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:
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:
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.
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
Jim Higgins 2018