Nature Trail’s Evolution

Nature Trail’s founder and tour director, Steve, has been hiking, touring and exploring the great outdoors since his early childhood in Victoria.

Nature and Nurture

According to accounts from Steve’s mother Judith, at age four, Steve wanted to ride his trike from home in Hortense Street Ashburton to Ashburton Primary School, but along the railway line because it was more adventurous. The only way his mother found that she could convince his strong will not to do so was to say that if he did, the government would have to take him away from his mother because they would say that his mother was irresponsible.

At age seven, Steve recalls living in Fitzroy Street in Sale in East Gippsland and exploring the country town’s wide streets of which seemed to extend for an eternity. His father Ian would take him sailing on nearby Lake Wellington in his timber Heron sailing boat.

Growing up in mainly in Melbourne, Steve enjoyed exploring the banks of Koonung Creek in Doncaster at a time when there was native bushland and frogs. These days the creek is a drain under the tollway.

Steve recalls his holidays staying at his grandparents’ beach house at Blairgowrie on the Mornington Peninsula from age eight, playing in the tea tree scrub and befriending a blackbird. Steve would venture off by himself and spend hours beachcombing by himself beyond White Cliffs and along the length of Canterbury Jetty Road all the way to the back beach.

On occasion, Steve and his family would have outings to the Victorian countryside and coastline. A few times the family would take a drive into the hills for a picnic such as at Maroondah Dam and at a bush block at Warburton owned by his grandparents, grilling chops and sausages on an open fire. In winter sometimes the family would head up into the high country when it snowed and try tobogganing at Mount Donna Buang.

When Steve got his first bicycle for Christmas on year, a three speed Raleigh, he rode it everywhere. One time he rode it from Doncaster to the beach at Edithvale and back (80km) and on a number of occasions up to the hills including to Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary (100km).

In the early days his father Ian would take Steve and his young brothers camping and fishing with the canvas and calico tent which had a front awning and a central pole and you could stand up in it. They would all sleep on fold out stretchers. Australia was less populated in the 1970s and you could just pull up at a rest area and pitch a tent and light a camp fire. One time the four of them went to a irrigated pastoral area near Nagambie and in a canal caught perhaps a dozen Redfin fish – with no bait!  That was before Steve’s sister was born.

Every September school holidays, which in those days lasted three weeks, Steve’s family would pack into the station wagon with caravan in tow and drive overland to Queensland’s Gold Coast, then later to the Sunshine Coast. One year the family holidayed at Currumbin. Early in the mornings Steve would walk along the beach to Elephant Rock and to the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary to help feed the lorikeets who would sit on his head and shoulders.

The family would take caravaning holidays to Gippsland, Swan Hill, South Australia, and New South Wales exploring the countryside.

The family moved from Doncaster to At Camberwell Grammar School, Steve joined the Cadet Unit at age fourteen and by the time of his graduation had learn orienteering, bush skills and become Lance Corporal.

At age sixteen, Steve and his younger brother Chris (14), undertook a multi-day trek in the Grampians National Park. Their father dropped them off at the base of Mount William and they hiked up the road to the summit where they pitched a tent overlooking the vast plain below toward Ararat. It was a balmy clear sky night. But around midnight a cold front blew in and by dawn the two awoke to freezing conditions, the tent weighed down by thick snow and immersed in dense cloud. Not able to see more than ten feet ahead, finding the track atop the plateau toward their planned next campsite at Jimmy Creek, became increasingly difficult. At first they followed cairns along the track, but then the cairns ran out. Steve decided that with the dangerous cliffline close by yet lost in the dense cloud, it would be safer to navigate westward bush-bashing down First Wannon Creek to reach the Grampians Road. Lowering their packs by rope, the two persisted scrambling down the rocky creekline all day, finally reaching the road by dusk.

That night, with no fly, the tent leaked and Steve developed cramp in his thighs, quads and calf muscles. So it was decided to walk through the night along the road to Halls Creek to stave off the cramping pain. By dawn the two reached Halls Creek, 20km later, ate all their food and basked in the sun. The creek is recalled in infamy as ‘bastard creek’.

Steve had always wanted to be a pilot, ideally to fly helicopters with the Royal Australian Air Force, but by the time he graduated from Camberwell Grammar, only the Army flew military helicopters, and to be eligible, one first had to graduate as an Army officer. So in his final year of school Steve applied to enter the Army’s Royal Military College at Duntroon to undertake the 18-month officer training course, however he failed due to immaturity.

At age nineteen, after the second attempt to enter Duntroon failed, Steve took off on a sabbatical epic backbacking trip around eastern Australia from Melbourne to Brisbane, working odd jobs in Prosperpine and The Whitsundays. While working on Hayman Island washing dishes, Steve applied to Duntroon for a third time, flying down to Melbourne and back for the interview process, but again was unsuccessful; this time because the Army considered his lifestyle on Hayman Island would not make him suitable to the hardships of the Army. Yet Steve had maintained his fitness routine on Hayman by running the 5km goat track around the island daily in 30+ degrees heat and humidity.

Upon return to Hayman, Steve saved up some funds before venturing further up to Cairns, Kuranda in the Atherton Tablelands then hitching a ride across the outback to Darwin via Mataranka. Eventually Steve made his way back home with his German girlfriend Katya hitching a lift on a road train down the Red Centre through Alice Springs and on to Adelaide before returning to Melbourne eight months later.

University Ventures

Having his flying plans in the Army dashed for a third time, Steve undertook management training at Footscray Institute of Technology (now Victoria University) in hotel management, since he had worked casually in hospitality since his school days to earn some income. From pot washing after school to kitchenhand, waiter, bartender and hotel duty manager, it was over a six year period that Steve’s catering and hospitality experience was acquired. But all the while, Steve never gave up on his ambition to fly. While at F.I.T. Steve soon joined the student outdoors group ‘OUTFIT’ and participated in a variety of activities – bushwalking, kayaking the Mitchell River and abseiling. He tried rock climbing, but found it too difficult.

During his holiday break from F.I.T., Steve ventured to Western Australia by Greyhound bus, breaking the journey at Ceduna, before crossing the Nullabor then alighting at Eucla to hike 10km return in 40 degree sun to the Great Australian Bight. Then hitching a ride from Norseman to Esperance and backpacking around the south-west – Sterling Ranges, Albany, Denmark, Pemberton, Augusta, Quindalup, Cottlesloe, Rottnest. Then taking another Greyhound northward stopping off at Geraldton, hitching to Kalbarri, then on to Carnarvon, Port Hedland to Broome.

Returning in the second year of study, Steve would hire a SLR camera from the student union and head out camping solo, exploring various national parks – Kinglake, Baw Baw, Kosciuszko, Wilsons Promontory. He would also lead hiking trips with OUTFIT and practice orienteering with the Nillumbik Orienteering Club.

The third year of Steve’s hotel management degree, required working in the hotel industry, so Steve secured trainee employment at the London Kennedy Hotel in London. After temporary house sharing in Willesden Green for a week, Steve managed to find a room in another house share in nearby leafy Hamstead.

Underpaid, the opportunity was short-lived however, since it fell short of sustainably living in London. While in London at a bar in Covent Garden, Steve happened upon two young helicopter trainee pilots from New Zealand. Steve took up an offer by one to take his first light aircraft flight as a front seat passenger, catching a London black cab to Elstree Aerodrome. Up in a Cessna it was the first time Steve had seen blue skies since arriving in Britain in January 1986.

Having all but exhausted work opportunities at London’s main accommodation hotels, Steve abandoned hospitality to give aviation a try, booking a flight to Auckland with the hope and promise of helicopter work in deer recovery in New Zealand. The next available flight was not for three weeks, so in that time Steve caught a train to Devon (the ancestral home of his father), walked around Plymouth, managed to hitch a ride to Lands End and stayed over at the Ship Inn in Mousehole on the Cornish south coast.

Taking the British Rail back to London, Steve decided to visit the continent to while away time waiting for his New Zealand flight and so his next career chapter. A train to Dover, hovercraft to Calais and then hiring a tiny Fiat Uno for a week, Steve drove through Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Luxembourg, and even tried for the Black Forest but run out of time, so headed back to Calais and London, before flying Air New Zealand to Auckland.

To be continued…