Australia is the epitome of diversity. Many unique forms and expressions can be found within its peoples and cultures, and in the ever changing landscape and natural environment. One example of this is the Eastern Cordillera. Not only does the third longest range in the world literally separate the East coast from the bush, but there is a striking difference to be found in the land and way of life on the Western side of the Great Dividing Range. Let’s discover it together, beginning from my old stomping ground. We leave behind quiet beaches and busy town folk who are sipping Boost Juices and looking for Christmas gifts. Ambling along the old coach road, we pass through a timber town that was once a thriving center for exporting wood harvested by axe and bullock dray. First prepared by dozens of sawmills, then distributed along the coast by steam train, the wood industry is now immortalized in a run-down theme park that has seen better days. These days, although bereft of industry, it retains the charm of a small town, nestled in the foothills of the range and home to families and retirees.
Moving on, we gradually begin to ascend, passing small farms and contended cattle, and arrive at the base of appropriately nicknamed, Spew Mountain. I’ll leave the graphic details to your imagination, but it’s safe to say that it is definitely not a motion-sick passenger’s favourite route! Thankfully this doesn’t bother me, because we suddenly arrive at the edge of a steep valley and tall peaks, from which it is possible to view the Pacific Ocean. The road winds around and around, a dizzying drop on one side, and the ever-present threat of falling rocks on the other. Before long our ears pop and we merge into the temperate rainforest, phew! Here it’s worthwhile winding down our windows to hear the Whip Birds, Bell Birds and Currawongs caroling in the cool air amidst green ferns and mossy trailing vines. Providing we don’t need a pit-stop and we don’t get stuck behind a caravan, the road evens out in about 40 minutes and your stomach will return to normal.
Along the way we’ve spotted some letterboxes but no other sign of habitation. As the landscape flattens out to gentle rolling hills, houses appear in the distance, indicated by prominent signs at the end of dusty driveways. At this time of year, the landscape still has a tinge of green, and calves and lambs run circles around their parents, who lazily swish away the flies that are starting to arrive in droves. In homes and businesses along the Cordillera, technology has taken root and is changing lives just as much as elsewhere. But on the outside, this world hasn’t changed that much. Life still revolves around the seasons. Farmers still get around in utes and trucks with Bluey at their heels, and children travel up to 50km to get to school with a bus driver who knows them by name, or they’re homeschooled by enterprising parents. As we venture even further into the plateau, the paddocks whizzing past the car are dotted with granite rocks, the bane of every plow and seeder, and scattered heaps of these rocks at the edges of plowed ground bear testament to the work involved in cultivation.
We pass through big towns and small towns and see signs to even smaller communities with quaint names. The tinkle of a bell in a takeaway shop means a friendly smile from a local and a meat pie or a scone to keep us going. Along the highway the air is sweet, scented with hay and wildflowers, and a touch of diesel. This scenery tugs at my heart strings. This is home. The wild, untamed nature of the rocks, trees and wind gives me energy and purpose. We could drive all the way from beautiful Tasmania where the range begins, through the wild Snowy peaks, over the spectacular Blue ones, past the rainforests of the north, all the way up to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Apparently we would see so much and yet, miss most of it. Real adventure is in stopping, seeing more than 5km on each side of a road. Going down the lanes and byways, meeting the ones who raise our beef, harvest our crops, mine our resources or prepare for renewable energy. For this country is nothing without its people, whether Indigenous, settlers and migrants. These do not always coexist peacefully, but they all contribute to the country you and I live in. This range will always be home, even though I have not spent much time there and nor do I understand it as well as I would like to. But each year when I travel down 15% of it, I am reminded of my connection to this land and how preserving the environment and honouring the people who are a part of it is so important to me.
Thanks for coming on this road trip! Stay tuned for more adventures as we venture further West where the sky becomes bluer, the grass turns dry, and the coast is a distant memory. If you connected to something in this story, please leave a comment and share your experience of the Eastern Cordillera.