You wake to the sound of the ocean swell breaking against sandstone. The dawn is breaking as the endless surging roll of the Pacific Ocean drives its swell in through the narrow sandstone cliffs at the head of Botany Bay. It is here where Lieutenant Cook moored up. It was here that he sent his men ashore looking for water. It was the Great Southern Land of what soon became New Holland, then New South Wales.
Eventually this land was called Australia and it was to be near twenty years before the Parliament of England decided to cast its convicts onto these shores in hope of dispensing and dealing with a problem. One created by the harsh and unjust ‘poverty and class’ laws of England which protected property rather than people. Those Law’s that had led to the imprisonment of so many of its working class people often ground down by the abject poverty of their land. These people who having been dealt with by the ‘upper class’ of privilege, were now left incarcerated and rotting in the hulls of old ships in their countries want to displace them from their homeland and families. The high born and “privileged” class effectively disposing of tens of thousands of lives like so much rubbish, in their own estimation.
This bloke, the mariner Lieutenant James Cook didn’t discover Australia, it wasn’t lost. He didn’t even tell a curious world about this great Southern Land. The world already knew of its existence and the Dutch had already mapped the sunset side. Cook really only mapped the vast eastern shoreline of the continent as he was, in his time, a great navigator. In reality he barely set foot on this land until he had to, he was after all a seaman not a landlubber. But he wasn’t even standing on the mainland when he proclaimed it the eastern coast adjoining the western boundary of what was a Dutch province, property of the Crown. These two countries claimed half of this vast continent each without ever really exploring the main land at all. They also neglected to inform the traditional inhabitants of their preposterous claims.
The Aboriginal tribal people of the continent had been living here for tens of thousands of years, keeping to their Country, intermarrying and flowing across the continent in a natural migration. They weren’t a nation of people, but a numerous collection of families tied together by language and custom. Tribes who lived on their own estates in a complex cycle of living within the binds of nature and that of nurturing their world. They managed the land, carefully nurturing it. No one told them that their lands had been claimed by interests on the other side of the globe. Even that concept of owning the land would have been an anathema to them. Owning the land was beyond their complex understanding of their world. The land owned you and it was a unique and in many ways advanced society of a traditional people.
To these people the land they had moved across for thousands of years, before man even began to gather in their cities elsewhere, was their mother and their father. The land was their very life in a very special way. It was from where their very soul emerged into the light and this was their Lore. The stories of the caverns from where life and knowledge emerged are part of the tales I tell in the Spirit Children series, dealing in the ancient Australian Lore’s of our Country.
Cave dwellers have always lived across Australia. It is here where they have left their ancient marks on the rock and at the entrance to the caverns. The history and evidence of their ceremony is contained in these records. It was however not the art left on walls that was important to them, what was important was the story, the ceremony which inspired these records left on the walls.
To the tribal people caves were the province of the Serpents, of the Oruncha or the spirits who dwelt deep in the dark zone of their Lore. These people lived only in the shallow caves, the overhangs and in the shelter of the rocks. Deep caverns were the places of ceremony, of initiation and the source of knowledge in the same way that Europeans attached knowledge to the gargoyles who also lived within the earth, those which decorated their greater buildings in their era… it is a similar thing, now largely lost or ignored in every day knowledge.
The cave dwellers of Sydney have come down through our more recent times and what marks the places of the Sydney cave dwellers is the record of their lives left also on walls. Much of this later record is removed at the first opportunity by the authorities for whatever reason. But it still remains if you can understand where to look. It is in a carved pool of fresh water collected as it seeps down the rockface; or a rusting support hook driven into a wall of stone. It can be found in stone steps fashioned by man where he carved them into rock and also in pictures taken by record keepers and the newssheets of the day such as the one above from the National Library archive (1930’s).
I have always been sensitive towards cave dwellers as my Grandmother was one in her time. She was escaping poverty, hiding in her own way from society and in general living below the radar of authorities for her own reasons. Last century she was driven from a cliffside cave around Inscription Point at Kurnell, a southern suburb of greater Sydney. In our visit to Sydney I had planned to seek out what evidence of the Sydney side cave dwellers of last century, those in and around Kurnell. It was an enjoyable excursion and one that will live on in those memories you harbour throughout you life.
Evidence of this largely secreted period of my Grandmothers life could easily be found and I was enthralled at the stories that could be uncovered when I began my research. These stories not commonly told are of death, of poverty and of simple opulence and charm that can be found of the cave dwellers of our society. It is easy to imagine their lives when you visit the caves and what is left of the homes they built, these buried into the side of the sandstone cliffs. What tales these walls could tell if only the beautiful cliffs could talk.
This is something of the many secrets harboured in the greater Sydney and indeed all along the sandstone shorelines. Something of a treasure, a treat and an adventure. It is wonderful to seek out these things. You need though to step beyond the path of the usual tourist and discover a new world.
Jan is an author and traveller and you can discover more of her adventures under the tab “Oldies at Large Aus'”