Monga intacta


Erika Steller
John Reid
Ivan Fox
Top: Monga Waratah
Center: Monga sculpture by Ann Lightfoot
Bottom: Ringtail Possum with young
There is so much that is special: the gorgeous Mongarlowe River, with its ferny banks and reflective water; the waratahs that flower every November; the few giant eucalypts that have escaped the logging, which may be a thousand years old; the fern-fringed spring where the Mongarlowe River rises; the ancient, gnarled eucryphias, each one with its own individual personality, reminding one of Tolkien’s Ents, as though Treebeard has journeyed to Monga from Middle Earth. In March their petals fall to the ground like confetti. In the exquisite pockets of rainforest, fairy dells of treeferns drip with mosses and epiphytes. Human-created art works can be found tucked away in unexpected places, inspired by and made out of the natural vegetation.

A full appreciation involves all the senses: vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste. Monga is a magical place, mysterious, full of secrets; some we can discover whilst some remain known only to the Aboriginal people who still visit and look after it.

The words and images that follow are by people who have expert knowledge in their fields and who love Monga. I am deeply grateful to them for their contributions. This book aims to celebrate and inform; to bring together the threads of history, ecology and art in a complementary and comprehensive way and to promote a deep respect for the awesome beauty of nature and the appreciation of Monga with our heads, our hearts and our souls.

-Robyn Steller

John Reid is a visual artist and senior lecturer at the School of Art, Australian National University where he co-ordinates the Environment Studio and convenes the Field Studies program. He uses photography to visualise landscape as a contribution to regional environmental debates; and with collage and performance to address human rights issues. As an educator he is engaged in collaborative field research as inspiration for making art.

The Australian National University in Canberra eventually became my operational base. Seduced by undergraduate study in both the humanities and the earth sciences, I eventually became a visual artist. In the School of Art, topographic maps, powerful artefacts that they are, still held my gaze. These aesthetic factums of technology and history lured me with unconditional guarantees to the Budawangs, the Monaro, Kosciuszko, the Hay plains and to the far South Coast to Mimosa Rocks, Eurobodalla and Murramurang. If it is possible to play hard-to-get with a forest, thats what I did with Monga. I sped past it many times in a Valiant Safari Station Wagon intent on surfing the hills down through Buckenbowra to the visually stunning fringe of the Tasman Sea. In winter, I swam beneath the surface like a porpoise rolling with the swell perfectly shaped by an incisive offshore wind.

The sign to Monga was made to standard specifications a white hardwood post standing askew on the side of the highway. A plank bolted to the top bore the mechanically routed letters and directed attention over the Mongarlowe River to a gravel road heading south into the bush. It was a humble behavioural signifier that stood for other things. If the Monga sign were touched with one hand before entering the forest, something magical would happen. On the other hand, if you peed upon it you could expect disaster. The sign has now disappeared (possibly because someone did both).

John Reid
The Cathedral - a cloister of wattle and eucalyptus inclines steeply beyond the graded shoulder of the track
It was the topographic map of Monga that actually launched my first sensory experience of the place. Monga 8826-I-N, published by the Central Mapping Authority of NSW, is an impressive work of ink on paper. What, I wonder, became of the cartographer? Laying steady eyes upon the map induces a trance. The landscape rises from the surface and takes shape without stereoscopic aid. Dense contour lines buffer Mongas eastern boundary from seaborne invasion. As the brown ink erodes to the coastal plain there are illusions of shimmering panoramas where waves break in silence on the distant shore, of vistas in which human dramas might transpire, and escarpments to steal breath from unsuspecting lungs. The threat of the sublime is cast emphatically upon the sheet. Central Monga is a giant coolamon. The Mongarlowe River marks the keel of the shallow watershed. What creatures dwell in the granite fissures concealed by reflections of the material world? A sawmill steel cables intertwined with folklore, and cottages far enough from the main road to conceal secrets, stake their claim. To the west, desiccated buttresses of Mt Monga keep sheep and cattle from quolls and owls. Possums hide on the ridges. No map symbols for fog. No keys, yet, for securing intangible things.

John Reid
John Reid
8826 occupied the passenger seat of my vehicle. I had driven to Monga to explore its river. I stopped near the Mongarlowe by a patch of grass prepared, it would seem, by a lawn mowing club. I could travel no further along River Road without negotiating a puddle that swallowed the long stick I plunged into it. I pitched a backpackers tent on the turf. Daylight faded quickly and it began to rain. I was forced into my fabric shelter without making fire or tea. It was a torrential downpour. I imagined a mutiny of puddles forming along the road behind me. Branches heavy with moisture were undoubtedly straining above. I emerged, fumbling into the wet. I bottomed over slippery trunks and stumbled through sodden vegetation to reach the riverbank. I expected a swift and determined flow. Surprisingly, the Mongarlowe was placid. I could not detect a current. I focused my torchlight to better penetrate the rain and the boiling surface of water. I peered into the river through hundreds of flying droplets, intersecting circles and leaping beads of water. It was as if the Mongarlowe had a bed of white sand; and then, in a moment, it was swept away. The visual effect was disorientating. I summoned every muscle to prevent myself falling in. As I staggered backwards the bank began to subside under foot. Water surged into my retreating boots. There was a second staggering realisation. The water was hot.

-John Reid

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