Life on the Skyway

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Amanda Protesting

The phrase ‘clear blue skies’ has never been so pertinent as it is today. I sit planning, wondering and waiting to hear what the Governments next steps in the development of the Badgery’s Creek airport will be while, all the time watching, listening and logging the traffic that currently flies overhead.

I moved to the Blue Mountains with my family of four in 2004 after falling in love with it as a 21-year-old backpacker full of wanderlust and energy. By 2014 we were ready to stretch both ourselves and our relationship with the land a bit further. We purchased a 50-acre property on the slopes of Wyangala Dam near Cowra – our off-the-grid life project. I had no idea at the time how significant and pertinent the location of our two properties would be.

Listen, I can hear one now. This time it is a different sound that pierces the morning’s silence, stealing my attention and breaking my focus.

As the noise fades away once more I pull my attention back to the proposed airport, an airport that is talked about as if it is a foregone conclusion, a ‘captains call’ – so apt a phrase, so ‘we know best’. This is a proposed airport whose fringe laps this beautiful green and blue landscape, taunting it with its concrete and pollution, challenging its survival while all-of-the-time failing to appreciate its full worth. I get the feeling that we’ve been here before…

And another over-head visitor passes. Lower, louder than before. The difference is noted.

I take a moment to wonder why the landscape, tranquility, nature is not valued as highly as concreting-it-over and build-build-build. I feel a slight irony being both the daughter of the building trade and a frequent flyer myself.   A plane brought me here. Not once or twice but four, five, six times maybe. Just two weeks ago it was a plane that took my family and I up to the Great Barrier Reef and brought us home again. I am indeed part of the problem. Or am I part of the problem?

Yet more noise from outside.

So, two weeks ago we flew up to the Great Barrier Reef to share that beautiful far north paradise with our children and my father and partner who were visiting from England. We chose to holiday on the reef carefully and thoughtfully – as eco-tourists, as information seeker. We wanted to start something deep inside the hearts of our children and my English family, something that might stir enough passion and build a strong enough relationship between us to motivate us all to fight for the reefs survival and protection, to care, to see it as a part of us, our future, our legacy. I’m glad we went.

And still they come, I hear them loud and clear and decide to go outside and take a closer look once the rain stops.

But the fight for the reef will have to wait for another day. Today I fight for the mountains and my weapon of choice is my words. I am driven by a deep and unwavering love of the natural world, focused by my scientific and curious mind and supported by my knowledge that I am the mountains, the trees, the birds.

The sounds that have been interrupting my flow were from the birds, birds that are now silent, so silent that at this minute I can only hear the sounds of rain hitting rooftops and my fingers tap, tap, tapping on the keyboard.

Birds in a clear blue sky…

I discovered quite accidentally that our two properties – Fox-Hill-Hollow out west and our family home in Valley Heights mark two points along one of natures great bird migration pathways – the Kanangra Boyd to Wyangala link. A migratory ‘skyway’ that tracks inland, following the Abercrombie River and leading some of our most glorious bird life to their winter getaways.   Situated in an area that is known as the Great Eastern Ranges this aerial corridor offers thousands of avian souls food, shelter and drought refuge each year.

I grew up in England and have fond memories of bird watching as a child. I was a member of the Young Ornithologists Club as a primary school student and saved up my holiday allowance one year to buy a set of binoculars to help me spy upon nature’s tiny aviators. I thought our birds the best in the world thanks to wagtails, robins, blue tits and Wood Peckers but now I know better. It turns out that when it comes to birds Australia is the motherland. Tim Low’s Book ‘Where song began’ explains in captivating detail how birds evolved here amongst our gum-lined forests, meandering rivers and open grasslands. Australia is, quite literally the Mother Land of earths bird population.

My excitement upon discovering that not only have I chosen to live in the country where bird song began but that I live under a bird super-highway was tempered by the reality that this may be a very short honeymoon.   Warragamba Dam sits at the eastern end of the Kanangra Boyd – Wyangala Link and Wyangala just happens to be the closest point to the proposed airport at around eight kilometers away.

2010 marked the fifty-year anniversary of Warragamba dam and the publication of their anniversary booklet. The booklet wasted no time in celebrating the health of the catchment – a health that was proven by the ‘more than 440 different animal species in the protected areas’ including ’34 frog, 59 reptile, 65 mammal and 281 bird species’. The report goes on to say that 37 species were vulnerable or endangered. It also mentions that ‘surveys uncovered forest enclaves filled with vulnerable woodland bird species, species that have virtually disappeared from western Sydney in recent decades’.   Let’s hope these species can adapt to the sound of jet engines on a 24/7 basis.

I hear the roar of engines over-head and check my phone ap. Sydney to Singapore at 15,000 feet. My resolve grows stronger.

I make myself take a step back, get a birds-eye view of the situation that lies before me, us, the mountains, birds, trees and rivers. I find myself saying ‘build it and they will come’ over and over in my head (Field of Dreams 1989) and immediately see the irony in it all. Here we are scrambling to get a foothold onto the complexity, beauty and value of our natural landscape, a landscape that draws tourists, researchers, artists and peace-seekers from all over the world. A landscape hat resonates with the stories of our past, provides the oxygen of our present and offers insight and solutions for our future and we still can’t see it.   We are prepared to stomp about with the single-minded vision and sentiment of a builder concreting over an anthill in order to build a place that brings people to the very site we just destroyed.   Yes, build it and they will come but come to what?

Once again the rain has stopped. I hear nothing, not a plane or a bird in earshot and the silence chills me.

Is deathly silence the future?

I sure hope not.

Read more about this issue here

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