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  • Writer's pictureKaia Colestock

Day 22: Newcastle to Royal National Park

Updated: Jan 6

First morning walk of the day was a meander through tall grassland on the edge of eucalyptus forest. A very Midwest-esque mowed trail guided us through the habitat.

Fairy martins with peach-colored crowns came down to a puddle to collect mud for their nests.

We circumnavigated Sydney to avoid the 3-mile tunnels and heavy traffic. As we came to the south side of the city, Royal National Park opened up into a world of subtropical forest once again, as if the city wasn’t five minutes away. We explored the old heathland (or chaparral shrubland, for Californians) for new sights and sounds. One of the long-anticipated honeyeaters appeared on a coastal trail - a New Holland honeyeater, followed by a little wattlebird. We capped if off with a spotted pardalote.

Australia is marbled with inlets and watercourses from every turn and angle. And with them, come spectacular bays and harbors carved into the landscape - the kind that would be desirable places to anchor with large ships. The lands in and around Sydney have some of the oldest documented (European) history in the country. As Bryson references in his travel book, “In a Sunburned Country,” James Cook happened upon the southeast corner of Australia by happy accident after circling New Zealand, and followed the coastline north to Cape York for 1800 miles. Having fulfilled the primary mission of measuring a transit of Venus across the sun, Cook’s only task at that point was to explore the South Pacific. Not a bad gig. He happened to have a brilliant botanist on board. Over the 3-year Endeavor voyage, the botanist collected at least 1400 plants unknown to science, most of which still await cataloging in the Natural History Museum in London. In April 1770, the land on the eastern coastline looked lush and green, and Cook favorably described the terrain in his records. They stopped to explore a place now called Botany Bay, just south of Sydney. But Cook mistook Australia’s wet season for dry conditions. Captain Phillip followed Cook’s records 17 years later with 1500 people in tow (most convicts) and was met with horrid conditions at Botany Bay. The Garden of Eden was found in a different season. The new prisoners, officers, and mariners went through unimaginable hardships. In a attempt to find a better spot, Phillip sailed up to a larger inlet just to the north and anchored at almost the exact spot where the Sydney Opera House now stands. Interactions between the Europeans and the Aborigines were quite hostile, and anyone who strayed from camp, was killed. The convicts were left the govern themselves in many ways, and they made the best of things. When officers were called home, those to remained lived out their life sentence in Australia.

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