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Sunday, 24 May 2015

BERGHOFER PASS MT VICTORIA BLUE MOUNTAINS NSW AUSTRALIA



JW Berghofer circa 1912
The central character in this blog is John William Berghofer, born as Johannes Wilhelm Berghoefer in Munchhausen, Germany, who arrived in Australia as a 12 year-old in 1855. After working on properties in the area, he purchased the former Victoria Inn at Little Hartley in 1892, renaming it “Rosenthal”. He lived here until shortly before his death in 1927. With the formation of many rural Shires (local government areas) he became the first president of the Blaxland Shire Council, now incorporated within the Greater Lithgow City Council area. Follow up these references to learn more about the life of WJ Berghofer: The Mt. Wilson Bushwalking Group for May 2009 here and John Low’s book “Pictorial Memories Blue Mountains” (1991) here.
Rosenthal/Rosedale Little Hartley

As you can see from the adjacent photograph, probably taken well before Berghofer’s time, Rosenthal (now known as “Rosedale”) lies close to the foot of Victoria Pass. It would have seen a lot of passing traffic after its construction in the 1830s, especially following the discovery of gold near Orange in 1851. This greatly diminished after the railway from Sydney to Bowenfels was opened in 1869, when most of the many roadside inns in the Hartley-Bowenfels area became redundant.
Berghofer Pass (centre) and Victoria Pass (behind)

The completion of the Jenolan Caves road from Hartley through the Grand Arch in 1896 encouraged lots of visitors to make the journey from Mt Victoria. At first there were only horse drawn vehicles and bicycles but gradually motor vehicles began to appear on the route. Regular services from Katoomba were running as early as 1905. It must have been obvious to Berghofer, who was no doubt called upon to retrieve vehicles unable to cope with the steep grades of Victoria Pass, that an easier route was essential for the new-fangled automobiles. Thus was born the idea of a whole new road between Little Hartley and Mt Victoria.
Horse and dog drinking trough
Moves to build the new road must have commenced soon after the formation of the Blaxland Shire Council in June, 1906. At the same time, construction and maintenance of roads became a responsibility of local government. JW Berghofer’s name appears in the list of candidates for the first election (5th November 1906), and he became its first elected president on 1st March 1907, replacing the previously appointed. “Temporary President”. (The Mudgee Guardian is the source of this information.) Work was certainly underway by March 1908, though without access to Council records, I can’t say when it started. In the issue of the Sydney Morning Herald for Tuesday, 31st March 1908, page 9, the road is called “Berghofer Pass”. It must not be thought, however,
Blaxland Shire Council inscription
that Berghofer’s name was attached to the new road simply because he was the Shire President. In fact, he had been one of the prime movers in the construction of the 1900 Explorer’s Monument at the end of Mt York, as he was later to be of the 1913 celebrations at Mt York and Mt Victoria. Clearly, Berghofer saw the Mt York area as one of special importance to him personally. It dominates the view from “Rosedale” today as it always has.

Blue Mountains Shire inscription

Work on the new pass was not easy. The site was demanding and the adjoining Blue Mountains Shire Council was also involved, boundary adjustments between the two being underway at the time. No doubt this is the reason for the rock engraving showing the boundary between the two council areas. It appears that vehicles began using the road even while it was under construction, and it was in general use by the beginning of 1910. For approximately 10 years the pass was extensively used, but by 1920 most traffic had returned to the former route, which we know as Victoria Pass. It was not until 1952 that Berghofer Pass was finally closed, though no doubt adventurous motorists continued to travel on it after that date.

The Pass today has become a fine walking track, providing great views of the valley and especially the stonework put in place by convict gangs on Victoria Pass in the 1830’s. It allows walkers to appreciate the effort put into this project more than a century ago. See my video on the walk here.
Victoria Pass convict stonework

Something needs to be said about the treatment of JW Berghofer during World War 1. There were already schemes afoot to change the name to “Victoria Pass” before the war began, though this was never done officially. However, you will come across photographs of the Pass using that name or sometimes “New Victoria Pass”. I suspect that there were some in local government who envied Berghofer’s prestige and took the opportunity to attack him when anti German sentiment was reaching new heights in 1916. They successfully lobbied the state and federal governments to have the right to vote and to serve in local government removed from anyone of German birth. Berghofer lost his position on the Blaxland Shire Council. The same thing happened to Charles Lindeman on the Blue Mountains Shire Council.
The inscription as it is today

Some bigoted people even chipped Berghofer’s name off the inscription near the top of the pass. Well after the war the Blue Mountains council promised to restore it, but they never did. Berghofer died with the knowledge that there were still those who disliked him because of his birth nationality. It was not until 70 years had passed that his name was once again engraved in the sandstone cliff and it took the effort of his descendants to get the job done.
I’ll let John William Berghofer have the last word. “He was Australian and his heart was in this country. He asked those who signed the petition what had they done for this country. He had cleared the bush and made a farm, and used his strength and ability for the good of the country. Unless the Government said he was not fit to occupy the positions he now held he would not resign.” Read the entire article here.

Some Additional Reading: Presentation to the Duke and Duchess of York The North Western Courier Narrabri Thursday 5 May 1927, page 6 here.
Illustrated article (difficult to read) The Evening News Saturday 30th December 1911 here.
My Blue Mountains You Tube playlist is here. I have three other playlists - on gem hunting/mining, Glen Innes and New Zealand.
The Coo-ees recruiting march on the Pass Day 26 (4th November 1915)

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