One of my favourite things about climbing is discovering hidden places in the bush. Some of them are far away, and take time and a 4WD to reach. Others are closer than you think. We have climbed on river cliffs just below the hospital in Nowra, and bouldered in blackberry brambles below Peejar Dam. (I don’t recommend climbing in blackberries. They hurt!)
On Sunday we went to Bidjigal Reserve, in Baulkham Hills in Sydney. If you look at it on google maps, all you see is suburbia. In fact, we pulled up on the verge in the middle of suburban street, surrounded by brown-brick houses. It felt like magic to slip between them, down an access road, and into the reserve. Suddenly we were in gum forest, with a blue valley below us and rocks all around. All within earshot of the motorway. We followed a path between bushes, and along rock steps down into the valley. Soon the cockatoos were louder than the traffic, and the houses were no longer visible.
We found the rocks we had come to climb. The handholds were marked with chalk, proof of other climbers, other people. Those chalk smears always remind me of the ochre hand prints, blown on rock walls in the Kimberleys. Proof of other lives, other cultures.
I wasn’t able to climb much that day. The boys moved on to bigger, more spectacular boulders, but I was content to sit and contemplate. We are so blessed to have wilderness in our midst, and even more to find it. I wondered how the park had managed to remain, as developments went up all around it. It felt timeless and immutable, as if it would see our culture shift and change before it was swallowed by it.
I sat still as the sun hid behind the hills and the mosquitos came out. I felt tired, but alive to this place, fully present. The boulders are patient sentinels. We may mark them with chalk and climb on their face, but they persist. I could still hear the traffic, but it didn’t stop me finding my place on the bare earth. This is not my country – I do not know who the Bidjigal people, their history or their fate. But I hope they don’t mind me claiming sanctuary in their valley, knowing we leave nothing behind but dusty chalk.