Brindabella, Cornstalks and Pale Vanilla Lilies


Pale Vanilla Lily, Bendora, Brindabella (image, Indya)

Less than a century after the colonial settlement of the nine flood plains between the Brindabella and Tallaganda ranges, the chronicler of the Molonglo settlements, John Gale could not identify with any certainty which colonial saw the mountains, plains or lakes first. 

Writing now more than two centuries after the event, I am hardly able to attach any certainty to the account I once noted from an older resident of the Tallaganda wilderness. But i feel duty bound to record it, in honor of the story teller, who has now long gone to the stars. She told me this tale, as we sat in her old country kitchen - a small building a little way from her main house. It was a cold winter. Her home had no electricity nor radio. Television was just a vague rumor. She had been showing me blurry snap shots of the great floods at the end of the second world war. She had heard this story from her mother, who had it from the sawyers, who had it from the plains.

Governor Macquarie was under pressure from Sydney speculators to open the south lands. He chose three young colonial born youths to ride down into the southern inland regions and report back to him about what they found. The youth were called 'cornstalks', a reference to the vigor of native born children who grew up on a diet of sun and wholesome food - unlike the English convicts who were starved and lackluster. 

The three rode onto the nine plains, finding the great ephemeral lake, later renamed 'Lake George'. On the plains they found rich pastures of grass, heavy with chaff, which their horses found palatable. All around them were signs of habitation. Small burns were taking place around them, evidence by smoke trails.

Near the Molonglo River they met a young woman who stayed with them a while, showing them casuarina fringed rivers and lagoons and teaching them the names of the ranges in the far distance - the closer Tidbinbellas and Tallaganda - and the far away Brindabellas. They feasted on large crayfish from the river and left on friendly terms.

The three are supposed to have prepared a report to Governor Macquarie, who later travelled to the Lake's edge on at least one occasion.

I do not know if John Gale ever come across this story - or if he would have attached any credence to it. Unlike the cornstalks, John Gale rode up into the Brindabella Ranges searching for a fabled fall on Mount Ginini. The place is beautiful beyond description, but it almost killed him. Hiking in the Brindabellas this week with my gym instructor Indya, I remembered all these things, as all around me the pale vanilla lilies flowered.


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