We can rarely celebrate two notable achievements in the march of Western culture on the same spot. Once a year, on a hill overlooking the Macquarie River, this is precisely what happens.
Martial law came to the growing inland town of Bathurst in the 1820s. As wagon loads of settlers made it across the Blue Mountains, they met increasing resistance from the local Wiradjuri people. Shepherds took to leaving poisoned dampers around the campsite, hoping to discourage stock losses. Dogs were set on the original inhabitants; then, guns were used. Massacres took place, one of the worst beings on the region’s most prominent hill to the southwest of the river. It had been a sacred site. Ancient carvings on the few surviving trees show the entire hillside had been used for initiations; at least part of it was set aside for women’s business. The local word for such a place was ‘whale.’ These days we call it Mount Panorama.
Fast forward two centuries. Tens of thousands of motoring ‘enthusiasts’ descend on Bathurst early in October each year. They travel in packs, camp on wet hillsides for up to a week, and wake each dawn to the homely stench of petrol fumes, alcohol, mud, and vomit. They cheer themselves into a hysterical frenzy as hugely famous overpowered motor cars race round and round and round all day. They are indeed the last of a dying breed, just as the warrior, Windradyne was one of the last of his kind, for the alleged ‘sport’ they follow has helped our species overheat our planet. Did the passengers on the deck of the Titanic cheer for the icebergs? We may never know, but somehow I doubt it.
Things aren’t as rough up on the hillside as they used to be. A decade or so back, the local police decided to get tough. A daily limit was imposed – no more than one slab of beer, one bottle of spirits, or one cask of wine per patron, per day. How do the poor buggers ever survive?
Someone with a better education than mine might detect some clumsy symbolism at work here. We’re an inventive lot, we Europeans. We’ve taken the place of sacred rituals from an older culture and turned it into a cathedral wherein we may all worship the excessive burning of fossil fuels. “How good is Australia?” as one of our most civilised Prime Ministers was known to exclaim.
Western civilization has quite a lot to answer for, depending on your point of departure. Still, mustn’t complain, it is what it is, and think of the benefits the Big Race brings to the local economy