Written by Louise Cranny, longtime resident of Kalang Valley.
I arrived in the Bellingen area on the back of a 750cc Honda in 1975 at the tender age of 18. This was the Shire. I had just read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and, just like Lord of the Rings, it was green, it was fertile, and it was beautiful. I had come up for the weekend to visit a friend. He said I could stay. So I did. I left my depression, my honour’s stream university course, my worried family, and stayed.
I moved to Kalang Valley three years later and fell deeply in love….. with the river. Upper Cooks Creek was delightful. A major tributary of the Kalang, it sparkled in the sunlight and the ochre pebbles, polished smooth, glowed with earthy pinks, oranges, yellows, creams and greys. There was something else in there too. Something that made them glisten with silver like fairy dust. Amazing!
I lived under a few sheets of iron [literally] in an old deserted orange orchard. It was Spring and the air was thick with the perfume of orange blossom. It was buzzing with life!
I have five children now, all born at home with proper preparation and a midwife present.
With my partner, they helped in building a house, an organic garden and an orchard on a community of like-minded people from all over the world. We spent many idyllic hours beside the beautiful Kalang River. Young families got together and built a mud brick school with a wooden shingle roof, split from the local Casuarinas [or River Oaks] beside the river.
Kalang school was run by the well-educated parents, and the children spent much of their time in and by the river. I remember, once at the school swimming hole, we performed a play. We were all there, parents, children and parent teachers. The children had each chosen to be a native animal. The platypus, the giant barred frog, the spotted eel, the red necked wallaby, the quoll, the echidna, the goanna, the sugar glider and her little sister the feather tailed glider. They had to speak for how they would be impacted if something terrible happened upstream to our river. No one there ever imagined, that this danger was to become a very real threat to the survival of these creatures and to many others, and to the very river itself!
[One of those children went on to become a star of Aussie soap Neighbours.]
Christmas day was always spent by the river at the big swimming hole. We would open it to all who had nowhere to go, and always bring along plenty for everyone to share. Weeks before, my son [who is now an arborist], would climb high into the giant trees overhanging the hole, and put up some rope swings. Some years we would have a massive flying fox spanning the river, and once a huge water slide was placed on the long steep banks. The children constructed rafts and sometimes had canoes.
There was a huge dinosaur tree. A remnant from the original primal forest giants cut down by the first settlers. It had been placed across the river to create a bridge. When my children were young, they used to enjoy diving under it. Shooting down the rapids. But as they grew older, the river silted up more and more with each flood.
Floods are common. Floods are huge, with our heavy seasonal rainfall. The river can rise 12 metres and become an angry raging torrent. Always, there is more silt and gravel shifting downstream. It comes from the upstream steep slopes cleared by the first settlers many years before.
I have many grandchildren now, and one great grandchild. We still have a magnificent swimming hole but, the dinosaur log is completely submerged in gravel. In the dry times our river stops flowing and becomes a series of smelly pools. The river flows underground then. We fear what could happen if the Kalang Headwaters are not protected permanently.
We had a Kalang Centennial some years back, and asked the first nations people to come along. When asked ‘what does Kalang mean?’
They told us of how the first settlers came into this Valley, on their horses along a narrow, winding, track through the tall, majestic forest, with no weedy under growth, and down to the deep, clear, steep sided river. The leader of the white fellas, called out to the blacks on the other side. ’What do you call this place?’ The Gumbangarie replied, shaking their spears ’Kalang, Kalang’ Which they told us, chuckling meant, ‘Fuck Off!’ They laughed so much when they told us this story, I felt sure, it was a clever spontaneous joke, at our expense. Now we also take up the cry “Kalang! Kalang!’ to the mobs who come to take away the forest that protects our river and is home to our many animal friends.
Welcome to our tribe! We have always welcomed like-minded people with an open heart. I am a mother of the earth. We are made from the clouds, the waters, the minerals, plants and animals and even sunshine. Let us protect this. It is part of us, and from where we came. Looking after this, we look after ourselves. Thank you for hearing these words and sharing them. Thank you for listening and helping in whatever way your heart tells you to.