Way back in the Neolithic, (ie the mid 1970s) a small group of us got together and bought Land Rovers. We bought the Series 2a model because they were robust, cheap, available and remarkably good off-road. As time went on, we were joined by people who drove a Land Cruiser, a Nissan Patrol and the amazing Suzuki LJ50; but basically we were Land Rover loonies. I should also mention here that we all followed the Four Wheel Driver’s Creed – “Take only photos; leave only tracks”.
In those days, there was a large area of waste land beside Henry Lawson Drive at Bankstown. When I say “waste”, of course, I simply mean it was not fenced off or built on. There was open bushland with some steep little hills, a few houses scattered here and there, one or two vegetable farms… In fact it was a small remnant of the “Green Belt”, a broad swathe of rural land that was intended to give breathing space between the inner western suburbs like Bankstown and the outer suburbs like Liverpool.
The green belt existed during the 1950s, and lasted until Councils realised that Sydney land was worth $$$$; then most of it was rezoned and eventually sold off for housing. Except for our little off-road haven.
Over the space of a couple of years, we drove our ‘Rovers along most of the tracks that ran through this area, learning how to handle our vehicles off road, how to help each other in tight situations, and occasionally learning how to get out of bogs. Afterward we’d adjourn to one of our houses for coffee and conversation.
Then sometime during the late ’70s – early ’80s, officialdom suddenly realised that here was a bit of land which had so far been overlooked. There was an urgent need to do something, to turn it to some noble purpose. So the four wheel drive tracks were closed and walking tracks opened, fences erected, farmers evicted, houses resumed, and the area turned into parkland. A pale shadow of the green belt, but a deliberate attempt to salvage at least a part of it.
The land had been taken away from the people so it could be made available to “the People”. Whoever they may be. I know that it is now preserved and maintained for the future, as any rare fossil should be. But it happened at the expense of harmless fellows like myself and my friends, and to the great detriment of the local farmers and householders. The process hasn’t simply stopped there, of course. The city is a living organism, and continues to grow. And as more of Sydney’s rural lands go under concrete and tar, more of those “living” open spaces simply become fenced off, over-regulated, static parks where having fun is prohibited by law.
So, was the resumption and “parkification” of this land a Good Thing or a Bad Thing? I must admit, at this point I don’t really know. Perhaps it was just a Thing. But it was one of the reasons I got out of Sydney 20-odd years ago, and why I’ll never go back there to live. Too many people, too many signs, too much traffic, too little freedom. Give me the country any day!