“Picnic at Hanging Stones”

Toombullup Cairn Garden: Chinese Prayer Stones.

Apart from pondering the meaning of life one often is amazed at how little one really knows about many things. Perhaps a sign of advancing age? In particular there is much still to learn about the land and the natural and man-made things that abound out there in the bush. These treasures can be local or in faraway places.
One such area recently explored was the Toombullup State Forest up Tolmie way. Amongst other things this area is known for its association with the Kelly Gang and the associated shoot-out with police.

Other not so well known things relating to this area are the stories relating to the original settlers, the gold mining history and that Archerton is an official BOM weather station often mentioned in the news bulletins. Who knows where Archerton is rather than Acheron? I thought the newsreaders could not pronounce or spell Acheron properly.

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Another hidden treasure located around the highest points in the State Forest is a group of “Mystery Stones” or stone cairns. This area was recently in the news as two local men from Wangaratta were lost overnight while on a quest to locate the cairns. It all ended well for the men who were located the next day after a full scale search was undertaken. It all adds to the mystery perhaps, with people wondering if there is “Picnic at Hanging Rock” like happenings occurring in this area.

P1000819 AE
General view of cairns looking to the south west.  Note the real live person second from the right.  He is not a cairn he is a Hibbert not a “Hobbit”.

There may be some validity to this theory given that my recent quest to find the stones along with Artworkz creator and Graphic Artist David Hibbert did not start out very well.  Given we lived at different locations and would approach from different directions we developed a very “meticulous” plan to meet at a certain location and time.  Phone coverage is problematic in this area and some of the tracks given recent rain were also a bit problematic.
One could say a lesson was learnt about being very clear on directions and the plan as we spent the first couple of hours trying to locate each other.  It was hard for a time not to think there was more to the story of the stones not wanting to be found.  How did we manage before the advent of mobile phones and the like?

P1000827 AE
Alternative general view with the largest stone in the foreground.

What are the origins of the stones?

The origins are still not clear. There are two recent newspaper articles about them.
Firstly in the Herald Sun, In the “Black & White” section, 11/12/2017, secondly in the Border Mail 7/01/1018 by Ellen Ebsary.


They have been a topic of conversation also in Westprint Friday Five Newsletter, 18/05/2018.


There is also a reference to them in a locally produced historical book.
“Heritage & History on My Doorstep”, Sheila Hutchinson, 1999. However no
explanation for their origins is proffered.

P1000813 AE
View of the largest cairn on the highest point, looking north. The base rocks would take two or three strong gents to maneuver them into position.  That is unless they were already there.  Note the hiking stick about a meter in length.

In my research about the origins I chatted with two local farmers who had an
amazing collection of history memorabilia. The gentleman, a third generational farmer explained that his father knew of the cairns and he remembered his father speaking about them. He first visited the site himself when aged twelve.
With some careful math plus a calculator, given the age of the people involved it made the cairns at least 110 years old then.  That is older than 1908.

There is also some speculation that the Kelly Gang used this area and may have used the high point as a lookout for signaling or keeping watch.  However they did not build the cairns. The gang were present around 1878 as that is when the shootout with police occurred.  From the main vantage point, where the largest cairn is, it is possible to see down into the Greta Valley where Mrs Kelly lived. The farmers
believed it was possible that the Kelly’s used mirrors as a signaling tool.

P1000798 AE
Another of the larger cairns.  Note modern guidance apparatus on top.  Obviously not part of the original construction.

The comments made by the local farmers are used with permission to be published in my semi private writings.  However in the interests of maintaining their wish that the stone cairns be treated with respect, exact details of locations are not given nor are the farmers names.

The farmers also believed that the best guess as to the origins were that they were built by the Chinese miners who operated in the area south west of where the stones are located.  The farmer also indicated that he thought there were five or six cairns of various sizes originally. Currently there appears to be about eight, therefore some modification to the original number has occurred. On site there was  evidence of some alteration and or addition to the original structures.  This raises another question as to how such items can and should be protected.  It was of real concern to the landholders that the stones be protected and hence their reluctance for the area to gain much publicity.

P1000839 AE
Rock indentation.  Evidence of more recent alteration.  Most stones were lichen covered, however several rocks had clean sides and were of recent origin.

Another suggestion as to the origins is that they were survey markers or put there by explorers. 

Although the largest cairn appears to be on the highest point there does not appear to be any obvious pattern to the placement.  There has also been some speculation that early explorers Hume and Hovel may have erected the cairns. Hume and Hovel did pass through this area however reliable local historians argue that they did not pass through this location.

P1000810 AE
Another of the larger cairns, looking south.


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