A camel on the coast

I love the South Coast of New South Wales, I’ve been going there for holidays since I was a kid… actually I’m still a kid at heart. Though some might, more accurately, describe me now as an ‘old goat’ – just don’t call me a camel!

Anyway, one of the most beautiful parts of the South Coast is to be found around Narooma and its environs. On a clear day, you can see Montague Island which is situated approximately 9km out to sea.  Aboriginal people know the island as Baranguba – the eldest petulant offspring of Gulaga, which is the name of the mountain, inland from Narooma. Up until 2006, we knew the mountain (806m above sea level) as Mount Dromedary, courtesy of the master mariner – Captain James Cook.

James Cook first sighted the island and mountain in 1770 during his voyage of discovery of the east coast of Australia. From his point of view, out at sea, Cook thought that the island and mountain were joined to the mainland as a promontory. Accordingly, he named it Cape Dromedary because, to his eyes, it resembled the shape of a camel. It was later in 1790 that the separate island was identified as such, and named by the master of the Second Fleet convict transport Surprize after George Montagu-Dunk, The Right Honourable 2nd Earl of Halifax. The Right Honourable George was a prominent mover and shaker in the affairs of the North Americas and Canada in the 1700s, prior to the American war of independence. Why an additional ‘e’ was added to the name Montague is unknown. But Dunk Island off the Queensland coast is also named after him. As far as I can tell, however, George had no connection to camels.

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At any rate, the Montagus (sans ‘e’) hailed from Northamptonshire in England. A county that remains largely rural to this day; the family seat was at the village of Horton. Interestingly, much of that area has been featured in ‘Escape to the Country’ – a British television programme (available here on the Channel 7) that follows the progress of some city dwellers as they try for a ‘tree change’ from an urban existence to an idyllic new life in a more pastoral setting! Personally, the rolling hills of green around Narooma and Mount Gulaga/Dromedary remind me of what rural England looks like; or rather what I perceive it to be like. I’ve been considering my own ‘sea and tree change’ to this area for some time now.

Some years ago, I climbed Mount Drom (as it was then known locally) in the company of a former girlfriend who was enamoured of the great outdoors. We began our trek from a track that starts from the rear section of Central Tilba – a village classified by the National Trust, which clings to the lower slopes. It was quite an exhausting climb but mountaineering equipment wasn’t required as a well-worn track approximately 11km, taking about a half a day to complete, leads you to the summit. Nature abounded all around us. As Woody Allen once said, ‘I am at two with Nature.’ I confess now 20 years later that in comparison, my motivation was more of a sensual nature; not exactly a version of the ‘mile high club’ but you get the idea! Alas that fantasy was not realised, due to three important reasons.

1: The climb was far more arduous than either one of us had imagined.

2: The peak was littered with boulders of all sizes, not to mention debris from overhanging trees plus an abundance of ants and other insects; just finding a place to stand was difficult. Let alone…

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3: People were constantly arriving and departing!

We might have been on top of ‘camel’ mountain but there was definitely no humping! No intimate camaraderie on Mount Dromedary! I was miffed! My paramour was quite miffed… but only because it was difficult to see Montague Island out at sea, since the surrounding vegetation obscured her view!

Mount Dromedary or Gulaga (to give it its older, restored, Aboriginal name) was, eons ago, about twice the size it is now. Back in the dim distant past, pre Dreamtime even, Gulaga was an active volcano with its last major eruption over 60 million years ago, and its peak was approximately 3,000m above the primordial sea. Geologists believe that Montague Island or Baranguba (9km out to sea) is the remnant of that last cataclysmic upsurge. Quite a dramatic event or even a dromedaris* event if you will.

Anyhow, we took a couple of pics and decided it was time to get down from Dromedary. Though as everyone knows: you don’t get down from a dromedary; you get down from a duck! Quack! I think the highlight of the day was a drink in the bar of the Dromedary Hotel, when we got back to Tilba. From a corner of my mind, I seem to recollect that my girlfriend might have smoked a Camel on the veranda afterwards.

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*Dutch for dromedary.

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