Mount Magnet to Perth

Ironing clothes was the last straw. Employed as a housemaid at the Grand Hotel in Mount Magnet, Vera had had enough. Putting the ironing aside, she leaned over the ironing board and declared to her friend, “Hazel, I’m fed up; I want a change. I’m going to walk out.” Hazel exclaimed in response, “Me too!

They later described what they were feeling as ‘the blues.’ To combat that feeling, in addition to leaving their place of employment, they decided to walk 595 km to Perth. Shaking hands on the plan, both agreed that it would add some much-needed excitement to their lives.

When Vera and Hazel (aged 22 and 21, respectively) divulged the details of their walk to other people, they faced cynicism. One man ridiculed them and bet they would not get further than Kirkalocka Station, which was 59 km outside of Mount Magnet. If they did, he would swim around Australia. That only incensed Hazel.

I told him I would be at the jetty to see him off.

Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954); 12 December 1937; Page 2; Girl Hikers Tell Their Story

The doubt only fuelled their desire to accomplish the task they had set themselves. They began making preparations. After gathering information about roads, they put together their packs, which included rugs, a change of clothing, and waterbags. Their plan was to stay somewhere in the towns they reached, but if they did not reach one in time, they would sleep by the road “…with the heavens as a canopy.

On the morning of 27 November 1937, Vera Harding and Hazel Erlandsen dressed in matching scout shirts and shorts, pulled on socks and heavy golf shoes, and placed a khaki helmet on their heads. They both wore good luck charms: a map of Australia with a kookaburra inset. Ignoring repeated warnings from the police and other concerned people, they marched on down to the Post Office, obtained the postmaster’s signature, and then walked out of town and into the outback.

Plucky

Initially, they struggled. They eventually found their stride, and after five days (and a worryingly short supply of water), they arrived in Payne’s Find at 5:30 pm.

Bushmen greeted and cheered them and quickly told them that they “…haven’t seen nothin’” and that the next track was even worse. The recommendation was blunt.

Better chuck it!

The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950); 8 December 1937; Page 4; Thirsty and Blistered, Girl Hikers Persist

For the women, ‘chucking it’ was not an option. With advice echoing in their ears to travel light, only take one blanket and be careful with the water, Vera and Hazel left Payne’s Find and began walking to Wubin. Their journey slowed considerably. Blistered faces and legs caused considerable discomfort, and Vera’s old ankle injury began to play up.

The girls are now on the loneliest stretch of the road – between Payne’s Find and Wubin. Over the 96 miles separating these towns there are only two waterholes and scarcely any habitation.

Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954); 5 December 1937; Page 1; Girls’ 370 Miles Walk

They finally arrived in Wubin, thirsty and blistered, on the evening of 6 December. The worst parts of their walk were over, and Hazel remained optimistic.

But it wasn’t anything like as bad as they said it would be. We were never short of water on the second stage of the journey, and the track was so well defined that we could see the night’s camping area hours before we reached it.

The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950); 8 December 1937; Page 4; Thirsty and Blistered, Girl Hikers Persist

Vera and Hazel stayed an extra day in Wubin to properly recover and were the guests of Mrs Marjorie Hallman. Bright and early at 4:30 am on 8 December, they departed for the next leg of their journey. That day they walked from Wubin to Dalwallinu and then on to Marne. They continued onwards and expected to reach Ballidu at night on the 9 December.

Picking up on the story, a journalist for The Daily News sought comment from Hazel’s Mum. Florence Erlandsen admitted that she was worried about both women but sighed resignedly and said, “It was the sort of thing Hazel would do.” She supposed that someone had dared her daughter and that Hazel would not back down.

Now that she has started I can only hope she succeeds. I suspect that the chief thrill for her will be that of having achieved something unusual.

The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950); 9 December 1937; Page 1; Mother Anxious About Girl Hikers

Covering 40 km in a day, at 6:45 pm, they reached Ballidu. The next morning they left for Kondut. It was while they were between towns that representatives from the Sunday Times (who had driven from Perth) found them sitting by the side of the road applying lotion to their sunburn.

Hazel and Vera
Hazel (left) and Vera (right)

They were interviewed and explained their story in detail. To escape the oppressive heat, the women walked in the early mornings, afternoons, and evenings. Hazel confirmed that they had acquired the signature of the postmaster in every town and stated, “We thought someone would say that we got a lift if there was not some check on us.

The attention from the press meant that knowledge of their walk was growing in various towns. Many people kept a lookout for their arrival.

They are the chief topic of conversation right through the districts through which their hike is being made.

Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954); 12 December 1937; Page 2; Girl Hikers Tell Their Story

They aimed to be in Perth before Christmas and declared that “no effort will be spared.” With those final sentiments, the representatives of the Sunday Times wished them luck, said goodbye, and drove back to Perth. As they glanced through the rear window, they saw “a pair of waving hands and grinning faces.

Vera and Hazel Walking
Vera and Hazel on the road.

When they reached Kondut, they stayed with the postmistress, Mrs Welch, and on 11 December, they began walking to Wongan Hills. They arrived at 3 pm. Due to the heat, they continued travelling in the morning and evening, and, at 8:55 pm on 14 December, they arrived in Northam. They opted to stay at the Shamrock Hotel for the night before leaving at noon on the following day.

Considering they were ahead of schedule, Vera and Hazel decided to ‘take it easy’ for the rest of the walk to Perth. At noon on 16 December, they reached Bakers Hill. Early on the 17th, people spotted them chatting to a fruit stall owner just outside of Sawyers Valley. They bought some cherries and then stopped to rest under the shade of some trees. Excitement built as they edged ever closer to Perth.

At Sawyers Valley, they bought lunch from the local store and were farewelled by school children as they continued onwards. They reached Midland on 18 December and rested until 1 pm. When they left, there were no more stops, and they continued straight to Perth.

Vera and Hazel wore their helmets for the entire journey. They were covered in people’s signatures, messages, and post office stamps, collected from each town they passed. At 5:30 pm, they arrived at the Perth G.P.O. and obtained their final stamp, proof that they completed the journey. Having walked for three weeks, averaging about 30 km a day, it was a remarkable feat of stamina.

Hazel and Vera on the steps of the G.P.O. in Perth.

Four days later, they visited the office of The Daily News. No longer wearing hiking clothes, they felt strange going back to wearing sundresses. Hazel stated, “It has taken us two or three days to become really familiar with them again.” They had no immediate plans to start another hike but were full of praise for the hospitality shown to them by the country towns.

In total, the trip cost them £21, five times as much as catching the train. That cost mostly stemmed from paying for accommodation when they could not sleep outside. Despite the cost, they considered the experience and the joy it gave them was worth so much more than the money.

They undertook the hike for fun – and they have had plenty.

Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954); 19 December 1937; Page 10; Mt. Magnet-Perth On Foot

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