In Anticipation of Spring

There are signs of spring throughout the Blue Mountains, even in the upper mountains which is usually a bit late to the party. Bright swathes of wattle provide flashes of yellow to draw the eye, and there are bulbs erupting in masses of colour.

A particular favourite of mine are the flowering trees. Some of the ornamental fruit trees have started to flower in my neighbourhood, bristling with pink flowers that are heavenly to walk by. There is a large magnolia tree adorned with buds, some already starting to reveal the creamy flowers contained within.

Wandering around my garden I can spot bulbs that are thickening and preparing to put on a display of colour and scent. Daisy shrubs and roses are showing spurts of growth, and rhododendron shrubs and trees are suddenly heavy with buds.

One of my favourite springtime experiences is a cherry tree that I can see from my kitchen window. In early autumn I watched the leaves as they curled and fell, and now the bare branches are beginning to be tickled by buds, bright fluffs of green that over the next couple of months will morph into delicate white and pink flowers which have a beautiful scent. It is a glorious explosion to delight the senses, and it has come to epitomise some of the joys of spring for me each year.

I await these gradual changes with a keen sense of anticipation.

What seasonal changes are you looking forward to in your garden?

[Photo: buds on the cherry tree]

A Whistle-stop Tour of Hobart

Hobart is Australia’s second oldest city, and this heritage is one of its main attractions for tourists. To get my bearings on a recent trip to Hobart, I joined a morning tour of some of the sites of this city scalloped around the Derwent River, beneath the magnificent Mount Wellington.

Salamanca Bay, Hobart

Salamanca Bay, Hobart

The tour departed from the waterfront, along Sullivans Cove. Harbour cruises and trips to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, leave from here. Hobart is still a working harbour, and there were plenty of fishing boats as well as the huge Antarctic icebreaker Aurora Australis in dock. We passed through the sandstone glory of Salamanca Place, a very popular tourist destination with lots of cafes and restaurants as well as artisans selling their wares. You can wander through and see artists at work whilst admiring the old sandstone warehouses and stairways and pubs. On Saturdays there is a huge outdoor market, selling all sorts of fresh produce and locally made goods.

St George's Anglican Church

St George’s Anglican Church

Battery Point offers views of the river, and one of the warehouses has a large chimney which was for the fire that was kept going all day and night to ensure that gunpowder was kept dry. We wound our way past the official finish line for the Sydney to Hobart yacht race and through narrow, winding streets that clutch to the hills behind. We paused at St George’s Anglican Church which had been a landmark for sailors for decades. Along the way there were scores of cottages and grand houses with neat gardens, some with drawn curtains offering glimpses of stylish and antique furnishings inside.

Memorials at the Anglesea Barracks - 99th Regiment Column and Peacekeeper

Memorials at the Anglesea Barracks – 99th Regiment Column on far left and Peacekeeper

Anglesea Barracks was the next stop, one of the oldest continually operating barracks in Australia – as the second oldest city, and one with a tighter grip on its history than some, there are many ‘oldest’ tags. There were a few memorials including headstones patched into a wall, a memorial arch and a column commemorating Regiment 99, which served during the New Zealand Maori wars in the 1850s. This was the first war memorial in Australia, and was erected by a British regiment serving in Australia. Nearby there is a striking statue of a peacekeeper, bearing aloft a child, which was carved from a single piece of wood and knocked into rough shape with a chainsaw before the finer carving was done.

Cascade Female Factory - clothesline

Cascade Female Factory – clothesline

Cascade Gardens is a pleasant spot with a winding path towards Cascade Brewery, a magnificent old industrial building set against the backdrop of Mount Wellington. The beer, cider and soft drinks are made using water that cascades from the mountain. Just a little further down the hill are the remains of the Cascades Female Factory. This predates the Port Arthur Historic site, and was erected to keep female convicts separate. There isn’t much left in the way of buildings, although yards and areas such as laundry and crib rooms are marked out and snatches of official reports attest to the conditions. Even on a day of winter sunshine it is hard not to feel a taste of the despair that would have cloaked any new arrival, trapped within the walls with extremely basic living conditions. The nearby rivulet often flooded the prison. It is a quietly devastating place.

Hobart with Mt Wellington in the background

Hobart with Mt Wellington in the background

Across the mighty Derwent River to Rosny Hill Lookout to marvel at the city from afar. The Tasman Bridge was a talking point, not least of all due to the bridge collapse in 1975 when a ship ploughed into the arch at night. The falling concrete sank the ship and killed seven crew, and cars crossing the bridge at night could not see the collapsed arch and drove into the gap with five further fatalities. Traffic is still stopped when large vessels are heading up the river with pilot boats guiding the vessels safely under the bridge.

Ferns and waterfalls at the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens

Ferns and waterfalls at the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens

The final stop was the beautiful Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens, set to celebrate 200 years next year. It was lovely to have a wander about and see the lovely lakes and some of the many huge trees and varieties of camellias and rhododendrons throughout the gardens.

The tour was on a repurposed 1973 Bedford bus, a fitting way to see some of the sites of a beautiful city with much heritage to enjoy.

Proteas at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden

It is impossible to miss the striking blooms of the many varieties of proteas at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden at Mount Tomah.

27536064_UnknownThe mixture of altitude (about 1,000 metres above sea level) and the soil conditions combine to create conditions in which these plants thrive, and they are at their best in autumn and winter.

27536016_UnknownWhen most plants seem to be conserving energy for spring, these South African plants are full of colourful energy.

27537136_UnknownThe blooms are popular as cut flowers, and there was a display of them in the visitor centre. The pictures behind the protea feature some of the beautiful bark around the extensive gardens.

27536096_UnknownThe day I visited the garden was one of a clear sky with warm sunshine, with only the chill on the wind as a reminder of winter.

27535968_UnknownProteas are available for sale at the garden, and there is a guide to growing them at home here.

Have you spotted any winter delights in your area?

Blue Mountains Railways Celebrate 150 Years

From a vantage point beside the moving throng of commuters, thousands of them on any given day, the bust of John Whitton keeps a watchful eye on all who pass through Sydney’s Central Station.

Whitton was the Engineer-In-Chief from 1857 to 1890 and his extensive tenure coincided with the rapid development of railway lines across much of New South Wales. A mere 37 kilometres of tracks were in use at the time of his commencement in the role. By his retirement this had expanded into over 3,500 kilometres branching north from Sydney through Newcastle, Werris Creek and Tenterfield, south to Cooma, Albury and Hay, and west to Dubbo and Bourke. The key to opening up the gateway to the west was overcoming the challenging terrain of the Blue Mountains.

Initial challenges for the railway construction included building a railway bridge across the Nepean River and negotiating a way through Knapsack Gully in order for the western railway line to cross the mountains. Victoria Bridge, designed by Whitton, still survives today. The viaduct at Knapsack Gully was also designed by Whitton.

The character of many of the mountain villages have been defined by the arrival of the ‘iron horse’ and the railway opened up employment and housing opportunities. Prior to the establishment and extension of the railways with the arrival of Whitton, various other transportation ideas were proposed. Reverend Hulbert suggested the importation of elephants or camels as a solution; Sir William Denison spoke of horse-drawn railways. What a different world it may have been without Whitton’s vision.

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Tribute to John Whitton, Central Station, Sydney

Last weekend marked the 150th anniversary of the Blue Mountains railway line, which reached as far as Weatherboard (now Wentworth Falls). The first passenger train to Weatherboard ran on 22 July 1867. The line was then extended to Blackheath and Mount Victoria before the construction of the famous zig zag descent into Lithgow – another achievement of Whitton’s. The coming of the railway was to alter and redefine life in the area, and all these decades later, the railway remains an integral aspect of mountain life for locals and visitors alike.

Read through the letters most weeks in the Blue Mountains Gazette and you’ll find that train timetable changes continue to create a flurry of interest and weekend trains are so regularly packed with tourists that additional carriages have been commissioned. The noise of freight and coal trains is regularly compared to existing and anticipated aircraft noise. Like many mountain folk I can hear trains trundle by at all hours, but for me the short toot of commuter trains leaving the station and the low rumble of freight trains remind me of the perpetual motion of life, of people and goods moving about, travelling from one place to another.

Celebrations over the weekend included heritage train rides, and you can see some footage of the trips here.

Mid-Winter in the Blue Mountains

So far the consensus is that winter has been relatively mild in the Blue Mountains. There have been days starting out with fierce frosts, and there have been periods of bleak rain and uncharitable winds, but these have been interspersed with days of sunshine to take the sting out of the cold nights.

But we are only just past the halfway mark and there could be some cold snaps in store between now and the end of winter. In the upper mountains in particular, seasons tend to pay scant attention to the rigid start and finish dates, and snowfalls have been known to occur in late spring and beyond.

Early morning walks are characterised by frosts on lawns, roofs and car windshields. I keep an eye out for the subtle changes throughout the coldest months, endlessly fascinated at the gradual emergence of buds on bared branches offering the promise of an abundance of blooms when the warmer weather arrives.

There are spots of colour to cheer me on. Bright puffs of wattle blooms, winter bulbs in flower and carpets of spent camellia petals draw the eye. Creamy daphne flowers and early blooming rhododendrons mingle with late-blooming roses and ever reliable geraniums and lavender to provide points of interest. There are still sprays of salvia and delicate fuchsia blooms in the garden, as bright green spikes of freesias and jonquils feel their way into the world.

The cold is a necessary part of the seasonal life cycle and it always surprises and delights me that there is so much activity happening at a time when the natural world appears to be dormant.

What is winter like in your part of the world?

{Photo: red wattle bird spotted against backdrop of winter branches}

 

National Photographic Portrait Prize 2017

The Blue Mountains Cultural Centre is the first stop for the touring exhibition of the National Photographic Portrait Prize 2017. The intent of this annual event is to promote the very best in contemporary photographic portraiture, and it is open to aspiring and professional Australian photographers.

This is the tenth year of the prize, and the entries are judged by three people: two from the National Portrait Gallery and one from outside the organisation. There are forty-nine works which make up the finalist collection this year, and three photographers had two works apiece in the final selection: Charlie White, Brett Canet-Gibson and Peter McConchie.

This was the first time that I had seen the prize on tour, and it is a startling reflection of contemporary Australian society. The exhibition features people from many walks of life, with a few familiar faces cast among the portraits. Some portraits are striking for their simplicity; others have telling details in the backdrop and immediate surroundings of the shot.

In the exhibition catalogue, Sarah Engledow notes in her introduction that this year’s submissions (there were thousands of them), featured recurring themes including levitating elements, people photographed underwater, women crying and women wearing hijabs. There were also lots of beards. Engledow encourages reading the artist’s statements which accompany the submitted works as they provide insight and context, sometimes with humour.

There were many arresting portraits in the final selection. ‘A Moment‘ by Millie Brown, capturing a moment of stillness with Peter in a rock pool in East Arnhem Land; ‘Fifteen‘ by Fiona Morris, featuring aerialist Wonona with circus tents in the background; ‘The hermit‘ by Alex Frayne, with Royce Wells dwarfed by bamboo, “one of the most stubborn, brainy, wise, misanthropic and loveable minds I have had the pleasure to know.” I loved the wealth of homely detail in the portrait of Nell in ‘Ninety-nine-and-three-quarters‘ by Nic Duncan, and the framing of Nell’s eyes with the magnifying glass provided a different focus.

One of the finalists, Terry Hartin sums up the essence of portraiture: ‘It is always a collaboration between the photographer and the subject to achieve the best result.’

The exhibition is on display at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre at Katoomba until 13 August.

{Photo: Blue Mountains Cultural Centre]

 

I Wish Life Was More Like A Sunday

I came across this sentiment recently in notes I took a couple of years back whilst working my way through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It was one of several items in a list of wishes that made me smile upon rediscovery. There is something about the sentiment that draws me still, so I thought I’d spend a moment or two on a Sunday and work out some of the elements of Sunday life that make it so special.

  • Sleep-ins. Best chance of a sleep in is on a Sunday. The working week is full of bustle, Saturdays fill up with things to do. Sundays are usually less hectic.
  • Catching up. A slower start to the day encourages a more leisurely pace. Sundays offer space for dawdling and pottering about, even if this means catching up on news missed during the week, or small chores left aside until a pocket of time appears. Sundays are full of such moments.
  • Sunshine. Not always guaranteed, of course, but if the weather is kind the temptation is strong to enjoy it with an outing or even just working in the garden with the sun on your shoulders. It is energising and grounding,  providing an energy store for workdays spent inside.
  • Just relaxing. That might sound obvious but without the usual bustle and to-doing, there is space to daydream or read a chapter in a book without interruption or haste, or listen – really listen – to the song playing in the background or the slower pace of the world outside.

What do Sundays mean to you?

[Photo: sunset in the Hartley valley]

A Clutch of Camellias

The early blooming Sasanqua camellias herald the start of months of delightful displays of colourful blossoms. Next to flower are the Japonica camellias, which are able to cope with shade and filtered light, and the Reticulata varieties which have gorgeous large flowers. Camellias flower from autumn through to spring depending on species and variety. They are usually long-living, with some surviving over 100 years. The Sinensis camellia from China is the tea plant, but it is rarely spotted in most gardens.

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I love the density of the petals in this variety

Camellia colours range from white, pink and red to maroon and purple – almost black – flowers. And their names are colourful to match: Bob Hope, Contemplation, Cornish Snow, Happy Holidays and Early Pearly are just a few. The hybridisation of camellias means there are thousands of different plants available, and flowers range in size from small, tightly petalled blooms to the more flamboyant varieties, nearly the size of a bread and butter plate. White camellias were a symbol of New Zealand women’s right to vote.

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Alba plena camellia

This greenhouse favourite of Christmas time, with its beautiful waxy bloom and glossy leaves, is hardier than most amateurs imagine, and does well if kept clear of severe frost and intelligently handled … The red and white selfs are the best and most floriferous, but there are pretty striped and fringed sorts procurable. Pears Cyclopaedia, 1932

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A tinsie camellia

The camellias bloom in winter when the skies are cold and gray,

When the sun shines at its weakest and the spring seems far away …

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A variegated camellia

In shades of pink and creams and reds the colours one might name,

Each is an individual for no two look the same

(from The Beautiful Camellias by Francis Duggan)

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An espalier camellia spotted at Mt Boyce Nursery

the camellia pushes against the warm glass,

it has been looking into this room for 150 years

(from Halfway up the Mountain by Dorothy Hewett)

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Even the bees love camellias!

Do you enjoy the beauty of camellias in your part of the world?

[All camellias are from my Mum’s garden, except for the nursery example]

Yuranigh’s Grave

I lived in the central west of New South Wales for over 10 years. During this time I travelled the highway more times than I care to remember, and the focus was usually on getting from point A to B as quickly as possible. There were many signposts and points of interest along the way, but most of these were merely noted as something that could be returned to at a later point when more time would be available to explore.

Recently I travelled this road again with my Mum, who has a wide range of knowledge on many topics. When we passed the signpost to Yuranigh’s grave, Mum mentioned that Yuranigh had travelled with Major Thomas Mitchell. Mitchell has appeared in some of my posts recently as I have wandered up and down the mountains, including his encounter with David Lennox, and his work on improving the descent from Mount Victoria. Mitchell’s exacting and pernickety nature had been referred to in True Girt by David Hunt. We found the time to take the dirt road up to see Yuranigh’s grave near Molong.

Yuranigh had joined Mitchell’s third exploration of tropical Australia. He was one of a group of about 30 men including 23 ‘prisoners of the Crown’ who accompanied Mitchell on this expedition. It was noted that Yuranigh appeared to have been added to the camp at Boree, near Orange, and remained for the entire journey. The esteem in which Mitchell held Yuranigh is apparent from this extract from the official journal:

(Yuranigh) has been my guide, companion, councillor and friend on the most eventful occasions during the last journey of discovery. Yuranigh was small and slender in person, but he was of most determined courage and resolution. His intelligence and judgement rendered him so necessary to me that he was ever at my elbow, whether on foot or horseback. Confidence in him was never misplaced. He well knew the character of all the white men of our party. Nothing escaped his penetrating eye and quick ear. 

Following the expedition, Yuranigh went to Sydney with Mitchell, and a request was made to the Governor that he receive a gratuity for his services. He later returned to the Molong area but he passed away soon after. Yuranigh is buried in one of the Gamboola paddocks with marked trees. Mitchell ensured that Yuranigh’s grave was fenced at government expense, and he paid for an inscribed headstone.

Carved tree, Yuranigh's grave, Molong

Marked tree, Yuranigh’s grave, Molong

Mitchell had been accompanied by Aboriginal guides on his three major expeditions ‘to assist with finding water and to express his peaceful intentions’. But the relationship with Yuranigh was something special, recorded not only in the official journal of the expedition but displayed in Yuranigh’s burial. This is how it was described in a newspaper article in 1943:

In the sheep pastures surrounding Gamboola homestead, near Molong, there is a lonely grave in an area at whose four corners are to be seen four trees marked in Aboriginal fashion. It is the grave of Yuranigh. He was buried there according to the customs of his tribe. The marked trees are a tribute of his countrymen. Over the grave is set a tombstone bearing the following inscription, the tribute of the white man:

To native courage, honesty and fidelity, Yuranigh, who accompanied the expedition of Tropical Australia in 1846, lies buried here according to the rites of his countrymen, and this spot was dedicated and enclosed by the Governor-General’s authority in 1861.

Yuranigh's grave, Molong

Yuranigh’s grave, Molong

An additional headstone was erected in 1900 and the inscription was repeated. According to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, the grave site is the only known site in Australia where Aboriginal and European burial practices coexist.

Yuranigh is remembered not only at this site, but there is a lagoon, a county in Queensland and a creek near Molong named after him.

Sources:  Molong Express and Western District Advertiser, Sat 17 Apr 1937; The Longreach Leader, Wed 15 Dec 1943; Australian Dictionary of Biography.

[Photo: view of Yuranigh’s grave with one of the carved trees under shelter]

On Looking Up

If your spirits are low, go for a walk. Hear the morning chorus, watch as magpies squawk and squabble overhead. Listen to the smooth notes of a currawong from high up in a gum tree, and watch a squadron of parrots chasing each other before feasting on seeds in the pine trees.

On a good day there will be at least one kookaburra chortling away. Way up high there is the frantic screech of a white cockatoo, seldom alone and usually part of a rowdy, wheeling mob. A red flash as the compact bodies of rosellas, one of the shyer birds, fly by. Wattle birds feast on the nectar of native shrubs, their sombre grey and white plumage contrasting with their red neck wattles and the dash of yellow on their bellies.

Look up and see a beautiful butterfly, camouflaged against the heritage paint of an old building. Look around and see the blur of a bright brown rabbit, tucked in against the edge of long grass along the roadside. And a white horse sitting down in a paddock, its stillness a contrast to the movement around it.

Learning to look up has been one of the most rewarding lessons of my life.

How often do you look up?

[Photo: a red wattle bird]