Neighbourly Thoughts

Recently I came across a Chinese proverb in a magazine: Love your neighbours, but don’t pull down the fence. It made me think about neighbours in general and the act of being a neighbour.

Growing up in a Sydney suburb, we knew our neighbours in part because there were other children in our street. Neighbours on one side kept an eye out for us and there was a doorway in the fence to allow easy movement back and forth. These neighbours were older than our parents, and there were grandchildren of a similar age who visited regularly. There was a golden Labrador called Cleo who never seemed to mind being roped into various games and activities. Other delights included a steering wheel attached to a fence, a mulberry tree in a corner and for some reason that I can’t recall, a poker machine in the kitchen. It was an old-style machine that was played with shillings or ten-cent pieces, and what a thrill it was to pull the handle and ‘win’ the occasional jackpot.

I’ve lived in villas, in student accommodation and on a property with acreage as well as in country towns and now in the mountains, and I’ve had a mix of neighbours along the way. The farming neighbour was usually spotted at a distance, and there were sensory delights at cropping time, especially with a paddock of coriander close to the property boundary. Living with an abundance of space made it a bit challenging to get used to people living close by when I moved into town but I’ve been lucky to have had good neighbours.

Neighbours can be a friendly presence, someone to keep an eye on your place if you are away for a while, to collect mail and newspapers and give you peace of mind. A wave and a smile can be enough to make you feel at ease, and it feeds into a sense of being part of wider community. Neighbours share news and plant cuttings, turn up with extra servings of food and even Christmas gifts for my dog. They know what is going on in the neighbourhood, and a quick catch up can be most enjoyable. Neighbours keep an eye out for each other without infringing on each other’s space.

My neighbours are one of the reasons why I love mountain life. From my arrival here I was made to feel welcome, and there are many small gestures of kindness shared between us without any sense of expectation or reciprocation required. During weather events – such as heavy snowfall or the bushfires in 2013 – we keep an eye out for each other and share news and updates. It is impossible to put a value on the peace of mind that comes with having good neighbours.

There was another quote on the page of proverbs that I read: A stranger nearby is better than a far-away relative. There is truth in this Korean saying.

What are your neighbourly experiences?

Proverbs spotted in Issue 3 of Breathe Magazine Australia.

[Photo: snowfall in July 2015]

Autumnal Thoughts

Autumn is a particularly beautiful time in the Blue Mountains with many trees putting on a spectacular show of colours.

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Excerpt from the poem Autumn by Kate Llewellyn:

… but autumn prefers me,

wistful,

longing for what has gone

dreading the cold to come.

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Soon the leaves will fall and the colourful carpets will crunch underfoot.

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What is autumn like in your part of the world?

Background Noise

This weekend there has been maintenance work carried out along the railway lines in the Blue Mountains. This isn’t an unusual occurrence, but it has made me more mindful of the noises in the background. The railway lines are a couple of blocks away, but the sound of the railway carries much further than that, particularly when the wind is casting the acoustics further afield.

It isn’t that I don’t like the sound of the railway – the opposite is true. I like to pick up the light clatter of the passenger trains, or the heavier groan of the freight and coal trains as they rumble along. Twice a day there are the swifter rattles of the XPT, and the weekly passing of the long Indian Pacific. But in the absence of the railway noise, other noises come into focus.

Bird life is plentiful in the mountains, and on a soft, damp day like today it is mainly magpies and king parrots in close proximity. The parrots tend to feed in brightly plumaged clusters in trees, neatly nibbling away at seeds high up in the trees. The cackle of kookaburras carries from a distance, along with the swooping squeal of cockatoos.

Traffic sounds from the highway include the whine and moan of trucks, always on the move. Most car and bike noises are subdued in comparison for the most part. There is the occasional hum of a plane, somewhere above the low cloud cover.

Closer to home the breeze plucks a tune from a bamboo wind chime, a soft plunking sound on the air. The rainwater tank is full and there is a methodical tinkle as the overflow is caught in a container. People walking past chatter and laugh, or speed past on bikes. Dogs in the neighbourhood holler out greetings or warnings, their calls picked up along the roadway like a raucous Chinese whisper. Then the rain starts again, a soft settling upon the roof.

What makes up your background noise?

[Photo: glimpse of a king parrot]

The Marked Tree at Katoomba

Driving west along the Great Western Highway between Katoomba and Medlow Bath there is a tree trunk enclosed by a fence on the left hand side of one of the many bends. It is signposted as the Explorers Tree. To see it up close you can take a sharp turn to the left into Explorers Road where there is a car park for bushwalkers heading to Nellies Glen or Pulpit Hill.

The eucalyptus tree was reputedly marked with the initials of the three men who are acknowledged as completing the first successful crossing of the Blue Mountains by Europeans. Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and William Charles Wentworth commenced their journey on 11 May 1813, accompanied by a local guide and three convicts. The journey took them 21 days, travelling along the mountain ridges. The crossing marked the way for the road, later built under the guidance of William Cox, across the mountains and into the western districts.

The significance of the tree was realised early on, and it was preserved with a wall, fence and plaque in 1884. Unfortunately this had the unintended impact of killing the tree it was meant to protect. The dead trunk became dangerous and the top was sawn off and taken to the grounds of the Hydro Majestic Hotel, where in 1922 it was destroyed by a bushfire.

Conservation attempts over the years included plugging the trunk with concrete, and binding the stump and remaining bark together with a steel band. At one time it was capped with concrete; this was later removed and a gazebo built over the top of the stump to protect it from the weather. The stump was partly vandalised and there was an arson attack in addition to bushfire damage.

Vandalism isn’t just a recent issue for the marked tree. An article in the Lithgow Mercury in 1939 recorded an incident: ‘It is a matter for regret that the “yahoos” have found means of hacking their initials on the coping of this monument: left alone in Westminster Abbey, such fiends would not hesitate about scratching their worthless names on the tomb of the Unknown Warrior.’

In 2012, a passing driver crashed into the monument, hitting the sandstone podium. Efforts to conserve and protect the tree continue.

The historical significance of the tree is often questioned. Blaxland kept a diary during the crossing, and there is no record of any tree being marked by the explorers. Journals of the crossing recorded that their route was marked only with the blaze of an axe, and any initials on the tree rotted away decades ago.

The successful crossing is regarded as a defining moment in Australian history as it lead the way for the opening up of the pastures of the western plains as the colony struggled with drought and limited grazing land. The tree is the only reputed relic of the historic journey, which helps to explain why it is regarded as significant, even if it is historically questionable and in a sad state of repair.

There is a summary of the importance of the crossing here along with acknowledgement of other crossings here. An early photo of the tree, looking more intact, is available here.

Have you come across any links to the past, genuine or otherwise, lately?

[Photo: remains of the Explorers Tree overlooking the Great Western Highway]

Book Review: Hidden History of the Blue Mountains by Magda Cawthorne

For the last few years, I have been keeping my eye out for local history books based in and around the Blue Mountains. I have managed to find specific books about some of the mountain villages, and some books with a larger scope taking in most if not all of the area from the base of the mountains right through to the Hartley Valley.

If I had a wish list of what I would like to find in a book on the mountains, it would be this:

  • An overview of the mountain ranges to give scope and context;
  • An explanation of the key transport changes – without roads and rail, the mountains would not be a viable place to live;
  • Acknowledgement of the significant role played by fire through the mountains; and
  • A chapter on each of the villages from Lapstone to the Bells Line of Road.

In a perfect world, this information would be presented in an interesting, easily accessible fashion with appropriate references, key timelines and fabulous photos. Images are really important in helping to define the essence of the villages, particularly as for many people most of the villages are merely signs or points along the Great Western Highway when the speed limit drops and you have to slow down, again. There would also be an index so I can locate whatever specific place I need to find at any given time.

When I came across a tweet from a local bookshop that they were holding copies of the newly released Hidden History of the Blue Mountains by Magda Cawthorne, I knew it was the book for me. Even sight unseen it promised to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge about many of the villages, along with over 500 photos. It is all that I hoped for and more – check out the website to get a glimpse here.

The book provides an overview of how each village came about. For example, near Wentworth Falls there was another village called Brasfort which was incorporated into Wentworth Falls in 1895. I was aware that Wentworth Falls had been known previously as Weatherboard, but it was interesting to know how this name came about. The beautiful lake at Wentworth Falls was originally dammed to provide water for steam trains. There are many historical stories and snippets to pique interest as well, including the life and death of Mary James at Twenty Mile Hollow (Woodford), and the tragic fate of her eldest daughter whose body was found on the Victoria Pass. The ghost of Caroline Jones was said to haunt the area, and there is a poem by Henry Lawson called ‘The Ghost at the Second Bridge‘ about a spectral encounter.

I have barely scratched the surface but that is one of the joys of a book like this. It is perfect for dipping into, or reading chapters on villages of particular interest. The further reading section will encourage the expansion of my book collection and there is a stack of websites to explore. It is a fabulous read for anyone with an interest in the Blue Mountains.

Have you been lucky enough to find a dream book on an area you are interested in?

[Photo: mountain views near Leura/Katoomba]

Be a Tourist at Home

The proximity of the Blue Mountains to Sydney makes it a popular tourist destination for weekends, short stays and longer visits. Within two hours by train, less by car, you can be in a different environment altogether with a wide assortment of activities to do and sights to see.

I have lived in the mountains now for over 3 years, but there is still a lot that I haven’t seen, and places I am yet to explore. If you have spent any time in Katoomba, you will be familiar with the big red double-decker buses and the brown trolley buses that offer all day tickets, along with various other packages to some of the attractions around the town and nearby villages. When I’m in Katoomba, I often see these buses full of tourists in all sorts of weather, pressed against the windows and generally having a good time. So I thought I’d give it a go.

On a fine spring morning I boarded a trolley tour outside the Carrington Hotel along with quite a few tourists ready to do a loop around Katoomba and Leura. We headed off to Leura, driving up the main street and stopping just around the corner – a handy spot to stop if you want to explore the many shops and boutiques. We then continued on, heading past Bygone Beauties which I have visited before. Then it was off to Leura Garden Resort, through the Leura Golf Club (oldest of the four golf clubs in the mountains) and past the Fairmont Resort. Everglades Garden is the next stop, a beautiful National Trust property with spectacular gardens. As we approached there was a magnificent peacock on the nature strip: apparently his name is Andrew and he is well-known in the area.

Once we turned onto Cliff Drive there was a succession of beautiful outlooks and views, including the Kiah, Honeymoon and Silvermist lookouts. Various walks are accessible from these points, and with buses coming by at regular intervals it’s possible to walk comfortable distances and get back on if required. The Three Sisters and Echo Point, perhaps the most recognisable of the lookouts, were next, before we headed past Lilianfels and towards Scenic World. This is yet another place I haven’t made it to yet, and it was good to get an idea of the layout as we passed by the east landing before continuing around past the Katoomba Falls to the main entrance.

There were various stops and points of interest on the way back into Katoomba before the trolley bus paused at the Carrington Hotel to fill up again.

It was a real treat to be a passenger, rather than a driver, and to be able to focus on the scenery rather than the road. The gardens throughout Katoomba and Leura are so lovely at this time of year, with beautiful blooms and exquisite garden design on display. Leura is famous for its garden festival in early October, and there were still many visual treats to be enjoyed. The driver provided an overview of the history of the towns and key places along the way, and this added to the experience.

Being able to get out and about, especially if you travel up by train, is made much easier by tours such as this. I really enjoyed the experience and have added quite a few things to my local to-do list.

Do you ever get the chance to be a tourist in your home town?

[View from Kiah Lookout]

Cahill’s Lookout, Katoomba

One of the many joys of living in a national park is that there is always something to see. The sheer scope of the Blue Mountains National Park – 247,000 hectares – means there is a multitude of locations, features and views that are waiting to be explored. The time of year and even the time of day have an impact too; an outlook that is impressive during the day may look different at dusk. Looking out on an overcast day might bring attention to features overlooked on one of the bright, blue sky days drenched in sunshine.

The longer I spend in the area and the more I read about places and people, the more some spots mean to me. There is delight in coming across something that I haven’t seen before, as well as re-experiencing places that I’ve been to but with a different viewpoint.

Yesterday I stumbled across this lookout off the Narrow Neck Road. The lookout is simply laid out with a pathway leading down to staggered viewing platforms over the Megalong Valley. As you walk down towards the viewing platforms, there are sandstone cliffs on the right as the view opens up towards the valley.

This lookout had been closed for a couple of years following a bushfire, and there are still many signs of the ferocity of the fire in the scorched landscape along the western side of the lookout. There are a clutch of picnic tables which were empty on the late spring afternoon, survivors of the fire. The lookout has been reopened recently following extensive work and upgrading by the Blue Mountains City Council.

The first platform looks out directly at the Boar’s Head Rock, with glimpses of the Jamison Valley behind it. There are a number of different walks that can be taken from this point and looking down into the valley, the Six Foot Track is visible. This track goes from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves, taking three days to walk.

The lookout is one of several along the Blue Mountains Drive, and Cliff Drive in particular. It dates back to the 1930s when the road construction improved access to popular viewing spots. It is named after one of the Premiers of New South Wales, JJ Cahill, who opened the lookout in 1959.

Coming across places such as this reminds me of the magnitude of the wilderness around me, a strange mix of feeling insignificant yet grounded as well. Have you experienced this sensation?

[Photo: looking towards Boar’s Head, Cahill Lookout, Katoomba]

Blogging – what, why and where?

I was recently asked to put some words together in response to this question for a post on the Writers in the Mist blog. This blog is hosted and managed by the fabulous staff at the Blue Mountains City Library, and includes pieces contributed by my local writing group.

One of my fellow writers, Therese Doherty, also responded to the call and you can find her interesting and thoughtful response here. Therese’s blog – Offerings from the Wellspring – can be found here. The byline for this great blog is ‘creativity and connection in a living world’ and her posts are beautifully written, considered and encourage deeper reflection.

The Blue Mountains City Library also has a blog for readers – Readers in the Mist. There are book reviews, articles, news and entertaining infographics like the one in this post.

So below is my response to why I blog, and the original post can be found here.

Why did I start a blog?

Earlier this year I gave some serious thought about what mattered most to me and creativity was high on the list. I thought starting a blog would offer a creative outlet as well as creating discipline with regular posting – it would help me to write more. Which it does!

Why did I choose the theme I did?

I thought about what I liked in other blogs and what I wanted to blog about. It came down to wanting to share aspects of mountain life as well as writing about writing. So the Monday posts are about musings from the mountains, and the writing related posts appear on Thursdays.

How often do I blog?

Twice a week. This did feel a bit ambitious at first but I have found a rhythm and actively seek new material and experiences to blog about, which fuels my creativity, which creates more blog material! Before I started I made a list of possible blog topics and I keep adding to this as the ideas roll in. I keep the blogs short – usually around 400 words – which also keeps it manageable.

Why did I choose this blog site?

My blog is on WordPress.com. I set up a blog for serial fiction there a few years back and found the site easy to use. It works well across devices which is handy as I travel a bit for work and write a lot on my tablet and phone.

What is it like to get feedback on posts?

It’s really encouraging. I have received some great feedback and it is interesting to take a step back and review what generates a higher response. One of my best posts was a writing book review (Still Life with Teapot) and anything that includes a reference to writing morning pages usually gets some feedback. I am still learning but putting in lots of tags definitely helps. I also enjoy reading and following other blogs, and provide feedback too as I know it makes my day to know that someone has taken the time to read my blog.

Tips for new bloggers?

Content matters most. Blogs are a great way to get your voice and your interests across. Some will get a better response than others, and it is important to read what others are writing too. I have come across some really great blog posts and found inspiration and learned a lot from more experienced bloggers. I now feel more engaged as an active writer in a virtual community.

If you are thinking about blogging, I’d encourage you to give it a go. There are many benefits to creating, writing and putting your work out there, and to be an active part in a writing community whether it’s local or online or a happy mix of the two.

Why do you blog?

[Photo: dog in a bathtub reading The Land for some inexplicable reason atop the newsagency at Gunning, NSW]

 

What feels like home to you?

What makes a place a home? This is a very personal question, as in unique to the individual.

Home isn’t important to everyone. It can be a transitory state for some, changeable on a regular basis with no anchorage required. For others it is essential, the ballast that keeps them steady despite the buffeting of the storms of life. For me it is the latter.

Life stage can also have an impact. Are you starting out, travelling in the pursuit of work, experiences or relationships? Do you prefer to have the support of family or friends nearby? Or is solo more your style? Would you consider moving to a location where you had no ties, a clean slate to start from? Or do you prefer the familiarity of friends, family, acquaintances?

What you might look for in a home also changes over time. Quite apart from the physical state of a home, be it a house, unit, bedsit or share house, there is the social space, the cultural environment and atmosphere around where you live to take into consideration. It might be sporting facilities or galleries or live music venues that you seek. Or it could be medical facilities, childcare and educational options.

I’ve been traveling in the past week, and it is enjoyable to head through different towns and to get a feel for a place. Of course this is only a passing experience. Staying in a place for a few days is completely different to relocating your life or spending a longer period of time in an area, but I do like to play a bit of ‘what if’. What if I did live here, or had the opportunity to move to a different place – what impact would that have on me and my life? There are some places where there is something that captures my interest and I can imagine spending more time there. Other places have no appeal whatsoever and I know that it wouldn’t be a good fit for me at this time.

Right now, I am very happy where I live. As I returned home today, seeing the familiar landmarks, feeling my heart lift as I looked out and glimpsed the valleys and rugged sandstone cliffs, getting out of the car and smelling the eucalyptus tang underfoot, I know I am in the right place for now. It was a beautiful winter afternoon with blue skies and sunshine and it just felt so good to be home.

What does home look like for you?

[Photo of an old home in the Hartley Valley]

The Archies are @ Katoomba

It is fantastic how some of the exhibitions in our national and state art galleries are encouraged to roam around the countryside. Of course it is far more strategic than that with months, if not years, of planning required to share some of the amazing work and collections with people in regional areas. These touring exhibitions bring amazing talent to people who may otherwise not have the chance to see them or to experience the transformative moments that come with experiencing something different.

I was delighted when I found out that the Archibald Prize 2015 exhibition was making its final regional tour stop at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre. I had seen the national portrait prize a few times when I lived in Sydney, and had been an ambassador at the Western Plains Cultural Centre in Dubbo when the 2009 exhibition of the award finalists came to visit. The winner that year was Guy Maestri’s portrait of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu which was incredible. Other highlights included Brandon by Vincent Fantauzzo and Jan Williamson’s portrait of Nancy Kunoth Petyarr. As an ambassador, it was an experience not only to be able to walk around the exhibition to assist as required, but to hear people’s impressions of the artwork as they experienced it first hand.

At the opening on Friday night, Jacquie Riddell from the Art Gallery of NSW gave an interesting overview of the history of the Archibald Prize. She also spoke of how this year’s prize was about to open, and that the gallery was expecting about 1000 entries. The paintings arrive upon a variety of transport methods, from cars, vans and bikes to mules. Well, okay, perhaps not mules. But the competition is intense, the quality of work and array of portraiture methods extensive. And the gallery smells different during this time – all the fresh artwork gathering together, pending the judgement of the board.

The work of the finalists is a staggering scope of artistic talent and method. I do not pretend to know anything about art – I like to look but have no dialect for methods and styles. All I can note is my reaction to the work which is typical of how subjective art is for everyone. The luminosity of the portrait of Michael Caton by Bruno Jean Grasswill stayed with me, and even when I moved away from the painting I had to look back and see it again. The creativity behind Paul Ryan’s portraits of Noah Taylor (Thirteen Noahs), employing a collection of paintings and pictures and even table tennis paddles gathered at op shops and the like as the background to the work really appealed. The winning portrait Judo house pt 6 (the white bird) of Charles Waterstreet by Nigel Milsom was mesmerising – particularly the hands and face. One of my favourites was Paul Kelly as painted by Jason Benjamin. The artist’s notes included how he tried a couple of approaches before painting PK as a landscape. That is another aspect of getting out and seeing art up close – you can find out more, understand a little better what has influenced the artist in the act of creation.

The exhibition is on at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre until July 24 and is well worth the outing. Also check out The Exhibition, a sample of the gallery’s own collection which I’ll write about in a future post.

How often do you get to wander around an inspirational exhibition?

[Photo: Blue Mountains Cultural Centre from viewing platform – the Carrington Hotel forms the backdrop]