Posted by: Jan | 20 April, 2013

In the Blue Mountains

200 years ago the Blue Mountains, with their steep tree-covered slopes and winding valleys, escarpments and sudden cliffs, seemed to present a complete barrier between the coastal plains and the Australian interior. Then the first Europeans crossed them. They opened up first an arduous journey, then a railway with villages and villas that might have been in Surrey, strung out like a necklace, then a busy main highway from east to west. But of course there were people living in these hills long before: the original, indigenous, care-takers. One group were the Darug people, of whom an Elder, Aunty Lyn Stanger, said in a recent interview:
‘We don’t own the land, we belong to the land.’
I learned this and a great deal more at the Cultural Centre in Katoomba – a museum worthy of a World Heritage Site, and the variety of people who live in this region today, and care about it. Among these are members of the local Wellspring group, whose concern for hospitality (for asylum seekers in Sydney, for instance) is intertwined with a strong sense of the unique place where they live, and a spirituality that is rooted in it.
One Wellspring Member, Jim Tulip, took me to the look-out point at Wentworth Falls, where I saw the view that had so impressed Charles Darwin.


Darwin at Wentworth Falls

Blue blue blue blue blue blue blue
Darwin, the world-traveller,
the cool observer, became
almost ecstatic, when he went
into these mountains:
‘This kind of view…
to me quite novel
and extremely magnificent…’
Blue blue blue blue blue blue blue
For a scientist, this was intense –
‘headland beyond headland’ –
a different kind of space;
a writer, too, suddenly
he was almost lost for words,
wading into hyperbole:
‘deep, vast, immense…’
Blue blue blue blue blue blue blue
His mind was drowning
in an alien element,
clutching at straws of memory:
‘If we imagine a winding harbour, its deep water
surrounded by bold cliff-like shores,
laid dry, and a forest springing up…’
far below, and to the horizon, blue.
Blue blue blue blue blue blue blue
His successors analyse
that blue haze: created by dust-motes,
water droplets and a mist of oils
from the eucalypts; those oils, too
pushing chlorophyll in the leaves
across the spectrum, from green to blue.
Blue blue blue blue blue blue blue
For Darwin at Wentworth Falls
it was, first of all, mystery –
deep inland, he could only think of the sea:
Blue blue blue blue blue blue blue


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