It seems a shame that although it is right on our doorstep, very few people are aware of the existence of Red Hill. Shrouded in mysteries, this gorgeous expanse of bushland is tucked in behind Beacon Hill and Oxford Falls and has been the subject of controversy for the last few decades.
It is also a shame that in the 1990s, developers rubbed their hands together with glee when they realized the elevated position of Red Hill offered spectacular 360 degree views extending up the Northern Beaches Peninsula and looking the other way, into the city. The Red Hill Preservation Society attempted to stop the development with limited success.
What remains today is a bushland with a myriad of wild dirt trails. Much of it is Crown Land managed and administered by Northern Beaches Council, but the majority of the vast expanse is owned by Metropolitan Aboriginal Land Council.
When researching Red Hill, it is striking how little is known about the area, it is as if it has fallen off google. Mountain and Dirt Bike and horse riders keep tight lipped about its existence in order to keep it to themselves but more likely because the existence of the rich Aboriginal heritage could bring unwanted attention.
It appears that there are no longer any initiated Aboriginal descendants left to explain the history and significance of Red Hill – could it remain an unsolved mystery forever? Undaunted, last Friday we ventured into the area with Uncle Jimmy from the Aboriginal Land Council.
As we picked our way along the muddy trail, the bush (tucker) literally came to life around us. Casuarina nuts for skin beautification, but more importantly, a tree that was a safe place to leave a baby as snakes will not crawl over the sharp nuts – it seems hundreds of years ago, it was literally crawling with snakes and even then, they commanded respect.
Gadi grass, after which the Gadigal people were named, was a source of spears and tools. Paper from the paper bark when infused with teatree made an effective antiseptic bandage. And who knew how good eucalyptus gum could taste when mixed with honey? This was a favourite children’s lolly and possibly the first ever Fisherman’s Friend. Similarly blossoms provided sweet nectar straight from the flower.
Contrary to the popular belief that the Aboriginal diet pre empted the Paleo movement, it seems grains did play a role in their diet and were obtained from a number of sources. The spiky Lomandra seeds were ground into a flour and then made into bread. Could this be the original Aussie damper? Lomandra always exists in swampy areas which were also rich food sources. They were also great hiding places - the famous warrior Pemulwuy evaded his armed British pursuers in the swamps in 1790 after spearing McIntyre- a fascinating story of early encounters, guerilla warfare and mass murders. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pemulwuy).
As we walked, Uncle Jimmy captivated us with the Dreamtime Story of the Seven Sisters (also known as the constellation Orion or Pleiades). The ultimate story of unrequited love, Wati Nyiru (Venus - a male in Aboriginal astronomy) is forever chasing the Seven Sisters stars across the universe, getting achingly close and then the Seven Sisters darting away to safety. This story is incorporated into women’s ceremonies and when they tell it, no man is allowed within 15 kms…the x rated version perhaps? (Uncle Jimmy didn't tell us this bit but some say that the problem arose with Wati Nyiru's 'special companion' – a super-sized penis wrapped around his waist). Beware of Subaru drivers, their logo is also based on this constellation.
Our discovery of flat rocks literally covered in engravings was incredible, but our real reward was Uncle Jimmy’s delight. His experienced eye dated the engravings, which depicted humans, whales, a kangaroo, a sugar glider, stingrays and other, at about 8,000-10,000 years old. The adjoining ochre pits were equally important – multi coloured reds, yellows and whites with a beautiful fine texture. Perfect for so many uses including ceremonies, cosmetics and sunscreen.
So why was this spot chosen for such prolific rock embellishment? Our feeling of being on top of the world would have been the same for the locals in Aboriginal times. Red Hill is the highest peak in the area and, similar to Moon Rock, it sits on energy gridlines, a concept common in many religions (the location of the nearby Bahai Temple also chosen carefully to maximize the energy flows). Nearby Moon Rock is well known as a sacred Aboriginal astronomy location, and it could be speculated that Red Hill was used for similar purposes. Understanding astronomy was imperative for survival. Constellations signalled seasons, fishing periods, the migration of whales, another major food source – who doesn’t love a feast sometimes? Governor Phillip got speared at Collins when he came too close one such celebration.
So we finished our walk buzzing with information but more importantly, with a sense of belonging. What a privilege to have such a personal glimpse of this amazing culture. Our next Off the Grid in the Hood Adventure with Uncle will be confirmed sometime soon when the Seven Sisters are on the move, the whales are migrating, the snakes are hibernating and the temperatures are still nice and cool.