The Gully in Katoomba
The Gully is one of my truly favourite places in all of the Blue Mountains landscape. It may not be as dramatic as the escarpments of Blackheath or the waterfalls that cascade into the valley below Katoomba, but for many people, past and present, it is truly a sacred site.
Countless generations of Gundungurra, Darug and others lived in The Gully; a natural amphitheatre on the western fringe of Katoomba. By the late 19th century many local Aboriginal people lived in The Gully along with numerous displaced people.
The Gully Aboriginal Community lasted until the construction of Catalina Park racing circuit in the 1950s. This act dispossessed Aboriginal people of their homes, land and community as they were forcibly evicted and variously ‘moved on’. For many it involved the separation of children from their families.
An Aboriginal Place
One such resident separated from her family as a child, was the exquisitely gorgeous, cheeky and resilient Aunty Mary King. Aunty Mary revisited The Gully often in her final years. She found great joy in reconnecting with her birthplace and took real pride in the restoration works that continue there today.
Katoomba weather had a special knack for turning on the mist, rain, sleet and fog whenever races were scheduled. After several unsuccessful years and many cancelled races, Catalina Park was abandoned. The neglected site fell into disrepair, becoming weed infested, vandalised and mostly only visited by dog walkers.This persisted until former Gully residents and their descendants reclaimed this important part of their heritage.
In 2002 I was privileged to be amongst a celebratory crowd when the area variously known as Frank Walford Park, Catalina Racetrack or The Gully was declared an Aboriginal Place. This recognition is in accordance with the legislation of the National Parks and Wildlife Act
In 2008 BMCC and The Gully Traditional Owners agreed to a co-operative management partnership. This ensures the significance of The Gully will continue to be acknowledged and preserved as an Aboriginal Place.
The Gully Bush Regeneration story
David King has led a new era in restoration of this complex site, inspiring local residents and harnessing support from Blue Mountains City Council. Since its inception, David’s vision of Garguree Swampcare has taken on a life of its own. Backed by David, Elly Chatfield and BMCC staffers, a crew of dedicated volunteers meet monthly to regenerate natural areas, once heavily impacted by weed invasion and the old Catalina Raceway.
It is largely due to David’s commitment to Caring for Country, especially for his mother’s childhood home, that The Gully now boasts accessible tracks and fewer weeds. The tracks are scattered with interpretive signs that share stories of Aunty Mary and other one-time residents of The Gully .
The family-friendly Garguree Swampcare mob gather on the first Sunday of each month. We share in bush regeneration activities, cultural stories, good yarns and yummy morning teas. David is famous for his Chai and I can usually be relied on for a pot of Swampcare Soup and a sweet treat. For more information get in touch with the good folk at Blue Mountains City Council Bushcare
There is an abundance of The Gully’s varied history to explore on the web, and some wonderful pix on Flickr courtesy of Blue Mountains Local Studies. Sacred Waters: the story of the Blue Mountains Gully Traditional Owners is an essential read for anyone wanting to explore the history in depth, and of course it’s on the shelves at Katoomba Library. There are also many fabulous pictures and stories of the days of Catalina Raceway.
The Gully is rich with Aboriginal cultural heritage and diverse ecosystems. It is lovely to stroll the old racetrack to the backdrop of abundant birdlife and a paradise of natural treasures. The newly formed footpaths to the interpretive signage are also well worth a visit, where the Story Boards share local heritage stories. Perhaps the best way to connect with this unique site is to visit on the first Sunday of the month and experience firsthand the community rebirthing of these truly ‘Sacred Waters’.