"In the Spring of 1968, the Council of Adult Education conducted an Outback Study Tour to Central Australia. The main areas visited were the Everard and McDonnell Ranges and Alice Springs. It was a camping tour which was organised by Mr. Bill Kennewell from Adelaide. There were 55 passengers in two buses, CAE tutors in Natural History, Photography, Geology and Art, a refrigerated food truck, a cook and his student helpers and a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Some of the passengers were very knowledgeable on the four subjects and were also old hands at camping and sleeping under the stars.
We took our own tents, with the novices learning how to put them up and down in all weathers and conditions. The only other chore we had to perform was washing our own dishes. We quickly learned how to wash ourselves in a minimum of water in the confines our small tents and remembered to take our little trowels when we disappeared into the bush for nature calls – it was a new way of life for many of us!!
We settled into a very happy routine, making friends with people with similar interests and discovering different aspects of a fascinating and beautiful area of our country as we walked for miles with our tutors, attended their lectures and took hundreds of photos. It was marvelous spending several days at many spots instead of racing round having only an hour, or less, to see the sights as tourist buses we met en route were doing.
Well, somewhere out in the desert, round a campfire in the middle of the night, the idea was born that, as everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves so much, the group might like to keep in touch after the Safari. The idea was greeted with great enthusiasm so, shortly after our return to civilisation, prime mover, Margot McCutcheon and friends formed a Committee for a camping club to be called The Walkabouters. Its aims were to be to study and encourage the appreciation of our own country, its landscape and local history, its flora, fauna and geological features and also to give attention to the arts and sciences which promote these interests. Membership was to be 60 people, offered in the first instance to those who attended the 1968 Safari, then to others approved by the Committee. The Annual subscription was to be $2 each but this was thought to be TOO HIGH so was decreased to $1 with a levy for tours and lectures as necessary!!
So out went invitations to attend a meeting at Margot's home on 23rd November, 1968 at which there was unanimous agreement with the Committee's ideas and actions so, there and then we paid our subs and looked forward to our first activity. This turned out to be a camp at Castlemaine over the long weekend in March '69, in conjunction with the Folklore Council of Australia. We were to camp at various private properties in the district meeting in the centre of town for our activities. The early birds at one property found some vacant rabbiters' huts so these were quickly commandeered, then we stoked up the boiler, which gave us lovely hot showers!! There was also a communal kitchen – not a bad start for a camping club. The camp was a great success due to the hard work of the Committee who'd arranged for the Historical Society to show us some of the sights and tell us about the area and its interesting buildings. We found time to swim at Vaughan Springs, enjoyed and admired the beautiful Botanic and other gardens and had wonderful evening get-togethers under a full moon, drinking gluhwein while listening to the multi-talented Folklore musicians.
So we got started and, since then, have camped and hiked throughout Victoria often staying on private properties "off the beaten track" recommended by Members and friends. Full camping gear frequently included taking our own drinking and washing water and the fellas were given the job of digging and setting up the toilet tent, often with the best view in the camp! In the early days, most of us were working full time and our camps were held on holiday weekends with day walks unheard of! We camped, hiked for miles and pottered about en route, took photos, learned about strange bits of rock, birds, flora and fauna, with the help of knowledgeable Club members who have always been happy to share their expertise with us.
After the day's activities, there'd be a welcome cuppa, followed by a 'happy hour' before dinner. Following Happy Hour, some members would cook dinner in their tents, others using the communal campfire where we'd all gather after dinner to chat and sing our favourite 'ditties' till the wee small hours. Even after spending all day together, our members still find plenty to talk about each night – not for nothing are we sometimes called "The Talkabouters"!!
In the early years, we also had regular evening meetings in the City at which guest speakers talked on a wide range of subjects relevant to our interests. There were numerous slide nights too, when members showed photos of their most recent safari travels or our honorary photographer, Peter Payens, brought us up to date on current camera trends and photographic techniques – we learned a lot from Peter.
In the '70's membership fluctuated but with the help of our then President, Ian McDowall, and the Committee, the Club picked up and proceeded to go from strength to strength. So we were able to celebrate a rather wet 10th Anniversary in the November, 1978. During Ian's term of office, he also introduced the custom of each Committee member organising and leading a camp. Nowadays both Committee and Club members organise our camps and day walks.
By the 80's, some of our members had retired from work and had more time for holidays. One Member, Doug Myers, organised many a camp and bush bash!! We did more long hikes and Doug introduced our week-long January Alpine Camps, while our Spring camp was extended to a week in November. We continued our holiday weekend camps and some day walks were introduced, which proved to be very popular!!
In 1992 went ahead and became the "Walkabouters Club of Victoria Inc". During this decade, other changes have gradually taken place. We don't camp every holiday weekend but, when we do, some of us stretch it out to tag a day on at either end. We have a monthly day walk of approximately 10-12 km from April to October and, in recent years we've hired a lodge for our January Alpine Camp. The March weekend and Spring Camps have been held at caravan parks where we have options of tenting or hiring a cabin or van, plus the luxury of hot showers.
We have long and short walks to cater for different levels of fitness and ability while some members walk some days and paint or photograph on others. On the whole, we now go to bed earlier, except in the Alpine Lodges where Scrabble and other games keep us up later. We always enjoy seeing Members' slides or photos of their current holidays as photography is still a favourite pastime. We have a Committee of ten, our AGM is held in February and instead of an evening function, we have for some time concluded the year's program with an outdoor Christmas luncheon at a Member's home.
Our members have retained a lasting and continuous interest in walking and exploring new places, getting to know the environment, while pursuing their wide variety of interests. Many have commented that joining the Walkabouters has changed their lives for the better. We're a very happy Club and many enduring friendships have been formed as we've bonded together over the years with caring and like-minded people. One of our common interests is still a love of travel, whether overseas or locally, and age is no barrier to camping and climbing mountains although we've had the odd broken leg in the Club (but, I hasten to add, not at our camps or hikes!!) We are fortunate to have some very talented artists and photographers as members and we feel part of their success as they capture so much of the beauty we see at our events. We share in each others interests and groups of members do other things together which adds depth to our friendships."
Walkabouters Club of Victoria Inc.