By Daniel Lewis – Mountain Sports
In 1931, the renowned bushwalker and conservationist Myles Dunphy and his wife Margaret explored the wild Kanangra region of the Greater Blue Mountains, pushing and pulling and sometimes having to carry a strange object that made people stare with amazement.
Lovingly dubbed the “Kanangra Express”, it was a collapsible pram specially adapted for long-distance bush bashing and bearing a precious cargo – the couple’s baby son Milo.
It survived the 93km,15-day hike from Oberon to Mount Kanangra and back.
Dunphy wrote in a 1962 article for The Sydney Bushwalker magazine (now available on The Tablelands Way website www.tablelandsway.com.au): ”Assisted by Milo I fitted two canvas boxes at the sides, slung from little hardwood beams fitted across the pram. Another box was fitted to the front (or back, who knows which end of the pram is the front?); new washers were added to the axles to reduce the wobble, and some other removable improvements were made. Then blimey! There stood the Kanangra Limited (speed and springs) Express, nearly as wide as a sulky, replete with awning, stays, billycan box, side-tucker and gear boxes, foot-rest for the passenger, rifle-carrier and new tyres. No other nipper ever had a go-cart like this one. Dismantled, packed and leg-roped – so that it couldn’t do any tricks – it weighed 62lb which included a lot of gear stowes inside. Then we pushed it to the local railway station and consigned it to Oberon.”’
Dunphy (1891-1985) also liked to take his black and white fox terrier Dextre to walk Kanangra, and sewed him leather shoes to protect his feet from the rugged terrain.
Dunphy so loved this extraordinary part of the Blue Mountains that he even gave Milo the middle name “Kanangra”, drafted beautiful maps of the landscape, bestowed it with poetic place names and spent much of his life fighting to have it preserved as part of a Greater Blue Mountains National Park.
That dream, which he first publicly floated in 1934, became a reality which was honoured in 2000 when the Greater Blue Mountains, including what is now Kanangra-Boyd National Park, was given World Heritage status.
Dunphy is such an iconic figure that the Kanangra Express and Dextre’s leather shoes are now part of the collection of the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.
But these days the wheels and footwear used in Kanangra are very different.
Not everyone is content to simply move at walking pace as Dunphy did.
The riders and runners come to the wilds of Kanangra-Boyd National Park because, like Dunphy, they feel the need to exert themselves in the fresh mountain air and rid themselves “of the shackles of ordered existence”.
On its website, the parks service promotes four great Kanangra bike riding trails – Morong Falls (3.65km each way), Mount Emperor (12.5km loop), Mumbedah (15km loop) and Boyd River (21km loop).
Sean Greenhill, head of the Blue Mountains-based adventure sports business Mountain Sports, also decided Kanangra was the perfect place to host a weekend of mountain biking and the Kanangra Classic has been a popular event since it was first held in 2011.
This year’s Classic once again boasts 50km and 100km mountain biking enduros on Sunday, October 20.
Last year the Kanangra 50 Trail Ultra, a 50km trail running race, was added to the Classic weekend and was won by Brendan Davies, one of Australia’s top trail runners.
It will return again this year on Saturday, October 19, along with a half-marathon (22km) run option.
The Kanangra Challenge is for those prepared to tackle both the 50km run and bike ride.
There has been a small amount of tinkering to last year’s Classic bike course, with Greenhill saying it has made the mountain biking even faster and more flowing. Kanangra-Boyd, with peaks rising to more than 1300m above sea level, is one of the most rugged corners of Australia – so rugged that the first white man did not reach the towering Kanangra Walls until 1864 and a road was not completed to there until 1940.
“Kanangra is probably the wildest, most intact wilderness within easy driving of Sydney … famous for its back-country athleticisim,” Greenhill says.
Despite its wild reputation, however, Greenhill points out that much of Kanangra-Boyd is a high plateau and the trails – once used by the Gundungurra Aboriginal people and the old cattlemen to move between the valleys and the Oberon district – boast mostly gentle gradients, making the Kanangra mountain biking and trail running races perfect for people wanting to try their first long-distance event as well as experienced athletes who want to test just how fast they can go.
And if you find yourself cursing how tough it is competing in this year’s Kanangra Classic weekend despite your hi-tech bike or running gear, just cast your mind back to what it was like for the Dunphy family on their way to Kanangra in 1931.
As Myles Dunphy recalled: ”The start off was not as auspicious as it was conspicuous because the hill onward from Fish River is very steep and several miles long! In fact it was and is and always will be, a fair cow. We rigged a tow rope and Marg hauled on it whilst she humped her swag also. The ascent was a great sight for passing local residents and occasional motorists. When the grade eased to its normal steepness we shipped the tow-line, and then the fellow of the party had to show himself no mean pusher. No parents ever slaved for their offspring as we did for our little Question Box sitting comfortably behind his green mosquito-netting fly screen. Then came half a mile of sharp loose ballast that chewed chunks of rubber from the little half inch tyres and rattled Milo’s teeth. About the middle of the afternoon we had to stop and give Milo a rest from the constant shaking. At times he must have felt like a balancing earth tremor.”’
Go to www.mountainsports.com.au to enter the Kanangra Classic weekend of mountain biking and trail running events.