Over lunch I watched a fascinating documentary on Captain James Cook. When the Endeavour hit a reef while travelling north along the east coast of what would later be called Australia, the ship was likened to a treasure trove. Its cargo of plants, artistic representations of places visited and people seen, Cook’s precisely drawn maps, the journals and diaries, along with the information possessed by those on board was a bonanza. The loss of such an invaluable swag of knowledge and artefacts contained on board this tiny vessel voyaging in waters, up until then uncharted, would have been catastrophic.
Inspired by this documentary, I later went for a bush walk down to Cripple Creek which runs behind our home. I had not been to the creek for a few years. The significant number of large trees, fallen since the fires of 2001 and the general build up of bushland growth meant progress was slow. The steepness of the descent proved to be a bit more of a challenge than I had expected. Nearing the creek I had to walk very carefully as the recent rains had made the rocks mossy and slippery.
Once down at the creek it was cold and rather damp. The sun was over the western ridge line and no longer shone directly into the valley. As I have noted many times before, Cripple Creek is unfortunately a very apt name for this now polluted body of water. But there is no denying the beauty and serenity that still imbues this special place, a place not found in Blue Mountains tourist literature.
I sat for a while by a pooled section of the creek and watched the candle like reflections of sunlight glow in the water. I could well imagine platypus swimming here some thirty or so years ago, as a friend and former resident had once told me. The creek chattered behind me, secretly slicing its way through the large lichen splashed boulders. The water gently appeared and splayed across part of a rock ledge, highlighting the various colours of the stone under its glossy path. Slipping over the ledge and into the pool, it kept a continual, mesmerising ripple radiating across the water until it vanished.
While at the creek I reflected on the dangers of the exploring life. I considered the immense, wild spaces in Australia that have been explored. Far from the settled areas, explorers faced the loneliness, the isolation and the realisation of total responsibility for their own wellbeing and that of any companions.
I thought about how essential it was to look after your gear as you travelled. I recalled the extreme frustration of George Evans when, in this very mountain range, his horses stumbled, fell and broke precious bottles of medicine which they carried on their backs. Juxtaposed to this I thought of the extravagance of Robert Burke’s mass of gear and his ruthless discarding of much of it as he made his way across the continent.
Travelling in unfamiliar country and coping with the prevailing weather conditions found there placed serious pressures on the health of many explorers. Young William Wentworth was not a well fellow towards the later part of his journey across the Blue Mountains. Poor old Stuart and Sturt could hardly see as they battled the interior desert country. I still remember from primary school lessons what happened to the thermometer and the lead in Sturt’s pencils as he explored the unforgiving Australian desert.
I looked around and up above me. I was again aware of the ruggedness of the surrounding terrain into which I had ventured. With the steep valley walls rising high on each side, the insignificance of humanity when facing Nature was not lost on me. I felt a chill in the moist, mid-afternoon air. Trees shook their leafy crowns as winds started to bluster their way along the valley. It was time to head back to the ridge top.
A third of the way up I stopped to catch my breath. I sat on a rock outcrop, acknowledged my good fortune and looked down on the creek. I listened as it trickled faintly through the trees below, making a northerly turn to join Fitzgerald Creek and continue its way to the Nepean River.
[reposted from Simply Australia 2008 © Jim Low]