AND so to the sport of tying a kangaroo down. Step One: find a kangaroo.
This is surprisingly tricky. It is estimated that there are more kangaroos in Australia today than there were when Europeans first settled there, since the animals prefer grassland habitats and settlers have removed forest lands to create ranches. Thus you would think that if you went to a grassland area you might stand half a chance of seeing one.
On Thursday we went on a trip to the Blue Mountains, so called because of the blue haze that shrouds them, generated by the refraction of light through eucalyptus oil droplets in the air. Our first stop was a camp site near Gordonvale at the foot of the mountains, for it is a renowned hotspot for finding wild kangaroos. Not so this day.
No matter, in the past six or seven weeks (I have truly lost all sense of time) I have seen a number of wild kangaroos: a family of them were watching the sun set on our way to Kroombit, and an obsequious individual saluted me on the way to Cape Tribulation. Yet the truth remains: the moment you start looking for something, it is never there.
The Blue Mountains, however, were very special. We drove up to Wentworth Falls, our OzExperience driver full of enthusiasm and especially merry, no doubt because we had no idea we were about to walk for miles. The path weaved through forests and under limestone rock overhangs and suddenly opened out onto the edge of an enormous escarpment, eucalyptus forest masking the ground hundreds of metres directly below.
Following the colonisation of Australia in 1788, settlement remained confined to the Sydney Harbour region for many years, for nobody could pass the Blue Mountains to the rich pastures beyond. Many attempts were made to cross them, but all followed the rivers and all failed. In 1813, Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth succeeded, by following a ridge at the advice of Aboriginal dwellers. I have read some of Blaxland's diaries, and since he wrote about his adventures in the third person, I feel obliged to do the same.
Mr Simon Bishop, in the company of Miss Jeannette Shipman, Mr Jimmy-the-Driver, Miss Lisa Unknown-Surname, Miss Fellow-Amateur-Photographer and a horde of other tourists, pursued a sinuous path through the offending terrain, marveling at the achievements of Mr Blaxland and company. The rock faces, decorated with rainbow-strewn waterfalls and echoing to the sound of chirping cicadas, were tricky terrain, even with National Park-maintained pathways. Nonetheless, the lookouts over the enormous valley below provided beautiful views.
Our adventurers then proceeded onwards to Katoomba, a large settlement built after a trans-mountain railway provided access, initially inhabited by wealthy individuals escaping the busy Sydney settlement. Parking nearby, the group walked down the thousand Furber Steps, receiving face paints with white ochre by their guide as they passed. They collectively created an effeminate echo from a rock overhang and peered into an abandoned coal mine shaft. The leader of the group pointed out something on a log, at which the entire group peered upon passing. Mr Simon Bishop, being at the back, had not heard the explanation of the interesting item, but endeavoured to appear fascinated and knowledgeable nonetheless.
From the Furber Steps could be seen the Three Sisters, three rocky peaks said to have been three sisters turned to stone by a witch doctor to protect them from a menacing beast. Sadly the witch doctor turned himself into a lyre bird for protection, but in doing so dropped his magic bone, and is to this day unable to turn the sisters back into flesh. They make a fascinating view, one seen on every brochure for the Blue Mountains, and from Echo Point (where our adventurers next ventured) the nearest could be touched.
To get there, a train was caught. This scenic train was built for the mining industry and now scares tourists and bushwalkers alike. At a maximum gradient of 52 degrees, it is the steepest train in the world. Mr Simon Bishop held on for his dear little life.
All in all the Blue Mountains were wonderful and I had a very enjoyable day. Sadly once again it could only be a single day trip and thus I may have missed out on the full experience. I am beginning to wonder if, had I stayed at Cape Tribulation or the Blue Mountains for longer, I would have enjoyed them much more. No matter, they were both beautiful and I should be thankful I was there at all.
Next stop, the Opera House.