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Friday, 21 November 2014


Photo taken June 1960
What was once a place of high drama is now practically forgotten. The site of these great landslides cannot be seen from any of the well-known lookouts, nor does a sign point to any place from which it can be seen (with the exception of the track from the Scenic Railway). In fact, with the continued discoloration of the once-clean rock face as oxidation takes effect and plants make it their home, the site is beginning to look much the same as the rest of the cliff line. The site is usually referred to as at “the Dog Face Rock”. Presumably this landmark was lost when the cliff collapsed.
Even the jumble of debris at the base of the cliff and down into the valley is becoming overgrown in spite of gravity pulling it further down the slope.
So, what is the story of this place and where can you go to see what remains? We only know that cracks behind the top of the cliffs were first reported in 1929, apparently by a miner returning from work at the coal mine in the valley below.
It became apparent that a major rock fall was imminent, though what that might mean in geological terms wasn’t at all clear, since no-one had witnessed anything like this in the Blue Mountains previously (nor has it been observed since, to my knowledge). As 1930 advanced, the cracks widened noticeably and pieces of rock regularly detached themselves and hurtled into the valley below. Crowds came to watch, hoping to be there for the climax when hundreds of thousands of tons of rock would fall in one great mass.
January 1931 arrived. By this time anybody and everybody was practically holding their breath, waiting for the GREAT EVENT. See the Sydney Morning Herald article (Tuesday 27th January 1931) here. It happened (unfortunately, as these things tend to happen) around 4am on the morning of 29th January. There were no witnesses and no photographs, though there are plenty of the lead-up and the aftermath. This was not the end, as things turned out, because it soon became obvious that there would be a further fall before long. This took place on Saturday 2nd May, at around 2pm, according to the Herald report in the edition of Monday 4 th May, page 9 (here). The report mentions witnesses, but evidently they weren’t carrying cameras and I can’t even find a mention of their names. It’s a bit late in 2014 to be asking for eyewitness reports, though. The Sydney Mail of Wednesday 6th May has a good report, including some photographs taken at around the time of the fall (here). There must have been many smaller falls after this, but people’s interests moved on. This all happened during the Great Depression and there more pressing issues to worry about than yet another landslide at Katoomba.
So where can you go to see the site today? If you take the walk from the bottom of the Scenic Railway towards the Ruined Castle, you will soon find yourself crossing the debris field of the Landslide. See my video on this walk here. See the Wild Walks description and map here.
Landslide Lookout is perched at the highest point of the actual break in the sandstone cliff, but you can’t see the landslide itself from here. You can, however get a good view from Narrow Neck Lookout by heading off through the scrub to the left (ie, away from the Narrow Neck below you). See my video Cliff Drive Lookouts here. There are many places along Glenraphael Drive (which goes along the Narrow Neck peninsula) where you can see the landslide, but naturally they are further away. See my video Narrow Neck Lookouts
Landslide Lookout 2014
An assortment of photographs may be found in Trove here. Finally, I can recommend Barbara Cameron-Smith’s Blog “All Things Written”. She has an entry titled “The Katoomba Landslide Fades into Obscurity?” which you will find here.

All New England and other Geology blogs and videos
From below June 1960

June 1963

1 comment:

  1. Hi John, thank you for this informative article. I am taking some year 8 students past the landslide. I wanted to check with you if you would mind if I published the june 1963 image in their workbook? Its a great view of the face and rubble pile for them to see. If so, please let me know how I should credit it. With thanks, Sarah.