The perfect trip: New South Wales
Today, she tells the story of Didhol – the local Aboriginal name for the verdant, tree-covered sandstone formation nearby, more commonly known as Pigeon House Mountain. Aboriginal tradition has it that this is the burial place of an eel and a lyre bird that, at the beginning of the world, got into a fight and killed each other. ‘The old fellas [ancient Aboriginals] put the eel and the lyre bird in that place,’ Julie explains. ‘They scooped the land up over them to form that mountain and called it a place of behaviour – to remind people to behave properly and to warn them about the consequences of bad behaviour.’
Booderee is an Aboriginal word for ‘bay of plenty’, and it’s a significant place for the indigenous communities that have inhabited and cared for this stretch of land for tens of thousands of years. It is rich with their stories. ‘To come to Booderee is to learn and develop a relationship with the place,’ she says. ‘Nothing here is just a “thing”, everything is connected – the ocean, the wind, the trees, the landscape and the people.’
In the midst of Booderee National Park is Australia’s only Aboriginal-owned botanic gardens, with lawns, walkways and swathes of regenerated rainforest. Once, this was clear-felled land, yet today, with the help of the Aboriginal community over the course of three generations, much of it has been returned to its natural state – a fragile tangle of ferns and eucalypts. ‘The beauty of a native garden in a native setting is that it’s undisturbed, so you get a lot of wildlife,’ explains Aboriginal garden curator, Bernie McLeod. He has used his knowledge of the flora and fauna to assist in its return, with wallabies, frogs and tortoises coming back to the forest and lakes as they are restored to their natural state.
Bernie strolls along a wooden walkway and stops at a spot where you can see down to the water’s edge. He points to a stretch of ocean – a migratory resting point for whales. ‘We’re saltwater people,’ he says, ‘and the tradition is that you always give back what you take from the ocean. When our family is catching fish, the eagles herd the fish into the bay so that the men can catch them, and they always chuck some fish back to them. To still see that is fantastic.’
The dense interior forest and Booderee’s scalloped bays help give the park its natural beauty, but it is the living Aboriginal history and knowledge that makes it unique. As Julie the storyteller says: ‘To absorb this country, you gotta stay for a while. We’ve been here for a long time, and we never leave our traditions behind.’
Check out environment.gov.au/parks/booderee.
Where to eat
Seagrass Brasserie is a seafood restaurant in the town of Huskisson. It has a huge outdoor deck and seats 80 indoors – bookings are advised between November and February (mains from £20).
Where to stay
This restored wooden b&b is tucked away in peaceful surrounds of gum trees and gardens, overlooking the clear waters of Huskisson Beach. Each of the Jervis Bay Guest House’s four rooms has double-French doors opening on to a veranda with views of the sea below. Its sunny patio is a great spot for enjoying breakfast and complimentary afternoon tea (from £130).
Blue Mountains: Best for nature
A smoky blue haze rises above a broad canvas of gumtrees as the oil from a billion eucalyptus leaves evaporates in the sun. These mountains were given the official name of Carmarthen and Lansdowne Hills in 1788, but the farmers and convicts who settled in the area soon gave them a different moniker, which remains.