This weekend (April 13-14) marks the start of celebrations of the bicentenary of the crossing of the Blue Mountains. Those of you who went to school in NSW will no doubt have learnt about this pivotal journey in Australia’s colonial settlement.
Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and William Wentworth and a party of four took 21 days to make the 50-mile (80km) journey across the rugged Blue Mountains. They set off from Blaxland’s farm at South Creek near St Marys on May 11 and reached the point now called Mt Blaxland on May 31. The next day, June 1, they headed home following the trail they had blazed on the way up.
As well as the three celebrated explorers, there were three convict servants and a person described as a “guide and kangaroo hunter” James Burns (or Burne), along with four horses. One of the convicts has recently been identified as Samuel Fairs (for more on Samuel Fairs see this link).
They carried provisions for the journey, which were nearly depleted by the time they returned. Their clothes and boots too were almost worn out.
The bicentenary of the crossing is being celebrated in many ways over the next few months including through a re-enactment of the original journey, which is being made by descendants of the original explorers, along with various performances and lectures. The Central Blue Mountains Garden Club is also launching a bicentennial everlasting daisy whose name is being found through a competition among local school kids. The native daisy has been bred and grown by fellow GardenDrum blogger and plant breeder Angus Stewart.
I am involved in a bicentennial garden lecture series, which is examining the development of gardening over the past 200 years. The series has been organised by Warren Boorman and Barrie Redshaw of the Central Blue Mountains Garden Club. Speakers are Angus Stewart, Jerry Coleby-Williams, Professor Ian Jack and Bundeluk.
For anyone wanting to find out more about the historic Blue Mountains crossing, there is plenty of good information about that original exploration. Both William Lawson and William Wentworth kept detailed diaries, which are now in the State Library of New South Wales and are available on line. Here’s a link to Wentworth’s diary, which is neatly written and filled with extravagant descriptions of the countryside and soils along with the native animals and vegetation.
Following Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth’s expedition, the route over the Blue Mountains to the fertile country beyond was opened up quickly. By November of 1813 the road was being surveyed and by May 1815 Governor Macquarie and his wife and a large party journeyed over the mountains on the new road. Along the way Macquarie named places including Springwood where they camped overnight.
Two hundred years after the historic crossing the road is still being upgraded (the completion of the upgrade was part of the bicentennial celebrations but it’s a part that’s not actually met the deadline), but the region has become well known for gardens and growing. It is one of the places to live if you want a cool climate garden as the elevation, which is over 1000m in many parts of the mountains, guarantees a cool to mild summer and a cold even snowy winter.
200 years of gardening
While 200 years has brought about a huge change in how we garden, and what we grow, some things seem to have gone full circle. Gardeners today are just as likely to be dependant on tank water, organic fertilisers and organic remedies as they were in days gone by. Many too now have flocks of hens as part of their backyard menagerie along with a thriving vegetable garden and even a small orchard.
Our 21st century gardens are very much focussed on providing a safe haven from a changing world and a place that can put food on the table. Of course a gardener from 1813 wouldn’t recognise our well-established, paved, grassy, gadget-filled gardens, but I think we’d certainly have enough in common to complain about the weather, bemoan the lack of water and swap a few cuttings.