Wandering in explorers' footsteps

I am sitting on a mountainside somewhere between Hartleyvale and Lithgow, having climbed Brown's Gap Road and passed the furthest point that Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth reached on their epoque-making trip in 1813.

It is easy to feel the exhilaration of the explorers when they reached the top of Mount York and saw Hartley Valley below. There were mountains in the middle distance, but there was also an obvious gap and on that day, May 28, 1813, they felt they were justified in thinking they had conquered the mountains.

The explorers and their party went a little further to a smaller hill (later named Mount Blaxland), which they apparently reached on May 31.

Getting up the mountains has been a solid slog but without drama. I took the back roads through Wentworth Falls in company with Daniel Lewis, one of the legion of redundant former Fairfax employees seeking a new direction in life. We pass an extraordinary lake which doesn't appear to be well known, where the Jamison Creek was dammed to provide water for steam engines and now becomes a marvellous recreation reserve.

Surveyor George Evans passed this way on May 3, 1814 en route between overnight camps.

The charm of the other Blue Mountains has faded a little and the Hydro Majestic at Medlow Bath, with security fencing all around, does not appear it will ever regain its glory although there are signs saying the spirit is not dead.


The Explorers Tree, or at least the stump of it, is wrapped in thick black plastic but some historians question whether the mark emblazed on it was actually done by Blaxland's party.

At Blackheath and again at Mount Victoria, where I walked with another former Fairfax employee Jennie Curtin, the Mountains people demonstrated that the energy and camaraderie is not lost on them.

I took most of Saturday off and explored the back blocks including Grose Valley - a smaller version of Jamison Valley but a truly amazing sight, complete with bellbirds.

The edge of the Mountains with their massive escarpments falling into Kanimbla Valley and elsewhere is quite spectacular. But there is also a striking lack of imagination, such as a decision by people of past eras to put water reservoir tanks on top of One Tree Hill at Mount Victoria, the highest point of the mountains at 1,111 metres.

After a night spent with fellow choristers at Mount Victoria, I went to Mount York where the achievements of Blaxland, Lawson, Wentworth, Thomas Mitchell, William Cox, George Evans and others are suitably commemorated.

The original Cox's Road, complete at times with the original cuttings and drains and rock reinforcements, might have been a marvellous engineering achievement for the time but is so steep in places and difficult that coaches would have had to be eased down by ropes, pulleys and counter weights to stop them plunging into chasms.

A road was put down by Major Lockyer in 1829 close to Cox's Road but in 1832 Victoria Pass, which was the inspiration of Thomas Mitchell, was opened to traffic. Another route, Berghofers Pass was opened in 1912 to provide gentler grades but by 1920 when cars were more powerful Victoria Pass was rebuilt and reopened.

I got down to Hartley Valley, looked at the Comet Inn that was built in 1879 and used as a guest house, and Collits' Inn up the road, built 50 years earlier but now just a private residence.

All this history is going to become very important over the next few years as the crossing of the Mountains is celebrated but now I am on to Lithgow which effectively marks the beginning of the inland.