Malcolm Brown: Sydney to Dubbo walk

January 9, 2013: Lisa Minner - Daily Liberal

RED-FACED and clearly over-heated by the next leg of his journey to the township of Geurie, Malcolm Brown looked surprisingly well on a day where the temperature was predicted to hit 42C.

With his 13th walking day almost behind him, Mr Brown has coped well physically and with the intense heat. ''I'm surprised by my fitness, actually. I thought at 65 years I might wear out somewhere along the way,'' he said, sipping an ice-cold beer at the Mitchell Inn.

The former Fairfax Media journalist has broken his Sydney to Dubbo walk into 30-kilometre blocks, with Wednesday's leg the shortest at 22 kilometres.

Mr Brown said he did not anticipate heatwave conditions. ''I was prepared for wet weather, and after a deluge in Sydney, I've not seen a drop. But I've carted the heavy stuff all the way with me - extra weight for nothing.

''Apart from my lips, which have been burned pretty badly, I've been able to cop it sweet.''

''Relieved'' is how Mr Brown says he will feel on arriving in his home town of Dubbo on Wednesday.

January 8, 2013: Malcolm Brown

I AM now on the Mitchell Highway between Molong and Wellington, in blistering conditions, with the beautiful Bell River reduced to a series of puddles.

The shimmering horizons have their own beauty, great fawny expanses dotted with box gums rising and ending starkly against a cloudless sky - the sort of scenery that great artists such as McCubbin, Streeton and Roberts were inspired by. And there are millions more panoramas yet to be painted.

The further I am from Sydney, the friendlier everyone has become. A couple had me in their farmhouse for lunch. Terry Jones, former editor of The Area News in Griffith, stopped for a chat, a lemonade and recollections of the Don Mackay case.

Kevin Howell, an engineer with Cabonne Shire, walked with me for a while and thought aloud about what he might do when he retires next month. A woman passing in a car gave me $8.50 in change for the Sydney Children's Hospital Westmead, and Alex Dalziel gave me a cool drink and $10 for the same institution.

Molong was established in the early 1820s as a staging point for men, stock and equipment being taken to the convict settlement at Wellington. Molong became an important Cobb & Co staging post and the company's coach house is still there. In 1830, the Bathurst to Wellington Mail made history when it became the first mail in Australia to be held up by bushrangers.

On Saturday I stayed in Molong, where Des Sullivan, 57 years a shearing contractor and president of the Molong Historical Society, showed me the other side of the Fairbridge Farm School story.

Opened in 1937 and closed in 1973, the school put through 1200 British migrant children and the vast majority profited by it, despite hard work and harsh discipline, though there were abuses.

Last year, Ron Sinclair, a retired academic, published an article in the Central Western Daily describing "a fortunate life at Fairbridge".

I've now gone past Larras Lee, another Cobb & Co coach stop and the original coach tracks can still be seen in parts of the district.

This area was settled by a First Fleeter, William Lee, the first man to take sheep across the Blue Mountains.

I am travelling well, though my spare shoes which I mailed to Molong in advance did not arrive and size 14s are hard to come by in the country. So my present shoes, badly worn, must serve on the road which goes on and on.

January 7, 2013: Malcolm Brown

I AM now on the Mitchell Highway between Molong and Wellington, in blistering conditions, with the beautiful Bell River reduced to a series of puddles. The shimmering horizons have their own beauty, great fawny expanses dotted with box gums rising and ending starkly against a cloudless sky - the sort of scenery that great artists such as McCubbin, Streeton and Roberts were inspired by. And there are millions more panoramas yet to be painted.

The further I am from Sydney, the friendlier everyone has become. A couple had me in their farmhouse for lunch. Terry Jones, former editor of The Area News in Griffith, stopped for a chat, a lemonade and recollections of the Don Mackay case.

Kevin Howell, an engineer with Cabonne Shire, walked with me for a while and thought aloud about what he might do when he retires next month. A woman passing in a car gave me $8.50 in change for the Sydney Children's Hospital Westmead, and Alex Dalziel gave me a cool drink and $10 for the same institution.

Molong was established in the early 1820s as a staging point for men, stock and equipment being taken to the convict settlement at Wellington. Molong became an important Cobb & Co staging post and the company's coach house is still there. In 1830, the Bathurst to Wellington Mail made history when it became the first mail in Australia to be held up by bushrangers.

On Saturday I stayed in Molong, where Des Sullivan, 57 years a shearing contractor and president of the Molong Historical Society, showed me the other side of the Fairbridge Farm School story.

Opened in 1937 and closed in 1973, the school put through 1200 British migrant children and the vast majority profited by it, despite hard work and harsh discipline, though there were abuses.

Last year, Ron Sinclair, a retired academic, published an article in the Central Western Daily describing ''a fortunate life at Fairbridge''.

I've now gone past Larras Lee, another Cobb & Co coach stop and the original coach tracks can still be seen in parts of the district.

This area was settled by a First Fleeter, William Lee, the first man to take sheep across the Blue Mountains.

I am travelling well, though my spare shoes which I mailed to Molong in advance did not arrive and size 14s are hard to come by in the country. So my present shoes, badly worn, must serve on the road which goes on and on.

January 4, 2013: Malcolm Brown

I AM out of Orange now and into Cabonne Shire, which a sign says is the home of Wiradjuri people. The land is very dry. A temperature of 43 degrees has been forecast. The dry heat was a welcome relief from the humidity as I came down from the mountains but now it is harder to take. It is the dry heat which explorer Charles Sturt once said sucks the life out of anything. But, unlike Sturt, I now have a road crew, comprising my sister Jill, a Canberra GP, who stops every five kilometres or so and gives me an iced lemon drink. It is not quite in the pioneering spirit but Sturt would undoubtedly have partaken of it.

Prime TV in Orange asked me what I thought about as I walked. I said that if you had a notion of the history you were walking through, it was of endless interest. In Lucknow, I saw "Wentworth's Mine" enclosed and that signified a great slab of local history. In 1851 a girl crossing a nearby creek saw something glittering in the water, picked it up and showed it to Tom Paine, overseer of the property W. C. Wentworth had there. Paine told Wentworth, who travelled from Sydney to investigate but thought nothing would come of it. He was mistaken and very soon the population of "Wentworth Diggins" was booming in the place that was to become Lucknow.

The Western Road was increasingly used as people rushed to get to the goldfields at Ophir and soon it was almost unusable with coaches taking other routes to get over the worst bits. Cobb & Co, established in Orange in 1862, provided a much improved service and one W. F. Whitby, a partner in the company, dedicated himself to running the service until 1912.

There is a great interest in local history. Phil Stevenson, the president of the Orange Historical Society, who arranged accommodation for me with some committee members, showed me a 30-minute documentary on Orange made in 1927, recently recovered and screened for six nights to packed theatres in the city.

I have told people I am doing the walk to raise money for the two Sydney children's hospitals and people have reached for their wallets. Dennis, a truck driver, gave me a $100 note. I also have some official sponsors, including the property magnate Max Raine. John Armati, a former media proprietor who gave me my first newspaper job on the Daily Liberal in Dubbo in 1969, is giving $10 a kilometre to the Sydney Children's Hospital at Randwick.

January 4, 2013: JANICE HARRIS - Central Western Daily

HE’s taken on a challenge which would be daunting for a man half his age and so far former Fairfax journalist Malcom Brown. 64, has come through with flying colours.

Mr Brown has set himself the treacherous task of walking from Sydney to Dubbo, where his journalism career began.

Walking in solitude in the heat of summer on roads he says are not user friendly for trekkers and bikers, Mr Brown says so far his preparation for the long journey has paid off.

“In the two months leading up to Christmas Day when I left Sydney I tried to average between 30 and 40 kilometres a day, two to three times a week, “ he said.

Apart from a blister on his foot and fatigue at the end of the day he says he has been buoyed by the support of passers by.

“I have been surprised by the level of interest from places where I stop along the way,” he said.

“Out of Bathurst yesterday I even had a couple wish me well who had decided to drive back out with a coffee for me,” he said.

With many hours on the road alone with the occasional horn from a passing vehicle, Mr Brown said he has been able to soak up the topography of the land and directly relate it to the pioneers who headed west after conquering the Blue Mountains.

However, he says it is the historical significance of villages and towns which has impacted on his walk so far.

“Today I stopped at the Beekeeper’s Inn which was of course an original stopover for Cobb and Co and I walked past the historic Wentworth Mine at Lucknow,” he said.

Using his highly-tuned powers of observation from many years spent as a senior journalist, Mr Brown said other aspects of the scenery such as the vegetation have captured his interest.

“The poplar tree for example is everywhere along the way, and considering it is an introduced species along with the willow, it has done remarkably well here,” he said.

After staying in Orange last night with members of the Orange Historical Society, Mr Brown is heading for Molong today, followed by Wellington, Geurie and then on to Dubbo where he hopes to arrive next Wednesday.

“I want to end my journey in Dubbo at the Cenotaph because I believe these structures are the spirit of any community,” he said.

Mr Brown said he is considering compiling his experiences from his long trek to pen to paper and write a book on his trekking experience.

January 3, 2013: MALCOLM BROWN

THE road between Bathurst and Orange winds through some of the most peaceful and picturesque places on the western slopes, and one might be excused for thinking nothing horrible can happen. Of course it does, and I have passed half-a-dozen roadside memorials to accident victims. That is only a fraction of those who have died on this road. I am told that in the 12 kilometres of winding road between Bathurst and Dunkeld, to the west, 13 people have died in 12 years. Speeds on the road are around the 100-kilometre mark but there is little margin for error.

In 1823, a party led by Lieutenant Percy Simpson set out from Bathurst to build a road to Wellington Vale, as it was called then. The guide refused to take the party because he said the only route was along the Macquarie River and it was too harsh to get a dray and provisions along it.

The party took a route south of the river, with an Aboriginal guide and one Constable Blackman. They moved along Fredericks Valley and through the site of the future city of Orange, crossing what they called Blackman's Swamp Creek as they did so. The party took another 10 days to get to Wellington but that path is basically what is followed today.

The first grant of land in the Orange district was at Lucknow and pastoralists quickly moved in.

In 1838, Thomas Mitchell passed through and commented on "the mountain mass of Conobalas". Residents of Blackman's Swamp settlement then petitioned for a proclamation as a municipality, pointing to the settlement's strategic location for the overland routes, and the proclamation was made in 1846.

Five years later came the discovery of gold but copper was also important. I walked past the turnoff to Byng where Cornish miners once settled with their families, having walked the road across the mountains. Two families descended from those miners and are still there.

There are delightful stories along the way including one of a forbidden love match between a landlord's daughter Rosa Glasson, and William Wythes, son of a lessee farmer.

The two eloped in a coach to Sydney, Rosa's father pursued the coach but found the couple were not on board. He left, the coachman gave a whistle and out of the bush came the couple, who continued to Sydney, where they were married by the Reverend Dunmore Lang.

I'm now about 15 kilometres out of Orange, way ahead of schedule, my progress hastened by publicity and goodwill, including that of a couple who drove all the way to Lithgow and back to bring me a cup of takeaway coffee.

January 2, 2013: MALCOLM BROWN

WITH half the pilgrimage to Dubbo completed and having acquired my first blister, I am sitting on the top of Rocks Mountain above Bathurst, having gone through the city and seen the site on the banks of the Macquarie River where Governor Macquarie pronounced the settlement in 1815.

There is a plaque at the spot where the words appear of Captain Henry Antill, major of the brigade of the NSW Corp, from May 7 that year: "Tis pleasing to look forward and think that perhaps that at some future period not far distant, a flourishing town may arise on the very spot we are now occupying on the banks of the Macquarie River".

The flagpole raised on the occasion stood for the next 50 years and became the survey point for the inland. It was the first structure west of the mountains and pre-dated the obelisk in Sydney, erected for the same surveying purposes.

There is a great sense of history here. As the Mayor, Monica Morse points out, every year there is "Proclamation Day" in Bathurst and the people never forget that it was at this spot that the expansion into inland Australia began.

The mayor pointed out the site in William Street where the Westpac Bank now stands where the public proclamation was made in 1851 that gold had been discovered.

Not all Bathurst's memories are good ones – the worst is the massacre of the Wiradjuri people who came into severe conflict with the interlopers from the east in 1824.

There are also memories of triumphs and dramas of the gold rush and the inevitable arrival of the bushrangers, including Ben Hall and Johnny Gilbert who came into town in October 1863, rode nonchalantly around and were recognised.

They had to flee the town in a hail of gunfire and in October that year had the temerity to approach the home of a gold commissioner, Henry Knightly, who opened fire and mortally wounded one of the gang, Michael Burke.

A more engaging story, very popular in town, is that of the Ribbon Gang, led by Ralph Entwistle.

Entwistle had a grievance. He and a companion, having worked hard to bring a load of wool along the road, stripped off and plunged into the Macquarie River for a swim. Governor Ralph Darling and his party happened to be passing by and though the governor did not see them, Entwistle and his companion were charged with disrespectful behaviour, flogged and their tickets of leave cancelled.

Entwistle was filled with rage and went off on a career of banditry. It took police two months to hunt down the gang and when Entwistle was to be hanged, the first Catholic priest to cross the Blue Mountains came to administer the last rites.

I am now on the Mitchell Highway which until 1936 was called the North-West Highway. Its name was changed in honour of Sir Thomas Mitchell.

My destination is now Vittoria, which was a coach changing station from about 1859 and had a licensed hotel. The air is dry, the chorus of cicadas in the bush unchanging and the vistas of mountain and valley are sometimes breathtaking.

January 2, 2013: LOUISE EDDY - Western Advocate

As veteran Sydney Morning Herald journalist and author Malcolm Brown makes his way on foot from the city to the mountains and on to the plains of the west, he is discovering new things – about people, about history and about himself. 

In scorching temperatures, Mr Brown, 65, is walking from Sydney to Dubbo, the city where he was born.

In August he retired after 40 years as a well-respected journalist with the Herald.

As he walked towards Bathurst yesterday along the Great Western Highway he lamented that the modern person tends to move around insulated from the world, with headphones in their ears and music turned up loud.

Mr Brown said it is a great shame people can’t find things to listen to in nature, displaying instead an unwillingness to use their eyes and ears. 

It is one of the reasons he is making this journey on foot.

“Walking allows you to notice things you wouldn’t otherwise,” he said.

“Take the carnage of animals on our roads. 

“It is happening all over Australia. Thousands of animals are killed every day.

“There are also poignant places – memorials to people who have been killed.”

He said studying the history of places along his route has been fascinating.

“It’s all the little things you might not know otherwise – stories of Ben Hall and Frank Gardiner, of finding gold,” he said.

One of his greatest challenges has been the constant vigilance required when walking along busy roads.

“I realise now how little provision is made for walkers or cyclists. Everything is for the motor vehicle,” he said.

Mr Brown said while preparing for the journey he drove the route, bought books about every spot along the way, started general training and then increased to intense training a couple of months before he was due to leave. 

He tested various types of footwear and found he could comfortably walk 30 kilometres a day without pushing himself too hard.

Then he set the date for Christmas Day. 

He made it as far as Parramatta, ending up drenched with rain. The following day he walked to Penrith. It took him eight hours.

After that it was on to Woodford, Blackheath, then an incident with an electric fence as he made his way towards Lithgow along the back roads. 

By New Year’s Eve he had made it as far as the motel at the truckstop near Yetholme – but there were no late night celebrations; he was fast asleep. 

Mr Brown said as he came down from the Blue Mountains with all its magic his arrival in the country was heralded by blowflies and the smell of carcasses.

The signs too are becoming more prosaic. Instead of showing the way to a Fairy Dell, they point to Wombat Hollow and Frying Pan Creek. 

“I feel I have come home,” he said.

January 2, 2013: LISA MINNER - Daily Liberal

SEVEN days into his epic journey by foot from Sydney to Dubbo, former journalist Malcolm Brown says he is powering along.

Describing his journey as "a symbolic return to his roots," he made Bathurst yesterday in good time.

"I'm feeling great actually and covering around 30 kilometres a day, I'm standing up to it," he said.

"It's certainly something I can manage with plenty of water and a good hat."

While in Bathurst Mr Brown met with Mayor Monica Morse who took him to the exact spot where Governor Macquarie declared Bathurst a settlement.

"Bathurst has some involvement in the anniversary of the Blue Mountains crossing which took place in 1813," he said.

"The crossing was an incredible thing because it opened up the whole of NSW all the way to Dubbo.

"Until then penetration into Australia had been around the periphery, the crossing inland opened up pastoral and gold country."

In the last couple of days, Mr Brown said he had been surprised by the number of supporters who had joined him briefly on his walk.

He said a former employer had sponsored him ten cents per kilometre which would equate to $4000 by the time he reached Dubbo.

The money was being donated to the Sydney Children's Hospital at Randwick.

"Mr Armati who was the proprietor at the time hired me back in 1969 as a journalist in Dubbo, he gave me my first writing job," he said.

Mr Brown is looking forward to having his sister Jill Brown, who is an assistant surgeon, join him as road crew on the next leg of his trip.

His other sister Meredith Hatherly, who lives in Canberra, will take over as road crew on the final leg of the trip from Molong to Dubbo.

"It will be great to have them along, they'll make me a cup of tea, that sort of thing."

January 1, 2013: LEN ASHWORTH - Lithgow Mercury.

WHEN Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson reached Mt York and peered down on the Hartley Valley in May 1813 they knew they had succeeded in crossing the Blue Mountains.

It says so on the towering, if somewhat neglected, monument at that site to the milestone in the nation’s history.

When footslogging journalist Malcolm Brown reached Mt York on Sunday he probably had the same sense of satisfaction in completing the climb.

But perhaps his biggest challenge was waiting for him on the other side of the valley.

Malcolm, now in his 60s, had more than 40 years in journalism before entering retirement recently during restructuring at the Sydney Morning Herald.

So what to do now with all this unanticipated idle time?

Why not walk from Sydney to Dubbo, the city where Malcolm began his long career in the newspaper game at the Dubbo Liberal?

The fact that it was mid summer was just a minor consideration for this intrepid journo who set out from Sydney on Christmas Day to begin his personal odyssey.

Along the way he files reports of his adventures for the Sydney Morning Herald.

In the Blue Mountains he was feted by people he had never met previously but who were happy to be part of his adventure, particularly local historical societies.

“I’m not used to having some sort of celebrity status,” he said.

After sharing a night with the ghosts at the historic Woodford Academy Malcolm had more hospitable company with friends at Mt Victoria on Saturday night before lacing up the walking boots and heading for Lithgow.

At Mt York he happily posed for photographs with the Lithgow Mercury on the foggy mountain top and said he was appreciating the much cooler conditions on the day before another walk into history as he headed down the original route into the valley, the old Coxs Road.

The ‘road’ was such a challenge to the first pioneers that the coaches dragged large logs behind them to slow them down while the passengers got out and walked.

Malcolm had no issues with the descent but on the other side of the Hartley Valley was awaiting the toughest part of the challenge — the long, very steep climb up Browns Gap to Lithgow.

Lithgow was roughly the half way point on the walk and it was a confident long distance walker who set out from Lithgow heading for Bathurst this morning after again spending the night with friends.

He was due in Bathurst today.

December 30, 2012: MALCOLM BROWN

I am sitting on a mountainside somewhere between Hartleyvale and Lithgow, having climbed Brown's Gap Road and passed the furthest point that Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth reached on their epoque-making trip in 1813.

It is easy to feel the exhilaration of the explorers when they reached the top of Mount York and saw Hartley Valley below. There were mountains in the middle distance, but there was also an obvious gap and on that day, May 28, 1813, they felt they were justified in thinking they had conquered the mountains.

The explorers and their party went a little further to a smaller hill (later named Mount Blaxland), which they apparently reached on May 31.

Getting up the mountains has been a solid slog but without drama. I took the back roads through Wentworth Falls in company with Daniel Lewis, one of the legion of redundant former Fairfax employees seeking a new direction in life. We pass an extraordinary lake which doesn't appear to be well known, where the Jamison Creek was dammed to provide water for steam engines and now becomes a marvellous recreation reserve.

Surveyor George Evans passed this way on May 3, 1814 en route between overnight camps.

The charm of the other Blue Mountains has faded a little and the Hydro Majestic at Medlow Bath, with security fencing all around, does not appear it will ever regain its glory although there are signs saying the spirit is not dead.

The Explorers Tree, or at least the stump of it, is wrapped in thick black plastic but some historians question whether the mark emblazed on it was actually done by Blaxland's party.

At Blackheath and again at Mount Victoria, where I walked with another former Fairfax employee Jennie Curtin, the Mountains people demonstrated that the energy and camaraderie is not lost on them.

I took most of Saturday off and explored the back blocks including Grose Valley - a smaller version of Jamison Valley but a truly amazing sight, complete with bellbirds.

The edge of the Mountains with their massive escarpments falling into Kanimbla Valley and elsewhere is quite spectacular. But there is also a striking lack of imagination, such as a decision by people of past eras to put water reservoir tanks on top of One Tree Hill at Mount Victoria, the highest point of the mountains at 1,111 metres.

After a night spent with fellow choristers at Mount Victoria, I went to Mount York where the achievements of Blaxland, Lawson, Wentworth, Thomas Mitchell, William Cox, George Evans and others are suitably commemorated.

The original Cox's Road, complete at times with the original cuttings and drains and rock reinforcements, might have been a marvellous engineering achievement for the time but is so steep in places and difficult that coaches would have had to be eased down by ropes, pulleys and counter weights to stop them plunging into chasms.

A road was put down by Major Lockyer in 1829 close to Cox's Road but in 1832 Victoria Pass, which was the inspiration of Thomas Mitchell, was opened to traffic. Another route, Berghofers Pass was opened in 1912 to provide gentler grades but by 1920 when cars were more powerful Victoria Pass was rebuilt and reopened.

I got down to Hartley Valley, looked at the Comet Inn that was built in 1879 and used as a guest house, and Collits' Inn up the road, built 50 years earlier but now just a private residence.

All this history is going to become very important over the next few years as the crossing of the Mountains is celebrated but now I am on to Lithgow which effectively marks the beginning of the inland.

December 29, 2012: LISA MINNER - Daily Liberal

FOUR days into his 400-kilometre journey, former Sydney Morning Herald journalist Malcolm Brown reflects on his time spent in Dubbo both as a resident and later as a journalist at the Daily Liberal.

Born in Dubbo in 1947 Mr Brown attended South Dubbo Public School and in 1960 he enrolled at Dubbo High School where he completed his intermediate certificate.

In 1963 he went to Newington College for two years before attending Sydney University in 1965, pursuing an arts degree.

With an education and some city living under his belt, the university graduate returned to his home town in 1969 as a reporter for the Daily Liberal.

"I began working thanks to John Armati, the proprietor of the Daily Liberal then, who gave me a job as a favour to my dad who was a fellow Rotarian and I fell in love with the job," he said.

"I stayed there until I was called up for national service, went in very reluctantly, and came back in July of '71 and did another six months and then resigned in order to finish my arts degree."

At the end of 1972 Mr Brown was employed by the Sydney Morning Herald where he remained until this year.

"I have always been very conscious of the Daily Liberal and periodically I've sent reports back including one story I got in the Middle East when I covered the Gulf War in 1991, and I sent back a story on a Mudgee girl who was caught up in the conflict over there."

Mr Brown said his time at the Daily Liberal was a wonderful foundation "to spring from''.

"It was great training and people tend to, in their ignorance, downgrade local papers, but in fact they are the same issues as are covered in metropolitan papers," he said.

"It's just on a smaller scale and the personalities and the issues are just as important for the local community."

Mr Brown said there would still be a prominent place for regional newspapers despite technology impacting the traditional format of newspapers.

"In the long run metropolitan newspapers will have been downgraded or put out of business by the technological revolution, I think it is the regional papers like the Daily Liberal that will continue."

"I just have a feeling the long- term future of the regional papers will remain, but I guess we will just have to wait and see."

December 28, 2012: LISA MINNER - Daily Liberal.

RETIRED Sydney Morning Herald journalist Malcolm Brown continues his journey from Sydney to Dubbo on a road he says has woven its way through his life.

It is a symbolic journey for the 65-year-old veteran reporter - with memories both good and bad - dotted along the highway that will take him back to his home town.

Yesterday the Daily Liberal spoke with Mr Brown as he made his way through the town of Springwood.

"It's taking me a lot longer than I expected- it took me eight hours to get from Parramatta to Penrith," he said.

Despite having put in gruelling hours training on the cycling tracks of Sydney, he admits the paths were flat and not quite of the same calibre as the hilly roads of the Blue Mountains, especially while carrying a heavy backpack.

"I was averaging around five kilometres an hour while I was training but at the moment I'm averaging about three to four kilometres."

He began the next leg of his journey yesterday with a group of supporters in tow.

"I've been accompanied by some members of the Blue Mountains Historical Committee which is going to celebrate the bicentennial of the crossing of the mountains next year," he said.

So far the heat had not been an issue and the journalist noted feeling quite fit and well, overall.

"I was saturated to the skin Christmas day because of heavy showers and the waterproof clothing I bought prior to the trip did me no good at all," he said.

"Since then it's been quite cool and pleasant."

Mr Brown expects the heat to become an issue after coming down from the mountains, but is well prepared with three military-style canteens holding two litres of water each.

He anticipates the pilgrimage further west will give him long hours to reflect on his life and in particular his childhood.

When asked if the walk would be a cathartic process for him in the coming days, he admitted it was most likely.

"The road has been the centre of my life, I remember the long trips we used to take from the time I was a baby to Sydney - Bathurst was always the mid-point," he said.

"There was Heath's Cafe and I guess it was a road of triumphs and sadness because it was the road that my elder brother (Owen) was taken to mental hospitals on, during his short and very unhappy life.

On it I've seen road accidents and tragedies, as well as having done a lot of my boy scout hikes with the Dubbo Boy Scouts along it, the hinterland areas and along the Macquarie River.

Bald Hill at Geurie was also a fondly remembered climbing destination for the young Malcolm.

He admits the journey along the Great Western Highway onto the Mitchell Highway will be soaked in nostalgia for him.

"It has woven its way through my life - I lived a block away from it when I lived in Dubbo and I worked beside it at and studied beside it at Sydney University, so I have always had associations with it."

December 24, 2012: MALCOLM BROWN

''NOW you make sure you put in the Atacan [blood pressure tablets], and oh, don't forget your OsteoEze [for arthritis], and then there is your asthma medication, and Mobic, for when your heel spurs act up. The orthotic inserts should be all right but you can't be sure …,'' said my wife Ingeborg, endlessly fussing. I did turn down the talcum powder. At 65 years of age, I intend to walk more than 400 kilometres to Dubbo, in the state's central west, a walk into history, as I describe it, following the explorers, gold-seekers, pastoralists, bushrangers, convicts and soldiers in the first penetration into the interior.

I have always wanted to do it, and it is now or never. I intend to write it up as I go from a historical perspective, to be published mainly online, and of course the big question is whether I will make it. Only one way to find out.

The road is like myriad others: a strip of bitumen. But it is a magnificent road, starting as George Street, becoming Broadway, Parramatta Road, the Great Western Highway and Mitchell Highway as it runs up the formidable mountain range, at one point - in Victoria Pass - confined to a single narrow ridge, then gliding through the slopes and finally the plains.

I was born beside that road in 1947 as it snaked its way through Dubbo streets on its way to the far west. For most of my life I have lived and worked beside it or a matter of blocks away, including more than 20 years at the Herald's Broadway building. It is on that road that I have slaved and wept.

When I was very young, the family car went off the road near Molong in a storm when the brakes partially failed, and only my father's quick action stopped it going into a flooded creek.

I did my Scouts journeys in its hinterland, and at 15 years of age was bundled up for the first time and taken down that road to Sydney's Newington College, as a boarder. Then I was bundled up again and taken to the University of Sydney, then into the army as a national serviceman, and finally back for good to be a Sydney journalist. So now that is done, I want to walk all the way back, back to my roots.

Looking west, it is possible to imagine going back to what appeared to the first colonisers, a vast wilderness. The natural course was to follow the river. On February 15, 1788, less than a month after the First Fleet set anchor, Governor Phillip and a small party rowed down the river as far as Homebush Bay and found good grassland.

The next day they rowed to the junction with the Duck River and, taking that to be the main stream, rowed up it until blocked by fallen timber. They did note the arm of the river to the north-west.

Parramatta having been settled, there obviously had to be a road. That had to continue as the Western Road when settlements were made further out, but the mountains stopped them. Had Phillip landed somewhere else, the inland would have been penetrated in the 18th century. Had he settled at the mouth of the Hunter River, hundreds of kilometres of alluvial soil would have been available and Pandoras Pass, near present-day Denman was an open door to the inland. But Phillip chose Port Jackson, and the settlement was hemmed in on three sides by mountain ranges.

The colony, and the state that succeeded it, were destined to be lopsided, with the vast mass of the population concentrated on the Cumberland Plain; and the mountains remain a barrier, dividing the state in the City or the Bush in a way that has not happened in, for example, Victoria.

For myself, having done 40 years in metropolitan journalism, it is to the bush I must return, back to the goldfields where as a very young reporter I wrote about the attempts to extract value from the tailings, back to the sheep yards and the country towns, the eucalypts and the cypress pines, the dry creeks and the rivers and the endless, endless space.

I have been in training, doing six- and eight-hour walks at five kilometres an hour along cycleways in south-west Sydney and along the Parramatta River. My border collie came with me for a few of them, but after 30-kilometre walks on successive days, he knocked up. Footwear is important. The slightest irregularity will cause trouble. Water can be carried, but constant rehydration without a salt intake can produce cramps. Driving the route has shown up the difficulties for pedestrians. There are, however, alternative routes, including side roads across the mountains and the original Coxs Road down the mountains.

That being sorted out, and with a couple of changes of clothes, a mobile phone and a stack of maps, I step out from Martin Place on Christmas Day, intending to reach the cenotaph in Dubbo's Victoria Park on January 9, having done 14 days of walking with two rest days. And yes, I have one sponsor, former MLC Franca Arena, for a dollar a kilometre. It goes to the Children's Hospital at Westmead.

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