Monday, March 28, 2011

A walk to Whibay Gamba

view to Nobbys Beach & Fort Scratchley
On the 10th May 1770 Captain James Cook whilst sailing up the east coast of Australia on his journey of discovery, sailed close enough to the coast to notice, what he described in his journal as, "A small clump of an island lying close to shore...". It was in fact Nobbys Head, the former island that marks the entrance to what we know today as Newcastle harbour and provides Newcastle with an iconic natural landmark.

Now the history of this little island goes way back further than James Cook and was also part of the local Aboriginal Dreamtime stories, with the island which they named Whibay Gamba. The local Aborigines, the Awabakal tribe, tell the story of how  a kangaroo was chased from the mainland by the Wallaby clan after disobeying their laws and under the cover of a heavy fog, swam to Whibay Gamba to hide under the rocky outcrop. The Wallaby clan believed that the mischievous kangaroo had drowned, however, he survived his ordeal and is still hiding there to this very day, hiding under the island. Apparently the kangaroo lets us know that he is still there by thumping his tail, which causes the occasional earthquake around the Hunter region. 

The island itself has changed since the time of Captain Cook with the island now being less than half of its original  height, now standing at 27.2 metres. Although there is now evidence from the Coal River Working Group that the island wasn't as tall as the officially accepted height of 62 metres and was more like 43 metres, which is about the height of the current signal station. What we do know is that changes began to take place as far back as 1818 when Governor Macquarie started work on a pier to link the island with the mainland with convicts using rock from the island to construct the breakwall. Then again in the early 1850's  the height was reduced  another 10 metres to assist navigation, as the island took the wind out of the sails of the sailing ships entering the harbour and then to aid the construction of the lighthouse (completed in 1858) another 2 metres were taken off the top of the island. 

the 1858 lighthouse 
Now due to the isolation of Nobbys and especially since the erection of the Signal Station and Lighthouse, public access to the site has been very limited, however a change in the use of the former island is allowing public to enter the site through a series of limited open days.

I was lucky enough to join many other Novocastrians on one of those days and walked up to the site that offers a different perspective on our wonderful city. The day was another perfect Newcastle day, fine, sunny and with a nor' easterly keeping the edge off the heat. Also taking advantage of the carnival atmosphere were the anti coal protest group Rising Tide, who decided to form a  mini blockade of the harbour in their canoes and other energy efficient water-craft to make their point known. Newcastle Ports, which knew of the protest, just rescheduled the port operations for that day and so no coal loading was hindered that day. While I don't agree with all the aims of Rising Tide, I do appreciate that they give the community a conscience, that there may be another way to live our modern lives and to me, that isn't a bad thing.

So next time Nobbys is open to the public, make sure you grab your best walking shoes, some water to keep hydrated and of course your camera to make the one of Newcastle's most unique photographic locations.

I just hope that the kangaroo who is still hidden beneath Nobbys doesn't get to upset with all the activity above his rock home and start thumping his tail!  


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