Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A cripple takes a short trip to Queensland

A little while ago I had many things on my mind. It was a hot morning; I was wearing a pair of loose floppy pants. If I just make a dash for it, I thought, I’ll speed things up marvellously. Across the carpark, towards the stairs to the newsagent -  I tripped over my pants and fell knee-first into the edge of the step.


And I have had a very slow time of it instead, as my knee heals.

Injured leg propped up
my mind
does the running


But somehow or other, I managed to get myself to far north Queensland last week, to Townsville. It was hot and muggy - it’s the wet season there. We went to the beach. The sea in which I swam was very warm, and the net kept the sharks and stingers out, so that they could do their own thing while I did mine. Then I found a superb pool in which to swim - the Rockpool (below) which is at the end of the Strand in Townsville. Magnetic island is just off the coast, and sea eagles were flying overhead, sunset, free entry, salt water - my idea of heaven.

We drove to Cairns, where we sampled another free pool, called the Lagoon. Thank you, lethal jellyfish who inhabit the waters of far north Queensland. Without you, these pools would not have been built. As the evening drew in, bats flew overhead and I floated weightless and unencumbered around in the clean salt water. I could look out at the bay off Cairns, while waving my bad leg around gently. We were a very muticultural swimming squad in that pool -swimmers from everywhere.

It was a very short trip, from the dry tropics to the wet tropics, and back again.

Long hot drive -
the fruit stall woman
offers me a plum


 We passed through the zone which had been in the eye of Cyclone Yasi two years ago, and been flattened. The bananas had sprung back,  the cafe at Cardwell where we took refreshments rebuilt, Tully bustled.

But eventually after all this excitement, I had to go home.

"Goodbye" -
in the Disabled zone
her soft cheek   

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Technical issues on Youtube & latest haiku

Sorry folks if you tried to access "Ode to a Miner" on Youtube. My technical consultant ( me) ought to be fired. That's harsh - retraining, some kind of course?
It's now up and available, same address:


Ben Bullen State Forest walk with Yuri

photos - thanks to Peter Cai

I walked with Yuri Bolotin and a group of people recently, near the Gardens of Stone  National Park, out past Lithgow. This is stunning and unique country.

Swordgrass butterflies
orange-banded tenants
of a coalmine lease

Unfortunately a company called Coalpac wants to  dig it all up for the coal that lies underneath. They already have two small portions of mining lease, far apart, and everything that lies between them is to be open-cut mined.

A treecreeper
in the overburden
sings of trees

Eagles' nests - delicate grasses - spiders - all kinds of fantastic rock formations - aboriginal shelters - pagodas - wallabies - all of this is lumped together in the company's term 'overburden'.

Peter Cai

On the radio yesterday I heard a man talking about 'legacy' mines. This is what is left over after we've made use of the earth. Australia has 50,000 of them, he said. The word 'legacy' reminds me of what is left after a noble struggle,  as designated by the War Widows' organisation Legacy. They sell poppies for Remembrance Day. Or something of use to the next generation, left by those who've passed on. But in this case we have 50,000 ugly useless holes in the ground.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


I don't perform haiku generally, my experience is that the context has to be quite intimate for it to work. But I do like to try out other forms in front of an audience. I wrote a poem last year called "Ode to a Miner" and presented it to an audience last April at the Friend in Hand pub in Glebe, they host poetry readings  - "Word in Hand".

  If you go to Youtube and look for my site, which is called josefarolitripoli1, you'll find a video clip of it there.

Try this link:

 There's also an earlier performance by Josefa Rolitripoli, who was telling the story of the Wollongong development saga.

from "Walking the Blue: a haibun"


I have been making a haiku journey through Gundungurra country, exploring its past  and present, and writing of my walks  in the “haibun” style of great master Basho, the seventeenth-century Japanese poet and walker. These walks were sparked off by a comment made by Jim Smith, when he led a group of walkers down behind the Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath in Autumn 2000. He said that in the Megalong valley, the Gundungurra had preferred the mining village of Nellie’s Glen to the reserve.

Seeking …

I wanted to find the site of the village in the Megalong valley which had formed around mining for shale about 1895. This rock is crushed and produces a kind of kerosene-like oil. But should I walk by myself? I asked the I Ching. It came up with Limitations. It said “In nature there are fixed limits for summer and winter, day and night, and these give the year its meaning. …Unlimited possibilities are not suited to woman; if they existed, her life would only dissolve in the boundless. To become strong, a woman’s life needs the limitations ordained by duty and voluntarily accepted.”After all, Basho had his walking companion on his “Narrow Road to the Deep North” – Sora, his devoted disciple. Though Basho was nearing the end of his life. I am in the middle of mine.
Peter is an old friend – we’ve known each other for about twenty years.We set off to Nellies Glen via the Six Foot Track on a beautiful  winter’s day. We left the ridge-top and began the steep  descent between two bluffs - dripping mosses, shadowy dark damp places. Would this also have been a route that the Gundungurra would have used to negotiate the cliffs, another “black’s ladder” like the passage at Medlow Bath?
I told Peter,”This would have been one of the main routes in and out of the valley for the miners.  There was no road into the Megalong valley from this end until about 1900. Then they made a track wide enough to carry tourists in a horse and buggy to Jenolan Caves. Before the road, they trudged up and down this track.”
The miners who worked for JB North went on strike in 1887 over pay and again two years later. He would not allow them to unionise.
We looked at the rock face as we went down, which contained  some occasional dark pieces of coal. Peter identified a pale crumbly rock as shale.
“Pressure produces this – trees and plants crushed together, “he said.
I thought about how pressure can make or break people – it depends on how much pressure over how long, and the particular personality that is being acted upon. We’d been talking as we went down about people we knew, their fortunes up or down, jobs,  changes in our group and romances.

The dreams I had
of you and me this summer 
a damp lump of coal

Halfway down we stopped for lunch. It was a picnic on a fallen log, looking through the trees at tall bluffs and crags. I was thinking about the death of certain illusions we’d all had about one another.
We kept going down into the glen, named after JB North’s daughter. We were still surrounded by cliffs on several sides, vertical and remote like the gorges in Chinese paintings and poetry – the silence broken only by the creek. The lush cleft opened into the beginnings of the Megalong valley, and the vegetation changed. As we rounded a corner, the first wattle to bloom in winter lit up the way with its colour.

Sunshine wattle
splashing me

The track widened into a four-wheel drive road. I looked around for signs of human habitation but there were none. The habitations of termites, vast (to them) complexes of orange mud and termite spittle reared from the ground, or leaned cosily against the bast of a tree. Since I could not see anything, I began to tell Peter what I knew about the Gundungurra at this stage of their history:
“Very little was ever recorded about the Aborigines- I suppose the view at the time was that they would die out - and there was very little recorded about the miners either.But there was a piece in the local paper at one time about a Gundungurra called  Billy Lynch, who lived further down the track – he’d decided he wanted to open a deli in Katoomba or the Crushers as it was called, and he wanted to do “work experience”. His great grand-daughter Aunty Dawn Colless has since told me that he did in fact  open a tea and coffee stall somewhere along the Six Foot track.
 We sat near each other in the sun and wrote “a stream of haiku”.  Peter wrote a few lines about ‘tangled trunks’. This inspired me to write:

Tangled trunks
he’s rough she’s smooth
a slight squeaking

 It began to grow late. Time was running against us.  But there’s something about Peter that doesn’t want to accept limitations.
“ So often I’d just like to throw my watch away, “he said as we walked back.
A magnificent eagle landed on a branch near us, resting from the hunt. His neck feathers hung heavy like gold ornaments, the leg feathers like breeches – his soaring easy flight away, riding the billows of air, hunting again, obeying the imperative to keep himself alive.
So the day turned out to be more about my own history, rather than about a short-lived mining settlement in which white and black lived together. It was a long way up and out. 

Chiselled out
the length of a foot
this worn sandstone step

…….Finding Nellie’s Glen

 My friend Don has been exploring the Mountains on foot for years now, mainly for the pleasure of it. He knew where the ruins of the mining village were, and agreed to guide me there. We were going down into the Megalong via a different route.
We dropped off the escarpment near Narrowneck, and plunged steeply down through an eroded path. We were headed firstly to the Devil’s Hole, a feared place in Gundungurra mythology. It is an abode of the Rock Dog[i] , who loves to eat human flesh and is as big as a calf. This track was one of the ways out of Nellie’s Glen for  aborigines (during the day only) and miners, who may have wanted to go up to the Crushers.
We approached a narrow cleft in the rocks, through which we must pass. The rocks tumbled down through it, and overhead the walls loomed together, blotting out the sky. Water trickled through, and bounced from the sides. The gloom seemed to make  greener the many ferns on either side, whose spines bent down towards the damp. Further down the steep scramble, (which was just like the “black’s ladder” we had negotiated a year ago at Medlow Bath) was an enormous sandstone boulder jammed between the tops of the walls. It was  poised as though possibly waiting for the correct moment, or the right victim, to come crashing down.
A descent into the dark of the past is often a very uncomfortable thing. Uncomfortable but necessary. In this case the discomforts were physical. My toes were jamming into the ends of my boots, my body did not feel warmed up to the jarring and crashing. We stopped and sat in a cave, drinking tea and listening to the plink! and splat! and trickle of water. 
Dark and dripping
in the sandstone belly –
bread smeared with honey

There is another story told by Jim Smith[ii]  about this place. It concerns the Gobung, which is a huge bird that flies low, and can change into a man or dog at will. A girl of Gundungurra descent, a member of Billy Lynch’s family, was making her way from the Megalong valley up to Katoomba via this track. She looked back and noticed that there was a man following her. She thought he might be a Gobung and hurried on. But the more she hurried the more he seemed to be gaining on her. She put all her effort into speed, and still he was getting closer. She reached the top and went as fast as she could to her friend’s house, banging on the door and practically falling inside when it opened. Her friend looked out, and saw a man arriving at her gate, but as she looked, he changed into a large black bird, and flew off.
Beyond the Devil’s Hole was daylight and the sound of voices. Somewhere on Narrowneck there were climbers dangling from ropes. We turned west, and then there was a clear view down into the Megalong and beyond.

Gundungurra country
rippling hills and valleys
is it unsung?

Along the path here and there were fungi. There were tiny toffee-coloured fungi scattered around the base of a tree,  small brown ones on a mossy rock. Later on in the valley we found a fungus that looks like coral, but is soft and wet to the touch.There were large creamy fungi with acne, which had been caused either by slugs or the action of rain. We saw a cluster of elegant dark red fungi tottering on stiletto stalks, no doubt as dangerous as six pina coladas followed by a bottle of merlot.
The vegetation changed to an open forest of angophora. We looked back , and could finally see the shiny water pipe ascending Narrowneck , bringing water to Katoomba from the Fish river at Oberon. Don told me that there was also an old tunnel underneath , a leftover of the coal and shale mines. Above us were the magnificent orange cliffs, and one outcrop in particular had been named for its shape.

Snout in the air
Boar’s Head
sniffing clouds

.We stopped for lunch on a little promontory, looking toward the site of the mine. But who would know that there had been a mine there? “If we wanted to find the old mine workings we’d be better to have come down Redledge Pass,” said Don. To the eye and the mind that does not know the history of the landscape, there is just bush, ridges, cliffs. And some human interventions sink fast with few traces.  But in the distance on the rock face, we could see the signs of a wedgetail eagles nest, a splash of white droppings down the orange cliff. Animals too leave their traces and sites.
Back on the track, there it was, the scat that is becoming so familiar.

On top of a rock
neat squares crumbling
greenish wombat poo

We found ourselves on the Six Foot track and it seemed to me that once again I was not going to find what I was looking for. But here was a paddock, with horses, and so we strolled over to pat them and sniff their horsey smell and feel their velvety nostrils. But this  paddock, why was  it so beautifully maintained and spacious? It was dotted about with scribbly gums and there were a few piles of stones over near some kind of shelter shed. And then we saw  a sign telling us that this was the site of the shortlived mining village,(which lasted for about twelve years, 1893 to 1905) in which there had been forty families, a hotel, a public hall, a bakery, a butcher’s shop. The village had been sited at the junction of two creeks, on a level piece of ground in the valley, with the cliffs on three sides. When the mine closed the village was dismantled and the materials taken to Katoomba for re-use.
All that is left are some piles of stones, and depressions in the ground where there had been foundations. The grass was closely cropped and in places there was a strong smell of horse. In one place there had been quite a large rectangular building, which would have faced towards Boar’s Head.

Would the drinkers
have leaned on railings here
admired the cliffs?

Gundungurra from the Lithgow area had come over to live here when their lives had become thoroughly untenable on what had previously been their territiories. Wywandy and Therabulat were the clan names of these two subgroups. Further down in Gundungurra territory a few stragglers remained on the scrappy reserves in the Burragorang valley. But by this stage, Gundungurra had banded together for their common survival. Billy Lynch, who was the leader of the Therabulat mob, lived with his extended family further down the Six Foot track.

An old post
piled about with stones-

And from this place, the Gundungurra moved up to Katoomba, to live in what was called the Gully.
We set off up the Six Foot track towards Nellie’s Glen into the darkening afternoon. It was going to be dark by the time we got out. We plodded through the Bonnie Doon area at dusk, putting one foot after another, the sunset out past Oberon and the western range sinking from apricot to  copper,  thence to rust and the black of night.

Diana Levy

[i] as described by Jim Smith in “Aboriginal Legends of the Blue Mountains p.12 1992    ISBN 0-959-4816-2-1

[ii] ibid. p.12

Published in 
 “Tomorrow we go to Megalong Valley – a collection of short stories” 2003.