I had read about The Gully in various books about Katoomba. I was recently reminded about a walking track at Catalina Park, which is part of The Gully. This sent me off for a wander to explore a place with a chequered recent history.
Signs at the entrance near Catalina Park outline the special status of The Gully. It was a place of plenty, of shelter, and there was protection from the westerly winds. The area was a traditional access route to Burragorang. It was a summer camp for thousands of years. It became a settlement from the mid-1890s as Katoomba grew. Gundungurra, Darug and other Aboriginal people, along with non-indigenous people, called it home.
In 1948, local businessman Horrie Gates created a tourist attraction in the area. The damming of Katoomba Creek created a lake, and a Catalina plane was installed in the middle. Visitors were taken to the plane to watch movie footage of flights over Sydney Harbour. Other entertainment options included a Ferris wheel and tea rooms. There is a brief summary of the Catalina Park period, when the area was a tourist location offering fun and food here.
The local council bought the land in the 1950s for residential subdivision. This was successful beyond expectations. Some of the proceeds went towards the construction of a motor racing track. The Blue Mountains Sporting Drivers Club supported this as another tourist attraction. The track construction required the demolition of the houses in The Gully. There was little or no consultation with the residents. In 1957 the settlement was bulldozed.
In the heart of my town is a gully
With wild bush and a stream that runs free,
It’s the place of my ancient people
And was home for my family and me.
Down in this valley so sacred
Black people have lived through the years,
And when white men built there a racetrack
The place was awash with their tears.
(Excerpt from Our Land by Lynette Stanger, quoted in Blue Mountains Journeys by Ken Goodlet)
The Gully nestles below the township of Katoomba. It is a natural amphitheatre; a hollow where a creek runs and fog gravitates. There were houses around The Gully in the 1950s. It seems a curious location for a racetrack. The local weather conditions often created havoc:
While races seem to have been successful when they took place, it was very often the case that they didn’t … race days were an almost certain guarantee of bad weather. The heavens would open, the mist would come down and the race would be cancelled … The circuit proved a folly because no one had taken the weather into account, despite the fact that fog and cold are the most notorious features of Blue Mountains winters.
(Source: The Artificial Horizon: Imagining the Blue Mountains by Martin Thomas)
Over time other racetracks became more popular, and it became a rally cross venue. The track was finally closed in the 1980s.
In 2002, The Gully was recognised as an Aboriginal Place. This places it under permanent protection with management in conjunction with traditional custodians. Interpretive signs along a special pathway offer insights into life in The Gully.
It is a beautiful place to walk through, with lots of trees, shrubs and ferns. There is a footbridge across the creek, and the track winds through different parts of the park. It is a haven for many birds, including eastern yellow robins, wattlebirds, superb fairy wrens and the melodic grey shrike-thrush.
The Gully is a very special area, and although remnants of the racetrack remain, it is now recognised as a unique and protected place.
[Photo: walkway over Katoomba Creek, The Gully]