Caley's Legacy

Caley’s health never fully recovered from the privations of his journey into the Blue Mountains. Although he undertook other explorations he failed to reached the heights of inspiration he found in the Carmarthen Hills.

I oftentimes occupy my thoughts with what new plants there are in some parts of the Blue Mountains undiscovered, and lament that I am deprived of the means of going thither.

George Caley, shortly before leaving the colony
of New South Wales in 1808

Caley was more than just an expert field biologist, he was a true bushman with the skills to travel and work in rough terrain. Through astute observation, he was able to interpret landscape and the workings of nature. He had an affinity with wild things. Long before ‘bushwalking’ entered the language, Caley could be described as one of our first white bushwalkers.

Caley found and collected 31 new plants on his Blue Mountains expedition, and he went on to make major contributions on Australian birds and the botany of eucalypts. We can now say that Caley began the scientific investigation of the Blue Mountains that led to World Heritage recognition for the region’s remarkable plant life.

A number of plants found in the Blue Mountains and wider Sydney area are named after Caley. They include Grevillea caleyi (a rare shrub), Caleana major (flying duck orchid) and Persoonia mollis ssp. caleyi (a rare geebung).

Yet Caley was to remain dissatisfied with his achievements and a misfit in civilized life. Several years after leaving Australia, he reminisced about the Blue Mountains in a way that will be familiar to all who have been inspired by spending time in wild country:

Those damned mountains

It’s those damned mountains after all my suffering that I am enraptured with. Nature has been very cruel to me. Other persons can sit down at their ease and enjoy themselves, whilst I am obliged to quit society, to undergo the greatest toil, exposed to the vicissitudes of the weather, and after all not allowed to partake of the common amusements of life. Oh! Botany Bay! I wish I could forget you! But this will never happen as long as your mountains haunt me.

George Caley, letter to George Suttor of Bathurst
August 10, 1812, researched by Joan Webb