The Gully’s Abuse and Neglect


‘The Gully’ (Gungaree) – A Brief Background’


The Gully

(Photo by editor 20110502, free in public domain)


In the upper Blue Mountains, a creek and series of wetlands following the upper reaches of the Upper Kedumba River above Katoomba Falls form an elongated upland valley.  This creek valley has been known affectionately for many decades by its residents and locals simply as ‘The Gully’..

Situated next to the township of Katoomba, The Gully has long been surrounded by housing development above it atop its steep valley embankments.  Yet  The Gully holds important cultural values to the local Gundungurra and Darug traditional people of the Blue Mountains, both ancestrally and through to the current generations.  The Gully has been a ceremonial meeting place for traditional peoples of the Blue Mountains for perhaps thousands of years.  Since colonial settlement at Katoomba in the 1870s, The Gully has provided a secure haven for poor people both black and white, who although living in basic squat conditions in the extremes of Mountains weather, lived together as a close knit community; the Congregational Church for many years having played a key uniting role.

Jimmy War Sing, Chinese market gardener and fruiterer on his silky in The Gully, the horse not well fed.
His ‘Chinese Garden’ was situated in a natural gully with a small watercourse running through it behind Loftus and Neale Streets (McRae’s Paddock).
(Photo c1903), supplied by Colin Slade in Pict. Memories Blue Mountains, John Low 2002)^  .

Two particular historic events have adversely impacted upon The Gully’s ecological integrity and its human community.  The first event was the bulldozing of the natural swamp of frogs hollow in the 1940s by developer Horace Gates to constructed a dam as part of his theme park scheme for the Gully.  A few years later a Catalina flying boat was floated in the dam (lake) as a tourism draw card. At some time in the late 19th Century a local by the name of McRae, decided to bulldoze and infill the wetland in the mid part of the valley so that he could graze his stock.

The second event was the bulldozing of the entire top valley including the homes of several families in 1957 by the Blue Mountains Council in collaboration with a local fraternity car racing drivers and local businessmen to make way for a motor racing circuit – ‘Catalina Raceway’.  Those families were forcibly evicted from their homes, extricated from The Gully and one woman died of a heart attack during the raid.

Catalina Raceway was used for motor racing through the 1960s, by the 1970s the racing circuit had steadily fallen into disrepair. This was due to a number of factors – repeated foggy weather at many racing events, the inability of the racing association to repay its construction debt to the Blue Mountains Council, new competition from circuits nearer to Sydney (Oran Park and Amaroo Park), and due to the prohibitive cost of increasing motor racing safety standards, prompted by the death of a racing driver at ‘Craven A Corner’.

The track became overgrown and weeds spread throughout the valley.  Blue Mountains Council named the valley ‘Catalina Park‘, and later the top valley ‘Frank Walford Park’ after the namesake of a previous councillor who had been a key decision maker in have the racetrack built.  Car Racing at Catalina, culminating in the formation of the Blue Mountains Tourist Association.

In 1989, local residents concerned about the poor state of the valley and with a desire to stop the car racing and protect the natural values of the valley, formed The Friends of Katoomba Falls Creek Valley, Inc. ‘The Friends’ were one of the first Bushcare groups in the Blue Mountains and since 1989 their volunteers have regularly engaged in bush regeneration throughout the valley.  The Friends galvanised local community interest, running street stalls to raise funds and community awareness over the plight of the long neglected valley.  The Friends lobbied Blue Mountains Council to have the racing banned and to have the weeds removed and to restore the valley to its pre-1957 natural state. The Friends’ were instrumental in having plans prepared for the rehabilitation for the valley, most notably the 1993 Bell Report prepared by environmental consultant Fred Bell, the only one done so in consultation with the local community.  To date, none of the several plans drafted has been put into effect by local council, so the Gully remains neglected and the race track long abandoned, yet the natural bush vegetation is steadily recovering.

In 2000, local Darug elder, Aunty Dawn Colless, was instrumental in achieving proper recognition for The Gully as an official Aboriginal Place under the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Act. On 18th May 2002, regrettably after Dawn’s passing, The Gully became protected under Sections 84, 85 and 90 from development and all racing formally banned.

In 2004, the Blue Mountains Council finally released it 2002 draft Plan of Management for The Gully, however,  after seven years is yet to be funded and implemented; council preferring to fund multi-million urban developments such as nearby Katoomba Cultural (Shopping) Centre.  In that same year,  past Aboriginal residents and descendants of The Gully collaborated with local council management to have an archaeological survey conducted at key traditional cultural sites throughout The Gully.
In early  2006, a collaborative coalition of various community members including traditional Gundungurra and Darug and The Friends and formed ‘The Gully Guardians’, although this was short-lived due to undermining tactics by political interests within Blue Mountains Council causing hostilities.   This was superseded by the establishment of the ‘Gully Traditional Owners’ in June 2006 by representatives of the Aboriginal people that had inhabited the Gully over many generations.  The Gully Traditional Owners has since that time collaborated with Blue Mountains Council to achieve New South Wales grant funding for restoration works, including a planned interpretative walking track through the Gully.

‘The Gully Cause’

The Gully cause is an humanitarian one as it is an ecological one.

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