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George Caley's Blue Mountains expedition revisited 200 years on.

George Caley may not be a household name but in November 2004, Mount Tomah Botanic Garden (MTBG) and National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) planned for that to change.

The two organisations, in collaboration with several modern day adventurers, repeated George Caley's largely forgotten expedition into the Blue Mountains.

November 2004 marks two centuries since George Caley, in the service of Sir Joseph Banks, set off with his small band of three men (and a dog) from Parramatta. Arriving by boat at what is now known as Richmond Terrace on the Hawkesbury River, he wisely decided to attempt the trek from there on foot, without horses. In the next five days, they covered some of the most inhospitable terrain that the Blue Mountains has to offer naming such places as the Dismal Dingle and Devil's Wilderness along the way.

Unfortunately missing the easier route to traverse ridges, he emerged at Mount Banks tired and concerned about supplies. He looked across the huge expanse of the Grose Valley to Govett's Leap at Blackheath and decided crossing the Blue Mountains was an impossible feat. It was another nine years before Blaxland would lead the expedition that would finally conquer the Blue Mountains.

In reality, however, he had come within 'cooee' of his goal. If he had stuck to the ridge that we now know as Bells Line of Road, as he had pondered, he would have won the honour of being the first to cross the Blue Mountains.

"Caley's expedition is significant for several reasons," says Ian Brown, sometime Antarctic expeditioner and team leader on the re-enactment expedition. "He reached the same westward point as Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson with a fraction of their resources but in a third of the time."

"Added to this, Caley is arguably one of Australia's leading naturalists and during his journey, collected 31 species of plants, identified new bird life and gave names to areas of the Blue Mountains still used today," Ian adds.

"Caley can also be credited with starting the botanical research into the Blue Mountains that eventually led to global recognition of the area's importance," continues Ian. "The Greater Blue Mountains was accepted onto the World Heritage list mainly for its botanical values and its exceptional representation of Australia's typical eucalypt ecosystems".

Apart from commemorating Caley, another objective of the expedition was to conduct a 'nature' audit of a sort by attempting to collect the plant species Caley found.

"Behind the involvement of MTBG and NPWS in this expedition is the potential to illustrate the importance conservation areas such as the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area play in safeguarding plant and animal diversity," says Rusty Worsman, the Community Education Officer, MTBG.

"The re-enactment team had toyed with the idea of starting the expedition from Parramatta as Caley originally did, but decided that they would be lucky to find any of the plants he collected still surviving as natives on this leg of the trip," adds Dave Monahan, NPWS Ranger for the Bilpin Region. "There is an important environmental message that Caley can bring to people two hundred year's on".

The expedition set out on Wednesday 3 November from Burralow Swamp, just west of the Hawkesbury River, and repeated Caley's 1804 journey between Kurrajong Heights and Mount Tomah, following the same route and campsites. This is traditional Darug country lying within the Blue Mountains National Park and Grose Wilderness. The bushland remains just as wild and rugged as Caley found it two centuries ago.

Apart from Ian, Rusty and Dave, the team of nine included Andy MacQueen, historical author, conservationist and bushwalker; Win Jones, author, naturalist, conservationist and bushwalker; and Wayne Cherry, Technical Officer, National Herbarium of NSW. To help document the expedition, TIME Magazine journalist Lisa Clausen joined the expedition as did independent documentary filmmaker Peter Elfes. They were unable to take with them a dog because this expedition took place in what is now a National Park and dogs are not allowed.

The expedition carded with them the same quantity of supplies as Caley's team did. His team included three convicts whose names are being searched for. They all carried the the food supplies. One interesting 'food' was the portable soup. This was a product often carried on both sea and land explorations. It would today be described as dehydrated soup. Probably a modern equivalent would be soup cubes. The director of the Mount Tomah Botanic Gardens had fun manufacturing portable soup as it would have been carried during Caley's expedition. It was a mixture of vegetable and meat bones boiled down to its basic 'mush' with all fat removed because that would have made the soup 'cubes' incapable of lasting any length of time. The 'mush' was then dried out into lumps. When required the were placed in water and boiled. This really is making the expedition as authentic as possible but we have not been told what the modern team thought of the taste of portable soup.

The event was successful in covering the route Caley had taken in the same time. Caley arrived back with practically no food to spare as did the 2004 re-enactment. The team arrived at Mount Tomah Botanic Garden on Sunday 7th November in time for the anniversary celebrations that included a talk by historical authors Alan Andrews and Joan Webb who have both written about Caley. Following this there was walk out to Station Rock--Caley's last campsite before reaching Mount Banks,

For those readers who wish to follow up on George Caley here are a few select references listed chronological order of their dates of publication. RAHS J&P stands for Royal Australian Historical Society. Journal & Proceedings

Else-Mitchell, R. (1940) George Caley: His life and work RAHS J&P 25 (6) pp 437-543 and 26 PP. 186-187

Morgan, H.A. Macleod (1955) Note on 'An account of a journey towards Jugroy in the month of January, 1805' RAHS J&P 41 (2) pp 77-79

Mackaness, George (collected and edited by) (1965) Fourteen Journeys over the Blue Mountains of New South Wales 1813-1841 (notes on Caley refer to Index p.269) Sydney, Horwitz--Grahame, 1965

Currey, J.E.B. (edited by) (1966) Reflections on the Colony of New South Wales [by] George Caley Melbourne, Lansdowne Press Pty., 1966

Else-Mitchell, R. (1966) Caley, George (1770--1829) Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 1, 1788-1850, A-H, pp.194-195 Carlton, Melbourne University Press, 1966

Gilbert, Lionel A. (1981) Plants, politics and personalities in Colonial New South Wales in Carr, D. J. and S.G.M. (edited by) People and plants in Australia (Caley's work discussed pp. 230-233) Sydney, Academic Press, 1981

Carter, Harold B. (1988) Sir Joseph Banks 1743-1820 London, British Museum (Natural History), 1988 see p. 418. Brown and Bauer took 'Caley's Journal' to England in 1805.
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Publication:M A R G I N: life & letters in early Australia
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Apr 1, 2005
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