I enjoy history almost as much as I love hiking and there’s a walk in Ipswich, near Brisbane in south-east Queensland, which allows me to combine both. It has an interesting and somewhat poignant past.
The White Rock – Spring Mountain Conservation Estate is of high cultural significance to the Indigenous Ugarapul people. White Rock, a large sandstone rock formation referred to as Nugum or Boogun (meaning dog) was an important area for women’s business.
The area was taken over as a rifle range in 1912 and used for military training in World War I, World War II and Vietnam, with remains of gun pits and bunkers still present today.
I cannot imagine how Indigenous women felt having their special place being used for war practice by thousands of men. It is ironic though that this activity actually protected the area from being logged. Ammunition remains embedded in trees, making it too dangerous to mill. In fact, there are still signs today which warn of unexploded ammunition in the area and hikers are advised not to stray off tracks. Unlike the surrounding region which has been turned into industrial, residential or farming land, White Rock remains protected from development.
I’ve walked there often as it’s convenient to where I live and I also feel drawn to the big rock itself. I sit quietly under a rock overhang or inside a cave mouth and think about the gatherings of Indigenous women who have been there over the years. Only recently I discovered that I have Indigenous relatives around my age whom I have never met.
I also think about the thousands of young men who trained at White Rock. I think about the fact that many never returned home from war, or came back with serious physical and mental injuries. I wonder how they felt as they engaged in mock battles – if they knew how bad real war would be. If they were afraid or if they were caught up in the perceived adventure of it. I also wonder if the mystery pictures in this locket were men who trained at White Rock, as they belonged to an elderly relative who lived in the Ipswich area all that time. If anyone can identify the uniforms I’d be grateful. There were Australian and American soldiers training at White Rock.
If you are not interested in history, White Rock is still a good place to stretch your legs and have a chance to observe wildlife.
There is also a large variety of plant-life to see although there have been times when lantana and other exotic vine infestation have dominated the landscape.
The most interesting feature for me is definitely White Rock itself though, with its varying sandstone colours, patterns and shapes.
I’ve never climbed to the top of the rock. Local Indigenous people ask walkers to refrain from doing so and this is clearly stated on information brochures and the car park information sign, although this hasn’t stopped others. I am satisfied to sit at the base and enjoy the peaceful isolation.
However, further away on the more challenging white ridge track I’ve done a little bit of exploring and enjoyed the view.
There are a number of walks at White Rock, four very short tracks including Little White Rock and Bluff Lookout, and the longer class 4, 6.5km White Rock Multi-user Trail and the class 4, 19km Yaddamun Trail. There is also a more challenging class 5, 7km White Rock Ridge Walk which isn’t included on the information brochure now. The scenery is more interesting and the walk a little rougher, but I do not have a map to share with you. This was the old sign.
I assume it’s not being maintained now and that is why it has disappeared from the information brochure. I’ve done all the walks multiple times since moving to the Brisbane area and on one very memorable occasion took a few “detours” in the scrub with my brother and ended up hiking about 30km. By the end of it we were so tired we didn’t even react when a highly venomous brown snake slithered across our path. That was a few years ago though, in the days when the signage was poor and a little confusing and the ridge path was very overgrown. Most of the tracks are now dirt vehicle roads or upgraded walking paths with detailed signage.
The improvements in signage and track surface are both good and bad. It means the area is becoming much more popular for regular walkers so a quiet solitary wander is not as easy to achieve. However, it does encourage people to get out and be more active so I can hardly begrudge other people the opportunity to do something I enjoy so much. Some of the trails are also very popular with mountain biking and horse riding options on the Yaddamun track.
The Big White Dog continues to lure me even though it is becoming increasingly difficult to spend time alone there. It’s not a stunning walk by any means and I wouldn’t suggest you drive a long distance just to visit the place, but if you happen to be in the Ipswich area and want to ride a mountain bike or stretch your legs it’s very convenient. Perhaps you will be like me though and find the atmosphere of the rock strangely alluring.