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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.** NOTE: The comment has vanished from this Blog. How or when I have no idea.The gist of it was that the Orphan Rock is in the Blue Mountains National Park.
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


  1. 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 maintenence 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

    1. Thank you for your comment, Philip. I've drawn attention to it by an edit to the blog.
      It's appropriate that it should have arrived this evening as I was updating and otherwise attempting to improve my two blogs. I was only three or four entries away from the Orphan Rock when it came. I will make an change to the entry on Katoomba Falls reserve when I get to it in a day or two.
      I thought that the ascent of the Rock I can remember must have been in the late 50's or early 60's. But I did spend a week camping at Katoomba Falls with my family in 1987, so it could have been then.

  2. Fascinating walk! Glad I stumbled across your blog post!