Saturday, 30 April 2016

Mason & Bird/New Victoria Dam Loop (Korung National Park)

Combining the Mason & Bird Heritage Trail and New Victoria Dam Walk Trail, this loop walk in Korung National Park explores Australia's pioneer heritage, including the oldest extant wooden bridge in Australia, the first dam built in Western Australia and the bush grave of a baby from a pioneer family. With granite outcrops, mature stands of Wandoo and valley views along the way, this is a pleasant walk in the Perth Hills.

Distance: 10.5 km ('tadpole' loop - a main loop with a return section)
Gradient: Gently undulating. Much of the trail is on fairly easy, level terrain with one or two ascents of moderate incline. 
Quality of Path: Relatively clear and surprisingly maintained. Track varies from purpose built walk trail to old vehicle tracks with uneven gravel to bitumen road
Quality of Signage: Very poorly signed. Much of the 1988 signage for Mason & Bird has disappeared or is in a state of decay, and way points throughout the track are highly inconsistent. 
Experience Required: Bushwalking experience recommended given the lack of signage but otherwise would be achievable for those with little Bushwalking experience. 
Time: 2 Hours
Steps: There is a flight of stairs descending to New Victoria Dam.
Best Time to Visit: Late Winter/Early Spring, but okay from mid Autumn through to late Spring
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: The trail starts on Hardinge Rd in Orange Grove. From Tonkin Hwy, take Maddington Rd North-East. Maddington Rd becomes Hardinge Rd. Car park facilities are available at Hardinge Park. 

In 1988, State and Federal Governments made a series of grants available for the construction of various projects to commemorate the Bicentennial of the arrival of the First Fleet. Trails and outdoor facilities constructed with funds from these grants include the Great North Walk in New South Wales, the Dave Evan Bicentennial Tree in Pemberton and, although opened over a decade later, even WA's famous Cape to Cape Track. Maintenance was not included in the grants, and the fate of these trails have varied considerably. Some like the Great North Walk and Cape to Cape are well used and maintained, while others like the Kattamordo Heritage Trail have fallen into disrepair, which now mainly survives as cannibalised parts of other trails. 

The Mason & Bird Heritage Trail lies somewhere in between. It is still walkable although it has largely fallen into obscurity, apart from its appearance in the 2005 edition of More Family Walks in Perth Outdoors and an out of date brochure from the City of Gosnells. Using the Mason & Bird Heritage Trail and the New Victoria Dam Walk (also from More Family Walks), these older walks can be used to create a decent history-centric return loop walk that I have walked many times and have colloquially dubbed 'The Baby's Grave Walk' (more on that later). 

Although the trail officially starts at the cul-de-sac at the end of Hardinge Rd, the profusion of 'No Standing' signs mean that walkers must use the car park in Hardinge Park located down the road. Hardinge Park is an excellent family-friendly park in the hills, and would be a good place for a picnic or barbecue. Follow the path within the park right towards the road. 

The path takes walkers past Bickley Reservoir. Constructed in 1920-1921, this small dam seems to be largely used for recreational purposes.

The path ends as it reaches Hardinge Rd, and walkers are required to walk along the road to the cul-de-sac alongside Bickley Outdoor Recreation Camp. Along the way, a sign indicates that the Mason Bird Tramway Bridge is 1.3 km down the road.  

At the cul-de-sac, walkers will encounter the faded red trailhead of the Mason & Bird Heritage Trail (the second picture of this post). From there, the trail follows what looks like an old vehicle track. This section of Mason & Bird is shared with a bridle trail. There are a number of large signs with red arrows for the bridle trail; ignore these and stay straight on the path. This section features excellent views to the north of the Bickley Valley.  

Eventually, the trail narrows to a dedicated walk trail, with some boulders in places to prevent vehicular access. 

It is along this stretch of the track that the first of the Mason & Bird's red waypoint markers appear, albeit largely covered by overgrown bush. These markers correspond to places of historical importance, however most of these have since disappeared or are difficult to find (I have never seen Marker 1 for instance). Apparently at the time of the trail's construction, there were a few buildings and timber sheds at this location which were the remnants of a Boy Scout Association Camp but they have since all but disappeared. 

The walk trail eventually joins onto a gravel road. Turn right here and note the tall wandoo tree immediately opposite - this turn can be difficult to see on the return journey. 

Along the road, Marker 3 can be seen to the left of the track. When looking closely at the cleared out areas, one can see the remnants of building foundations which used to belong to the Boy's Brigade Camp. 

Further down the road, the track reaches the most historically significant site along this trail - the Mason Bird Tramway Bridge (Marker 4). 

As small and insignificant as it looks, this bridge is believed to be the oldest surviving all-timber bridge in Australia. Constructed in 1871 and restored as an Australian Bicentennial project, the jarrah decking has been replaced, but the wandoo piles beneath are said to be the original. Although the Mason & Bird partnership went bust, the bridge remained in use as a traffic bridge until 1975. 

After the bridge, the trail hits a junction, and it is at this point that this becomes two trails that eventually meet up again later on. To the right is the original road to Victoria Dam (WA's first dam) and can be followed to complete the New Victoria Dam Walk. Alissa and I prefer to go straight ahead up the gravel track to complete the Mason & Bird trail first. Although Alissa and I commented on how the moderate steepness of this ascent was nothing compared to our walk a week earlier to the summit of Toolbrunup Peak, this hill was known as the Devil's Pinch due to it being the site of an horrific accident in the 1870s. At this point a horse team pulling the timber laden tram along the rails had not unhitched themselves fast enough, and could not outrun the tram down the slope. The team were overrun and thrown to the bottom of the rocky creek near the bridge.

To the left of the gravel track are the remnants of old gardens that were once used to grow fruit and vegetables for the local mill workers. Although I have never looked hard enough, there were apparently some fruit trees still in the area at the time the trail was constructed however the national park status of the area may have seen such trees completely removed. 

This section of the track features some of the best forest views as it overlooks the valley. An impressive series of granite outcrops can be seen, and apparently flow as a waterfall at the height of winter. Having walked this trail at least four or five times, I cannot recall ever seeing these falls in action - even when I did the walk for the first time in late July 2010. 

Further up the gravel track, dug out areas become visible to the right of the track. These areas were once Kaolin Clay Pits, and were used by the Orange Grove Brickworks in the 1960s. 

Just beyond the Kaolin Pits is Marker 8 (which refers to the pits), revealing that Markers 5-7 are no longer visible. 

As you keep going down the gravel track, a road block should become visible. A few metres before the road block, there are some arrows on a tree indicating that the trail now ascends right up a walk trail. This section of the track is shared with what is/was a section of the Kattamordo Trail. The original pamphlet for the Mason & Bird Trail seems to suggest that the track used to continue on beyond the road block to Markers 9 and 10, but by the time of More Family Walks in Perth Outdoors, the track appears to follows this turn off instead to a different end location. 

Considering the terrible state of the Mason & Bird Trail's signage, it is surprising how well maintained the track itself is, and this narrow walk trail is no exception as it leads to a car park on the Victoria Dam access road. This car park features a trailhead for the Victoria Reservoir Walk Trail - a newer walk that creates a shorter loop of the New Victoria Dam Walk and the Mason & Bird that omits the section from Hardinge Rd to the bridge. The New Victoria Dam Walk seems to have been superseded by this new variation. 

From the car park, turn right onto the Victoria Dam access road and follow the powerlines. Alissa and I could have sworn that there was a rough trail in the bushland to the left of the track, but with a recent bushfire or controlled burn having gone through the area we could not find it on this occasion. 

Along the road is a fenced off area, and within it is the end point of the walk as per More Family Walks in Perth Outdoors

This is the grave of Francis Weston, a baby who died at 2 days old in 1870. The first son of the pioneering Richard and Mary Weston, this grave and wooden tombstone was added to the Register of Heritage Places in 2009 and continues to be cared for by the descendants of the Weston Family. The creepiness of a grave being the end point of both the Mason & Bird Heritage Trail and the New Victoria Dam Walk is the reason that I often use the Baby's Grave Walk as shorthand for this loop - indeed, Alissa and other friends I've introduced this walk to remember it better by that name!

From the grave, the New Victoria Dam Walk commences. Continue following the Victoria Dam access road to a car park on the left side of the road. Some information on walk trails is provided here, and includes the only map that shows the two old walks that make up this loop. Follow the path to the left of the information sign towards the New Victoria Dam through some pleasant Jarrah and Wandoo forest. 

The trail leads to a lovely lookout that provides excellent views of the New Victoria Dam and the Mundy Brook Valley. In the far distance, the tall buildings of Perth can be seen (albeit ever so faintly in the picture above). 

The trail then descends a flight of wooden stairs and leads to the New Victoria Dam itself. This dam was constructed in 1991 to replace the original Victoria Dam wall located downstream.  After getting to the bottom of the stairs, the trail continues right down a bitumenised road. 

Follow the bitumenised road down an area with some excellent landscaping by Water Corporation. This area was once behind the original Victoria Dam's walls and has been rejuvenated in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. 

A great feature of the walk is the fact that they have kept a large portion of the original Victoria Dam's walls intact. Being the first dam in Western Australia, the Victoria Dam definitely has significant historic value, and as such only adds to the heritage-centric nature of this loop. 

Walking past the old dam wall, the trail continues down what used to be the old access road to Victoria Dam. A pedestrian maze is in place to prevent car access. 

Along the path is the old visitor information centre, now abandoned. We did not enter the centre on this occasion, but from memory it now serves no purpose other than shelter from the rain and a slightly creepy place for Alissa to imagine sinister people are hiding within. 

The old access road follow the old Mundy Brook, and features some particularly excellent stands of Wandoo. 

The access road eventually leads walkers back to the Mason Bird Tramway Bridge. From here, walkers simply retrace their steps back past Markers 4, 3 and 2 back to Hardinge Rd and the car park. As noted earlier, keep an eye out for the walk trail turn off between Markers 3 and 2, however if you continue down the gravel path it does eventually join back onto the cul-de-sac at the end of Hardinge Rd.

Compared to trails like Kitty's Gorge in Serpentine National Park, Eagle View in John Forrest National Park and the Numbat Trail in Paruna Sanctuary, the Mason & Bird Heritage Trail and New Victoria Dam Walk are no where near as spectacular in terms of natural features, yet for some reason Alissa and I have done this walk many times due to its mix of historic sites and pleasant bushwalking. There's a fair bit of variety along this walk, making for a fairly engaging experience. It is surprising a walk that includes sites as significant as the oldest all-wooden bridge in Australia, Western Australia's first dam and a pioneer baby's grave is so little known. My hope is that this guide will provide other walkers with the inspiration to get out there and discover the history along the Mason & Bird/New Victoria Dam Loop - or Baby's Grave Walk, if you prefer - for themselves. 


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