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  • Writer's pictureAllan Sander

Land of the Gundungurra

Updated: Dec 31

The narrow trail shadows the stream that helped carve out this landscape millions of years ago, a land of jagged cliff edges and protruding sandstone outcrops. High up darrambyang (eucalyptus leaves, in the Gundungurra aboriginal language) host a mixed flock of honeyeaters, thornbills, and fantail. This vast ecosystem within Blue Mountain National Park (BMNP) dates to the continent’s split from Gondwanaland and with it forming the unique eucalypt forests of Australia. We immediately begin our downhill trek off the trailhead into temperate rainforest, birdsong cuts across the ravine. Today we are on the Sir Henry Victory Track looping from Faulconbridge to Springwood, just an hour train ride from Sydney’s Central Station.

Ahead we are greeted with a series of mouse-like squeaks. The songster, a Gray fantail (Rhipidura albicaspa) nervously flits across an exposed limb, its tail feathers edged in white, fan out before it disappears into the shadows.

I hope to show Tim a Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) just when I hear,

“Hey Allan, look over there!” No worries, further down in a ravine a pair noisily scratches through the rotting vegetation for a tasty morsel. “They’re bigger than I thought!” “Yeah, they’re like our turkey but not as robust.”

Karrat (Rain) has carved out intriguing patterns among the canyon walls; pot marked with holes of every shape and size, some smooth and concave others serrated like the back of a serpent. The aboriginal Darug and Gundungurra tribes’ heritage can be found under these outcrops or hidden in caves. If we were to exit the train at Glenbrook (Eastern “Gateway to the Blue Mountains”), a delightful trail fronting the Red Hands Creek would have led us to the appropriately named Red Hands Cave. A sacred, spiritual place of the Aboriginal duwi (dreaming).

At times, contrasting shafts of light pierce the understory, enhancing some sights below while creating silhouettes above. Rustling of leaves divulges another lyrebird; it manages to remain obscure by keeping a wall of vegetation between us. Its behavior is infectious, I begin to overturn a moderate size stone to see what might be hiding underneath --

– a centipede unfurls itself and swiftly slides back into the darkness. I follow up with a rotting log but rescind my attempt as it begins to disintegrate with the slightest pressure.

An eerie wailing directs our gaze skyward, the culprits, a pair of garral (Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo - Calyptorhynchus funereus) perched high up near the cliff’s edge. With unhurried beats, like the Fellbeasts from one of Tolkien’s novels, they propel themselves into the air and fade into obscurity.

True to tribal belief the garral spirit remains: a crown of the daurdan (tree) quivers, as darrambyang (eucalyptus leaves) filter slowly into the shadows below.

An occasional downdraft sweeps into the ravine, reminding us of the warmth that lies ahead. We pass another banksia tree filled with dried up cones, waiting to be released by the heat of the next canbe (fire). I was about to explain to Tim that the seeds are a favorite of the garral when from around the bend we hear, “Morning mate!” “Morning!” We reply in unison. I proceed, “Great day for a hike, isn’t it? “Beautiful!” “About how much further to the Sassafras Gully Track?” “No worries. It’s about another fifteen minutes from here. Take a left at the junction.” Again, we answer simultaneously, “Thanks!” “Thank you!”

We take advantage of the short break to have a snack and some water.

I finish quickly and could not keep my eye away from an assemblage of decaying logs, a result of trail maintenance. “What little curiosities will there be?” I ask myself. A few darkling beetles under the first, next one, mostly annelids and nothing with the third… “Wait!” Tim shouts. “I saw something move!” I pull back the log and there it is, the tail is sleek and as long as the creature’s body: brown above, with a thick black lateral band and a brilliant orange underside. At a glance, one could easily overlook its diminutive legs and assume it were a worm rather than a lizard; it behaves similarly, too, burrowing along under the forest floor.

This fella’s title: Yellow-bellied three-toed skink, Saiphos equalis.

As you can see in the image with this specimen there is some variability with the color of its belly.

Onto the Sassafras Track we climb and exit into the back neighborhoods of Springwood. The grass-fronted lawns are beautifully landscaped with colorful floral displays. Atop a bush called a Gold Cluster (Grevillea juniperina), an Eastern Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris) gingerly probes its pointed, down-curved bill in search for a rich ‘nectar-tonic.’ Within this display the warm brown hues of this honeyeater compliment the profusion of spider-like flowers of golden-yellow.

Bright blue and black, tail cocked upright, the quizzical Superb fairywren (Malurus cyaneus) feverishly dashes from bush to bush. I am so glad Tim had a chance to see these colorful balls of feather.

If it were not for matching behavior and shape, the gray-brown female could easily be considered a different species. Our budan (bird) tally continues with a pair of Rainbow lorikeets noisily slicing across the neighborhood rooftops.

A close relative, the Crimson Rosella (Platycercus elegans), shouts out its loud colors from within a patch of wisteria.

Our last colorful encounter is with a pair of Red-browed Firefinches (Neochmia temporalis) high atop their perch, enjoying the dappled rays of light.

We steer our way onto Macquarie Road taking us to the Springwood railway station. It may be the oldest such structure in the Blue Mountains, but time out here is relative; it is what you make of it. Follow the spirit of what nature has to offer; its cycles can terminate in the blink of an eye or better yet, disregard time entirely - simply saunter with a reggae tempo.

Observe, partake, and embrace the moment!

Location: Blue Mountains National Park - NSW, Australia

Date: September 2020

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