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Tribute to Valerie Harris : 7 September 1931 – 24 May 2020

It is with deep sadness that we farewell Valerie Harris who passed away at 2100 hours on Sunday 24 May 2020.  We have lost a great bushwalker, leader and friend.

1992 Valerie Harris in Sugarloaf Creek

Valerie was a unique member of Batemans Bay Bushwalkers, the only member to have walked with the Club throughout our entire 35 year history.  She was there in 1985 at the very first meeting held to garner expressions of interest for a bushwalking group in the Batemans Bay area, when she volunteered to lead 2 of the first 4 walks arranged at that meeting.  Val’s last walk was in March this year at Maloneys Beach just before the COVID-19 pause.  She was a prolific and passionate walk leader and up until she broke her pelvis a few years ago, she led at least 4 walks every year, sometimes more.

I first met Valerie 16 years ago (she was a mere 72 years old), when I signed up to join her on a Hard/Exploratory walk in the Turtle Creek area, off No Name Firetrail in Monga National Park.  I found myself in a deep, narrow creek gorge where we eventually had to scale the high vertical walls to access the ridge Val wanted to find.  I remember clinging by my fingernails to this rockface, seriously out of my comfort zone.  We did get out of the gorge, and bashed up to the ridge, down the other side, and to finish, walked up the steepest gravel firetrail I may have ever seen.  Since then I’ve followed Val down into Sugarloaf Creek on the Clyde Mountain where the going was so rough my watch was torn off my wrist; plunged off the steep side of Misty Mountain Road through thick rainforest and lawyer vines to find the Buckenbowra River in the valley below, and then back up the hill again; and into the Budawangs where we battled our way through trackless hakea scrub.

I suspect most everyone who has walked with Valerie has had similar experiences.  She led many easier walks as well, but was renowned for her hard, and mostly exploratory excursions into the remote wilderness.  She loved every moment of those walks, and she loved showing them to her faithful followers.  And we just kept turning up for more – for the chance to experience more challenges, and more adventures to hidden bush treasures in the company of this vibrant, capable woman.

Over the last 10 years, Valerie has been sharing her walks with other leaders, so that today we can still enjoy the backcountry walks she so loved.  To name just a few, we have mapped her walk into the Strangler Fig on Durras Mountain; the Durras Mountain old farm track walk;  her Carters Creek and Sugarloaf Creek walks; and her Bimberamala Mine and Black Diamond Currowan Mine walks.  Every time we create a new map for the Club from one of Val’s walks we marvel how she navigated the bush so well without a GPS to create such challenging and interesting routes.  She has left us with an enduring legacy to enjoy for generations to come.

Valerie led many a backpack through the Budawangs before retiring her pack in 2015.  Her last packwalk was into the Ettrema Gorge in Morton National Park west of Nowra, led by Ian Barnes.  Ian’s purpose was not only to explore the area, but also as a tribute to Valerie and Betty who had visited Ettrema years ago and wished to revisit it in their elder years.  This is not a walk for the faint hearted, mostly trackless in steep rocky country, with a lot of creek wading – Valerie was 83 at the time.

Above: 2020 Valerie’s last walk in March of this year before Covid-19 shut us down

Farewell Valerie, you will long be remembered, admired and appreciated by those who have travelled with you to the wild and beautiful places.

Karen MacLatchy on behalf of Batemans Bay Bushwalkers You can find more wonderful photos HERE

Members’ Memories & Photos of Valerie Harris HERE