”Do you understand the sadness of geography?’’
Michael Ondaatje The English Patient
It doesn’t feel like summer in the Blue Mountains. A cool change has come through the small town of Katoomba. The rolling mists and rain of yesterday are gone. The clouds remain. I cover up with a bright orange jacket and go for a morning run.
Katoomba is hilly, like a putt-putt golf version of San Francisco’s streets. Up and down, up and down. And that’s what you see ahead of you.I run to The Gully and there I stop. I want to understand. I want to feel this place. I walk around the 1km loop that tells the story of this sanctuary, this hunting and meeting area for the Rous Water, Widjabul, Gundungurra and Darug people.
Aboriginal groups, forced to leave their ancestral lands and cut off from traditional access routes, made The Gully their home in the 1890s. They were joined by poor non-Aboriginal families and the homeless. Together they developed a tight community until 1957 when they were evicted. Their houses were razed without compensation, many without notice, because the local council, businessmen and a driving club decided they would like a race track.Displaced. Dispossessed. Again and again.
The race track was closed in 1992, driven out by the thick mountain mists. Almost half a century after the residents were evicted, the area was recognized as ”An Aboriginal Place’’, a place of special significance to Aboriginal culture, protected by law.
The Gully now is bush and swamp. Nature is taking over: rusting the old BP sign, rotting the light pole with the old tire propped on top. An arch of eucalypts and other trees that I cannot name protect this space. It is sheltered from the roaring mountain winds that sting my ears. It is a calm, safe harbour. I am relaxed here.
There are more than 800 species of eucalypts in Australia and over 100 in the Greater Blue Mountains. That’s a lot of gum trees. The ones that I notice most have bark sliding from their white cream branches and trunks, like peel shredded off a cucumber. Ribbons of light gray-brown bark hang from branches before they slip and gather like tears on the ground.
I realize they are weeping.
This is the sadness of geography.