It was never a place a had really visited before. As a child I passed through Richmond and Windsor countless times on family holidays to the coast but we rarely stopped. To me it was just the place at the foot of the Blue Mountains. I was usually feeling pretty car sick by then, after the winding mountain road, so I never paid much attention to the old sandstone buildings or green river flats.
The Hawkesbury River forms where the Grose and Nepean Rivers join just to the west of Richmond. It then meanders to the north before turning a big bend at Wiseman’s Ferry and heading toward the sea. Because the early European settlers were a maritime people it the was the deep waters of the Hawkesbury River that allowed early settlement of this fertile area. The first settlers called this place Green Hills and it later became the major regional centre of a mixed farming district that saved the early colony from starvation.
But the idyllic pastures that surround this district today hide the ugly truth of Australia’s colonial past. Settlement of this area came at a huge cost for the Aboriginal people and was one of the first sites open conflict against the European invaders. European farms interrupted the open landscape and regular hunting and foraging the Aboriginals were familiar with. They took to attacking livestock and sometimes, when confronted, the settlers themselves. In reprisal the military hunted and arrested as many as they could round up.
It’s a Saturday morning and the shopping crowd bustles around me as I sit in a cafe sipping on a hot Chai latte. I’m reading The Colony: A history of Early Sydney by Grace Karskens. I feel like it brings the history alive to read this in the same place where so much happened. Our past saddens me. As a nation we have done so little to repair what was done by earlier generations. I feel guilty because I’m part of that, a white girl that can never really understand what it is like to know your ancestors were hunted and pushed out of their country.
I finish my Chai and take five dollars from my bag. The old Aboriginal guy that is busking in the mall nods and says ‘thank you’ as I drop the note into his guitar case. There has to be more I can do.