Voice of Real Australia: Can a walk cure all that ails you?

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The Drip. Photo: Mudgee District Environment Group

The Drip. Photo: Mudgee District Environment Group

I can't decide whether my nomadic tendency is a blessing or a curse. These feet of mine will surely tire some day. The best cure, in my experience, has always been listening to them, and getting walking.

I've done a lot of walking lately - earlier in the year it seemed like one of the few things we could do. We're animals that evolved striding across the plains and it felt good, as if I were picking up on a trail of footprints in the dust left by our ancestors. It helps my brain, too. I'm one of those people who pace while talking on the phone, infuriating their colleagues. I don't mind, though. Calm feet, calm mind.

For this week's Voice of Real Australia podcast, I went out to Mudgee, NSW, to meet with a group of women dedicated to saving The Drip Gorge - a stunning shelf of sandstone running along the Goulburn River. It gets its name from a perennial trickle of water which slides down its face into the gentle stream below. I could tell these women were walkers - you can always tell: big hats, sensible shoes.

They argue it's threatened by a nearby coal mine. Sandstone is fragile, prone to cracking - a big risk if the mine comes too close, they say. Julia told me that predicting what will happen with groundwater is like throwing a fistful of confetti into the air and tracking a single piece.

Our man Tom Melville at The Drip. Photo: Mudgee District Environment Group

Our man Tom Melville at The Drip. Photo: Mudgee District Environment Group

As we strolled in the dappled early Spring light along the Goulburn River, we did talk about the mine. But I think what we were really talking about was walking. In the old days, there was no track. There was no car park. The picnic area in which we met didn't exist, and to get to The Drip you'd walk through the river rather than along it. It's where we learnt to swim, Aleisha told me. Where we learnt to be safe in the water.

Of course, these women are anxious about the future of The Drip. They've devoted years to saving it (the nearby mine, Moolarben - owned by Chinese company Yancoal - says its approval process was rigorous. Part of that process was to show there would be "nil impacts" on The Drip.) But what struck me most was the peacefulness, the simple pleasure these people who must have walked this track dozens of times were taking in walking it again.

Perhaps walking is a cure for melancholy, and perhaps that is as true out here on the bank of the Goulburn River as it is anywhere. Perhaps Robert Burton was right, and "the heavens themselves run continually round, the sun rises and sets, the moon increases, stars and planets keep their constant motions, the air is still tossed by the winds, the waters ebb and flow, to their conservation no doubt, to teach us that we should ever be in motion."

For me, my wander down the river on that Spring day was yet more evidence - if I needed it - that one should always listen to their feet.

Listen to the story on the podcast. It's a great companion for your stroll.

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