Averting Childhood’s End

Virtual worlds and cyber communities are no substitute for the wide open spaces. Get out from behind the computer and recall a time before ADSL urges Roderick Eime.

Hands up everyone who remembers when exploring the local creek meant squishy mud between your toes, tadpoles and even yabbies, not broken bottles, abandoned shopping trolleys and forsaken whitegoods.

Sometimes it’s those most simple of pleasures, those “priceless” moments that leave the enduring and lasting memories. What happened to them? Transformed I fear into virtual worlds of social networking and on-line swashbuckling.

Stricken with visions of a childhood disappearing down a broadband connection, I pried my two under-14s from in front of their flat-panel monitors and spirited them two hours away from a corrupted Sydney to Turon Gates. Just out of Lithgow and secreted in a fairytale setting on the namesake river, the 6,000 acres are set among glorious river gums and rolling paddocks stretching all the way to the horizon.

Still shackled with the urban stress, we arrived late on Friday, dumped our kit in the spacious cabin and flopped. I woke from a near comatose slumber to the sound of … nothing. Wait, yes it was a chorus of magpies greeting the rising sun, their shrill warbles running up and down an erratic scale. And I’m sure that was the distant screech of a cockatoo or galah in the distance. The total absence of alarm clocks, heavy traffic and air brakes was uncomfortably alien, at first.

Eager to extract the most from our short escape, I mustered the recalcitrants and urged them out of their hibernation. Cabins are either “mountain” or “river” and ours is the former. Evocatively named “Moonlight Ridge”, the full width verandah commands a view all the way to Dubbo, or so it seems. Wild goats gather in mobile herds on the adjacent ridge and several untroubled wallabies can be seen grazing on the fringe of the bush barely 100 metres away. The whole scene is disturbingly tranquil.

Well aware of the needs of their time-poor city cousins, owners Soren and Sonya Lunoe have a range of environmentally friendly and wholesome activities for those burdened by the mind-numbing urban routine. The river cabins each have a dedicated canoe for exploring the wild reaches of the Turon River that gives the property its character. The trail that joins the cabins is populated, not by petrol-powered annoyances, but hikers, (horseback) trail riders and the occasional mountain bike.

Large and airy, the mountain cabins are the newest, barely twelve months old. The cooking is by bottled gas, the heating by lusty wood stove and the power by a modern solar-powered electric system. Polite notes urge guests to minimise power use to preserve the batteries, but the huge bank of sealed lead acid cells under the porch looks like it could power a small submarine.

After a hearty breakfast prepared in the full-sized, gas-fired kitchen, we defer to the Range Rover to meet our appointment with Jasper, Wizard and Cup Cake. The drive down to the stables by the river is along a well-maintained unsealed road easily navigable by regular cars, but the urge to shun the narrow bridge and ford the shallow river is too much. We can now legitimately add ‘4WD adventure’ to the list.

Excited children gather in the corral like a scene from Saddle Club. Kids are supplied with sturdy helmets and a pair of authentic, well-weathered RM Williams boots. Rides are conducted for both beginners and experienced riders and the one or two hour rides follow the river upstream past sheer granite cliffs, powerful stands of ancient, thick-trunked river gums and sprays of vibrant wildflowers. Stocky little mountain wallabies stop and stare for a moment before you amble on.

Jasper, my very relaxed mount, is not about to scare me with any sudden moves. He endures several determined tail flicks across the jowls from Cup Cake without dismay, stopping occasionally for a munch on a tuft of succulent grass. The caravan meanders past intricate and intriguing rock walls constructed over a century ago by Chinese gold miners. There’s still gold in the Turon yet and each cabin comes with a pan for extracting a few dots of shiny ore.

“We bought the land nearly twenty years ago as a weekender,” says Sonya, the ghosts of city life clearly long exorcised, “now we have 17 cabins down here on the river and the new ones up on the ridge.”

Next to their own modest ranch is a lush green campground currently occupied by a patrol of luxury Land Rovers, each parked adjacent a neat, military sized tent. Kids play innocently with a collie that delights in a few rounds of fetch. Yes, pets are welcome at Turon Gates.

The Lunoes now live full time at Turon Gates, having divested themselves of their urban entanglements some years ago. Soren, with his deceptively haughty Scandinavian demeanour, was a celebrated chef, Sonya, a successful fashion designer and ‘rag trader’.

“Each cabin is privately owned,” adds Soren, still in his dressing gown and busily turning out espressos for the string of guests popping in for registration, “and there are a couple for sale at the moment.”

I do the mental arithmetic and briefly fantasise about a luxury investment weekender on the fringe of the Blue Mountains, but the mist soon clears. I’m happy enough to be reminded of my own carefree childhood away from the city crush. Even though it saddens me slightly to know my own kids will never experience that, I’m reassured by the little effort required to find a refreshing pocket of innocence so close by.

Fact File:

Turon Gates, Capertee, NSW. 25 mins on the Mudgee road from Lithgow.

A three night weekend stay in a mountain cabin starts at $480 and river cabins at $360. The cabins are self-catering, so bring food and linen (or do as we did and pay the nominal charge for supplied lined)

Activities include bushwalking, canoeing, horse-riding, gold-panning, mountain bike riding, camping, swimming and trout fishing.

Camping is $22 per car per night.

Bookings: (02) 9969 3818
More Info: www.turongates.com

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