xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: A warm welcome in Katoomba.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

A warm welcome in Katoomba.

Katoomba, the largest town in the Blue Mountains, is about a 90 minute drive west of Sydney. It started life as a coal mine in the late 1870s but, because of the wonderful mountain scenery, soon became a tourist centre. Katoomba is a native word meaning water falling over rocks and there are plenty of waterfalls and cascades to merit that description.

After a trouble free run out of Sydney, thanks to the excellent navigational skills of lovely Navigator Lesley, we arrived in Katoomba around 12-30pm. We were in a Ford FG Mark11 Falcon, which was a spacious and comfortable vehicle with all sorts of bells and whistles. As we were keen to depart Sydney as quickly as possible I did not waste too much time exploring the various capabilities of the car. I managed to start it and get the radio and the air conditioning to work, but as we crossed the ANZAC Bridge onto the Great Western Highway I realised that I had no idea how to open the boot or the petrol cap. Fortunately, these were not too difficult to operate.

Captain Arthur Philip planted the British flag at Sydney Cove in 1788. That first European  settlement in Australia consisted mainly of sailors, convicts and the soldiers who guarded them. After a shaky start in which everyone almost starved to death, the colony gradually established itself. At first they had relied on supplies brought from Britain by ship. Eventually convicts, with rudimentary farming skills, began to grow enough food to support the settlers.

After a while, free settlers arrived and began to extend farms out into the hinterland. However, continued growth was blocked by the impenetrable sandstone barrier of what the locals called The Blue Mountains, 100 kilometres to the west.  Why the BLUE mountains? Well they were thickly covered with eucalyptus trees which gave off tiny droplets that caused blue light from the lower end of the spectrum to disperse into the atmosphere, creating a blue haze. It is the exact same reason that dust particles in the atmosphere make our skies appear blue. The Blue Mountains were a giant wall that trapped the settlers on the enclosed narrow coastal plain. For twenty five years, until 1813, every attempt to cross the Blue Mountains ended up with the explorers facing 1000 foot high cliffs. The local indigenous people, who had lived in the area for around 60 000 years, knew several ways to cross the mountain barrier but nobody thought of asking them.

Then in 1813, Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson, tried a new strategy. Instead of walking along the valleys and coming to a dead end, they decided to walk along the ridges. Eventually, they were successful and crossed the mountains. As Andrew “Banjo” Patterson” so eloquently put it, they then “gazed upon that vision splendid of the sunlit plain extended.” 

Pretty soon farmers and squatters were taking up land well to the west of Sydney.  It was basically along the direction of that bush track made by Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson in 1813, that Lesley and I cruised, ever so comfortably towards Katoomba, on the well paved Great Western Highway.

Just outside of Katoomba, at Faulconbridge, we stopped to visit the studio and picturesque rural property of Norman Lindsay. Born in 1879, Lindsay was the Australian precursor of Playboy's Hugh Heffner. Lindsay promoted the naked female form well before Heffner was born. The property is dotted with many of Lindsay’s sculptures, which are mainly of nude women. We had an interesting hour wandering around Lindsay's home and studio and were given an informative commentary by a volunteer guide.

The entry to Norman Lindsay's Studio at Faulconbridge.
Apart from writing the children’s classic, “The Magic Pudding”, and about another hundred books, many of which were banned, Lindsay was a prolific artist, poet, sculptor and maker of beautifully designed model boats. Two of his most controversial novels were “The Age of Consent” and “Redheap” which were banned in Australia until the 1960s.  He contributed cartoons to the Bulletin Magazine for over half a century. He also did a lot of etchings and we visited the workshop, adjacent to his studio, where these etchings were made.

Lindsay was a very bohemian character and made a speciallity of drawing voluptuous nude ladies. He even ditched his first wife to marry his second wife, Mary Soady, who was one of his statuesque nude models. Mary was chiefly responsible for producing his etchings, as Lindsay lacked the physical strength to turn the large wheel on his printing press. In the 1980s a movie was made about his life called “Sirens”, starring Sam Neill as Lindsay and Elle MacPherson as one of the many nude ladies who frequented his studio. Our very knowledgeable guide said Sirens was a totally inaccurate depiction of Lindsay’s life.

Lindsay’s full bodied, sexy nude drawings were highly controversial. In the 1940s Rose Soady took sixteen crates of his paintings, drawings and etching to the United States for safe storage from the war. Unfortunately, in America, the train on which she was travelling  caught on fire and his art work was impounded. When the authorities saw the nature of Lindsay’s art they destroyed it, saying that it was pornographic. When he heard what had happened Lindsay is reported to have said, “Don’t worry. I’ll do more.”  Norman Lindsay died, aged 90, in 1969. He was an interesting character from an interesting family. You can find out more by a Control/Click on this link:

When you are travelling you like to be well organised and well prepared. Sometimes it backfires.
I chose our motel, via the internet, because it was centrally located in Katoomba's Main Street, which is in fact, Katoomba Street. The hotel is called Katoomba Town Centre Motel. However, when I swung into Katoomba Street we came to a road block and a major detour right in the centre of Katoomba Street. They were building a very big roundabout at the very intersection on which our motel was situated and roads in four directions were blocked off for about 50 meters. After following the detour signs we eventually came to the other end of Katoomba Street and then doubled back to our motel. As you will read subsequently, this was not the only time our travel plans were thwarted by unexpected road closures.

After booking in and dragging our cases up two flights of stairs, we decided to wander downtown for some lunch. We noticed a lot of Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Korean food outlets mixed in with the usual cafes and restaurants. The large number of Asian food outlets reflects the fact that these days an increasing number of tourists are from Asia. In general, Katoomba looked a little bit tired and in urgent need of sprucing up. Maybe it is a result of the Global Financial Crisis, but it is clear that the tourist industry is obviously not as profitable as it was previously. Having said that, we did notice large numbers of Japanese, Chinese and American tour groups as we moved around.

After lunch we did a bit more walking before returning to the motel to sort ourselves out and have a bit of a rest. About ten minutes later the fire alarm went off. We quickly went out in the car park trying to find out what was going on. Then a fire truck turned up. I couldn’t see any smoke, but I could smell that acrid aroma that occurs when something like a toaster or electric kettle fuses.
Our friendly fireman at the back of the motel.. His mates are inside tackling the problem
The crisis is over
A couple of firemen, dressed up in all sorts of protective clothing and masks, went into the building. We started talking to another fireman who was unrolling some hoses. He did not seem too concerned and I said, "There is no smoke."

He gave me a smile and said, “Well, that is always a good sign." Later on he told us a dryer in the laundrette had fused and started smoking but his firey mates had handled it all.
The burnt filter and some other burnt matter from the faulty dryer.
Earlier, I had walked around the motel looking for smoke. I didn't see any, but I did notice a rather grand stained glass window over the main entry door. At the top of the door the coloured glass spelt out, "St Elmo". Well, I guess that says it all, really.
We were there when St Elmo's fire took on a whole new meaning.
About 4-30pm we set off to see some of the fabulous Blue Mountains. We immediately noticed that the previously blue skies were now filed with threatening black thunder clouds. We drove about two kilometres to Echo Point to the Three Sisters lookout. According to an Aboriginal Dream Time story the Three Sisters represent three young maidens who were in love with three boys from a neighbouring tribe. Their marriages were opposed by both tribes and a war broke out. In order to protect the girls from the war, their mother arranged for them to be turned into stone. And there they have stood so beauteously ever since. Despite the dark and gloomy outlook overhead, the Three Sisters stood majestically as they ever have for thousands of years. The scene certainly impressed the very big number of Asian and American tourists who were all standing around taking photos and being photographed with the Blue Mountains in the background.
The Three Sisters at Echo Point as storm clouds gather.
After I had taken a few pictures a young American asked if I could take a picture of him with his friends. There were about ten of them, all young and very fit looking. He handed me his camera as his mates all lined up for the picture. I took the camera and jokingly said, “There could be a small fee for a group sitting.” His friends all laughed.

He looked at me, then smiled and took his place in the group. After I had taken a couple of photos the group thanked me and slowly moved away. As he retrieved his camera, the young man smiled again and called out, “Hey, Billy, pay the man.” I guess Billy did not hear him.

Lesley remarked that this group of young men looked like the American baseball players she had seen featured on TV the day before. This could very well have been so, because on the next weekend in Sydney, two US major league teams played games against two Australian baseball teams and then they played each other in an official major league game at the Sydney Cricket Ground. This was why the Western Australia cricket team was playing the Sheffield Shield Final against New South Wales in Canberra instead of at the Sydney Cricket Ground. I tried to imagine the situation whereby two US Football teams would be scheduled to play at the MCG on the last Saturday in September and the two AFL grand finalists had to play their Grand Final in Geelong. Somehow, I don't think that will ever happen.

Shortly after the American baseballers' photo shoot, there was a massive thunderclap. Obviously it was soon going to rain. As there were no interesting bars nearby for us to take refuge in, we returned to the car and back to the safety (barring the odd fire or two) of our motel.

The next morning we ventured down to Echo Point again. The whole area was packed with tourists and school groups. Tour buses where everywhere. Unfortunately the focus of all of this attention, the Three Sisters, was completely shrouded by a thick blanket of fog. I felt terribly sorry for the tourists, especially the schoolchildren and their teachers who had missed out on what was to be the highlight of their excursion. I was reminded of the time my sister, Valerie, travelled to the Blue mountains with her English born husband, John. John had never been to the Blue Mountains before and was disappointed when he and Valerie arrived to find everything covered in fog. Valerie änd John drove back into town. Valerie led him into a newsagent's shop. She found some large postcards of the Three Sisters and other scenic places, thrust them in front to John and said, "This is what you would be seeing if the fog wasn't there."

Later in the morning the fog lifted and we drove around Blue Mountains Drive, stopping at various vantage spots to enjoy the grand views and the ambient tranquillity of it all. It was amazing to see that even in this wilderness there were very well established houses in the National Park. I imagined the occupants of these minor mansions at breakfast time, eating their corn flakes as they gazed out on million dollar views.
The Three Sisters shrouded by the morning fog.
After some more sightseeing we had lunch in the beautiful town of Leura. Here we found a picture postcard main street with a median strip of cherry trees. On both sides there were very well presented shops selling food, clothing, jewellery and knick knacks of various kinds. Leura is the native word for lava. There is some lava in the area, but I am reliably informed that the last volcanic activity occurred about ten million years ago.

Leura looked much fresher and brighter than Katoomba and we soon discovered that there is a fairly intense rivalry between the two towns.  Our waitress in Leura was almost ecstatic when we told her that we thought Leura was far prettier than Katoomba. “Oh, it most definitely is,” she assured us, quickly adding, “and the people are nicer too.” I had noticed that in Katoomba you would often see groups of young men sitting idly by, smoking and indulging in noisy conversations. I wondered if maybe Katoomba had a drug culture problem that Leura did not.
This is why the first settlers in Sydney found it difficult to move to the west.
From Leura we proceeded east along Sublime Point Road, aptly named, because after about twenty minutes we came to Sublime Point. After a downhill walk of 250 metres from the car park we reached the Sublime Point lookout, which offers magnificent views across the Jamieson Valley. We stayed here quite a while, mainly to enjoy the serenity of the moment and the superb views, but also to gather our strength for the 250 metre walk uphill back to the car. Some things do come at a price!
A view from Sublime Point.
Another sublime view.

On our final night in Katoomba we decided to eat out at the Katoomba RSL Club. In Western Australia we do not have poker machines, except at the Crown Casino at Burswood. So our Returned Services League clubs are rather spare. They may have an occasional alcohol licence for Friday night socials or other gatherings. Their income is mainly from bar sales, chook raffles and hall hire. In the eastern states, poker machines are legal and they are everywhere. The constant flow of casino money enables places like Returned Services League clubs to provide very luxurious club room facilities for returned service men and women and their guests. A feature of all of these clubs is the very inexpensive food and drink which you can enjoy before, during and after putting your money into the pokies. Of course these RSL clubs also welcome passing strangers who are able to obtain a Visitors Membership Card merely by producing some identification and signing a form. There is no membership fee. Of the people in the dining room that evening I would say more than 50% of them were travelling nomads like Lesley and me. I know that these travelling people are usually called "grey haired nomads" but Lesley and I are not quite at that stage yet.

While enjoying some pre dinner drink in the well upholstered RSL lounge I gazed into the adjacent dining room. I was astounded to see that the franchise for the catering section of the Katoomba RSL had been handed over to the Japanese. I immediately thought of those gallant old diggers, who fought and died on The Kokoda Track defending Australia in 1942, turning in their graves at the fact that the Japanese were now serving up the food in Katoomba’s RSL. Lesley assured me that the Asian people serving in the restaurant were in fact Chinese. Later we went in and I enjoyed a very large Chinese meal of Roast Lamb and three vege.
We thoroughly enjoyed our Blue Mountains visit. The next morning we set off bright and early to drive to Canberra, via  the hair raising hair pin bends that lead  down, way down, from the Blue Mountains to  Jenolan Caves.

On Blue Mountains Drive.
One of the well placed houses in the background that overlooks a magnificent view.

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