The Localist

A tent in the mountains

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Snapping up a beachside camping spot within a 3 hour drive from Sydney CBD during a long weekend can be one of life’s little challenges if you are a camping-loving Sydneysider. Organised Sydneysiders – no problem. If you book the site 6 months in advance, you’re laughing.

The last time my friends and I went camping, the idea only occurred to us about 2 weeks before an upcoming long weekend. Rookie error. It was the middle of summer, and we were dreaming of falling asleep to the sound of waves gently caressing the shore. Instead, we ended up where there was a vacancy: The Euroka camping grounds in the Blue Mountains, far, far from the ocean….

Although, the Euroka camping grounds are only about an hour’s drive from the centre of Sydney, we felt miles away from the daily grind. We didn’t miss the beach; we were happy.

We soon discovered that the Red Hand Caves Bushwalking Track, which leads to one of the oldest examples of Aboriginal rock art in the Blue Mountains, is accessible from the grounds. Dressed particularly inappropriately in a mishmash of yoga gear, construction site boots and board shorts, we made our way there. The layered collage of the hand prints in the shallow cave, made from chewing a mix of ochre and water and then blowing it over a hand rested against the wall, tells a story that is both ancient and pulsating with life. We felt we were the privileged guests of the Darug and Gundungurra Nations of the Blue Mountains at that moment.

Swept away by the idea of seeing the caves, we didn’t realise that it would take us nearly two hours to get there.  We were barely equipped for a one-hour bushwalk, and our enthusiasm dwindled as we contemplated the long journey back to camp.

Walking back along the narrow track, with only the dregs of 2 small water bottles to share amongst four dehydrated bodies, we were suddenly stopped in our tracks by an unusual site.

It is normal to see kangaroos hop by in the distance in the Australian bush, making their way through the scrub, ignoring those designated bush-walking tracks that we humans gratefully meander along. We share a space but we move in different ways; we rely on paths well-trodden by our own kind, do they rely on their own?

Rarely have I seen a kangaroo take advantage of a man-made bushwalking track. I’ve seen them brazenly, sometimes nervously, hop across bushwalking tracks. I’ve seen them stoop to gnaw on something edible on the edge of a clearing, before shooting off into the bush, paying no attention to the paths cleared for humans.

On this day, we were taken by surprise. We came across a kangaroo and her joey, standing their ground about 15 metres away, facing us, fellow users of the bushwalking track.

Mesmerised, we hesitated. Our mumbled, whispered reactions were barely audible over the busy activity of the bush. We stood, frozen, knowing that it would be devastating to disrupt this moment or to cause any unnecessary friction between the kangaroos and us.

Slowly, instinctively, my three friends and I stepped to the side of the path, signaling that it was safe for the kangaroo and her joey to go ahead and pass us by. We gave them right of way. The mother, as if acknowledging our gesture, cautiously took her first hop forward along the track, closely followed by her joey. Both the mother and joey gathered speed with each bound and were soon hurtling towards us. Within a few seconds, they were passing us by, the strength of their legs as they pound the dirt leaving us breathless.

The moment passed as quickly as it had arrived, and only once it had passed did we remember to breathe.

MEET THE LOCAL: SALLY LANGFORD

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