and think to myself:

Joy … at one with self and scenery … the hills … the road … the run

IMG_3716Jim Higgins 2018

Author: Jim

Sharing stories from my journey on the red road of life.

10 thoughts on “Run to the Front Gate and Back”

    1. The story is where I grew up in Central West NSW, just out of Molong. I lived and worked some time ago in the Northern Rivers – Bangalow, Byron, Lismore. Live in Qld just North of Brisbane now. Very fortunate to have lived in some beautiful country.

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  1. You certainly know how to capture – and keep – the reader’s attention! I would never have believed that I could get so involved in the description of a ten-mile run. Incredible!
    I just noticed your surname – Higgins. It brings to mind an image of Dickensian poverty in ye olde London. I instantly pictured your ancestor stealing an apple from a market stall, to fill his hungry belly.

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    1. Thank you. I’m sure my ancestors would have taken to theft at some time to survive in an England that went through so much in the 18th & 19th century. I have found a reference to a Christopher Higgins (the name of my Great Great Grandfather) tried for “larceny” (theft) in London in 1824 when he was 19, and he was found not guilty. The dates and ages fit and I know he joined the Coldstream Guards that same year so I wonder if he was lucky enough to escape conviction then, decided to join the army and then tried to get out because of the ill-treatment that was so common in that time. Could be a good story, especially as I have found newspaper reports of Christopher Higgins in Beechworth, where my ancestor did live, claiming he was a former member of the Guards in England in a trial for drunkenness. The magistrate did not accept that as an excuse and he was fined. I can imagine one of my ancestors doing just that!!

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      1. I’m interested to learn that your ancestor might have been in the Coldstream Guards. Unless things have changed a lot in the intervening years, it wasn’t easy to get into that regiment, so he must have had something to commend him.

        Although your G.G.G’s life must have been harsh when he reached Australia,, in the long run it might have given his family more opportunities than they would otherwise have had – depending on the social class he came from.

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      2. Interesting you say that about the Guards. I thought that as well and interestingly my Uncle never said that Christopher was in the Coldstream Guards when he sent his genealogy out to his family. I only found that out this year going through his original documents. Makes me wonder!! I must do some more research. I’ll put some information up on my blog as I would like to share what my family have been through. You’re right, Christopher’s sons and daughters had a very successful life, if the newspaper reports I have read are any indication. I know my Great Grandfather, his youngest son James was a very successful Coach Builder in Albury and the building he had built to house the factory is now the Elm Court Motel in that city.

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