The Royal Campaign Widens

How easily simplicity vanishes! When we first looked at Royal a year ago as “First National Park” we thought that said it all. But now we’ve looked more deeply and we glimpse a more complex, richer picture.

While there’s no doubt ours is this continent’s first dedicated national park (1879), thoughtful supporters have asked for attention to the time before 1788 when the park was part of continuous bushland, part of a large region – a distinct ecological region broadly termed The Sydney Basin.

Attempts to define this “basin” usually begin with its underlying rocks which have contributed to determining its soils – first the “Permian Shales and coal seams” put down 250 million years ago; second the “Tertiary Shales and sandstone” put down 65 million years ago. Upon these bases have arisen the distinctive ecological area we conveniently call the Sydney Basin.

Our Royal, established so early, has fortunately survived, relatively unscathed, the destructive development of widespread and rambling urban Sydney. Royal’s good fortune is turning out to be important for other parts of the Sydney Basin. Royal has “linchpin” significance for other parts that have survived fairly well – notably Kuring-Gai National Park and, on our border, the Greater Blue Mountains National Park (which won World Heritage Listing in 1998).

If our bid for World Heritage Listing is successful, then this is bound to enhance the will of other areas, and certainly Kuring-Gai, to seek similar recognition. It will enable even mighty Greater Blue Mountains National Park to add values-criteria to those that were recognised in 1998.

We should also make more than we have of claims for “Cultural Recognition” of our National Park. That is, we should go beyond the range of ecological values we have thus far emphasised.

There are, for example, the strong claims of Aboriginal leaders, that we must remember the values of the Aborigines prior to their dispossession by Europeans from 1788 onward.

The Aborigines’ land was not “terra nullius”: it was the land of an ancient people who reverenced all of nature. Understandably, they looked on bewildered at the land-hungry Europeans. There should be no private ownership of land, they said; rather, the land owns us, owns the people.

Surviving evidence of indigenous occupation is abundant in Royal, in rock-paintings, middens, burial sites, tool-sharpening sites, and more; and to this material evidence needs to be added surviving language and place names – and of course The Dreaming, which is more than the cosmology of sun, moon, stars and Great Serpent, it is their everything.

Dr Geoff Mosley, drafting our report, will make the larger case, a comprehensive one for Royal’s World Heritage Listing, and incidentally will provide arguments that can be taken up by other parkland areas for their recognition within the world picture of heritage.

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