Sunday, 31 May 2009


When you take the train through the little mid-mountains town of Faulconbridge, you are high enough to glimpse an interesting ruin lying in grassy fields to the south of the railway line and the highway. This is all that remains of Eurama, once the home of Sir Henry Parkes, often referred to as Australia's "Father of Federation" Five times elected to Parliament in NSW (he had to resign three times due to bankruptcy) he was the dominant voice advocating Federation, although he died three years before it actually came to pass in 1901. (N.B. I may be wrong about Parkes living at Eurama. See the comment below from Anonymous. Unfortunately, I can't tell if Anonymous is a credible source since he/she didn't choose to leave a name or any references. Parkes certainly owned a great deal of land in Faulconbridge and I understood it included this piece. If so, he presumably sold it to the builder of Eurama.)

Last year we had made an effort to locate the ruin, but were defeated by a rough, unpaved road only suitable for a 4-wheel drive, certainly beyond the capacities of our little Echo.

On a recent sunny Sunday, we decided to try hiking in instead. Taking a wrong fork that we thought would lead there, we found ourselves eventually at a power-line pylon on the cliff edge and had to retrace our steps to the other fork. This one led us in the right direction and we emerged in the field we'd seen from the train.

The old mansion now has neither roof nor floor, but you can see that it was once a substantial property in the Gothic style, with walls of rough-cut sandstone and a square tower, now engulfed in ivy. Traces of garden beds, paths and shallow flights of steps are all overgrown with weeds and self-seeded saplings.

There is still a bit of old paving near the entrance,

and a motto carved on the lintel, by someone who wasn't very conversant with Latin. It should read Vi et Anima, meaning "By Strength and Spirit".

A cluster of agaves with strikingly tall flower spikes, the flowers long spent on this late autumn day, still stands among artfully jumbled rocks on the verge of bushland.

After a little on-line research, I found this old photo of the house as it once was.

Accompanying information says that it was built with stone quarried on the site. The estate included a tennis court, a large dam, and a circular driveway. Bushfires, and later vandalism, were responsible for its destruction, and the 164-hectare property has been derelict for several decades. Sir Henry Parkes was only one in a succession of owners; it is now owned by a development company which has plans for a gated community there, but on a positive note also intends to restore the house and grounds.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

May meander

I had decided that I'd give up writing about our bushwalking adventures, thinking that there was little new to photograph and write about them. Then, we tackled the first section of the Six-Foot Track, a former coaching road that begins at Katoomba and descends through the Megalong Valley to the Jenolan Caves, and I couldn't resist the scenery.

More ambitious walkers than us hike the route, which takes an average of three days. And once a year, the Six-Foot Marathon encourages serious over-achievers to run the full 45-kilometre distance, which the leading competitors manage to do in just over three hours. Our sedate group settled for the first leg only, a modest 8 kilometres.

"Leg" is an apt way to describe it, as the track begins with a very steep descent through a cleft in the mountains, where the drop down many narrow steps is long enough to jar your leading leg as your foot makes contact. Most of us admitted to trembling muscles by the time we reached level ground at the bottom. I took no photos of this section: not only was it quite dark beneath tree ferns and the sheer cliff walls enclosing us, but I needed all my focus on the track to avoid hurtling headlong down the ravine.

Once we reached level ground in the valley, the vegetation thinned out and we entered a more pastoral landscape of beautiful eucalypts - pink-trunked angophoras and silver scribbly gums.

After stopping for lunch near a mysterious sign...

...we continued through lush paddocks and more groves of gums deeper into the Megalong Valley, which has been settled for many years, mainly by horse-lovers. Ground cleared for paddocks here has allowed the remaining trees the space to grow into magnificent specimens.

Our route took us briefly along a dirt road and over a creek, which was placid and pretty on this day,

although it clearly had a different personality in rainy periods.

The last part of our trek followed trails through private property, whose owners had obligingly provided metal stiles over the barbed wire fences on their boundaries.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Something completely different

As a break from all the photos and extended captions, here's a quote from the Family First Party's Steve Fielding, reacting to the budget just brought down by the Federal Government here in Australia. It appeared in the weekend newspaper under the heading "Warning: Mixed Metaphors Ahead".

This is a budget of broken dreams. It amazes me that the Rudd government can implore Australians to knuckle down and do it tough and then have the gall to continue sticking their own snouts in the trough of perks paid for by hardworking Australians. It is a real smack in the face to all Australians who are struggling to stay afloat when they see politicians feathering their own nest.

George again

It must be at least a couple of months since I succumbed to posting a cute cat picture. When your average moggy goes to sleep, he curls up into a little ball, protecting all the vulnerable bits, but not our George, for whom this 180ยบ twist is a favourite sleeping posture. There are times when I could swear he is dead and rigor mortis has set in.

Cockatoo on the roof

Recently, while checking out my daughter's Flickr site for new photos she might have posted, I discovered a Flickr group restricted solely to photos of dogs on roofs. I don't think there is one for sulphur-crested cockatoos on roofs, which is a pity. Ah well, my photos aren't good enough for such a select group anyway; it's incredibly difficult to capture a very active bird in fading evening light with a basic little digital camera.

These are my two best attempts:

Friday, 8 May 2009

Lemon tree very pretty

When Sarah Jane left for overseas, we inherited her potted lemon tree, a rather spindly specimen as her courtyard is very shady. Up against the warm north wall of our house, it has done well enough to produce a crop of about six lemons this year. Not bad for such a challenged little tree.

Meanwhile, Michael's rock garden alongside our western boundary is beginning to fill in.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Blackheath colour

Blackheath is a village about a 15-minute drive west of where we live. It's a little higher in elevation and its small, picturesque cottages are popular as weekenders with an affluent Sydney crowd who patronize its art galleries and high-end restaurants.

At this time of year, the clear blue skies and fall colours draw many visitors from the coast where the weather is warmer but often stormy and wet.

In spite of the cool climate, it is still temperate enough for an occasional palm tree to thrive alongside the northern hemisphere trees.

The worldwide trend towards growing native plants has reached Blackheath, as one little garden showed, with tea-tree (Leptospermum) and banksia among the shrubs I recognize here. It presents a much more subtle palette as these Australian species are not deciduous, their grey-green foliage offering contrasts in texture rather than colour.

Monday, 4 May 2009

May in the Mountains

This is the time of year when Sydneysiders and interstate travellers come to the Blue Mountains to admire the fall colours. Sunny days and cold nights bring reds and yellows as bright as those of eastern Canada to the many maples and oaks planted in local gardens.

I took all of the following photos within a block of our home here in Katoomba.

Our own garden, sadly, has no mature trees although I have planted a couple of maples that I hope will one day will equal those of my neighbours.
In the meantime, I have to be content with the big old hydrangea by our front gate, which is a somewhat prosaic blue during the summer but has now turned a beautiful wine-red.