It’s often said that Australians hug the coast. What I’ve learnt travelling across New South Wales for the past couple of months is that we cling to the Great Dividing Range.
According to the Australian Conservation Foundation, 75% of the Australian population lives “along the inland western slopes, eastern escarpment and adjoining coastal plains” of the Great Dividing Range. Most people know it as a geographical feature but It’s also quite simply ‘home’.
Last weekend I had the chance to explore the Mt Kaputar National Park which is just next to Narrabri. It was the first time that I gained a full sense of the geographical divide that the Range plays. Looking to the East from the Summit, rolling hills became mountains which disappeared into the horizon leading to millions of people. To the West, it was completely flat.
From my vantage point, which was just at the footstep of the Range’s Western Slopes, I felt an expansiveness and a divide.
Over the previous week I had travelled from the Night Cap National Park, where I could easily see the Pacific Ocean, up the Eastern Slopes to Glen Innes (famous for snow and its celtic like weather) and across to Moree where the country starts to open up once more.
Even when I reached Moree, I could still feel the pull and influence of all the surrounding towns and centres. Teeming through Moree are highways that take you directly to major regional cities going North, East and South. It’s even the end of the line for the passenger train service that goes to Sydney. Yes, it might be 400km from the coast but it still felt part of this giant population web that stretches from Cairns to Melbourne.
Another 200km inland and it’s a completely different question. Not long after leaving Narrabri, everything flattens out and the sky expands. Away from the elevation of the Great Dividing Range I felt that sense of vastness that often gets attached to Australia.
Vast. It’s a word that’s been on my lips for months now. Returning inland and looping back across New South Wales, I’m getting to know what that word means a bit more in an Australian context. Vast – living outside of the orbit of capital cities. Vast – being completely exposed to the elements. Vast – a stronger connection to country. Vast – ‘anglo’ thinking and dispossession being visibly challenged on a daily basis.
Sitting here in Walgett I feel far more grounded, and that has very little to do with the fact that I’m only 133m above sea level. It’s about being outside of a familiar national conversation that links people all across Eastern Australia. A conversation that more often than not looks over the seas for inspiration, a conversation that’s about speeding up and getting ahead, and a conversation that’s constantly looking to tomorrow.
Here, outside of the population super-network, it just takes more energy to think about what’s happening in the next town. Days ooze into each other and the only way you will get through the year is finding peace with the harsh conditions that frame the calendar.
Australia is shut off from the world right now. But sitting here at the edge of vastness, which Australia are we talking about?