‘I look over the development here,’ said Patsy Cameron, our guide to Launceston’s Cataract Gorge.
The ‘development’ she refers to includes tea-rooms, the quaintly named ‘inclinator’, the chairlift, and various other accoutrements of a European Australian’s Sunday afternoon picnic outing that have adhered to this special and sacred site. I’m on a ‘mystery walking tour’ during the recent national conference for Australia’s regional arts scene. ‘I abandon you if you start talking to the peacocks,’ warns Patsy Cameron, ‘They sound so mournful and they do not belong here.’
Born in the area known as the Tasmanian city of Launceston and brought up on Tasmania’s Flinders Island, Patsy Cameron is a woman to respect and adore. She is a Palawa elder, custodian of precious cultural information including the making of shell necklaces and reed baskets. She is a perceptive and accessible academic, and, as I am to experience, infinitely kind. Patsy Cameron “has consistently worked to increase opportunities and achievements for Aboriginal people and actively endeavours to pass on her significant knowledge of Tasmanian Aboriginal culture”, says the conference I’m attending’s background burble on her. She has worked closely with non-Indigenous Australian historian, Professor Henry Reynolds.
Cataract Gorge is amazing. We are lucky enough to visit when a phenomenal amount of water is hurtling down the gorge, despite damming upstream (for hydroelectricity). In this place the noise of Tasmania’s longest river, the South Esk, is thunderous. Despite the tackiness and triviality of the later additions Patsy so deplores, there is still the beauty of the place, the damp of the air, the feeling of life stirring in the rich soils, under the bushes and trees. There are the watching rocks.
We swing across the suspension bridge. ‘I don’t mind this so much,’ says Patsy, ‘It makes it possible for us to be here.’ Engineers in cosmic yellow waistcoats are giving the bridge its annual safety check and I stop to chat and take their photo. Heading around a path and now alone, I find a spot where looking into the river has me crying uncontrollably. I feel such despair and such longing for the rushing waters to take me and pound all the hurt away. Have you ever experienced something like that? Something perhaps from another life, another era, a deep seated memory from your soul?
I am grateful to be led back to the conference for a hot chocolate and reassuring chat with Patsy Cameron. One of her nephews looks in to say hello. He’s been the hotel’s maintenance man for 15 years. I wish to myself that Patsy were my aunty too.
Some interesting Patsy Cameron sites to look up: