As one who enjoys long bushwalks and studying nature, having walked as a ‘swaggie’ from Yuleba to Surat along the Cobb and Co coach route in 2018 and having walked 48 km in one exhausting day and night from a bogged vehicle in isolated Chesterton National Park, south west Queensland, I was very keen to grab hold of a copy of this recent book. Not only to read about Peter’s incredible walking journey but to learn about the natural history and cultural history of the huge Cumberland Plain which comprises much of western Sydney.
Living and working in Ku-ring-gai means I have become accustomed to the Hawkesbury Sandstone environs, but the fauna, flora and history of the Cumberland Plain still remains a mystery to me.
In the winter of 2019 ecologist Peter Ridgeway set out to walk 179 km across the Cumberland Plain, the region of rural land west of Sydney. Carrying his food and water and camping under the stars, he crossed one of the least-known landscapes in Australia, all within view of our largest city. I think he was as ‘game as Ned Kelly’ to undertake this venture in an area that is much under-loved for its amazing nature and today more valued as a dormitory for greater Sydney.
This well-illustrated book recounts a unique journey across a landscape few Australians will ever see. In this open country the familiar forests of Sydney’s sandstone are replaced by a fertile world of open woodlands, native grasslands and wetlands – known as the Cumberland Plain, home to some of the nation’s most unique and endangered wildlife. The Cumberland Plain is the traditional land of the Darug, Gundungurra and Dharawal peoples, and the birthplace of the first Australian colony and it is a landscape which also holds the key to our entwined and conflicted origins.
What was once a limitless tract of woodland is now being engulfed by the city to the east, in the largest construction project ever undertaken in the Southern Hemisphere – the near elimination of an ecosystem and a past community.
This book provides a detailed immersion into the history, wildlife, and culture of one of Australia’s most rapidly vanishing landscapes, and reveals how the destruction of ‘the west’ is erasing not only itself, but we are losing something central to the identity of all Australians.
Peter Ridgeway is a highly experienced biodiversity scientist and land manager for this remarkable area and his knowledge of the Cumberland Plain is fully reflected in his writings – almost a lament for the times when he grew up in the area when times were better – at least through his childhood eyes.
Peter’s book is literally a landscape memoir, nature guide and a detailed history narrative – all rolled into one amazing book. It has similarities to the late Eric Rolls history of the Pilliga A Million Wild Acres.
In addition to a very informative text, the detailed trip maps and lovely photographs add so much to the volume.
As stated by N Scott Momaday:
Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth, I believe. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience, to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder upon it, to dwell upon it. He ought to imagine that he touches it with hands at every season and listen to the sounds that are made upon it. He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of the moon and the colours of the dawn and dusk.
Peter Ridgeway has admirably achieved all of this in his wonderful landscape memoir. Please purchase a copy, you will not be disappointed!
Reviewed by Mark Schuster, Bushfire Technical Officer/Fire Ranger, Ku-ring-gai Council and NCC bushfire representative for Hunters Hill, Lane Cove, Parramatta and Ryde Bush Fire Management Committee