I’m on my way to visit my mother but I’m early. I don’t want to interrupt her while she’s watching her favourite soapie, the one I’ve dubbed Italian Doctors in Love, so I decide to take a detour. I get off the bus and walk into a place that when I lived in this area I wasn’t allowed to enter. Back then it was private property; an example of remnant farm land on the very edge of our sprawling city.
Back in the late 1980’s when I was at university, I would get off the train at Fairfield Station after what was in those days an hour’s journey from Redfern and Sydney Uni. It’s now forty-five minutes despite the distance remaining the same; a modern miracle. I would then board the bus for my twenty-five-minute ride home. No miraculous change there unfortunately. We would travel through layers of suburb, moving further and further away from the railway line until we reached what I used to think of as the edge of civilisation. The Cowpasture Road. On winter nights particularly, the darkness of this old road edged by pasture land following on so quickly from the treeless streets lined with suburban McMansions that we’d just travelled through, made me feel like I’d come to the end of the world. It was usually just myself and the bus driver left by this stage, as the rest of the journey was on the return loop to the station. There’s no way that back then I would have got off the bus here voluntarily. Then again there weren’t Italian soap operas waiting to greet me at the end of the journey either. Well not on television anyway. Now as I step off the bus, I’m in an area that is much more welcoming despite the extremely busy four lane road I have to cross to reach this entrance to the Western Sydney Parklands.
This is an old place. Much older than my memory. Much older than the road or the farm that was here before an Act of Parliament created this much needed recreation area in south western Sydney. It belonged to the Darug peoples who would have managed the land here for food, and hunted wallabies and possums, to be eaten around fires built also for talk and trade with others of the Cumberland Plain. Their descendants are still the Traditional Custodians of this land.1
Back at university I didn’t know the local history of the area. All I knew was that this back road in the sticks wasn’t the exciting metropolitan city that I wanted to live in. In fact, when asked to research the local history of where I lived for one of my history courses, I chose Newtown. Much more interesting, I thought. Perhaps this was because I hadn’t yet discovered the cool study of psychogeography, the effect of geographical location on our psychological experiences. And uber cool words like edgelands and rural urban fringe hadn’t been invented to describe the ugly, semi industrial border between the new housing developments of the outer suburbs and the left-over agricultural land of colonial times.
Now Western Sydney Parklands meanders for 27 kilometres through Blacktown, Fairfield and Liverpool Councils. There are concrete paths for bikes and walkers through the old paddocks but I decide to follow one of the swathes mown through the meadow that begins next to an old dam that is now a deep green pond surrounded by Zebra grass and a new grove of Paperbark and Crown Ash.
It’s mid-October and a warm morning so I’m delighted when this cross country track finally meets the Pimelea Loop, a lovely name for the concrete path that I spurned earlier. I have no idea where it leads but I’m excited by the names on the sign, Moonrise, Sugar Loaf Ridge, Ginger Meggs Memorial, so I turn south and hope I don’t regret this impromptu hike.
The sound of birds and buzz of dragon flies camouflages the distant hum of the traffic on Cowpasture Road. Just off the path I spot abandoned wooden gates that would have been used to isolate sheep before dipping, but are now the centre pieces of a quaint picnic area. Lantana and wild artichoke vie with Patterson’s curse amongst the long grasses next to the path. But these distractions are not enough to mask the strain on my ham strings; I am now definitely climbing a hill. Perhaps there will be an amazing lookout as a reward for the sweat which is rolling down my face. I reach the crest of the hill but there is only the other side, the path now edged with shea oak and young gums.
Finally, the land levels out and I’m surrounded by head high wild wheat grass. As the path emerges into the open again, I see a tall dead paddock gum and hear frogs in a nearby dam. So, this is what was out there in the dark beyond, all those years that I sat in the warmth of the night bus imagining myself elsewhere.
Two hills later I spot The Dairy, a modern picnic area with tables, toilets and bubblers. A few hundred yards away are the gates I entered through an hour ago. There are a huge number of paths that I could continue to follow in this amazing stretch of nature within our city but Italian Doctors in Love will well and truly be over and so I head back to the bus stop to complete my original journey, hopefully in time for a well-earned lunch, courtesy of my mother.
Images: On the Cowpasture Road, Chrisr: Bunbury’s, from Views of Sydney and Surrounding District by Edward Mason, ca. 1821-1823; 1892. Courtesy of State Library of NSW PXC 459; Map courtesy of Western Sydney Parklands, westernsydneyparklands.com.au; other images author’s own.