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Thursday, 30 January 2014


The Three Sisters around 1900
A million photographs have been taken and a million words written about these two famous places, which are linked by the most heavily used path in the Blue Mountains. Rather than repeat a lot of this information, I’ll pick out a few details and expand on them.

The first mention of Echo Point I have been able to find is in the Sydney Morning Herald of 31st August 1891, which mentions the intention of the reserve trustees to construct fences in the most dangerous places around the cliffs at “Echo Point”. I suspect that the locality came to prominence when the Chief Justice of NSW, Sir Frederick Darley, built his country residence (Lillianfels) nearby in 1889. Land sales along Lurline St took place the same year so there must have been a road of some sort to the vicinity.

Prior to this, the tourism emphasis was on Katoomba Falls. The presence of the coal mine there would have meant that there was road access, especially as quite a village already existed near the present day Katoomba Falls Reserve.

Echo Point today is by far the most visited spot in the Blue Mountains. The lookouts there have been through many stages of development since 1891 and the principle feature that tourists are drawn to is, of course, the famous Three Sisters.

One reference in particular throws light on the early history of this spot, which was usually seen from afar and was often mentioned by visitors to the cliff line around Katoomba Falls (though the Orphan Rock which was much closer drew even more attention). This is a fascinating document from a journal called “The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil” (Melbourne, Vic) for Saturday 5th June 1880. You can download the article here.                                                                                                                           

The critical words are these “Continuing to the eastward, the Triasaxa point is the next object of interest. It is commonly called the Three Sisters and from the distance has a remarkable resemblance to a cathedral”. “Tria Saxa” basically means “three stones”, though who gave this name or when I cannot say; most likely it would have appeared on a map and was given by some classically educated mapmaker. It was easy for “Three Sisters” to displace it and was last heard of more than a century ago.

One of the significant events which occurred here was the opening of the Giant Stairway in 1932, for which occasion the path connecting Echo Point and the Three Sisters was vastly improved. The lookout at the top of the Stairway already existed and was commonly called “Three Sisters Lookout”, though its correct name is “Lady Game Lookout”. The plaque on the archway just before the lookout reads as follows: “Three Sisters Giant Stairway Officially Opened by Hon. B.S.B. Stevens, M.L.A. Premier of N.S.W. 1st October 1932”. At the bottom of the plaque (in smaller writing) is a second inscription reading “Steps Cut by Ranger McKay”. We’ll consider the second inscription in a later article.                                                                                                                      
Official party. Photo courtesy of Blue Mountains City Library
1932 was an exciting year in NSW politics. The Great Depression was making life difficult for almost everyone. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was completed early in 1932 and newspaper speculation was rife as to who would officially open it. One says the new Governor General Sir Isaac Isaacs, another the NSW Minister for Works, Mr Davidson. In the end, the opening was scheduled for Saturday 19th March. Both the aforementioned gentlemen were indeed present. The Governor of NSW, Sir Philip Game, unveiled a commemorative plaque and the bridge was declared open by the Premier of NSW, the Hon. JT Lang. He was about to cut the ribbon when an extraordinary thing happened. A man on horseback (Captain Francis Edward de Groot) rode up and slashed the ribbon with his sword, declaring “I officially declare this bridge open in the name of the decent people of New South Wales”. Now there is a lot more to this story, of course, but it highlights the huge differences of opinion between the Labor Party of Premier Jack Lang and the right wing sentiments of “The New Guard”, to which de Groot belonged. For a good account of the bridge opening see here.

John and Sue at the beginning of the Three Sisters path 2013
By the time of the opening, the financial crisis in NSW was worsening and the Premier declared that his government would refuse to pay the interest or make repayments on foreign loans. The Federal Government (headed up by Prime Minister Joseph Lyons) declared that this was illegal. Matters came to a head on 14th May, 1932, when after repeated refusals by Mr Lang to change his mind, the Governor of NSW, Sir Philip Game, dismissed the NSW government and appointed Mr Bertram Stevens, leader of the opposition United Australia Party, as Premier. This was followed by an election on 11th June, at which Lang was soundly defeated.

Meanwhile, back in Katoomba, preparations were going ahead to open the Giant Stairway. Sir Philip Game was being mentioned as a likely candidate, but in the end the Katoomba Council played it safe and went with the new Premier, Mr Stevens. So what was supposed to be on the vacant part of the plaque? I’m guessing that it would have referred to the Governor opening the Stairway and the lookout being named after his wife (which it still is). One day we may know. There is an account of the opening here.

Sir Philip Game held on for another two years as Governor. For some members of the community, he was fair game. For others, the game was well and truly up.

My video of the walk may be found here. Wild Walks information is here. My Blue Mountains You Tube playlist may be found here. I have three other playlists - on gem hunting/mining, Glen Innes and New Zealand. Please comment and subscribe.

The Three Sisters from Echo Point 1958

Additional information added November 22nd, 2015
I've come across a slightly earlier reference to the Three Sisters than the one above. It's from the "Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser" for Saturday 29th May 1890 (page 988). You may read it all here. The article is essentially the same as the one quoted above (from The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil”); however it also includes a delightful sketch of scenery, including the Three Sisters, making this the earliest illustration I've yet found of this landmark. The illustration may be in the later reference as well, but a brief search failed to find it. Here it is for your enjoyment.

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Wednesday, 29 January 2014


Anyone driving on the Great Western Highway between Hartley and Lithgow will have noticed the cliffs of Hassan’s Walls above them. They are outliers of the same Triassic sandstone familiar to everyone in the western Blue Mountains.
Like Govett of Govett’s Leap at Blackheath, people ask “Who was Hassan?” Answers will vary: he was an escaped convict (there was a convict stockade below the Walls in the early days), he was a character in the Arabian Nights, he was an Arab stockman.
The right answer seems to be that Governor Lachlan Macquarie named the Walls during his trip to Bathurst in 1815 on the newly built Cox’s Road. It is said that they reminded him of the Walls of Hassan in southern India, but whether this is true or not I cannot say. However the name came to be given, it has certainly stuck.                                                                                                                                      
1895 newspaper quote

The Walls have always been a tourist attraction to visitors and the people of Lithgow. The area was made a Reserve as long ago as 1895; however it was the work of James Padley during World War 1 that laid the foundation for the Reserve as we see it today. Even a brief look at Trove (newspaper files) reveals the extent of the problems – vandalism, littering, stealing native plants
Illustrated Sydney News February 7th 1889
and just general apathy. Nor have these problems ceased in the district. The Zig Zag Railway has been suffering from constant vandalism and theft for years, most likely carried out by local residents, perhaps the descendants of the Hassan’s Walls vandals of earlier years.
Lithgow City Council is in the process of having a boardwalk, interpretive signs etc constructed right now (January 2014). No doubt these will be great assets and improve the visitor’s experience greatly. However, history shows that the graffiti “artists”, vandals and thieves won’t take long to get up there to try to spoil that experience.
The area has an incredibly varied fauna which includes plants scarcely known elsewhere. Please protect this environment – no rubbish, keep to made tracks and the boardwalk and definitely no fires!                                                         

Something needs to be said about the prominent rock outlier so noticable during the drive around the “Forty Bends” at Old Bowenfels. Right at the end of a ridge, you can hardly miss the likeness to a man’s head. I’ve been aware of it for as long as I can remember. The old name for this erosional feature is “King George’s Head”, though I have heard it called “Indian’s Head” locally as well. Let’s stick to the traditional name.
So why King George’s Head? The king referred to is undoubtedly George III and the only likeness most people in Australia would have seen of the king was on his coinage. He faces right on his coins, as does the rock when seen from the Highway (which rules out Georges II and IV who face left on their coins). The best known image of King George (who reigned from 1760 to 1820) is on the celebrated "cartwheel penny” of 1797, which circulated widely in the colony. I believe this is the origin of the name.
NOTE ADDED 11th November 2017.The 1806 penny, especially a worn example (which was the usual condition of Australian circulating coins) is more likely to have been in the pockets of people in those days. They remained in circulation right up to the gold rush days.
You will find a fascinating account of Lithgow in this article from the Illustrated Sydney News February 7th 1889) from which the pictures above come. The article also mentions King George’s Head. Click here.
A good article about the development of the Reserve in James Padley’s time may be found here.
You will find my video here and another (Holiday Hunter) here. My Blue Mountains You Tube playlist may be found here . I have three other playlists - on gem hunting/mining, Glen Innes and New Zealand.
NOTE ADDED 28th March 2015 - report from the Lithgow Mercury on a recent landslide here.

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Friday, 24 January 2014


Cliff View Lookout
The Prince Henry Cliff Walk was named for Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, third son of King George V. He neither saw the track nor opened it, but was “in the right place at the right time” (so to speak). He was visiting Australia in 1934 when the first stage of the track was opened. It was a popular thing in those days to name places after royalty and the Duke happened to be the chosen one this time. You can see a photograph of the Duke at Katoomba Station by clicking here.

When he returned to Australia in 1945 to serve as Governor-General he was well received; by this time he was the brother of the king, George VI. The royal family had become very popular during  the war because of their support for the people of England who suffered so much, particularly during the Blitz.

Sphinx Rock
Sydney Morning Herald
The section of the Walk from Katoomba Falls to Leura Cascades was opened at Echo Point by the Minister for Local Government, Mr ES Spooner. It is one of a number of enterprising tourist paths opened around the same time – the Orphan Rock ascent, the Giant Stairway and the Projecting Platform at Echo Point being the others. Coupled with the new floodlighting, the Cliff Drive and the development of the Scenic Railway, this must have been a boom time for Katoomba!

Before the track was developed there were already a number of popular spots along the route: the Katoomba Cascades, Cliff View Lookout, The Sphinx rock, Lady Darley Lookout and Echo Point. Now it was possible to get a bus to either end and walk between the two in less than hour. Lots of people do this every day, just as they have been doing for the past 80 years. You have lots of options when it comes to returning to your starting point. I decided to follow the road and rejoin the walk at the Skyway terminal near Cliff View Lookout. 
Callicoma (black wattle)
Wild Walks information may be downloaded here.
The area before the Cliff Walk was constructed
My video of the walk is here. My Blue Mountains You Tube playlist may be found here. I have three other playlists - on gem hunting/mining, Glen Innes and New Zealand. Please comment and subscribe.
The area in 1952 (much the same today)

Wednesday, 22 January 2014



Original ladder: State Library of Victoria

When the Federal Pass was completed in 1900, linking Leura Falls to Katoomba Falls, it was hailed as a great achievement, which indeed it was. Tourists no longer had to visit the two sights separately – they could now descend into the valley at either end and walk between the two.

However, the descent of the lower cliffs at Katoomba was made in part by wooden ladders which many visitors would have found rather daunting in such an exposed position, especially when you look at old photos and see the clothing visitors wore in those days. The answer was to carve a set of steps into the cliff to replace the most dangerous ladders. Similar steps had already been carved into the cliffs at Blackheath and Wentworth Falls. The government surveyor who arranged funding for their construction in 1908 (at a cost of 140 pounds) was Thomas Frederick Furber. This sum might seem tiny to us, but to the volunteer Trust controlling the area it must have seemed enormous and no doubt they were profuse in their thanks to Mr Furber and the NSW government.

Even so, many visitors sought a free ride on the coal trucks ascending the cliff nearby and this ultimately led to the establishment of the Scenic Railway and Scenic World as we know them today. There are still lots of people who descend into the valley via the steps but you don’t see many going the other way!                                                                                                                                                          
View from Lyne's Point 1957

The official opening of the Federal Pass took place on 3rd November 1900, just a few weeks before the Federation of the six Australian States took place on 1st January 1901, hence the name. The Premier of NSW, Sir William Lyne, officiated. Sir William Lyne drew the line after climbing down to the bottom of Leura Falls. He then returned to Katoomba but many others went on the complete the entire walk. All assembled at Katoomba Falls Reserve for afternoon tea and speeches and an official banquet was held at the Carrington in the evening.

There are many newspaper reports of this event; you will enjoy the one in the Evening News (Sydney, NSW) of Monday 5th November 1900, page 8. Here is an extract referring to the ascent to Katoomba Falls, which was obviously the hardest part.

From Evening News 5/11/1900

Back to Furber and the steps. There is a lot of information about TF Furber in an article compiled by The Institute of Surveyors NSW Inc. beginning on page 139. You will find this reference here. This is the origin of the photograph. He was clearly a man of vision dedicated to his work and the good

Furber Steps, newly built

of the community. However the construction of the steps came about, this is a place which remains exciting to visit and, if anything, the visitor comes to the bottom all too soon. With the views, the element of danger and the knowledge that you don’t have to climb up again, it is yet another place “not to be missed”.

Furber Steps today from Cliff View Lookout
You will find my video of this walk here.                             

The Wild Walks information 
is to be found here. My You Tube channel may be found here . There are four playlists: gem fossicking, Glen Innes, the Blue Mountains and New Zealand. Please comment and subscribe.