Friday, 16 January 2009

Darwin in the Blue Mountains

17th January, 1836: Darwin's first encounter with the Blue Mountains left him unimpressed.
From so grand a title as Blue Mountains, and from their absolute altitude, I expected to have seen a bold chain of mountains crossing the country; but instead of this, a sloping plain presents merely an inconsiderable front to the low land of the coast. From this first slope, the view of the extensive woodland to the eastward, was striking, and the surrounding trees grew bold and lofty. But when once on the sandstone platform, the scenery becomes exceedingly monotonous; each side of the road is bordered by scrubby trees of the never-failing Eucalyptus family; and with the exception of two or three small inns, there are no houses, or cultivated land: the road, moreover, is solitary; the most frequent object being a bullock-waggon, piled up with bales of wool.


... which makes you wonder why Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth kicked up such a fuss about it when they crossed in 1813.

But the view from the plateau changed Darwin's mind about the range.

By following down a little valley and its tiny rill of water, an immense gulf is unexpectedly seen through the trees which border the pathway, at the depth of perhaps 1500 feet. Walking on a few yards one stands on the brink of a vast precipice, and below is the grand bay or gulf (for I know not what other name to give it), thickly covered with forest. The point of view is situated as if at the head of a bay, the line of cliff diverging on each side, and showing headland behind headland, as on a bold sea-coast. These cliffs are composed of horizontal strata of whitish sandstone; and so absolutely vertical are they, that in many places, a person standing on the edge, and throwing down a stone, can see it strike the trees in the abyss below. So unbroken is the line, that it is said, in order to reach the foot of the waterfall, formed by this little stream, it is necessary to go a distance of sixteen miles round. About five miles distant in front, another line of cliff extends, which thus appears completely to encircle the valley; and hence the name of bay is justified, as applied to this grand amphitheatrical depression. If we imagine a winding harbour, with its deep water surrounded by bold cliff-like shores, laid dry, and a forest sprung up on its sandy bottom, we should then have the appearance and structure here exhibited. This kind of view was to me quite novel, and extremely magnificent.

The forests of the Blue Mountains are rich in plant species and are are home to Gondwanan relicts such as the Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis) and the dwarf mountain pine (Microstrobus fitzgeraldii). Because of this diversity, the range was declared a World Heritage Area in 2000.

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