Three hours from my home on the western fringe of Sydney is a secret creek.

I’ve been there twice and confirm it is auriferous. Nowhere is this mentioned except a single article from ye olde times which confirms at least two nuggets in the 30-40 ounce range were found.

Do the math.

Excuse me if I don’t name it, but what I will tell you is that my test-pans confirm the good gold is upstream of this waterfall. Or underneath it.

I arrived about 8:30 and scouted for a campsite, a rocky knoll carpeted in moss and lawn-like grass rising from the forest. Satisfied, I hiked a couple kilometres downstream with nothing more than a pan and a couple of crevicing tools, planning to pan back up to the camp.

“Foolish child!” scoffed nature, green in tooth and claw.

Imagine blackberry vines thick as your thumb interwoven with thickets of Caesalpinia decapetala — the aptly-named ‘Mysore thorn’ with — and then imagine pushing yourself through fifty metres of this hell.

It took me almost an hour, and tore me to pieces. Exhausted but finally at the creek, I realised almost immediately that working my way upstream was going to be a serious challenge. Deep, fast water. A non-traversable bank. Windfalls of dead trees criss-crossing the creek.

It doesn’t look it, but the drop to the ankle-snapping rocks below was three metres. Me in gumboots on a slippery log. Madness. But I am nothing if not doughty, so I pushed on.

Needless to say, I didn’t die.

But I did give up.

I stopped on the only shelf of bedrock I’d found in four horrendous hours to switch on the GoPro. I owed it to my family, I figured, and the State Coroner might find it useful for the inquest.

“This is turning into a bad idea, real quick” I said, and decided to bail.

Unlike my strategically-selected ingress point, my exit was sheer panic. I wished for the Gerber ‘Gator’ machete I’d left at home “to conserve weight”.

And for thicker pants than my soaked Fjalraven’s.

And for a kevlar-plated shirt instead of my ripped Filson workshirt

An hour later, I climbed out of that green hell and was back on the firetrail, dehydrated, shredded, but alive.

I staggered back to camp and would gladly have collapsed, except that everything was yet to be done.

My hammock set-up.

The picture’s blurry because my hands were shaking — it was 3pm and already 0°C (32°F), getting rapidly colder with the sun no longer penetrating the valley. I was stumbling and slurring by this stage.

I can hear the warning-signs in my footage — hypoglycemia or the creeping death?

The answer was hot food, and dry clothes.

As it happens, a satellite must’ve whizzed overhead because I got a spot of reception. A message pinged from my grandson in Sydney, to which I replied, “Pa is having soup!”

Hot soup.

I didn’t stop until all the campcraft was complete, and enough wood stacked to dry me out and warm me up. Later, there was coffee and snacking on mixed nuts, contemplating a savage universe which hadn’t claimed me this time.

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There is a secret creek somewhere, three hours from home, where men picked 30 ounce nuggets from the ground. They gave up because it was hard, then went to war and never came back.

I’ve seen what this place will throw at me, and I didn’t die. I will find my nugget under that waterfall, where nobody has dared to look.

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