I first saw black cockatoo in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales when I stopped for the night at the Hotel Hydro Majestic that sits astride the Megalong Valley in Medlow Bath.
Tail feathers from both male and female red-tailed black cockatoo are among my treasures. Their funereal cry announces rain, so badly needed in this record breaking string of boiling hot days.
I fell in love with the Blue Mountains before I knew my family had roots in the area – comparatively speaking, for a European. I can only imagine how an Aborigine feels in this landscape unchanged for so long. A place where a Jurassic tree can hide for centuries. A place where the mist can roll in like it was Ireland in the evening and, in the morning, the ancient layers of rock be burnished gold like it was Egypt. But the sound is always Australian: the cockatoo, kookaburra and a lyrebird.
The Hydro Majestic is still commanding but a multi-million dollar renovation, like a face-lift on an old woman, has only served to remind us that nothing is truly age-defying. Another era might restore the bones to something else. She has been picked clean of every art deco treasure. But for now she is safe unless fire or landslide consume the dream of one Irish-Australian draper made good, a man called Mark Foy, who wanted the grand hydropathic spas of Europe recreated in the Blue Mountains of Sydney. He even carted spa water from Baden Baden.
I last stayed there when she was pink and decaying and there was a dolphin fountain and crazy paving, crumbling balustrades, and treasures like a dusty old theatre adorned with the Greek tragedy masks. To watch the sun sink over the 450 million year-old Megalong Valley was to have a truly awe inspiring experience. All gone. Even the notorious Cat’s Alley is at best a reminder of a past when mistresses and wives waited stiffly together on over-stuffed chaises for their menfolk to finish their cigars. Equally anachronistic and slightly disturbing are the hunting scenes.
The place even had its own abattoir in its day.
King Edward 7th celebrated his birthday at the Hydro Majestic. And so did I dear reader, thus entering my 60th year with style. OK, qualified style, but despite the wheelchair and the nose hose, I have survived.
‘You do not die because you are sick, you die because you are alive.’ – Seneca
At 42, my prognosis was very poor . I was told I’d be in a box in five years. At 59, I have been blessed with many more years. The people I knew of who chose lung transplant are all dead.
Like the Hydro, I am much less majestic these days but it is the revivifying spirit of the mountains I was chasing in the air that my great grand parents breathed before dying in Katoomba at the turn of the 20th century. She was only 58, had 13 children and could not read or write. He was a lad who got away from England’s Dark Satanic Mills and had a crack at stone masonry and as a merchant. We drive through the foothills of Penrith where my grandmother was born.
From the mountains to the coast.
Back home we are both horrified and privileged to watch a Diamond Python devour a ringtail possum, whole, in our garden before lumbering off across the lawn to string itself in tree ferns and digest its meal.
Next morning, when the yellow-tailed black cockatoo cried mournfully, the rains finally came.
It seems autumn has not forgotten us. Winter is coming.
“I have flown to star stained heights on bent and battered wings . . .”