The Rock


Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous form of things

My own search for meaning has lead me to the belief that this generation – those of us searching at the dawn of the twenty-first century – is destined to achieve an extraordinary transformation, one unique in the 4-billion-year history of the Earth, and one which will influence the fate of life from now on.
Tim Flannery

Many years ago when I was a kid, right here on the bottom rock was where my dad and I spoke about ‘the birds and bees’. This talk, where you start to find out about the ‘adult’ facets of life, is kind of like a rite of passage from boyhood into adulthood. One day maybe we will have the same talk, but for now I hope you’re starting to understand a little more about why this place is special to me on several different levels.

Another yarn:

Not only were fish caught off the bottom rock when I was young, there was one season when somebody had the bright idea to drop a crab trap into the depths. To everyone’s surprise a couple of mud crabs, with bodies big as dinner plates and nippers thick as my wrist, were pulled up. Others got wind of the catch. Before long a row of traps dangled over the bottom rock 24/7 and week-by-week crabs by the dozen were pulled up. I saw as many as six crabs crowded in one trap. Their fresh wounds and missing limbs indicated that they’d started mutilating one another where they were tangled.

They were massive, those crabs, and powerful. One of them broke my dad’s finger. As he was showing my cousin how to hold one by the nippers it latched on and my dad swore so loud my cousin literally screamed. Dad shook his hand only to have the crab dislodge from its own nipper, fall to the ground and leave my uncle the task of prying the still-latched nipper off dad’s finger with a screwdriver; which took some minutes and a lot more cussing. Dad’s finger is still crooked to this day.

For a while I stopped jumping off The Rock for fear of losing a toe.

The crabs kept being hauled up. Mum used to cook them alive in pots of boiling water with a house brick over the lid to stop them escaping. One day on my bicycle I nearly ran over a half-cooked crab which escaped from the pot and as if by forces unknown was making its way back to the water. Its own half-cooked guts were frothing from its mouth which sent two caravan park dogs into a quandary about how to engage with such an odd creature. I am still haunted by the high pitched screams of those crabs being cooked alive in boiling pots.

Eventually everyone started to realise the anatomical differences between the males and females; they started throwing the females back in a vain attempt to ensure stocks still bred, but by that time the traps were often being pulled up empty. And just as quick as the crabs were discovered, they stopped being pulled up altogether.

During my time at the caravan park the mud crabs were never seen again.

Those old mud crabs were big and powerful. They could have been going about their lives on the riverbed below the bottom rock forever until that first trap was dropped; they could have been the same age as me back then in my boyhood, or as old as you are now. When I think of this, though, I feel somewhat unbound from all the stuff about Nature and sense of wonder which we’ve been talking about today.

There is more good stuff, however, which I want to show you. Around here from the middle rock – along this ledge which almost seems purpose-made by the hand of Nature solely for us to walk on – and over the rock I call Nose Rock is an amazing sandstone cave. I discovered a lot in this cave: how a cap-full of flaming petrol can be very dangerous, particularly to one’s eyebrows; how to swing a boiled billy made from a steel tin, complete with eucalyptus leaves; how you can make wonderful semi-permanent pictures with charcoal on the sandstone walls; and how, when you get older you can put your hand on a girl’s bottom if she gives you permission.

But look, there’s something I wouldn’t have discovered before. Look at that beautiful orchid nestled between the layers of sandstone. I wonder how long it has been there. That orchid may even have been there, if I had eyes for it, to notice back in my youth. I confess botany wasn’t at the front of my young brain as it is now. I really wish it had been.

We feel the lovely, fine, cool, dusty sand underfoot and we see the river through the trees. I see your eyes watch in wonder.

I ask you: Isn’t this cave a wonderful, quiet little hiding place?

You say “Yes” and ask “One day can we camp here?”

Yes, we can, absolutely! We’ll make a campfire and while we won’t play with flaming petrol or draw on the walls with charcoal, we might swing a billy and drink some tea. I reckon we’ll have plenty to do and learn – plenty we can feel about this place as day turns to dusk and dusk to night and night to dreams; plenty to slowly wake up to from our dreams, through the purple and golden hours as night turns to dawn and dawn to day again. No doubt I’ll come up with some more yarns which might otherwise lie latent in my brain, and you may start collecting and telling yarns of your own too – to share with others the sense of wonder you’d invariably embrace from such an experience.

Sometimes a place in Nature can fill you with wonder instantaneously. The silhouette of a tree catches the sunset in a way which frames a single moment in your memory forever; the chance encounter with a native animal in its own habitat bestows a real connection between yourself and the wild; the salt-spray of a breaking ocean wave refreshes so invigoratingly you never want to leave the sea. These wonders I call the ‘sprinters’ – powerful but beautiful moments which run up and slap you in the face.

There are also wonders I call the ‘stayers’. I put The Rock in this category. These are the places which build on our sense of wonder over a long time. These are the places which simmer under layers of experience and story until the place itself almost becomes mystical. I’m sure these places are what the Aborigines call ‘sacred’. So I don’t use the term loosely when on a personal level I call The Rock a sacred place to me. When I come here I realise I am a part of something bigger than myself. I have accumulated a backlog of experiences and lessons learnt, sat quietly and heard the creaks and groans of all the life in this place rubbing together as one. I have shivered here in winter and been quenched in summer, drank it all in until I’ve literally cried where I sat.

From The Rock I have my own stories to yarn about. I am an old crab and while my shell may appear hard and gnarled I still have many soft spots to allow the wonder in. I can sometimes be confronted by the world and nip at nothing in particular but I have this place and I have you and I could not be more grateful.

Time to go back up to the top rock and sit for a little while longer.

About Blair Paterson

Blair grew up and lives in Sydney’s Inner West. He first realised a love of nature and the outdoors during weekends and holidays with his family on the Hawkesbury River. From humble childhood pastimes building billycarts and tree houses to spending large chunks of time in the bush, Blair now embarks on outdoor pursuits whenever and however possible – by foot, kayak, bicycle or other. He has worked in Environmental Management and currently Outdoor Education. Some of his fondest travels to date have been around Australia and through the Indian Himalayas.
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