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Friday, 30 August 2013


The Gordon Falls Reserve is typical of many in the Blue Mountains which were once administered by local trusts. Although the reserve was proclaimed in 1884, development of the facilities and attractions did not commence until near the end of World War 1. Today, most of the reserve is under the control of the National Parks and Wildlife Service with the remainder administered by the Blue Mountains City Council.

The death of General Charles Gordon in a conflict in the Sudan in 1885 was one of those events in British history which touched the emotions of many ordinary people. He was a highly respected man with a concern for the welfare of the poor and oppressed. I doubt that he was comfortable with his appointment to the Sudan nor would he have approved of the slaughter which occurred later on when the British army recaptured the country.

Just why Gordon’s name came to be associated with the creek which runs through the reserve and the falls at its lower end is unclear but it appears to have been transferred from Gordon Road in the Leura Park Estate, which was being opened up around the time of General Gordon’s death.

The end of the war in 1918 saw the construction of memorials all over the country and the site chosen for Leura’s memorial was at the edge of Gordon Falls Reserve, with a new road appropriately called Lone Pine Avenue passing through the memorial gates and between the newly planted trees. The nearby parkland became known as Memorial Park, where the Leura Oval is today.

The Memorial gates in 2009
It was around this time that the track down to Lyrebird Dell was constructed. (I have always known it as Lyre Bird’s Dell, which I now know is incorrect). At the southern end of the reserve, tracks were also constructed to Gordon Falls Lookout (from which you can see both the upper and lower falls, neither particularly well), the Pool of Siloam and Fairy Glen.
The Pool of Siloam area in Jerusalem was the site of an archaeological dig in which Charles Gordon was involved. Fairy Glen is a name which has disappeared from modern maps. There is an old track leading off to the right at the bottom of the ladder on the Gordon Falls Lookout track. Overgrown now, it lead into Fairy Glen.
On the path to Lyrebird Dell
In the 1920’s the two minor waterfalls at Lyrebird Dell and the Pool of Siloam were linked by a track and today this is one of the Blue Mountains best short walks. See the Wild Walks track information here .

The picnic area at Gordon Falls provides toilets, shelter sheds, a children’s play area and access to all the walking tracks. I remember it from many childhood visits. It was a rather different place then, as the pages from “The Mountaineer Tourist Guide” from 1927 describes it. I don’t go back that far, but things were much the same in the 1940’s and 50’s.

My video on the Reserve is here . View my Blue Mountains videos on my You Tube site here . I have three other playlists - gem hunting/geology, Glen Innes and New Zealand. Please comment and Subscribe!

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From The Mountaineer Tourist Guide 1927

Monday, 26 August 2013


The Katoomba Falls Reserve has been a central part of the “Katoomba experience” for 130 years. 
Its proximity to Scenic World guarantees that the flow of visitors will continue unabated. So far as I can tell, the falls and surrounding bushland are part of the Blue Mountains National Park while the reserve itself (ie the adjacent picnic and park lands etc) is administered by the Blue Mountains City Council. Both have a continuing battle to keep these areas attractive to visitors and yet maintain their conservation and scenic value.

It appears from the Sydney Morning Herald of July 7th 1880 that the reserve was established on June 4th that year. It would have included the area around the falls themselves, no doubt, as well as the more level ground which we now think of the as the Katoomba Falls Reserve. From then on, sundry improvements began to be made and the area developed as a picnic ground. For example, we read in the Nepean Times of Saturday 29th October 1887 that the local Congregational Church was to hold a Sunday School picnic there the following Saturday.

Railway picnics were great events in those days, bringing NSW Government Railway employees from far and wide for a day’s fun and games. The SMH reports of the picnics of 1912 and 1913 make it clear that crowds of 2000 people attended. The town council was criticised for not making better provision for such numbers. It is a subject worth reading about in Trove, and it's apparent that both Blackheath and Mt Victoria benefited from similar large assemblies.
The camping ground in 1958

At some point the town’s showground was established on the reserve, before moving to its present site around 1926. From that time the NRMA came onto the scene wanting to convert the showground site into a camping area. This was done and the site became a very popular venue in the 1930’s. I can only remember the place from the early 50’s but I am sure those early campers would be amazed at the facilities that are provided for visitors today. It is now known as the Blue Mountains Tourist Park and the website may be found here

Cricket has been played at the reserve for a long time too. We read in the “Blue Mountain Echo” of Friday 2nd December 1910 of plans to set up a proper cricket ground there. Today there are two and the second one also serves as an off-leash dog area every morning.
I have copied the comment below from the Orphan Rock blog, as it is also relevant here.
"If you consult the map on page 251 of The Burning Mists of Time, you will see that by 8th June 1880, North had already given the land for Katoomba Park, basically all that land on the ledge from Katoomba Falls around to and including the Orphan Rock.
Access to the Rock was stopped in 1974 when a mudslide obliterated the access track, and BMCC never repaired it. I think they took it as an excuse to remove some more track maintenance from their books.
In 1998 I took the Mayor and the Head of NPWS up to the top of the Rock to see if it could be re-instated. At the time there was an issue as to whether Council or NPWS "owned" the Rock. Nothing ever came of it.         Philip Hammon June 2014

 There are three main picnic areas at Katoomba Falls Reserve and on any day, sunny or not, there are always people there making use of this excellent park.
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The writer at Katoomba Falls camping area June 1958

Wednesday, 21 August 2013


From the earliest days of tourism in the Blue Mountains, the Orphan Rock has been one of the
features people have most admired. Just when the name was first used is unclear; the title on a photo from 1879 calls it the “Orphan Tower” and in a letter to the Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald dated April 27th 1880, the writer refers to it as the “orphan” rock.
This same letter also raises the question of the ownership of the Orphan Rock. Clearly it was then part of the coal mine lands owned by John Britty North. When (if ever) did it pass back into public ownership or does it still belong to the Hammon family, owners of Scenic World today? I believe the person who possessed "the only point where this gorgeous scenery can be looked upon with advantage" was James Henry Neale MLA. The point referred to is presumably Reid's Plateau, which would have been included in the Reserve when it was proclaimed soon after. Not all landowners in the Blue Mountains have been so public-minded.

The walking track to the summit was built as part of the tourism attraction expansion of the 1930’s (which also saw the Prince Henry Cliff Walk and the Giant Stairway completed, among
The Orphan Rock in June 1958
others). This track had a short life, however, due to concerns about the stability of the rock itself and it was closed in the 1950’s. I have been up there long ago, but whether this was a legal ascent or not I don’t remember. The 1958 photograph with the Skyway seems to show two figures standing at the lookout on the left hand side. 

** See Philip Hammon's comment below on access to the Orphan Rock and ownership of the land.**

This quote from “The Land”, Friday 22nd 1937, tells the story well. It’s a shame we can’t enjoy the experience today.

Time was when the rock was regarded as quite inaccessible, but by means of rope and hook and stout heart, one of the Council's rangers reached the top; as a result of that perilous climb, safely guarded steps
The Orphan Rock steps from an old photograph
have been hewn from the rock, and built of hardwood in places, whereby the top may be reached in safety. Once at the apex the climb will be found more than worth while; lookouts have been constructed, giving a clear view of the Falls on one side, while on the south the undulating valleys run away for illimitable miles in shades now blue, now mauve, now pink.”

Paragon Cafe tin from the 1930's showing the Orphan Rock

 It has often been pointed out that the Katoomba Falls area (which includes the Orphan Rock) was the centre of Katoomba tourism in the early days and that the Three Sisters and Echo Point only took over that position in the early twentieth century. One institution which still maintains the Rock as its logo is the Paragon Café in Katoomba St. As one writer put it, “Like this famous rock, the café stands alone”.

Here is a link to a description of a recent climb of the rock. I DO NOT recommend readers to do the same! 

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The Orphan Rock summit in July 2013

Tuesday, 20 August 2013


I was aware of the existence of these places but actually came across them accidentally while driving around the back streets of Mt Victoria. They are to be found in a reserve which is not part of the Blue Mountains National Park, in common with others west of the railway line from Katoomba to Mt York. This means that, for better or worse, they are still under the control of the Blue Mountains City Council. The result is that they neither receive the publicity nor the visitor numbers that the National Park attractions do.
Engineer’s Cascade is essentially a trickle of water falling over the sandstone rocks into a cave or rock shelter just above the cliff line. Presumably there must be a waterfall where the creek tumbles over the cliff but that is not to be seen from the track. The name has been in use for at least 130 years and its origin is uncertain; however it may refer to the engineers who designed the Zig Zag track into the Kanimbla Valley, which isn’t far away.

The name “Henry Lawson Track” was first applied in 1941 to a cliff top ledge track which the famous poet and short story writer is
supposed to have frequented when living in Mt Victoria in the 1880’s. It formerly ran from nearby Sunset Rock to the Cascade; however the northern section was cut off by the construction of houses over the route about 25 years ago. When I was there the access was from the end of Kenny Street, where it is signposted. Where the track along the ledge goes in either direction is unmarked. Presumably to the right goes to Sunset Rock (at the end of Beaufort St.). The left (which I chose) leads to Engineer’s Cascade.

The track follows the level of the Mt York
Claystone, a reddish-brown, crumbly rock which is well seen on the upper part of Victoria Pass.

For me, the disturbing aspect of this walk is its proximity to private land, with a rusty fence of sorts alongside the track and constant views of houses on the same side. There is the feeling that the area has been somewhat neglected and is open to erosion and weed infestation. In spite of that, it is a pleasant walk and once you descend into the gully you could be anywhere (that is, if you overlook the graffiti and the badly damaged steps). You may view my You Tube video here .
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Sunday, 18 August 2013


John and Sue at Govett's Leap Lookout July 2007
Govett’s Leap has been one of the focal points of the Blue Mountains since its discovery in June 1831 by William Romaine Govett, an assistant surveyor with the survey department of NSW. Dispatched by Surveyor-General TL Mitchell to survey the upper Blue Mountains, Govett’s party came across the view of the Grose Valley and the famous waterfall during the course of their work. It is likely that Mitchell himself is responsible for the name “Govett’s Leap”, but this is by no means certain.

I recommend the fine publicationBlackheath Today From Yesterday”, published by the Rotary Club of Blackheath in 2005 as a good source of information on the area.
Something needs to be said about the silly stories about Govett the supposed bushranger or Govett the escaped convict. As the facts about the discovery and its naming have always been readily available, I suspect that these fictions were invented to drum up business for the tourist industry in Blackheath. You can read lots about it in the newspapers of the day by searching Trove.
The name “Govett’s Leap” applies only to the waterfall itself. It is also commonly called the Bridal Veil Falls or the Bridal Veil, which name is also used for the upper Leura Falls. As “leap” means waterfall, it is the correct and original name. The point where Govett’s Leap Road reached the edge of the valley is correctly called “Govett’s Leap Lookout”, though popular usage is hard to change.

There are 4 lookouts here: an upper and lower one at the end of the road and Williams and Breakfast Rock Lookouts below them, accessible by the Grose Valley track. I would guess that 90% of visitors don’t even get as far as the second principal lookout and a fraction of 1% make their way as far as Breakfast Rock, which is the best viewpoint and always
Breakfast Rock Lookout from an old photograph
has been. See the Blog entry “The Princes’ Visits to the Blue Mountains – 1868 and 1881” dated 12th August 2013 for an interesting story about the Govett’s Leap lookouts.

Govett’s Leap has always been the focal point of tourism in Blackheath. There are numerous early reports of visits to be found using Trove, including one by Charles Darwin, who came this way in 1836. He wrote the following account in “The Voyage of the Beagle” (1845): “January 18th. Very early in the morning, I walked about three miles to see Govett’s Leap: a view of similar character with that near the Weatherboard, but perhaps even more stupendous. So early in the day the gulf was filled with a thin blue haze, which, although destroying the general effect of the view, added to the apparent depth at which the forest was stretched out beneath our feet. These valleys, which so long presented an insuperable barrier to the attempts of the most enterprising of the colonists to reach the interior, are most remarkable. Great arm-like bays, expanding at their upper ends, often branch from the main valleys and penetrate the sandstone platform; on the other hand, the platform often sends promontories into the valleys, and even leaves in them great, almost insulated, masses”.
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The view from Govett's Leap Lookout October 1958

Friday, 16 August 2013


PDF: Portable Document File

DIGS: Digital Imaging Geological Systems

In an earlier blog entry, I showed how to download useful books on the Blue Mountains from the National Library of Australia’s website Trove. (See entry dated 5th August 2013).

Today’s entry shows you how to download material from DIGS which deal with the geology and mineral deposits of NSW, from the NSW Trade and Investment, Resources and Investment website. There is a vast amount of information available which formerly could only be obtained from libraries or by purchasing hard copies.

There are a few useful books you can download on the geology of the Blue Mountains which are worth having on hand in your computer or mobile device.

You will need a PDF reader on your computer to read the files. Adobe Acrobat  here and Foxit here are both freely available on the internet. I use the latter.

How to access DIGS. Click on this URL: which you should then bookmark. This is the entry point to DIGS. Sometimes this doesn’t work and no amount of retrying makes any difference. Try again tomorrow. 

Follow the prompts: Click on “Search DIGS”. This brings up the search menu. To make it easy at this point, here are the reference numbers for some documents you really should download if you have any interest at all in the geology of the Blue Mountains. They are the items in brackets after each title. Simply click on “Search” after entering the reference number at the top. You can select individual parts of each document or download the whole. 

Guide to the Sydney Basin (Mineral Bulletin 26). This covers a much greater area than the Blue Mountains, of course; there is a wealth of information here.

Geology of the Western Blue Mountains (Mineral Bulletin 20).

Geology and Mineral Resources of the Western Coalfield (Geology Memoir 06). A classic geological report in the old style.

Layers of Time: The Blue Mountains and Their Geology (GS1998/519). A modern treatment of the geology in an understandable form.

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Monday, 12 August 2013


These two events have become confused in the minds (and writings) of some over the years. I hope this brief account will clear things up for you.

Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria, arrived in Australia on 29th October, 1867 for an extended tour, part of which included a train trip to Weatherboard (now Wentworth Falls) on 31st January 1868. He was accompanied by a substantial crowd of people who were considered to be important in those days. A banquet was laid on for the hungry visitors presumably on the site of what is now the Wentworth Falls picnic area and a viewing area was provided at what we can guess is now known as Prince’s Rock lookout. If the weather had been kinder, no doubt the Prince would have appreciated the view of the falls from this spot even more.
Wentworth Falls before 1890

You can read an account of the outing in the “Empire” (Sydney, NSW: 1850 - 1875), Saturday 1 February 1868, page 4. Search in Trove ( for this and other reports of the visit. The account from the “Queanbeyan Age” for January 18, 1868, makes it clear that the Prince would have liked to have visited Govett’s Leap and the Zig Zag as well, but as the railway had only been opened to Weatherboard by the time of the royal visit, he had to be satisfied with a wet day at Wentworth Falls.

It has often been said that the track down to Breakfast Rock (below Govett’s Leap Lookout at Blackheath) was first constructed for Prince Alfred’s visit. If so, it was somewhat premature, since the logistics of bringing the Prince and his entourage there before the railway had opened beyond the Weatherboard, and with very limited accommodation at Blackheath (presumably only Gardiner’s Inn), defies the imagination. It would be nice to think that someone was patriotic enough to have made the preparations – just in case.

From the point of view of historians, the highlight of Prince Alfred’s visit occurred at Clontarf Beach near Sydney on 12th March when he was shot by Henry James O’Farrell, an Irish Fenian (today we might say terrorist, or republican, depending on which side you are on). The Prince survived; O’Farrell was hanged on 21st April. “Such is life”, as another celebrated Australian is reputed to have said.

Prince George and Prince Albert
The second (and last) nineteenth century visit by members of the Royal Family to Australia occurred in 1881. The two eldest sons of Edward, Prince of Wales, visited Australia as part of a British Navy tour of the distant colonies. They were both teenagers – Prince Albert Victor (more often known as Edward) was 17 and Prince George 16 at the time. It is almost as if they were destined to visit those places that their Uncle Alfred missed in 1868, since they skipped Wentworth Falls and went to Blackheath and Lithgow. They weren’t alone, of course, and were accompanied by numerous officers from the fleet which was in Sydney Harbour at the time. Many of the street names of Blackheath bear witness to the occasion, including (of course) Prince Edward and Prince George Streets.
Govett's Leap in 1886

The special train (having spent some time at Faulconbridge and Lawson), arrived in Blackheath in the late morning and the party made the trip out to Govett’s Leap before moving on to Lithgow. The pottery seems to have been the major point of interest here.

Extracts from the diary of James Silcock, master potter at Lithgow at the time, were published in the Australian Bottle Review in 1979/80. His entry for 20th July 1881 reads as follows: “Same day was invited go and make some ware for the Princes, Albert Victor and George. Sir Henry Parkes and officers of the parliament were there. The shop was crowded, a many being outside. The Princes expressed great surprise at the process.” 

The “sumptuous luncheon” in the dining car which was attached to the train at Lithgow might have been more appealing to the two young men. It seems to have been a slow trip back to Sydney, as the Sydney Morning Herald report of the day’s activities states that the train left Lithgow at 2.30 pm and arrived in Sydney at 7.15. It is just possible that the train stopped long enough at Weatherboard for a quick trip out to the Falls, where rumour has it that the Princes each planted a tree, but I doubt that there was time for this. It’s more likely that Prince Alfred planted a tree there in 1868 and memories of the two events have become intertwined. 

Princess Mary and Prince George 1893
Prince Albert became engaged to Princess Mary of Teck in May, 1891. Unfortunately, he died of influenza soon after. Princess Mary later married his brother George, who became King George V in 1910 on death of his father, Edward VII. King George and Queen Mary are Queen Elizabeth II’s grandparents.
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Friday, 9 August 2013


The Den Fenella track leaves the Wentworth Falls picnic area at the car park end, right next to several “heritage” shelter sheds. It’s downhill all the way on a good track. Once the creek is crossed at the Undercliff track junction, the final part of
The National Pass track
the descent follows a steeply dropping gorge until the cliff is reached, where the creek plunges into the Jamison Valley. Immediately below is the National Pass and from the lookout you can see the pathway following a claystone layer in the sandstone cliff.

From an old book of views
I can recall visits to Den Fenella as far back as the early fifties and I always wondered how this lovely spot got its name. It has certainly been in use since the 1880’s. I came across this item on the Web here which reads: “Den Fenella, romantic ravine, SE. Kincardineshire; extends from 1½ mile SE. of Laurencekirk to 1½ mile SW. of Johnshaven; is traditionally named from Fenella, a daughter of the Maormar of Angus, slain here in 995; near the sea the Fenella Burn makes a beautiful waterfall, 65 ft. in leap.” I guess the place at Wentworth Falls was named by some homesick Scotsman.

Den Fenella Lookout
You can view my video of the Princes Rock – Den Fenella walk here .
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An excellent video called “Den Fenella Track, Blue Mountains”, by  palevo7, can be found here .

My grandchildren Kristen and Bonnie Eastlake at Den Fenella October 2004