This Land…

Darkness enveloped the land.

A depressing grey pall hung heavily over the land and fomented despicable violence which entrenched anger, frustration, despair and fear in those victimised by birth. Toxic masculinity leeched from the pores of rabid salivating animals and sullied the pristine waterways, the same waterways which had offered solace and retreat in an imagined past; the white-capped waves and golden sands since converted into a haven for leering eyes and lecherous ghouls.

Fear racked the fairer sex. Survival strategies were devised and disseminated, carried in nervous whispers through the darkened streets and the darker web. Clothes, make-up and sobriety were scrutinised before safety was promised in the world outside – the land outside which they called home. Home, where violence had been domesticated, by those who had not.

Keys to unlock inherited power were now held between forefingers. Capsicum spray sat beside scented spray and self-care acquiesced to self-defence. Avoid the darkness, they were told, but darkness was everywhere. Darkness had swallowed the land and voraciously consumed all that was good.

Emboldened by self-appointed truth tellers and by the weakness of their rulers, they threatened and struck, abused and demeaned, dismissed and suppressed. Emboldened by the apathy, silence and spin of the law makers. Law makers or law breakers? The lines had blurred, the distinction lost.

Depravity extended its greedy tentacles from the distant corridors of power to the hallowed grounds of prestige, where the elite schooled their offspring in the perpetuation of power.

How good! they cheer,

How good! to leer.

Retain your grace, remain the same,

Make-up your face, your words be tame.

Enough is enough, the victims declared, but it was never enough. Never enough for the rapacious scourge which infested their world and controlled their bodies, and the bodies within bodies.

The fair were few and far between, ignored in print, ignored on screen. They and their allies drowned under a deluge of ignorance and noise as the heavens unleashed a torrent of hate and lies, and cowardly cries.  It comes from the sky, it comes from up high, the news we use to justify.

Dystopia was not an imagined future, dystopia was a lived present, dictated for eternity by one bite of a forbidden fruit.

Then he emerged.

Short in stature, but bold of heart.

Follow me, he declared, in messianic tones, and I will deliver you from darkness and into light. I will protect you, he promised. So, follow him they did and the light returned. Joy, gaiety and unimagined bliss filled their souls.

Pink roses blossomed. Pink roses bloomed with hope and the promise of a new future.

All was well in the land of pink roses.

Image: Carlos Quintero

First published in The Beast magazine, May 2021

What happened to this national relic?

This site hosts a national relic. It marks of one of the most famous events in the history of the nation. Now, it is nothing more than an empty space beside a highway bordered by construction mesh.

This small site just outside of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains of NSW hosts the Explorers Tree – or it used to. The Explorers Tree is a famous landmark etched with the markings of famous explorers Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson, who were credited with opening up the region and creating a path from Sydney through the mountains to the flat lands to the west. The three explorers are commemorated in the suburbs Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth Falls in the mountains, and feature in the Australian school history curriculum.

Of course, like most conventional historical accounts in Australia, this story ignores the fact that the Indigenous people of the mountains already knew how to travel between Sydney and the western plains; they’d been doing it for years. The Dharug and Gundungurra people have been living in the Katoomba region, and the Megalong Valley below, for thousands of years. Some accounts even go so far as to say that the explorers such as Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson ‘discovered’ the region. Aboriginal people knew it was there, they’d been living on the land for at least 50,000 years.

Where is the tree now?

According to Blue Mountains City Council, the remnants of the tree were taken to a Transport for New South Wales depot in Lawson. At least it lies in a suburb with some connection to the people who made it famous. The tree was removed in late February this year for fears that it would slide away in heavy rain and land on the highway. The tree, the degraded base and the fence were removed. All that’s left now is an interpretive display further off the highway. According to TfNSW, the tree may feature in a cultural interpretation strategy for the planned upgrade of that stretch of the Great Western Highway.

Why is it significant?

Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson are said to have marked the tree during the first crossing of the Blue Mountains in 1813. History tells us that a tree was marked by someone, at some point, somewhere near a site called Pulpit Hill, some time in the 1800s, when the region was being explored by Europeans. Pulpit Hill is just a short distance from the current site of the tree. No one can say for certain that the tree which stood proudly beside the highway for so many years, and the tree which was removed just a few weeks ago, is actually that tree. Nevertheless, that particular tree was set aside as a site of national significance, and the platform and fence were built around it, while a plaque was laid nearby detailing its importance.

That said, the tree wasn’t very spectacular before it was removed. Like any living organism, it started to age, and the Explorers Tree was looking more like an explorers stump. Most motorists flew by the landmark on their way to Medlow Bath and beyond without a second thought, and for a long time the site had been bordered by flimsy orange construction tape – it was a rather forlorn view. What’s more, the tree was mostly concrete. Many years ago, the rotting trunk had been filled with concrete in an effort to protect it, and metal rings circled its base and top.

A sign next to the site also indicates that Blue Mountains City Council had planned to take action as far back as 2012. It’s now 2021. Perhaps the councillors just put the numbers in the wrong order.

The Explorers Tree tells us a lot about Australian history. It tells us how that history is recorded, prioritised and sustained.

Generations of Australians accepted that the tree on the platform had been marked by famous explorers, despite no empirical evidence to prove this. I remember stopping to view it as a child during a family trip through the mountains. I don’t remember every detail, but I do remember that it was actually a tree, not a sad looking stump.

The tree demonstrates the prioritising of certain historical events. The preservation of the tree exalted the exploits three Caucasian males who did something Aboriginal people had been doing for thousands of years before them – crossed the Blue Mountains. The Explorers Tree demonstrates how the efforts of male colonisers were mythologised and recognised far more than the actions of other Australians.

Now, long-accepted truths are being questioned. Historians and other Australians are staring to challenge the traditional narrative of colonial history, and to ask questions such as:

Were the explorers’ achievements as impressive as we were led to believe?

If they wanted to know how to cross the mountains, why didn’t they just ask the Aboriginal people?

Why aren’t there more stories about Australians who are not white males?

Should we spend taxpayers’ money to preserve a tree that probably isn’t real?

Only time will tell what happens to the site currently sitting empty beside the highway just outside of Katoomba.