Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Searching for Echoes in the Blue Mountains

Echo Point gardens 1964 (Blue Mountains Library, Local Studies Collection)

An Echo is a reflection of sound that arrives at the listener with a delay after the direct sound. The delay is proportional to the distance of the reflecting surface from the source and the listener. Typical examples are the echo produced by the bottom of a well, by a building, or by the walls of an enclosed room and an empty room. A true echo is a single reflection of the sound source.

Echo in  Greek mythology is a mountain nymph whose ability to speak was cursed, only able to repeat the last words anyone spoke to her. Some animals use echo for location sensing and navigation, such as cetaceans (dolphins and whales) and bats.

The human ear cannot distinguish an echo from the original direct sound if the delay is less than 1/10 of a second. The velocity of sound in dry air is approximately 343 m/s at a temperature of 25 °C. Therefore, the reflecting object must be more than 17.2m from the sound source for echo to be perceived by a person located at the source. When a sound produces an echo in two seconds, the reflecting object is 343m away. In nature, canyon walls or rock cliffs facing water are the most common natural settings for producing and hearing echoes. The strength of echo is frequently measured in dB sound pressure level (SPL) relative to the directly transmitted wave.

Cooee! (/ˈkuːiː/) is a shout used in Australia, usually in the bush, to attract attention, find missing people, or indicate one's own location. When done correctly—loudly and shrilly—a call of ‘Cooee’ can carry over a considerable distance. The distance one's Cooee call travels can be a matter of competitive pride. It is also known as a call of help, which can blend in with different natural sounds in the bush.

Cooee was among the first Aboriginal words taken into English by the First Fleeters, it comes from the Dharug word ‘guu-wii’, literally "come here", but the Europeans noted early in the piece that the Dharug used it as a shrill call to communicate over long distances. It was also the traditional call to test for an echo.

The word Cooee, has become a name of many organisations, places and even events. Perhaps the most historic of these was the Cooee March during the First World War. It was staged by 35 men from GilgandraNew South Wales, 766 km (476 mi) northwest of Sydney, as a recruiting drive after enthusiasm for the war waned in 1915 with the first casualty lists. They marched to Sydney calling ‘Cooee!’ to encourage others to come and enlist. A poster read ‘Coo-ee – Won't you come?’. When they reached Sydney on 12 December, the group had grown to 277. To this day, Gilgandra holds a yearly Cooee Festival in October to commemorate the event. Other Cooee Festivals occur across Australia.

Echoing Places

At North Lawson Park an Echo Point is located on Echo Bluff which is a headland between Dantes Glen and Frederika Falls overlooking the Empire Pass walking track. The Mountaineer newspaper reported in August 1896:

For some time past the Progress Committee has been engaged in opening up a new sight on the North side called Echo Point. A first class track has been made to the lookout which embraces a magnificent view of the gorge looking towards Mount Hay and Mount King George.

By March 1915 the Lawson attraction was well established as the Nepean Times reported in March:

 Lawson just now is quiet — an ordinary, but not an extraordinary number of visitors appearing. "Glow- worm" parties appear to be at a discount; black-berrying parties have also had their day and ceased to be. As a substitute, a walk in the moon-light to Echo Point has been suggested as the next best. Possibly given the walk, the moonlight, and the company, Echo Point, or any other given spot might be unnecessary.

Glenbrook also had its Echo Point, now known as Tunnel View Lookout. As the Nepean Times reported in January 1911, just prior to the opening of the new railway deviation:

A favourite spot, known as Echo Point, facing the well-known Bluff in Glenbrook Creek, is likely to be shortly resumed by the Government as an area for public use. This area, which comprises about 100 acres, is so situated that a glorious view of the mountains, of the Nepean, and of the picturesque country through which the new railway line will pass, can be enjoyed. The local Improvement Association has given the matter special attention, and it is within the bounds of likelihood that the area will shortly be gazetted as a reserve for public use. Mr Hall, Government surveyor, and his staff are installed at Glenbrook, and surveys are being made. It is not unlikely that a large area, including the beautiful Blue Pool (the local swimming bath and picnic spot) will be included with Echo Point in one large reservation.

There is a clear echo from this location which bounces off the Bluff Reserve on the opposite side of Glenbrook Gorge.  As shown by the above quote it was known as Echo Point prior to 1911.

Annie Wegner and friend at Double Echo Point Feb. 1934,
Hydro Majestic in background. (Photo Blue Mountains Library, Local Studies Collection) 

Double Echo Point is located on the Shipley plateau behind the original Shipley tea rooms and was first mentioned in the Blackheath Beacon newspaper in December 1930:

Another spot which lures the tourist to Blackheath is the famed Double Echo Point, which possesses two distinct echoes. From this point a magnificent view of the great Valley of Megalong, as well as a glimpse of the Hydro Majestic at Medlow, is obtainable.

The Shipley Tea Rooms were constructed about 1935 by Eric Longton. Eric was the eldest
son of Robert Longton, who had been one of the first settlers in the Shipley area in 1892. The Tea Rooms were in existence in 1928 and were redeveloped in 1933. Eric Longton
would almost certainly have been a member of the Shipley Progress Association that
attempted to develop a local tourism industry to sell jams and fruit to visitors. One of the
aims was to build tracks to 'sights' on the plateau, but these appear to have been fairly basic
constructions. The most impressive and successful one was to Double Echo Point, within
the grounds of the Tea Rooms.
Right through the upper Blue Mountains local entrepreneurs had built tea rooms near track
heads. In this case, it is almost certain that Longton would have built this track to attract
people to the tea room. The first located reference to Double Echo Point is from 1930. The
name of the lookout is an interesting reference to unusual acoustic properties of loud sounds
projected from the lookout, and may have also involved a wry reference to Katoomba's
[single] Echo Point.

In about 1996, the owner of the Shipley Tea Rooms erected a gate at the entrance to this
track, felled trees across it and erected 'keep out' signs. Safety considerations were cited as
the reason for closing the track.

Echoing Gully and creek is located in an known as Girraween between Valhalla Head and Thor Head, the creek flows north into the Grose River, Mount Victoria. It was named by George Brown and Stan McGaghey when bushwalking in the area in 1948.

The Echo Tree 1890, Henry King photo, courtesy MAAS 
The Echo Tree, with its associated lookout, was located on the Prince Henry Cliff Walk below the original kiosk above Leura Cascades, and near Kiah Lookout. About the time it was photographed by Henry King, the Katoomba Times of 1889 described it as: “the Echo Tree - On brow of Leura Falls.”

It even had poetry dedicated to it: The Daily Telegraph July 1900:
The Leura Falls,
Where gaily calls.
The Echo at the Tree -
'Tis Natures plan,
To teach a man
It's wrong to saucy be.

The Echo Point complex at Katoomba contains: a small cave within the first sister known as Echo Point Lookout, Echo Point Park now known as Echo Park, and the main lookout containing the Drum lookout (2003) which replaced a series of earlier lookouts above Queen Elizabeth Lookout - named in 1954 in connection with the Royal Tour, and the Projecting Platform - opened 1932.

The Projecting Platform, by Wal Green 1940s (Photo Blue Mountains Library, Local Studies Collection)
The descriptive name for the geographical feature Echo Point is shown in the 1894 Railway Guide map for the Katoomba district. In March 1892 The Katoomba Times reported that the municipal council had decided a track to Echo Point was to be made from Lurline Street. 

Ald. Goyder moved — "That an estimate be obtained of the cost of forming a track from the end of Lurline-street to Echo Point.
Ald. Mullany seconded. Carried.
Katoomba Times 1892

Maurice Skeen was employed on the maintenance staff of Katoomba Municipal Council about 1913 and carried out the original development of the lookout area. Many smaller lookout points, stairs. shelters and nooks were added over the years.

In the 1930s a number of cement picnic shelters were constructed above the main lookout and in the adjacent Echo Park. Formed by rendering layers of cement over a wire frame, they have survived remarkably well.  

The Echo's Pointed Absence
In 1993 the Sydney Morning Herald’s Column 8 asked whether 'Echo Point' was a misnomer.
The article charged that when a Herald colleague recently let out a hearty Cooee at Echo Point, the only response received was suspicion from all present.

A suggestion was made that the Echo Point Cooee has been replaced ". . .with the sound of giant tourist coaches running their air-conditioning, and until last week, joyflight helicopters."

John Low, of Springwood Library, said that the echoless Echo Point controversy is not new.
Mr Low said that the debate's last occurrence was in December, 1987.

He produced letters published in the Gazette during that time, showing numerous responses to a tourist's complaint in a Sydney newspaper regarding a distinct lack of echo at the point.
Television news crews and press journalists flocked to Katoomba to investigate and provide stories.

In the Blue Mountains Gazette of December 12, 1987, local tourist coach operator, John Cronshaw had likened an echo to a rainbow, which is visible only when certain physical circumstances occur. Mr Cronshaw wrote that the two most important factors at Echo Point are wind velocity and background noise.

The noise of traffic and people will drown out the sound of the echo, as will the comment,
'Did you hear that?'
‘The lack of background noise is crucial,’ wrote Mr Cronshaw. ‘Perhaps the BMTA should rename Echo Point to Frustration Point, and while they are doing that, change the name of the Blue Mountains to that of the Blue Valleys.’

Early Echo Point postcard,
(Photo Blue Mountains Library, Local Studies Collection)

On a humorous note, in 1998 the Sun-Herald published a letter from a correspondent  Ellis Glover of Waverton:

As I recall, Labor Premier Joe Cahill …when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Echo Point during their first Australian tour. Cahill's itinerary for the royals was to steer them to Labor-held electorates or, if they weren't held by Labor, to send one of his ministers as official greeter. Thus it was that on a perfect day, as the Queen and her party stepped off the special train at Katoomba station, they were greeted not by the mayor and his town clerk but by Education Minister Clive Evatt.

The mayor had lodged a protest when it was learned that Evatt would be the official greeter, but to no avail. Evatt then introduced the mayor and town clerk, wearing their robes of office. The official party then went by car to Echo Point, which was packed with thousands of schoolchildren and adults waving small Union Jacks.

A few paces behind the party walked Gordon Short, a senior photographer for The Sydney Morning Herald. The late ‘Shortie’ was the pool photographer for the day and I am indebted to him for this story.

As the party walked towards Echo Point, Evatt told the Queen: ‘Your Majesty, this area is noted for its echo. That is why it is called Echo Point.’
‘Not really,’ interjected the town clerk. ‘It is a bit of a misnomer, really. The echo here is not very good, actually.’
‘Rubbish,’ said Evatt and let off a loud ‘Cooee’.
His effort raised no response from Echo Point. He let go another ‘Cooee’.

Shortie, a few paces behind the royal party, decided to help out. After a studied pause, he replied to Evatt's effort with a sotto voce ‘Cooee’.
‘There, did you hear that?’ he asked everyone.

The Queen and the Duke looked at each other and grinned. Evatt let another one go and Shortie obliged after a studied delay. Evatt could not contain himself. He Cooeed another four or five times and Shortie obliged on each occasion. Evatt was beside himself- and so were the other members of the party.” Sun-Herald 15/3/1998

The final word goes to Local historian Jim Smith, who wrote to the Blue Mountains Gazette in December 16, 1987.

"The apparent lack of an echo at Katoomba's Echo Point has been a subject of comment for at least three quarters of a century.

In an hilarious article in The Daily Telegraph of 1922, Bulletin cartoonist Hal Eyre described his attempts to get an echo there. He ‘had never met anyone who had actually had a reply.’ He ‘had the impression that it was just a name given to create interest; that it was an illusion.’

There was ‘hearsay evidence aplenty but no one in the presence of a witness had tested it and received a reply.’ Eventually Eyre's cabby, Blue Mountains poet Harry Peckman was asked to demonstrate.

Peckman ‘emitted a Cooee in a shrill tone, surprising in its volume and clarity.’ Eventually there was a reply ‘faint but clear’ — ‘in a feminine voice.’

Eyre concluded: ‘There is a genuine echo in proper working order, which answers back in a weird uncanny voice.’

In 1934 the Katoomba Daily carried this advice:

One often hears the complaint that the name, Echo Point, is a misnomer, owing to the failure of tourists to evoke an echo with their Cooees and shouts. The truth is that the echo at this spot is one of the most remarkable in the world. It is necessary to face the west, then give a long, loud Cooee and wait patiently. Perhaps two minutes later, faint but distinct, echo returns from the depths of Kanimbla Valley beyond the intervening Narrow Neck promontory.

The local historian Jim Smith wrote in 1987: 
Two minutes is an awfully long time to the impatient tourist of today.
More immediate gratification and considerably louder echoes can be had at numerous other points. Few tourists know of the other Echo Point in North Lawson Park. The echo here is far more impressive than Katoomba's.
How many of today's walkers know of the Echo Tree Lookout below the Fork 'n' View restaurant, once the grail of echo seekers.
My personal favourite echo is found along the Pinnacles track out towards the Grose from Mt Hay Road. Here a Cooee sent facing towards the head of the Grose River is thrown back over your shoulder from the opposite direction.
Echo connoisseurs will no doubt continue to shout from the clifftops. Perhaps as their ears strain for their reply, they may hear something more significant than the sound of their own voices." BMG 16/12/1987
The Cooee call itself is now heard less and less in the bush. As the historian Richard White has noted:
Federation seized on a word that symbolically encompassed the whole of Australia, and its popularity rose to the point where there were calls for three cheers to be replaced with three 'coo-ees'. In the First World War, the number of coo-ee songs swelled as it joined the chorus of recruitment numbers and ballads reminding troops of home. 
In the decades that followed, 'coo-ee' became something of an echo of its former self. Its place in everyday language declined, and it's not clear whether coming generations will give voice to the word. However some exceptions can be heard, suggesting it's a call close to the hearts of many in their relationship with family and land.

John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian, 2018

References & Further Reading

Blue Mountains Geographical Dictionary, Brian Fox 2006


Echo Point in Dictionary of Sydney by Delia Falconer 2016 -


BEAUTIFUL BLACKHEATH (1930, December 11). The Blackheath Bulletin (Katoomba, NSW : 1926; 1929 - 1931), p. 1. Retrieved May 3, 2018, from

Courageous Rescue (1949, August 31). Barrier Daily Truth (Broken Hill, NSW : 1908; 1941 - 1954), p. 1. Retrieved May 10, 2018, from

Glenbrook (1911, January 21). Nepean Times (Penrith, NSW : 1882 - 1962), p. 3. Retrieved April 27, 2018, from

IN SUSPENSE (1932, March 26). The Katoomba Daily (NSW : 1920 - 1939), p. 1. Retrieved July 20, 2018, from

KATOOMBA. (1889, November 16). Katoomba Times (NSW : 1889 - 1894), p. 4. Retrieved May 4, 2018, from

Katoomba Municipal Council. (1892, March 4). Katoomba Times (NSW : 1889 - 1894), p. 3. Retrieved May 4, 2018, from

Lawson. (1896, August 14). The Mountaineer (Katoomba, NSW : 1894 - 1908), p. 3. Retrieved April 27, 2018, from

Lawson (1915, March 6). Nepean Times (Penrith, NSW : 1882 - 1962), p. 3. Retrieved April 27, 2018, from

Original Poetry. (1900, July 20). The Mountaineer (Katoomba, NSW : 1894 - 1908), p. 2. Retrieved May 4, 2018, from

ON THE HILLS (1922, September 26). The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 - 1930), p. 4. Retrieved April 24, 2018, from

QUEEN WAS DELIGHTED WITH BLUE MOUNTAINS (1954, February 13). Daily Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1915 - 1954), p. 1. Retrieved April 24, 2018, from

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