Culture and heritage

Aboriginal heritage

Upper Kedumba River Valley - The Gully

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Why is it an Aboriginal Place?

The Gully is a former Aboriginal fringe camp/settlement.

Why is it important to Aboriginal people?

In the pre-1788 era, the Gully was an important meeting and camping place for Aboriginal people.

Gundungurra people established a permanent residential settlement in the Gully from at least 1894. The Aboriginal settlement at the Gully was outside the control of the NSW Government's Aboriginal Protection Board, which meant that residents were relatively independent, built their own huts, and established a strong community. A culture of sharing was an important feature of life in the Gully: residents shared resources and helped each other, especially during the Depression in the 1930s. Lyn Stranger remembers the Mission Church, which members of the Aboriginal community helped build in 1910, as being 'very important in the community life of the Gully'. It was a meeting place for local Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

In 1957 the residents of the Gully were forcibly evicted to make way for the construction of a car racing track. The eviction caused emotional distress and upheaval for the local Aboriginal community.

Local Gundungurra and Darug ex-residents and their descendants continue to visit the former settlement because many of their relatives were born, grew up, or lived at the Gully. Dawn Colless, a Gundungurra woman, who lived at the Gully as a child, describes her relationship to the place: 'when I go there, I feel the people who have lived there... it is such a special place - a sacred place'.

What's on the ground?

A few of the walking tracks that formed part of the settlement can still be seen. Fruit trees planted by Aboriginal residents remain, but remnants of dwellings have largely been overgrown by vegetation. Grinding grooves, camp sites and rock wells are evidence of Aboriginal presence before the 1890s.

Nature of the environment

Katoomba Falls Creek flows through the centre of the area to Katoomba Falls. The Catalina Racing Circuit - a winding strip of bitumen with a large swamp at its centre is surrounded by eucalypt bushland on its northern and western sides and grassed ovals and sports facilities to the south.

What's the land used for?

The Gully is a public reserve used for recreation and sporting activities. Walking tracks developed by former Aboriginal occupants of the Gully are still used by local residents. The area around Katoomba Falls is used for tourism and has well-maintained walking tracks.

Land status

The Gully Aboriginal Place is on land owned by Blue Mountains City Council. The Gully Traditional owners and the Blue Mountains City Council put in place a co-operative management agreement in 2008.

Quotes

Dawn Colless: 'How precious the Gully is... When I walk beside the race track, which I have done many times, there is a peace about the place I can't explain. My link with my great grandparents, Billy and Fanny Lynch and my grandmother Rosie - I can feel their presence. It's as though they never left.' (Johnson & Colless, 124; Sacred Waters, 107)

Val Northey: 'After the race track [was installed], Mum'd take the (grand) kids down there to have a look. But it wasn't the same place anymore. Everything'd gone. It just didn't seem the same place.' (Johnson & Colless, 45)

Carol Cooper: 'The Gully is the spiritual place. To me it's a magical place. You have no fear there, you always feel safe. The spirits there, they just look after you... We had such great times there.' (Johnson & Colless, 126)

Merle Williams: 'The Gully traditional owners are delighted that the [Blue Mountains City] council has taken this step [co-operative management] to formalise the involvement of Aboriginal people in the management of The Gully, including the decision-making related to land management activities.' (The Koori Mail, 24 Sept. 2008, p. 36)

Further information

Diane Johnson with Dawn Colless 2002, 'Upper Kedumba Valley, Katoomba: Report on the cultural significance of Upper Kedumba Valley for the declaration as an Aboriginal Place'. Unpublished report to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, New South Wales.

Dianne Johnson in collaboration with the residents of the Gully and their descendants 2007, Sacred Waters: The Story of the Blue Mountains Gully Traditional Owners, Halstead Press, Broadway, NSW.

Page last updated: 25 January 2016