Following the Warada Track, Field of Mars Wildlife Refuge

It is a testament to the community spirit that this area exists at all, tucked alongside creeks in urban Sydney. The Field of Mars was part of a large land grant given to soldiers in 1792 by Governor Arthur Philip, originally taking in the entire area north of the Parramatta River from Dundas to the Lane Cove River. Over the decades the surrounding area had been carved up and allocated, and part of the reserve had been used as a tip. Moves to redevelop the remaining pockets of bush were challenged by local groups, and since 1975 the site has been available for the public to enjoy as well as being a sanctuary for animals, birds and other wildlife.

There is an Environmental Education Centre in the reserve, and it is a popular destination for school groups offering excursions along several tracks. The Visitor Centre, open each weekend, is supported by volunteers from the Ryde Hunters Hill Flora and Fauna Preservation Society who provide friendly assistance and knowledge in regards to the various tracks available. Walking tracks can also be downloaded from the Ryde Council website.

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Along the track

Upon arrival, I was greeted by a brush turkey. It paid little attention to me although when I was leaving another one appeared and seemed keen to follow me home. These birds are famed for the huge leaf-litter mounds which are maintained by male birds for up to nine months each year. They are up to five metres in diameter and one and a half metres high. The mounds are constantly turned over, waiting for a female turkey to come along, test the temperature and lay a clutch of eggs.

Australian Brush-turkey

Australian Brush-turkey (young/immature)

The Warada track is named for the Aboriginal heritage of the area, and the track’s proximity to the only known waratah plants in the reserve. They would be a spectacular sight in springtime – the one below was spotted in the upper Blue Mountains last October.

Waratah

Waratah (telopea speciosissima) spotted in upper Blue Mountains, Oct 2017

The track climbs upwards with sandstone ledges acting as steps in some parts. There are Sydney red gums throughout the walk, their roots holding tight onto the sandstone until the stone eventually crumbles. Some of the trees are marked with sap; this indicates that the tree is being attacked by insects, but it defends itself by exuding gum, called kino.

Sydney red gum

Sydney red gum with kino – gum – exuding as it defends itself against insects

Banksias and scribbly gums appear along the path, along with hakeas and boronias. There were several large termite nests along the way, perched high up in the trees. The path turns, winding away along a ridge before snaking down towards Strangers Creek. According to field notes, the creek was named as there were homeless people living in the area until the 1950s, with local residents and farmers warning children not to venture near this creek alone.

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Termite nest remnants

The bush was alive with various birds including magpies, white cockatoos and rufous fantails. On the path leading back towards the Visitor Centre, alongside a stretch of mangroves, a pair of white ibis birds were foraging about. A short distance away, a kookaburra rested on a branch, watching the ground for any treats.

It was a delight to spend some time in this reserve and it will be worth revisiting during different times of the year to see various wildflowers and shrubs in bloom.

Have you taken a different track lately?

[Photo: Field of Mars Reserve, East Ryde]

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A Community Collected

One of the current exhibits at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre is Blue Mountains Portraits. It features a range of artworks representing people from the local community, from well-known local personalities to the quiet achievers.

Many of the works are by local artists, which further adds to the authenticity of the collection.

One of the joys of the exhibition is getting to know the backstory behind the portraits, learning more about some of the people who live in the mountains and who bring their skills and personalities to the region. The story behind the portrait selection is also provided, often revealing a deeper connection between the artist and their subject. There is a selection of the portraits recently featured in the Blue Mountains Gazette here.

There are people who contribute to the vibrant art and music scene in the mountains, collaborators who get behind festivals and events that appeal to locals and tourists alike. There are people who work tirelessly in community organisations, making a huge difference to many people in a myriad of ways. These include firefighters and environmentalists, teachers and advocates. There is a father and son business partnership, along with some of the colourful characters who bring something unique to life in the mountain villages.

The range of artistic representation is also impressive across the forty-plus artworks. There are photographic and traditional painted portraits as well as people represented in mosaics, drawing and collages. From familiar faces to the unknown, the range of styles encourages a celebration of the local community.

The exhibition is on until 18 March 2018.

[Photo: glimpse of sculpture on the viewing platform of the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre]

Capertee Train Trip

Old trains capture my imagination. A short steam train ride in Tasmania remains a favourite memory from years ago – as the train tootled along, there were sheep scattering off the tracks in all directions. When the opportunity came up to travel from Lithgow to Capertee on an old CPH railmotor, I took it.

The train line to Capertee is no longer a passenger line, like many old lines across the state. The Gwabegar line remains open for coal trains and the railway travels through Wallerawang, Portland and Ben Bullen before arriving at the small village of Capertee.

But the destination is only part of the journey. There were three carriages of fellow travellers on this trip, and there was a frisson of excitement as the train arrived at Lithgow station, precisely on time. Our guide for the day was Graeme, the president of the Capertee Progress Association. He was decked out in tails and a top hat, which seemed entirely appropriate. Armed with a megaphone he had the passengers organised in no time at all.

 

CPH Railmotor arriving at Lithgow station

 

On the journey out I shared the trip with one of the volunteer train guards, who told some interesting stories of some of the heritage train trips he’d been on around the state. We marvelled at the rolling green hills, still soaked after days of heavy rain, the mob of kangaroos on the golf course at Marrangaroo, and the smaller groupings of roos startled by the train, springing into action and bounding at speed alongside the carriage.

But the real star of the show was the scenery. The landscape became increasingly rocky and steep, and there were swathes of darkness as the train rumbled through tunnels. The rocking of the carriages, the smell of diesel, the excited chatter of a large group of people, all of this faded into the background as the wide canyons and valleys came into view. The area has the largest enclosed canyon in the world.

In recent travels, I’ve been through quite a few small country towns. I find them interesting, as no two are really alike. Some places feel heavy with a sense of their own demise as people move away for work and lifestyle reasons. Capertee, although small, has a sense of vibrancy. The town knew that the train was coming and there were markets and activities lined up for the visitors. A sign near the market proclaimed it to be ‘train day’ and there were various stalls set up inside and around the local hall. Part of the proceeds from the train trip was to be used to help maintain and upkeep the hall, which remains a living hub for the community.

Inside the hall, there were many photos of gatherings from previous years, along with local landmarks including the Glen Davis Shale Mine. Outside there was a BBQ for the hungry hordes and a special performance from the Lithgow Pipe Band. It was great – a professional and entertaining performance, and it will take me a long time to forget their rendition of Hokey Pokey. Santa had paid a visit earlier in the day, but I had been having a wander around the Glen Davis Shale Mine.

 

Lithgow Pipe Band performing at Capertee

 

When the train pulled back in at the station – it had followed the line out through to Kandos before returning – it was a happy crowd that piled on board with local purchases and memories of a day out in a friendly country town.

Have you had a day out of the ordinary lately?

[Photo: CPH ‘Tin Hare’ railmotors leaving Capertee for Kandos, part of the heritage fleet at Lachlan Valley Railway]

Leather and Lace*

You don’t always get to choose where you live. It might be where you were born, or where you move for study or work, for love or convenience. Sometimes it is a deliberate choice, based on a series of decisions around the kind of lifestyle you want; at other times it is where your family happens to be. Some people live in the same area all their lives, others shift about at regular intervals, a restlessness permeating their life or perhaps just questing after new horizons.

For me, living in the mountains was a deliberate choice. I knew that I wanted to be nearer to Sydney but after a decade away from the big smoke, it was overwhelming just to visit and I didn’t seriously contemplate moving back there. But I needed to be closer. A rough idea of living within 100 kilometres came to mind and I began to think of the areas that would fit into my wishlist of affordability, creativity and lifestyle.

In hindsight the mountains were an obvious choice, and I didn’t seriously consider anywhere else. They were familiar, and depending on where I chose to live, commuting for work would be an option if I couldn’t snag something locally. The mix of villages, some so small they were blurs on the highway, others distinctive and offering their own style of life, was a big appeal.

When you come across new residents, they frequently comment on the slower pace of life, the casual and relaxed attitude of people, the great cafes and the creative buzz. And, of course, there is the staggering natural beauty available wherever you turn.

Where would you live if you could?

*Taken from the title of the song by Stevie Nicks & Don Henley, comparing city and mountain life and love

[Photo taken from the Hartley Valley Road]

 

Who listens to the radio?*

I stumbled across the local Blue Mountains radio station by chance when I first started to visit the area with a view to relocating here. My visits were usually on the weekend and I was taken in by the wide range of presenters, local news and musical selection.

One of my fondest memories of the transitional time was when I was moving my bits and pieces down, usually on a late Friday afternoon. There is a bend in the road just past Lithgow when Hassans Walls come into view, a stunning sight with the afternoon sun catching the golden tints in the sandstone. Wind your way down past Hartley, then make the giddy ascent through to Mt Victoria, fiddle with your radio and there it is, Radio Blue Mountains.

These Friday night trips often coincided with an evening show featuring two local identities riffing off each other verbally on a really wide range of topics, interspersed with music that ranged from contemporary to obscure artists and the occasional operatic aria. I was taken in and it made me feel connected on some level with this place that I was in the process of making my home.

There are some programs that I catch when I can – internet radio is a blessing if I’m out of range but need some of the familiar comfort of home – and I have been reminded of lots of music that I’ve loved but forgotten, as well as being introduced to many new artists and songs that have resonated with me.

The frequent community noticeboard messages and the traffic, train and weather reports keep me in the loop and informed during weather events, such as bushfires and snow. It is a great way of getting to know what’s happening and to feel part of mountain life.

How do you keep connected?

*Taken from the title of a song by The Sports.

I’m on a foggy highway*

There are many things to love about living in the Blue Mountains. The air, for starters. It is usually crisp, often scented with eucalyptus along with whatever is currently in bloom. The blue skies too, although to be fair there are often dramatic cloud formations. One of my favourite things is the mist which seems to appear out of nowhere, cloaking the landscape by stealth at any time of the year. It can be disorientating at times, but there is a moment of clarity when the fog clears.

People from all walks of life are drawn to live here. It is known as a popular place for creative souls, with a wide collection of artists, musicians, writers and innovators. Someone said to me recently that you can be who you want to be here, and that in itself makes it a special place to live.

For me, it was the creative community that appealed, along with the chance to have more time to contemplate what really matters.

It can be like travelling along a foggy highway, tricky and confusing at times, but if you persevere you arrive at your destination.

*The topic line is taken from ‘Foggy Highway’ by Paul Kelly. The use of a line from a song as a topic line is borrowed from Margot Kinberg’s truly excellent crime fiction blog, which you can find here.