Monday, September 27, 2010

Day 8 - Gundabooka NP; Exhibition Centre; Para Garden; Campfire Night at Kidman's Camp

Friday 24 September.
So much to try to cover today. Mum and I make an early departure to head down to Gundabooka National Park.  We’re on the road by 6:45 am.  I am a bit surprised to find the Kidman way down to Gundabooka is really very scenic. We’ve got 50 kms to go before we turn off the highway. About 20 kms out the road becomes really beautiful with bright red patches of soil and wildflowers and grasses lining the way.  Virtually no traffic.  I pull over to get a photograph and lower the car window.  I am hit by such a powerful fragrance coming from the bushland. It is a wonderful smell that I really really love and I exclaim with the pleasure of it.  Mum opens her window and takes a sniff.   “hmmm”  she says.  “cross between Maned wolf and coffee.”  Hahaha.  Reluctantly I start up the engine and recommence our journey.

Right bang on schedule we come to the turn to the national park and head in off the sealed road and onto the dirt. Red dirt. Shining red dirt.  It is beautiful. Cassia bushes abound. It’s very beautiful. 

We have 20 kms to go to the art site, but first we travel about 4 kms to the turn we need to make. 
When we get into the national park proper, we make a stop at the information boards. I have learned from experience this is a stop you should always make when entering a national park you are not already familiar with.  Now as some may recall, I have a passionate love of grasses.  It’s hard to beat gently swaying clumps with seed heads in subtle tones catching the early morning or afternoon sunlight.  Or that gentle fuzz of last years stalks softening highway verges.   As I gaze out into the bushland around the boards the early morning light is settling in bright luminance on soft swaying grass heads.  Dainty daisies poke their heads cheerily in between.  I snap away, but find the detail is too fine for wide shots and close ups just seem like a ratty tangle that does nothing to communicate the beauty of this place or the aroma of the bushland on the air.

Having enjoyed this beautiful little spot for a while we hop back in the car and move on.  When we make the turn the speed limit posted is 40 kph, but why would you want to go faster? There are heaps of wildflowers. Purple patches where a carpeting plant raises it’s purple cups skyward, Purple peas, more yellow cassia flowers of course, daisies in yellow white and purple, richer purple vetches and peas.  It is very lovely.  We pass an occasional roo also.  They waste no time and bound off into the woodland.
In an area thick with a tree we assume is mulga the understory is thick with deep violet emu bush.  Worthy of any garden they make a beautiful picture this whole section being dominated by soft greys and the complementary shades of violet and purple, contrasted but not clashing with the rich red soil. 

Some may recall my musings when wandering about in New Zealand as to the apparent intelligence in nature in respect to ensuring you never get inappropriate colour clashes in the environment.  All colours seem right even in combinations you would perhaps hesitate to use at home. It is the same here. Red soil and rich purples are brought into aesthetic respectability by the muted tones of the foliage.

A number of well sign posted intersections along the way but we finally arrive at the parking area for the rock art and make a stop.  I have packed my breaky in the interests of a quick get away and so I muck about preparing and consuming that.  It’s a cool morning.  Mum makes a start on the walk, as she’ll have to take it pretty slow.  

The path leads enticingly to a rocky area and it’s not long before I’m setting off to catch up.
Like people, there are some landscapes which are photogenic and appear to advantage in still images. Other often beautiful spots somehow seem underwhelming through the camera lens. I am sorry to report that the Mulgowan Aboriginal Heritage walk turns out to be one of them.  Pulling up, the sole car in the parking lot, we are struck by the beauty of the place.  In front of us a red path leading past a lovely flowering gum into a pretty, rocky area replete with mystery and promise.  Looking at the photos of the walk, I wonder if I should share them as I would not want someone to see these images, devoid of spirit and life, and think they give an accurate depiction of this lovely place.   
We are welcomed to country by the local people via signage at the start of the path.  First, and appropriately a greeting in language, followed by the English translation, of which the following is only part
Karra mayingkalkaa, Paliira yuku ithu. Welcome to our country.
The unmistakable aboriginal voice in the information provided and safety reminder underlines the ongoing relationship between indigenous people and their country.  It creates a sense of mystery and anticipation that sits well with the landscape around and prepares you for what is to be seen and experienced here.  It places my mind back in time and I imagine the “old people” as well as current indignenous people heading up from the grassland into the stone country to these special sites.
Where the red sand path meets the rocks I pause to admire the flowering gum. It is a  profusion of bright yellow buds that simply shine in the morning sunshine.  Just a few have shed their caps to provide a carpet of little cones beneath the tree, unsheathing fluffy coronets of fresh blossom and many many more to come. 
Climbing up into the rocks I finally catch up with mum.  The path is indicated by little metal way markers and you need to get to a market and stop and look for the next one before moving on.  Like following a rail of crumbs we are lead through the most advantageous vistas along the way. As we rise higher there are expansive views across the void to other hills in the distance.  As we admire the views a black faced cuckoo shrike lands on a bare branch nearby.  We hear birdsong all around but it is unfamiliar and the owners of the voices are keeping their distance. I am happy enjoying what is easily seen without stressing about what is not being shown to me.
Having crossed the first ridge, we start to descent through a gully.  The path is fabulously well done. Either Baiame really intended everyone to walk this way, or someone has gone to enormous trouble to place natural rocks in apparently natural step formations!  Even where these apparently natural boulders are not quite continuous for the path, natural stone paving has been used to continue the sensation of walking through the stone country.  This seems respectful to the spirit of this place and this is so important.
Mum takes her time. Looking down she comments. “if Grand-daughter 1 was here, she’d take a photo of that.  She bends double to take a macro zoom shot.  It’s wonderful travelling with loved ones isn’t it, whether they are friends or family. It is always useful to be able to see something through an alternate vision.  Having wandered in NZ with daughter 1, I am sure mum and I have been permanently influenced in our ability to identify things to examine and photograph closely.
We come to another sign that talks to us about the route that Baiame took through the country in the creation period. It talks also of the continued importance of this place though modes of transport today are different.  The tone to the panel is inclusive.
Lovely vibrant green bushes. Dense with foliage they sparkle with occasional bright red leaves that shine out like jewels.  It reminds me of the similar effect of pohutukawa leaves fallen in a carpet on the sand. So lovely.  Man’s attempts at beauty pale into insignificance when compared to what nature provides us.
Descending into the gully, a gorgeous new variety of grass arrays it’s pretty seed heads in aesthetic perfection against the rocks.

Water trickles cheerfully. Gums and boulders and beautifully placed vegetation provide a lovely contrast to the surrounding plains.

The path requires us to take steps across the boulders strewn across the trickling water.  I hang about to provide mum with a steadying hand.  We are overtaken by another, elderly, couple who head up the slop to the rock art site which is visible enshrouded with metal barriers to prevent access.
We likewise ascend the rock steps and take our place on the metal mesh platform.  The rock overhang in which the artwork sits is quite low.  The other couple are sitting down looking up at the art work most of which is bold in white depicting fairly simple shapes of “shake leg” dance, animals and implements.  Looking closely layers of older artwork are visible.  A few hand prints. 
All around the rock ledge a silicone drip line is placed.  I find intrusions such as this disturbing.  I am still pretty angry about what I learned in respect of the national parks attitude to maintenance of the rock engravings in Ku-ring-gai Chase NP. And the well meaning vandalism of white overlords who think they know best how to preserve these ancient treasures.  The damage that was done at the echidna engraving site in Ku-ring-gai as a result of these well meaning but misguided efforts is inexcusable. I wonder if the traditional owners of this place in Gundabooka really have the access they want or require.  I wonder, have they managed to maintain the knowledge required to maintain these sites in the traditional manner.  All indigenous people across NSW have suffered pretty intensive impact from white settlement:  stolen generations, removal from and denial of access to country and practice of ceremony. This art site is locked up like Fort Knox. I can’t see anyone of any description easily getting in behind these barriers.  I wonder if this site is one of lesser importance to the traditional owners that may have been sacrificed to satisfy non-indigenous people with other sites still active and maintained elsewhere and kept private within the indigenous community.  I hope so. I really hope so.

The other tourists depart and we are left here in solitude for a while. Then we start to make our way back along the path.  As we descend towards a gully a splendid fairy wren flits past. A male in glorious shining metallic blue. He most certainly is a splendid fairy wren, they got that right.
We clamber across the stream once again and as we make our way up around the boulders lining the path, mum notices a dainty beauty.  Clusters of tiny.. fruits?  Flowers? On a tiny little plant.  The are soft but sort of spongy, white with tiny velvety purple hairs.  We’ve got no clue what sort of plant this might be.

Regaining the higher flatter area of rock, a family of feral goats has taken up residence and it give me no pleasure to see them. But hey, we’re tourists so we take their portrait.  They seem to be having a happy life, Billy, Nanny and the kids.
We pause for breath and macro photography, I find and diagnose a problem with my camera after finding mum getting radically different with her, identical, camera. Encouraged I stop here and there on the way to the car to have another go at some images that weren’t working for me before. Ah, that's better.

 I drive mum over to the nearby facilities for a comfort stop and we head off back down the track to where we came from.  Along the way a bird flies across in front of the car, resplendent in black and white.  Many a bird has flown in front of the car, but for this one I stop and back up. It’s landed in the bushes there somewhere.  And there he is, a red capped robin. Sitting large as life on a branch. Perched with wings folded the black and white is less obvious the red is more so.  We’ve seen red caps before, but they are always special. 
We take our time on the road out, stopping here and there to capture the floral beauties along the way. Swathes of yellow among green, puddles of violet provide mock reflections of the sky, daubes of violet trumpets on silver grey.

When we reach the intersection we must finally stop procrastinating about the route we will take home.  We can do the loop suggested on the mud map, or head back up the highway quickly and have more time for other things, among which must be the exhibition centre, as our ticket for that is valid today but not later.  Mum seems to want to head further into the park so we do that for a while.  It’s similar to what we’ve seen.  Along the way a father emu comes out onto the road with his young chicks.  They loiter just long enough for a portrait then retreat to the safety of the bush.

Not finding much material benefit to this new route so far, after about 20 mins or so we decide to turn back and head in to Bourke the quick way.
We arrive home at about 11:45 am. Pick up daughter, who has been studying this morning and head over to the Exhibition Centre for lunch and a quick look.  We have something else we want to do at 2pm, so we need to make it pretty business like.  At Grubby Micks café we each order quiche, which is served with salad and chips.  I get a milkshake, mum and daughter sample the water.
Time is pressin g this morning writing this up.  Suffice to say, Grubby Micks café was great. The quiche was tasty and I suspect replete with real cream if texture is anything to go by.  The chips and salad were excellent as well.  Having gobbled our meals we head into the show and the following displays. The video presentation starts promisingly with the natural beginning of Baiame and the indigenous creation story for the area. Then, aside from acknowledging that an activist campaign in 1938 failed to gain voting rights for indigenous people, the traditional owners of the country seem to slip back into the shadows from whence they apparently came.
The Back O Bourke centre is great. It is full of interesting Australiana.  I am seriously into Australiana and enjoy that aspect of the centre enormously. It is very well done. I am gratified to find at least some references to indigenous things sprinkled in amongst the explorer material and the obsession with a great inland sea and anticipate and fervently hope, that there is more coverage of indigenous history to come in the next building.. as so far indigenous content has seemed, well, I have to say it has seemed tokenistic.  

Unfortunately, as we move along, now and later in the day when we return to finish what we missed,  we find that there is a serious omission from the displays.  Indigenous history since European settlement of the country is not included. Apart from one story about an indigenous man who was forced to effectively renounce his culture, heritage and language, in order to have his job as a "human bloodhound" ie police tracker, we fail to find a single reference to indigenous people, what they’ve been through, what is the mix of experiences and context, leaders etc that have informed their modern culture?  This is a very serious omission and it takes the enjoyment out of reading the other material. 

As we wander through this third building another visitor and daughter have sparked up a conversation.  This lady is here with her husband and kids. This lady has also just come through Bree and taken the tour of the fish traps.  She is also disturbed by the lack of content on indigenous Australians.   The Back O Bourke centre has enormous potential.  For visitors coming from anywhere whether elsewhere in Australia or from overseas, it can provide a great insight into the country about the origins of our commitment to the fair go. Henry Lawson, and all sorts of things and people from times past. Unfortunately at the moment it also gives some insight into why we have such intractable problems in respect to equity between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.  Indigenous people are comparatively invisible. We are making some progress, but boy, the Back O Bourke centre provides a symbolic underline in respect to just how far we still have to go.  As if the statistics aren’t enough.

However, on a happier note we’re off to another Bourke attraction, the flyer for which we have come across at the information centres.  Para native garden.  Olga, is a muruwari woman. She and her husband have established a wonderful garden in the backyard of their home in Sturt St.  The garden is a tribute to Olga's parents and serves multiple purposes.  It provides a tangible connection to Olga’s family’s experiences and struggles, an acknowledgement of what they have achieved under the most difficult of circumstances. It is a mourning as well as a celebration - or so it seems to me as we contemplate the events of this family's lives.  The garden is a triumphant achievement that is overflowing with creativity and optimism.  You can really feel the spirit and presence of Olga's mum and dad as we contemplate the garden. It is quite simply inspiring on a whole lot of levels.
Using local indigenous plants and trees, the garden includes things salvaged from the site of Olga’s family’s bush camp of many years ago, where their only water was from the bore drain, and their shelter an open arrangement of corrugated iron and tenting.  Around the garden these things, “as old as the hills”are assembled  to show what the family had and used, and act as tangible testimony to the story being told.  As we wander around listening to Olga's vision for the garden I think to myself that this garden should be on TV. Now while the garden is still very young, and again in a few years as it matures. There was a series made a while back about great gardens of the world. I think that this garden Olga is making is exactly the sort of garden that the makers of that program were looking for. A new Australian garden aesthetic, a truly unique and spiritual approach to gardening using indigenous plants.  Or maybe Better Homes and Gardens would be interested. I say as much to Olga and she doesn't hesitate to recruit me to help her make that happen! Lord knows how one does that, but as Gale Collins says, when you've got no idea what you're doing - then wing it! Suggestions gratefully accepted.

We find we get along with Olga really well.  We discuss indigenous issues and when I comment that as a white city dweller I find it very difficult to get information about what's going on, Olga and Alan provide some recent copies of indigenous newspapers and magazines, both of which have websites.  We have the National Indigenous Times which has a very interesting and informative website.  I like the subtitle: Creating a Bridge Between Australia's Black and White Communities. Then there is the Koori Mail.  Great to have more than one source and one editorial perspective to have a look at.

I do believe I get more radical on indigenous issues with every day that passes.  For this, I believe I actually have travel planning to thank.  In the course of planning our road trip through the American west I have done some trip pre-reading. Amongst these has been several titles relevant to Native Americans. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee changed me materially.  I had thought I was open minded, interested and sympathetic to indigenous matters at home.  What did I know. My heart was not aligned to my intellect, but Bury My Heat at Wounded Knee, and more recently The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper, have resulted in something of an epiphany for me and I highly recommend both these books. 

Anyway, Olga has a positive story to impart through her marvelous garden.  She cheerfully tells us that Brewarrina High School last year had ooooh was it about half a dozen or so indigenous students heading off to university.  They are studying medicine, law, engineering. Among them is her nephew and we find that he attends the same medical school campus as daughter! These young people have not had to leave their communities. They have not had to try to learn to read and write over the campfire as Olga did. They are not denied an education as Olga's parents where.  Olga has more to tell and exhibit in respect to indigenous success stories. Her daughter is a high achieving businesswoman and university graduate, like Olga herself.  

I see a congruence with Gale’s stories at the Black Queen. These are two strong women whose struggles and childhood disadvantage have motivated high achievement. Inspiring, empowering stories both have to tell. I was feeling pretty ragged and worn down when I headed off on this trip. I was in need of new inspiration and motivation. I was in need of empowerment.  In Gale and Olga's stories and open hearted hospitality, I have certainly found it. 

We have opted for the full package today at Para and so we are treated to some Quandong tarts.  Yuuum.  Apparently there is a quandong orchard around Broken Hill.. An email address is on the label of the Quandong jam and sauce Olga sells alongside various other indigenous related products.  We resolve to get in touch with them and see if we can order some quandongs.  There is a real sense of strong community in Olga’s enterprise. I particularly like a sign which Olga has had made up, based on a message stick made by a family member for the opening of her garden. The message stick and its interpretation are awesome and inclusive. I am truly humbled by this experience of sharing and Olga's open hearted and practical approach. Her years of professional experience that underpin her consultancy - Culgoa Dreaming - are well in evidence.

Well, we have said our farewells to Olga, with promises to keep in touch. We really want to check out the rest of the Exhibition centre as described above and have a chance to leave some comments in the visitors book.  Now we have a very short break to chill (1/2 hour) before we head off to the camp fire and bush poetry at Kidman’s Camp.

We rock up with our chairs and our picnic set and settle in for a fabulous night.  A local farmer, whose family have been on the land here for 5 generations does the honours.  He has assembled a wonderful collection of humourous verse and recites them well to applause and laughter from the sizeable throng assembled.  All proceeds go to local charitable causes, the hospital for example, or some for the RFDS (Royal Flying Doctor Service).  It’s truly a most enjoyable night.  Dinner is tasty and filling. A smallish piece of steak, a sausage, veges, a mountain of mash and bread.  Dessert is pikelets cooked on the barbie with either jam or lemon butter and cream, with billy tea, the billies have been heating over the fire during the evening. 

The fire pit is situated with a wind guard which is fashioned from a large curve of corrugated iron. It looks like a small water tank round, split and pegged open by two sturdy poles. Across it a bar is suspended from what I think was a couple of things like star pickets. It's beautiful. A flash of inspiration as I imagine just such a fire pit in my backyard.. tie in nicely with my original 1950s corrugated iron and hardwood chook shed that I am determined to keep and make a feature of.. hmmm.  The outback and its people truly do remain an enduring source of inspiration. 

The campfire night is another Bourke must do for sure and we leave with our clothes reeking of smoke, as is only proper! 

No comments: