‘Honouring mum’s memory with a visit to her dream retirement spot’

Sep 12, 2020
The old Pill Factory in Bundanoon. Source: Ian Smith

I can still conjure up, without any effort, my mother expressing the view that she’d like to retire in Bundanoon. She’d extol its virtues and beauty but it was never going to happen. Even I knew that growing up. We never even went to Bundanoon as a family, but the name echoed in my brain through the years as she was dying from all manner of ailments and when she passed away; who remembers the day, certainly not me because I’m not good at such things. However, I can vividly recall numerous visits to her in various institutions in her decline and the day I cast her ashes into Lake Macquarie at Rathmines and into an onshore wind that blew some of them back over me and incited all manner of thoughts, particularly if she was still trying to tell me something.

As I was trying to say, one of the things I did recall was Bundanoon, and it’s never left me. Thus it was, when I purchased my motorhome, one of the places that flitted now and then in my brain was Bundanoon, until I finally made the journey south from Lake Macquarie with my mother in mind, if not in reality.

As I neared the area there was a large branch hanging off a pine tree right in my path as I rounded a curve. I started to swerve to the other side of the road but a milk truck was coming the other way so I slammed right into the branch as the better alternative, cracking the upper front curved portion of the cabin. It was a disappointing start to the adventure. Was my mother still trying to send messages?

Bundanoon turned out to be a really enticing place for me. Dated buildings scattered everywhere and a real mountain feel; cold, quirky people, unique gardens and atmospheric cafes dotted along the main street. The only problem is, the railway goes right through the centre of town and the constant stream of freight trains does add to the noise content considerably at night.
It has also achieved fame beyond its size. It is the first town to ban bottled water! HOORAY I say. I still haven’t come to terms with what’s wrong with the water that comes out of our taps, except during bushfire situations of course. Bundanoon banned it over a decade ago and the village is still intact; amazing, didn’t hurt at all.

The Holy Trinity Church in Bundanoon. Source: Ian Smith

It also happens to be right on the doorstep of one of New South Wales’s largest national parks, Morton. To those who live outside the area it’s not what you’d term “well known” but it does have some notable areas. Although I prefer those nearer the coast where the rainfall is more plentiful.

Still, after realising Bungendore, which has a fabulous art gallery, wasn’t where I was aiming and arriving at Bundanoon when I really meant to be at Bungonia, I decided to spend the night. Getting there in the dark I pulled over at the large information board and thought, “This will be a nice spot to camp”, but soon after was on my way when the first freight train roared past.

I found a spot not 100 metres from the Morton national park entrance where others had obviously stayed and pulled up there. The quiet was beguiling. The moon highlighting the already charcoal black trees was mystic … except it was freezing. “Welcome to the Southern Highlands,” some remarked the next day when I dared speak about the cold.

Bundanoon’s main street. Source: Ian Smith

Next morning I drove into the park. During the pandemic they’ve had some time to get the roads up to scratch but not to repair all the walks. That will take time and more money. My normally mundane trip to their toilet became excitement central when I spied a male lyrebird. Though not fully displaying his tail at least it was better than the somewhat drab females.

I’d really forgotten most of the walks I’d done here so reconnoitred the area and checked out the maps displayed. All this led me to the fact that the walk I really wanted to go on was ‘closed’. Still, as I’ve said in the past, it’s only a sign so, after checking out the lookouts I pencilled Fern Gully in for the afternoon.

Further down I arrived at the start of the walk. Fern Gully, an aptly named section, was about all I was going to get to. It’s one of the must-do walks here. A lone female runner, ears embedded with plugs, jogged by just as I was pulling up. I wasn’t alone after all.

Down the rutted and rocky trail I went. It’s only 500m but, halfway down, there’s a set of stairs, with the third lot of warnings and barriers I’d come across. It was here that some damage was evident, with four-and-a-half steps missing from a made wooden staircase.

I scrambled down, the sound of water gurgling on sandstone as a magnet. Through the ferns I strolled, shrouded by the tranquility of the bush, until I reached the point where the stream disappeared over the edge. There are times when I’ll try to get closer to get a shot, today wasn’t one of them.

I felt privileged just to have been there and turned around to climb back out again. Bundanoon had me for a couple of freezing days, but I wouldn’t forget it for the right reasons.

Sue's sassy!

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