THREE BROTHERS DREAMING

Three brothers killed by a wicked witch and buried underneath three mountains… we visit their country on the Mid North Coast of NSW

WORDS BY JANNE HARDY, PHOTOGRAPHY BY GEOFF HARDY

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A gathering of motorhomes was nestled on mown grass in front of the thick trees at Johns River Hall when we arrived to free camp for a few days on the NSW mid north coast. As we drove in, happy people were playing boules and barracking for their favourite players. It looked like RV heaven so we set up.

The massive Middle Brother Mountain reared up over us and our new motorhome friends advised us to camp at the eastern end of the mown area beside the reserve because we’d escape the huge shadows cast by the massive mountain in the afternoon.

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In the past the natural Biripi owners of the local land camped under the shade of the Brothers Mountains that loom over the countryside between Taree and Laurieton. Their current family members issue a Goodji Yiigu welcome to the area of the three brothers dreaming story, which is depicted on signs at the Johns River Hall.

South, Middle and North Brother Mountains are at the seat of the dreamtime story and we were there to explore their beauty and fish, walk and swim on the beautiful local beaches. We planned to free camp at Johns River Hall, which incidentally provides the coast’s most delightful toilets for visitors to the oval! We would also spend some time at the Jacaranda Caravan Park at nearby North Haven with family who were driving the four hours north from Sydney to taste our nomad lifestyle.

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In the dreamtime story, three brothers were staying alone in the local bush on an initiation quest, when two were killed by a wicked witch. The third sliced the witch in two with a sacred boomerang and threw half the witch into the Camden Haven River and half into the sea. He then died, and from the coastal plain, over the grave of each, rose a majestic and sudden mountain. South Brother is just north of Taree, Middle Brother is at Johns River and North Brother overshadows Laurieton, rearing dramatically from green pastures and thick bush.

Only 3 to 4 hours north of Sydney and 7 hours south of Brisbane this picturesque area is an ideal spot for RVers. Local pubs like those at Kew, Coopernook and Johns River foster free camping and the Johns River Hall welcomes free campers around the oval. The oval is opened to RV clubs for a donation, and there are caravan parks galore as well. Kendall Showground is a great cheap alternative in a lovely setting.

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When we were settled we left the van at Johns River and explored. We started in the south at the beautiful Cattai Wetlands where we trailed around the lagoon and ticked off several birds in the bird book. The wetlands are home to over 100 species of creatures and have excellent walking trails for all abilities. Best of all for keen photographers, the three brothers can be seen in all their glory from here.

We crossed the Pacific Highway and drove up Landsdowne Escarpment and through Coopernook to an edge of the world experience at Newbys Lookout. The valley rolled out below us in every shade of green, reaching for the coast at Old Bar.

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Just along the forest road and 5 minutes walk along Newbys Creek, the deep shady overhang of Newbys Cave is worth a look. A natural shelter used for eons, it is a peaceful place to listen to the birds and rippling water, and then you can finish the 30 minute walk through waving ferns and tall forest trees back to the car.

One of the 2 peaks on Tourist Drive 1, Big Nellie, wears the ragged forest on her sides high above the Landsdowne and Stewarts Rivers in Coorabakh National Park. The Rainforest Boardwalk at Starrs Creek is dwarfed by mighty trees.

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The drive down towards Hannam Vale along the Stewart River was picturesque as we made our way to meet South Brother, the last brother to fall, before turning back to Johns River and our caravan. We had a beautiful meal at Rosies Café, a licensed restaurant and the only business in the main street of Johns River, to cap off the experience.

The valleys around here are grazed by fat, smiling cows and a walk along Wharf Road beside Stewarts the river was a great way to start another day. We looked up at the towering Middle Brother Mountain where the Bird Tree lives as it has for hundreds of years. This mammoth tree, 3.6 metres in diameter and 69 metres tall, is by volume the largest tree in NSW. The well-signposted gravel road to this tree starts 2 km north of Johns River and features several lookouts with sweeping views over forest, lakes and sea.

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The forest roads are not for RVs, but we met several other couples who had left their vans and motorhomes in various places around the area while they explored. A forest road also leads from Johns River to the coast through massive trees.

South of Johns River is Moorland, west is Comboyne and north is Laurieton, North Haven, Kendall and Kew; all delightful, peaceful spots with lovely places to eat.

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One of our most enjoyable excursions was from Comboyne via Kendall. The hinterland is picturesque and life is slow and relaxed. We found ourselves travelling through Kendall on a Thursday, which happened to be the day of the “Meeting Place” at the local hall. From about 11am there is a mini farmers market and out the back is a verdant, waving green Pick- and- Pay vegie garden…you can’t get fresher than vegies you pick yourself. And it gets better: at the hall there’s a feast for $10 with a great range of main meals, plus waist-destroying desserts and tea or coffee…as Yoda would say, go you must and eat you will.

Kendall Showground is close by, an excellent choice to stay at only $8.50 for a powered site. To find out more, do an internet search for the Kendall Showgrounds web page.

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Our family was due to arrive so we relocated to the Jacaranda Caravan Park beside the Camden Haven River through Laurieton, right near the beach. Our son Pete and his wife Naomi with grandies Laura and Emily as well as son and daughter-in-law Eric and Heidi were joining us. The young family stayed in a cabin beside our van, but Eric and Heidi brought their own van.

Then it was off to the Laurieton markets. They’re huge and, spread out along the river under lush green trees, it’s all very picturesque.

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We bought fresh produce, jewellery and a dress and then we drove to the top of North Brother Mountain in Dooragan National Park. The mountain looms 500m over Laurieton with walking trails from top to bottom including a 500m easy stroll through the rainforest. An 800 metre moderate walk takes you down to Laurieton and a demanding 1.7 km trek that takes 2 hours winds through the tall timbers of the mountainside, offering glimpses of beach and lakescapes.

The view from the lookout is like looking into forever. The coastal beaches disappear to the north and south and in both directions there are lakelands and pastures that are picture perfect.

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But the appeal of the landscape, no matter how beautiful, soon palls for children. Our granddaughters wanted to go to the beach so we drove around to Dunbogan, on the other side of the river from where we were staying. It was lovely in every aspect. Over the river, east of our caravan park was the ocean beach of North Haven with sea spray sheeting off wave tops in a strong breeze: equally beautiful in its own way.

Whale watching is popular right along the coast. Crowdy Bay National Park is packed with vantage points and Dolphins play in the waves at all times of the year.

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3km East of Laurieton is Kattang Nature Reserve with a spectacular walking track to Point Perpendicular but Diamond Head was the children’s choice with its beautiful beach, the caravan park behind, and lots of exploring to do on the rocky shores around the broken headland.

Camping is popular in Crowdy Bay National Park at Diamond Head, Indian Head and Kylies Beach. There are toilets and cold showers as well as peace, animals, birds and fishing. Purchase a country Park Pass for stays of longer than 4 days; it’s cheaper. Passes and fees are payable in the park.

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There are lots of excellent eateries in the Haven and North Haven Bowling Club is a standout…fantastic food in the renovated restaurant right beside the river and great prices too! It’s a no-brainer.

In the midst of all this is nestled the town of Laurieton and every May the Slice of Haven food festival lays out local fresh food from the sea and the lush farms. Fish and milk and cheese and vegetables jostle with fruits of all kinds; strawberries as big as apples; berries and bananas; pineapples and grapes – oh, and wine!

The area is so packed with things to see you’ll need several visits to do it justice. We’ll see you back there sometime!

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