By Ellen Hill Photos: David Hill
(Continuing the story of the Hawkesbury River, we re-publish here an article that featured in the April-May 2009 edition of Blue Mountains Life magazine.)
THE last tendrils of fog swirl up to meet the golden rays of a weak winter sun, mirrored on the still surface of the water.
The occasional jumping fish makes a quiet “blip’’ noise. Birds twitter in the trees and skate across the gentle ripples before settling on the surface to float aimlessly with the tide.
This is Ted Books’ favourite time of day to cruise the Windsor section of the Hawkesbury River in his boat, the Montrose. He’s alone.
By mid-morning, the water twinkles in the glaring sun, the river a silver thread pulsing through colonial Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s kingdom with the monotony of routine.
Given the majestic Hawkesbury River has supported his family for five generations, you understand Books’ attachment to it.
As the boat gently bobs along the water, Books’ shares his memories and tells the history of the stretch he knows best _ the strip of water his famous colonial ancestors eventually learned they could not tame.
Ted Books is known for expressing a strong opinion and enjoying a chat. But he’s not known for being an emotional man. A former wrestler and retired excavator, he tends to say his bit in his no-nonsense way and leave it at that.
But aboard the Montrose, I not only see a different side to Books, but the river I have known most of my life.
“Sydney’s salad bowl’’, “Sydney’s playground’’, the Hawkesbury River has supported Australia’s largest city since European settlement.
For the handful of free settlers desperately trying to survive with virtually nothing in a foreign environment, the river was their transport, it watered them, their crops and animals.
In colonial times while chain gangs of convicts were still cutting roads by hand, the Hawkesbury River was the natural highway to Sydney Cove.
In fact, ships including the 101 ton Governor Bligh were actually built on the river. Two of Books’ ancestors _ Captain John Grono and Alexander Books _ had a shipyard at Pitt Town on Canning Reach, the remains of which can still be seen at low tide.
Among the 200 cargo vessel movements on the river each year were tall ships which took three inward tides (about 20 hours) to travel from Brooklyn at the mouth of the river to Windsor.
The 100 ton SS Erringhi was the last of the big ships to trade on the Hawkebsury River between the 1920s and 1937.
“I used to dive off the Windsor bridge and there used to be 30ft of water there,’’ Books says. “We used to dive off the bridge and go with the tide to Pitt Town, about 4 miles by water.’’
The Hawkesbury Nepean River is part of the vast 22,000 sq km Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment, stretching from Goulburn to Lithgow, Moonee Moonee, Pittwater and Singleton.
Its tributaries and creeks begin in the higher land of the Great Dividing Range, others in the highlands to the west of Wollongong and south of Sydney.
The Nepean begins in the Camden Valley near Moss Vale and becomes the Hawkesbury at Yarramundi after being joined by the Wollondilly River, on which Warragamba Dam, Sydney’s main drinking glass, was built in the 1950s.
From the 1870s, a series of dams was built on the Upper Nepean, south east of Camden and its tributaries the Cataract, Cordeaux and Avon Rivers.
The mighty Hawkesbury Nepean River ends at Juno Point at Broken Bay.
“Sydney would never survive without this river,’’ Books says. “This river is the playground for the city.’’
Every now and again Books stops the boat, points out a landmark, pulls out yet another packet of black and white photographs and tells the story of the place.
“See that place up there? That’s where Thomas Arndell (the first surgeon to the colony, he came out with the First Fleet) settled when he came to the Hawkesbury. His homestead’s still there.
“They built next to the river because it was clean water and there was fish.’’
The oldest church building in Australia is at Ebenezer, built from stone in 1803 by a small band of free settlers. The church used to run a punt across the river to transport people to church.
The water is deepest _ about 90ft _ nearby, opposite Tizzana Winery at Sackville Reach Wharf.
Glancing at the river banks from the boat, it seems not much has changed apart from technology. Irrigation pumps spew water across enormous paddocks of turf, veggies and flowers. The staccato bark of a dog sends drifting ducks into a flurry. The sun’s rays highlight the fur on a lowing cow staring with lazy interest at the boat. The ghostly figures of farm workers can be seen inside a row of greenhouses.
But then Books’ tale of how his dad and his mates used to catch more fish than they could eat up this stretch of the river is broken by the roar of a power boat towing a skier.
Books pauses and waits for silence to return before pointing out another historic property on the hill.
He revs up the engine and the Montrose slips on.
The river remains a great source of seafood: flathead, bream, mullet, hairtail, mullaway, whiting, flounder, tailor, snapper, trevally, blackfish, leatherjackets, kingfish, John Dory, shellfish and prawns.
It is also home to much bird life: shags, cormorants, kingfishers, ducks, sea eagles, pelicans and terns.
And down in the salt water near the river mouth at Brooklyn there are sharks, sea snakes, jellyfish, stingrays and fortescues.
Today, the Hawkebsury, Penrith and Baulkham Hills region along the river generates a whopping $1.86 billion worth of produce (not including the equine industry). Sydney chows through 90 per cent of it.
The vast quantities of fruit, vegetables and turf grown in the Hawkesbury have fed the entire Sydney population and beyond for generations.
The river is also a major tourist attraction used extensively for recreation (the annual Bridge to Bridge boat race attracts thousands). Tourism and recreation reap $2 billion a year, thanks to the river.
Three car ferries and several bridges provide crossings over the waterway.
Crowds of day trippers are drawn to popular swimming, fishing, water skiing and boating spots each weekend.
A startling white glare suddenly burns the retinas of our eyes. Deck chairs blindingly white in the sun, emerald green manicured lawns and landscaped yards, expensive boat sheds. The property listings at the local real estate agents would reveal that river frontages are also becoming private paradises for the wealthy.
But later, in the golden after glow of sunset, the birds and fish replay their evening ritual as the mist settles like a gossamer blanket over the water surface, melding with the gloom of dusk. The river continues to beat its slow rhythm of life just as it always has.
By Ellen Hill, Blue Mountains Attractions Group
Golden hues, crisp mountain air and exhilarating activities mark the onset of autumn, one of the most visually spectacular seasons for the premier attractions of the Greater Blue Mountains.
Blue Mountains Attractions Group president Dave Robertson said: “Every season here has its charm but autumn is one of the most beautiful.
“The weather is ideal for physical pursuits such as bushwalking, the air is fresh and then there are the colours – from exotic trees and autumn blooms to brilliant sunsets and the soft veil of mists that create a magical dreamy landscape, the Greater Blue Mountains in autumn is glorious.’’
Visitors and locals can surround themselves with some of the most exquisite floral displays at Everglades Historic House & Gardens at Leura.
If arriving in the Blue Mountains by train or if you just want to leave the hassle of driving at your accommodation, hop on a red double-deckerBlue Mountains Explorer Bus or vintage-style Trolley Tours at any of stops around the Katoomba and Leura circuit and hop off at Everglades.
For a different perspective, continue your car drive up the Great Western Hwy, cut across the Darling Causeway at Mt Victoria and turn right down the Bells Line of Rd to The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden at Mt Tomah. From there it is easy to continue through the Hawkesbury on to Sydney or head back to the Central West through Lithgow.
Also on the hop-on/hop-off bus circuit, catch a bird’s eye view of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area from one of the thrilling rides at Scenic World and soak up authentic indigenous culture atWaradah Aboriginal Centre.
Experience the outdoors indoors at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre interactive World Heritage Exhibition at Katoomba, visit the home of one of Australia’s most loved characters, the Magic Pudding, at Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum at Faulconbridge and warm up with a delicious Devonshire tea or traditional high tea at Bygone Beautys while browsing the vast number of items on sale.
Grab a bear hug at Australia’s largest and most awarded specialty teddy bear store, Nana’s Teddies & Toys at Blaxland and visit some real life furry friends at Featherdale Wildlife Park at Doonside on your way to or from the Blue Mountains.
The fun and fascination continues over the Great Divide.
Stop in at Talisman Gallery at the Hartley Historic Site and watch metal artist Ron Fitzpatrick create a masterpiece before exploring the underground at the world’s most magnificent cave system, Jenolan Caves (Blue Mountains Trolley Tours runs a daily coach service there and back).
Mr Robertson encouraged visitors to “stay a night or three’’ to fully experience the wonders of the Greater Blue Mountains region.
“Remember too that we reward loyal local tourism ambassadors through our Residents Rewards program simply for showing family and friends around the region and visiting our attractions businesses,’’ he said.
Go to bluemountainsattractions.com.au for more information about what to see and do in the Greater Blue Mountains region, special offers and news and the Residents Rewards program.
* Blue Mountains Attractions Group is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media
By Ellen Hill, Deep Hill Media
Burnt-out, cranky and desperate for solace to rediscover what it is to be a family, we packed the hatchback to the ceiling with just enough breathing room for Son & Heir and aimed for the coast.
We were so eager to leave behind the constant bbbbrrring of the phone, ping of the tablet and cha-ching of the hard-earned cash leaving the house that we set off in the dark at 3.30am.
Our pre-dawn escape turned out to be a fantastic inadvertent decision: with gloriously traffic-free freeways, we had covered a chunk of distance by sunrise.
When we pulled into Port Macquarie on the mid-North Coast of NSW for breakfast. a few bleary-eyed tradies and annoyingly beautiful bodies smugly jogging along the waterfront were the only human encounters while we chowed into our bi-annual takeaway food brekky.
Just as we were beginning to flag, the hatchback was bouncing along a worn dirt track like an overburdened black beetle into Illaroo Beach on the far north coast of NSW between Coffs Harbour and Grafton.
We drove through the gates, reveling in familiar sights, feeling the oppression of worldly cares lifting from our hearts – until our gaze lifted, the rose tints slipped away and we were rudely confronted with reality.
Rows of overlapping tent lines, 4WDs littering the trackside, naked children trudging towards the beach and their undies flapping from makeshift clothes lines lay before us and the whiff of 50 barbecues sizzling in the summer sun hung in the salt-laden air.
After 10 hours on the road it was too late to turn back. At that stage we would be hard pressed to find an alternative campsite either.
We ended up pitching camp in a perfect spot on a little rise at the back of the campground next to the bush with plenty of room for a large tent and a fire. By the time the hammock and clothes line were strung in front it had become our private den, where we stayed for two weeks of blissful unwashed solitude.
Our contentment to live alongside the masses in dishevelled harmony got us thinking: Why do millions of Aussies abandon their comfortable air-conditioned suburban palaces in search of a seaside Nirvana they know in reality is a tortuous day-long journey in the stinking heat with a 4WD crammed with squabbling offspring, blow-up beach toys and bikes precariously tied with odd bits of rope to the back obscuring the rear view?
Renting a small patch of ground under the stars for $350 a fortnight means you can afford to take a cruise up the mighty Clarence River on the M.V. Mirigini from the boat ramp at Iluka because you haven’t had to shell out $350 a night for a hotel room.
It means you can buy the kids an ice cream after a day at the beach because you’ve bought healthy food from the supermarket and cooked it yourself on the barbie rather than splurged on takeaway food or expensive restaurant fare.
While the face of the Aussie beachside camping trip has changed, the spirit certainly hasn’t:. Thousands of Aussies join the mass migration up the east coast of the continent in search of surf, sand and sun, a simpler life, a breath of fresh air and re-connection with human beings they are supposed to share a life with.
From the swimming sessions, meal times, ducking into town and strolls at dusk, the campsite moves as one.
When one kid hears “Ja-ack! Tea’s ready! Tell Chloe to tell `Arry to tell Teagan tea’s ready!”, every kid knows it refers to them and, with a grumble and towels dragging on the ground, they trudge barefoot through squeaky sand still baking hot from the 40 degree sun and head for the family trough.
With vast skies above and heaving water gobbling up the heavenly bodies in front, there is space enough for all at a beachfront campsite.
Even when the cowboys of the sand in their new 4WDs tear down the beach just out of reach of the waves, even when generations of campers have bagged the ultimate spot since 1952 and even when the grey nomads park a lumping great SUV with its whopping great aerial and pull-out veranda in the middle of the ground, there is space for all.
Like a flock of cantankerous cockatoos in a tree, the family groups squawk and squabble over the food. They hustle and huddle at the showers and grizzle and groan over chores. But they do it together.
When myriad electronic brain drainers and conversation killers every family is infected with eventually expire, there is no alternative but to talk to each other, play games, physically exercise, explore the surrounds and, wait for it …do absolutely nothing but sit around the campfire.
Camping is a fantastic leveller. Yeah, the neighbours might have a new Range Rover to your ancient hatchback, they might have a you-beaut camp dunny and a portable oven but you all look the same in the water. Everyone smells putrid after a few days. Everybody blisters like an overcooked fried egg white in the sun.
It’s cliche for sure, but nothing beats a dreamy sunset walk along the beach with your love while the kids you made together skip and squeal in the shallows in the distance.
Nothing matters when kids slave away all day in the blistering sun on a sandcastle and moat or digging a hole to the centre of the earth, only for the sea to wash away their progress in one spiteful wave on the next inbound tide. The ritual is repeated on the morrow over and over again and committed to the memory bank to be savoured when the complications of adulthood cloud a difficult day.
Stone the crows! It’s the Aussie way `init? You’re just not `Strayan if you haven’t taken the family camping, had a line of undies and cozzies strung between the guy ropes and eaten a sandy sanga in the salty haze of surf.
So grab a beer, douse yourself in mozzie spray and join Gazza, Bazza and Dazza at the barbie while Shaz, Maz and Kaz giggle and natter over glasses of bubbly and barefoot kids beg the dog to give up the cricket ball in the last rays of a tourism brochure kind of day and embrace the great outdoors.
Here’s some tips on how to escape the rat race with the rat race:
– Change your travel time or route to avoid becoming entangled in the mass migration
– However, be prepared for traffic and factor travel times accordingly, scheduling meal and rest breaks to coincide with major bottlenecks such as Macksville on the north coast of NSW to avoid frustration and stress
– Pare back the luggage, especially clothes
– Buy your own healthy food and engage the whole family in preparing meals
– Embrace the crowds as an opportunity to meet new friends
– Focus on picturesque, quirky and unique sights rather than hysterical billboards counting down the kilometres to the next fast food restaurant
* Deep Hill Media stayed at Illaroo Campground in Yuraygir National Park at their own expense.
Words by Ellen Hill Photos by David Hill
The world-famous Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath hosted another historic milestone when 360 costumed dancers high kicked their way into history to smash their own Guinness World Record at the launch of the annual Roaring 20s Festival and all that Jazz on Saturday, February 7.
In the flamboyant yet elegant style of legendary former Hydro owner Mark Foy, the Blue Mountains Charleston Challenge and the following Majestic Long Lunch attracted hundreds of chicly-draped visitors.
Hydro Majestic co-owner Huong Nguyen said: “We at the Escarpment Group were very proud of the refurbishment of the buildings and were confident they were true to the Mark Foy style.
“But no amount of beautiful décor and furnishings can bring a building to life – we needed the laughter and chatter, the movement and essence of people in the hallways and rooms.
“We have had several successful events at the Hydro since October but the Charleston Challenge and the Majestic Long Lunch was the real clincher – the Hydro is back to its rightful place as a centre of fun and activity in the Blue Mountains.
“Congratulations to all the dancers who helped keep the Blue Mountains on the international stage.’’
The day began with the Blue Mountains Charleston Challenge on the lawns when 360 dancers aged from 3 to 92 and dressed in 1920s-style costume broke the Guinness World Record for the greatest number of costumed people to dance the Charleston. The event set the record with 276 in 2013, 319 in 2014 and aimed for 350 in 2015.
After the dance challenge, 250 guests indulged in decadent local fare at the Majestic Long Lunch in the Majestic Ballroom.
In Great Gatsby style, they spent a long afternoon grazing on gastronomical delights, promenading on the lawns and dancing to the 1920s-style band.
Hydro Majestic head chef Maté Herceg and other Blue Mountains food heroes prepared a feast from regional food.
An antipasto platter from award-winning Princess Pantry featured meats and locally grown vegetables. Maté showcased his culinary skills with a memorable main course, followed by delicious cheeses from the Carrington Cellars & Deli. The finale of the feast was a wickedly indulgent dessert from Josophan’s Fine Chocolates.
Guests included Australian food and wine identity and Majestic Long Lunch ambassador Lyndey Milan OAM, Roaring 20s Festival ambassador Claudia Chan Shaw, festival patron Charlotte Smith and a host of food and wine writers.
“To have interest from specialist food and wine industry media and a sell-out event is testament to the quality of food produce in this region,’’ Ms Nguyen said.
“That is why we are so confident about the success of the new providores pavilion at the Hydro Majestic, where visitors can buy their own taste of the Greater Blue Mountains food basket.’’
Blue Mountains Lithgow & Oberon Tourism’s Roaring 20s Festival continues throughout the Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon region until February 22. (Details: www.roaring20s.com.au)
The Roaring 20s Festival events were part of a continuing program of events and entertainment at the Hydro Majestic Hotel including the weekly Live at the Hydro gigs featuring high calibre acts such as Dragon, Adam Cohen, Diesel, Wendy Matthews and Christine Anu.
Go to www.hydromajestic.com.au for more information about events, dining and accommodation at the Hydro Majestic Hotel.
Blue Mountains Attractions Group (BMAG) members will recognise Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon residents as valuable tourism ambassadors through a new rewards program.
BMAG president Dave Robertson said tourism was one of the largest industries in the Greater Blue Mountains region, attracting more than 3 million visitors a year and injection about $489 million into the economy.
“Of the three million that visit, we know that 40 per cent of them are friends and relatives of residents of the area.
“That means that the people living in the area are frequently taking their friends and relatives to many of the attractions available in the region. They also direct them to accommodation houses.
“Most tourism operators would be aware that many of these tourism ambassadors are repeat visitors to their business and therefore should be rewarded for their actions.’’
Blue Mountains Lithgow and Oberon Tourism chairman Randall Walker said he supported the program: “This is a worthwhile program that duly rewards our loyal resident community which supports tourism in so many ways every day.’’
The BMAG rewards program will be available from September 24 to all residents of the Blue Mountains, Oberon and Lithgow council areas (cardholders must be aged at least 17).
To obtain a Greater Blue Mountains Rewards card and information package instantly, residents simply visit Glenbrook, Echo Point, Lithgow or Oberon Visitor Information Centre or one of the participating tourist attractions with photographic proof of identity (driver’s license, passport).
Once they have their card, they are ready to receive their well-deserved discounts and offers from the many quality tourist attractions listed.
The card will initially only offer discounts from BMAG members but the program will eventually be made available to all Blue Mountains Lithgow and Oberon Tourism members.
Blue Mountains Attractions Group currently includes Blue Mountains Explorer Bus, Blue Mountains Trolley Tours, Bygone Beautys, Everglades Historic House and Gardens, Featherdale Wildlife Park, Jenolan Caves, Koomurri Aboriginal Centre, The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mt Tomah, Nana’s Teddies & Toys, Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum, Scenic World Blue Mountains, Selwood Science & Puzzles, Talisman Gallery, The Brook Art & Craft Co-op and Werriberri Trail Rides.
Addresses and offers can be found at www.bluemountainsattractions.com.au.
The project was funded by Destination NSW, the tourism department for the State Government.