When Governor Lachlan Macquarie and his exploration party made their way through the Goulburn Plains in 1820, he waxed lyrical about the landscape before him.
Their arrival came after a difficult journey with carriages and horses that became bogged in the swamps of the Cookbundoons. But then on October 22 the party reaches the "left bank of the principal branch of the Wollondilly River "where the country opens into fine forest land." They set up camp around the current day Landsdowne Estate, "in a noble extensive rich meadow near a fine large pond of fresh water - the cattle being up to their bellies (in) as a fine long, sweet grass as I ever saw anywhere," Macquarie's diary chronicles.
The party's explorations opened the way for European settlement in this area, building on pastoralists' presence.
This October, Goulburn will mark the 200th anniversary of that event but for former Goulburn Regional Art Gallery director and history buff, Jennifer Lamb, it's about much more.
"We've had other events and anniversaries that have highlighted our buildings but this is an opportunity to look at another aspect - our natural heritage and acknowledge the original people who were here," she said.
"It's about possession and dispossession. It's a meeting place and that is very important."
Ms Lamb and a committee are organising the commemorations marking Macquarie's exploration of the Goulburn Plains. Titled 'Goulburn 2020', it will include an exhibition at National Trust property, Riversdale, depicting topography, history and early settlement.
A symposium incorporating talks by the Goulburn Plant Society on the area's flora and others covering wildlife, astrology from an indigenous perspective, the region's geology and even the mysteries behind Lake George, will also be part of the event.
Bruce Pascoe, author of Dark Emu, a 2014 book about early Aboriginal farming and land management through 'cool burns,' is the keynote speaker.
Ms Lamb, the Lieder Theatre's president, has written a play, Journey Through Country, based on Macquarie's journals. But the role of Aboriginals permeates the story, an aspect she says is overlooked. The play will be performed at the Lieder Theatre.
This is an opportunity to look at another aspect - our natural heritage and acknowledge the original people who were here.Jennifer Lamb
At Collector, the community will also mark the anniversary, ending in the recreation of an Anglican service held in October, 1820.
For Ms Lamb, the story is one that must be told in its entirety. She spent a year studying Macquarie's diaries and other primary sources of the time. It culminated in her booklet, What the Explorers Saw in the Goulburn Region 1798-1820.
Charles Throsby, accompanied by deputy surveyor James Meehan, had led an expedition from Sydney to around Marulan in 1818. They parted company and Meehan joined with Hamilton Hume, continuing around the Windellama area and Lake Bathurst (known as Bundong) but essentially bypassing Goulburn Plains, according to Ms Lamb.
Throsby was a part of Macquarie's 1820 expedition, and while he wasn't as complimentary about the Goulburn Plains' landscape, Ms Lamb said throughout her studies she had developed respect for him.
In 1819, Throsby had sought a route from Bathurst to Sutton Forest, passing through the future site of Taralga and then through the Cookbundoons.
"He always acknowledged his Aboriginal guides (Cookoogong, Dual and Bian)," she said.
Later, Throsby defended an Aboriginal man wrongly accused of murder.
The diaries have been an eye-opener for Ms Lamb, who said the community had much to commemorate and recognise.
"It's pretty incredible when you think that Macquarie was not a well man. He had a huge cavalcade..Their horses kept running away and they mention swamps a lot. They travelled vast distances and you wonder how they did it," she said.
But between the diary lines, Ms Lamb says it's clear Aboriginal land practices were conserving the environment. In light of recent ferocious bushfires, she argues they're valuable lessons to learn.
"I believe these are questions that need to be asked," she said.
- Organisers are looking for more people to join their committee. Contact Ms Lamb on 0458 02 8003 or email 2020goulburn.gmail.com
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