Wiradjuri country that is, or Dabee country to be precise: Ganguddy, on the Cudgegong River, that flows west off the Great Dividing Range, not into the Pacific but into the Murray-Darling. Not far from Berowra as the Australian Raven flies – straight across the Wollemi National Park – but a fair trek in the excessively laden ancient vehicle.
Still sandstone though – the older, niftier sandstone of the Narrabeen Group, as it resurfaces at the very edge of the Sydney Basin, with the even older coal measures being mined perilously close by. Layers of ironstone make for fabulous rock formations (if slightly less way out than the famous pagodas of the nearby Gardens of Stone National Park). And of course exceedingly soggy tent groundsheets when big rain sluices off the rocks faster than even sandy soil can soak it up.
Same old sandstone geology, plenty of still water, just like the Hawkesbury estuary down our way, but the critters are different. The feathered food thief at Ganguddy isn’t a brush turkey, it’s the purple swamp hen.
The “house bird” is a cheeky superb blue wren, not a wattlebird. Rainbow lorikeets – not a one. And none of those aggressive urban generalists, the noisy minors or the magpies, either. Instead crimson rosellas – a rarity in the northern suburbs of Sydney – lurk in implausible locations like the queue for the drop dunny for instance, or the reeds by the river bank.
The ubiquitous but largely invisible bird here isn’t a koel or a channel billed cuckoo but the aptly named clamorous reed warbler. I was at times tempted to nip to the Rylstone Guns and Ammo for a small flame thrower so I could finally get that photograph, but then I reflected that a perfectly focussed snap of a tiny blackened corpse clinging in its rictus to a reed probably wasn’t in the spirit of the thing.
A fabulous place. It’s tempting, what with proximity to World Heritage listed Wollemi National Park and all, to think of it as a wilderness. But no. Its gorgeous waterways are the product of a 1920s dam built to to supply a cement works, its teeming fish the introduced gambusia affinis – the “plague minnow” – that outcompetes the locals, though it does seems to keep the mosquito population down. As a camper it’s hard to argue with that, although we didn’t see a single bat, micro, macro or meso, during our five day stay.
There’s something to be said for human intervention, as Tim Low says. In the absence of railway station eves or even a well put together shed, the welcome swallows in desperation had to resort to nesting on the natural stone outcrops. But the local water dragons and turtles seemed to relish the fetid smelling pond downstream from the dam.
A tranquil place with a violent past. A “natural” place shaped for a very long time by people in ways that you see and ways that you (or at least I) don’t know enough to notice. A familiar story, on sandstone and otherwise.