Monday, August 30, 2021

Katoomba Town Clock

The original Rotary Town Clock and arch with marching girls
and band during the Woolfiesta parade, April 1963

Beginning in 12th century Europe, towns and monasteries built clocks in high towers to strike bells to call the community to prayer. Public clocks played an important timekeeping role in daily life until the 20th century, when accurate watches became affordable. Today the time keeping functions of town clocks are no longer necessary, and they are mainly built and preserved for traditional, decorative, and artistic reasons.

Blue Mountains City Council had originally intended that a town clock be incorporated into the superstructure of a proposed rail overbridge to replace the level crossing at Katoomba, but as this did not seem to be a project likely to be implemented within the near future, the Rotary Club of Katoomba wrote to the Council early in 1956 offering to provide a clock for public benefit, if the Council would arrange a suitable structure.

 Katoomba Rotary had been looking for a project to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the charting of the Katoomba Club. Local architect Gerald Corne, brother of Les Corne, president of the club in 1955 - 56 and later a mayor of the City, was invited to draw up plans featuring two boomerangs in the supporting arch with the Rotary wheel to frame the clock.

Council thanked the Club for its offer and made enquiries to various towns, including Cronulla, in order to ascertain a suitable place for such a public clock, with the idea then of conferring with the Club as to the siting of this amenity. The intersection of Katoomba and Main Streets was suggested, also the Carrington Bus Shelter Shed as it was then. Rotary favoured this latter position as the most suitable.

At the time Alderman Hand said that a public clock had been erected at Cronulla, sited on the Commonwealth Bank building, but this had been provided by the Bank itself, and he thought that some other premises might be suitable in Katoomba. Following the Council's investigations and various conferences with the Rotary Club, it was agreed in August 1957 that the Council would provide and finance the cost of a supporting arch, opposite the Carrington, to an amount not exceeding £1,000 ($2,000) and the cost of the provision of the clock would be borne by the Club which would also supply the plans drawn by up Gerald Corne. It was agreed that Rotary would provide the clock at an estimated cost of £250.

Tenders were invited for construction of the arch with all of the work to be carried out by Council staff, as well as the purchase of the clock, the total cost being £1,177 ($2,354). These costs were made known to the Rotary Club which then decided, without any request from the Council, that it would bear the whole of the costs involved so that the Council would not incur any expenditure and the project would stand as a gift to the people of the area, although the Club was not able to forward a cheque immediately for the whole amount incurred.


Town Clock design blueprint, Gerald Corne

In October 1956 the preliminary plans had been submitted to the club by Gerald Corne, and ways and means of financing the purchase of the clock were discussed. A series of barbecues held in Megalong Valley by Harry Hammon and his committee were continued to raise funds for the clock. The Caledonian Society, a dedicated group who regularly held dances at the California Guest house in aid of local charities and good causes, agreed to run a dance for the town clock project, subsequently handing a cheque for £20 to the Rotary Club through their president, Mr. Sid Mavris. A fashion parade held in conjunction with the Quota club of Katoomba, put on by Jack and Marj Scott, resulted in Rotary's share of £31 being added to the fund.

However, the need for a more positive source of funding was apparent. A suggest­ion from club president Stan Jefferies to run a monster art union with television set, a rarity in those days, as the prize, met with some opposition from members at first, but Stan with the tenacity of a bull-dog, or rather, insurance man, at last won the consent of the club and necessary steps were made to implement the plan. Permission was obtained from the Chief Secretary's department and 2/- tickets were printed and ready for selling in January 1957, quite a sum of money in those days.

Town Clock Art Union poster in shop window,
Astor Furniture Katoomba Street

 Early in February 1957 the sketches of the proposed town clock and archway prepared by Gerald Corne were on display. By the end of February, Council had approved the design and voted to spend £1,000 on the arch, £100 of which was to come from the North Katoomba-Leura Town Improvement Loan fund; however the Katoomba Rotarians were unanimous in their decision to pay for the supporting arch as well as the clock. Finance having been obtained from the Commercial Bank of Australia in Main Street, an order was given to Mr. Ralph Symonds, a Sydney manufacturer, to fabricate the arch and supply the clock. In return for the order, Mr. Symonds agreed to supply the clock for £100 less than the original estimated price of £250, a gesture greatly appreciated by the Rotarians.

The added responsibility of paying for the arch as well as the clock emphasised the need for a more concerted effort in raising funds. Sale of tickets in the Art Union had slowed down in the town, with secretary Jack Scott continually urging members to greater efforts. It was felt that saturation point had been reached in the town and consent to explore wider areas was sought. This resulted in the selling of tickets at the G.P.S. rowing regatta on the Nepean River at Penrith as well as at Central station in Sydney; in fact, anywhere a gathering of people suggested a possible vantage point.

Even with these added selling points, the art union was lagging and President Stan came up with tile bright idea of enlisting the help of a chirpy little old lady of over eighty years, Mrs. Robey by name, to sell tickets on a commission basis. It was Mrs Robey's proud boast that she was the best ticket seller on the mountains, so every day she was picked up from her home near Catalina Park by a Rotarian and comfortably set up with table and chair near the Katoomba Post Office on fine days, and quite undeterred would move under the shop awnings on wet days, and sell-tickets she did. Mrs Robey also sang in St. Hilda's Church Choir at the ripe old age of ninety.

Permission to hold a street stall was obtained and this was the first Rotary street stall held on Easter Saturday. The wives of Rotarians, known as Rotariannes, assisted in stocking and operating the stall. Generous prizes were donated by Rotary members – providore, Charlie Colless gave a duck (very topical at Easter); master painter, Jim Crane promised sufficient paint of the winner's choice to paint the exterior of a house; a Stainless steel sink from Bert Lambert’s Hardware; 40 gallons of petrol from fuel agent Len Hansby and two cases of apples from shopkeeper Reg Bartle. Rotariannes worked hard preparing saleable goods, this was before the advent of the inner wheel club of Katoomba, and the stall was a great success adding £78 to the Town Clock fund, with some competitions still to be completed. With the date of the unveiling and handing over of the clock set as May 25th 1957, time was the essence and Easter Saturday with the holiday crowds seemed a most propitious morning.

The Katoomba Town Clock showing the Rotary motto 
Service Above Self

 With the Rotary Town Clock safely suspended from the arch spanning the crest of Katoomba Street, much to the delight and pride of Rotarians and townspeople alike, the unveiling and handing over took place at 4.00 p.m. on Saturday, May 25th 1957. With pardonable pomp and ceremony the unveiling was performed by past first vice-president of Rotary International, Ollie Oberg, his worship the Mayor, Aub Murphy accepted the clock and archway on behalf of the citizens of Katoomba and the City Council. The approximate cost of the archway and clock at the time of unveiling was given as £1200.


The Rotary plaque

 Following the unveiling ceremony a cocktail party was held in the Carrington Hotel. In the evening a combined meeting of Penrith, Windsor, Lithgow, Blackheath and Katoomba clubs was held at the Palais Royal, Katoomba Street, then run as a very superior guest house by Sid and Rene March, later the site of the Bible College and now a motel. Notable guests at the dinner were the Mayor and Mayoress, Ald. and Mrs. Aub Murphy, the Honourable A.S. Luchetti, federal member, and Mrs. Luchetti, Mr. Jim Robson, M.L.A., Rotarian Ollie Oberg and Mrs. Oberg, past governor Seymour Shaw; and two Rotary foundation fellows, Bill Knick and Bob Sims from Africa who were guest speakers. A large number of Rotarians and wives from the five clubs, together with represent­atives of many local organisations made the night a wonderful success and worthy extension of Katoomba Rotary’s historic day.

 The entire finance for the Town Clock project had not been raised at the time of the unveiling, so permission was sought for a four weeks' extension of the monster art union. The clock was the largest project carried out by the Rotary Club of Katoomba to that date. A parody of "Underneath the Arches" composed by Stan and Georgie Jefferies was printed on the programme.

 Underneath the Town Clock

Underneath the Town Clock our fellowship is fine,

By the Rotary Town clock we'll always know the time,

Every Rotary fellow and Rotarianne.

Happy when the funds are increasing, the T.V. set is drawn

Service when it's raining; service when it's fine

The arch spanning high above,

Tickets in our pockets no matter where we stray,

For our Rotary Town Clock we’ll work until it’s paid.


The Flannagan and Allen version and the Jefferies’ version were sung with great gusto.  

Unfortunately the archway did not stand the test of time and Mountains weather. In 1967 Council staff identified deterioration of the aluminium cladding and internal structure of the arch as a hazard and removed it, not without protests in the press.

“Give Us Back Our Clock!

Katoomba’s clock, main landmark in the shopping area, disappeared like a thief in the night.

But it was not stolen. It was chopped down in a hurry because it had been found to be dangerous.

The Blue Mountains City Council had called tenders for its removal because reports said the supports were decaying.

However when a would-be tenderer examined the pylons, he found one was so badly rotted away that he recommended instant removal.

Distinctive and useful

Heeding that advice, Council arranged for its removal by its own staff in the dead of night – or at least the very early hours of the morning – when traffic was lightest. However residents are complaining that they miss the clock.

Apparently it was erected at the behest of the Katoomba Rotary Club many years ago.

Straddling Katoomba Street, at the top of the hill, the clock was not only a distinctive  land mark, but it was a useful time piece.

Those hurrying for a train always knew whether they had to put in an extra sprint or could ease up for a breather. 

Service clubs could help

The ‘Blue Mountains Advertiser’ has received many complaints about its removal and requests for its reinstatement.

If Rotary, Lions, Apex and Quota – all service clubs with an interest in the town’s progress are not interested individually, perhaps they will combine to restore the clock; or would the new Katoomba Chamber of Commerce take an interest?

But the cry still is, ‘Give us back our clock.”

Blue Mountains Advertiser, June 29, 1967.

 In October 1967 Council called for tenders to supply and erect a steel open web arch with brick work at the base, to a design by G. Sadler and P. Burn.  A local company, A. Grimly of Valley Heights, was successful in gaining the contract at a cost of $900.00

Blue Mountains Advertiser, August 3, 1967

 Rotary had written to Council in November regretting that it would be unable to cover the full cost of $295 to affix the Rotary emblem to the arch. Time was pressing and Council's Chief Electrical Engineer advised that the clock makers need the go-ahead by the end of the month, to avoid the Christmas shut-down delaying delivery until February. The stumbling block seemed to be the Rotary emblem plaque; it was Alderman Thelma Murphy who got the ball rolling. 




66/286/2400,  Erection of Clock on Arch, Katoomba Street, Katoomba.

A motion was moved by Aldermen Murphy and Lloyd that the clock be erected as quickly as possible and that the Rotary plaque be placed in position.

An amendment was moved by Aldermen James and Stuart that Council accept the offer of 50% of the cost of the Rotary emblem from the Rotary Club and that Council meet the balance of the cost.

On being put to the meeting, the amendment was lost and the motion as moved by Aldermen Murphy and Lloyd was carried.

In reply to a question by Alderman Anderson, the Mayor advised that the plaque would be placed in a suitable position on the clock arch and would record the history of the first clock, Alderman Lloyd asked that the Rotary insignia be included on the plaque.

(Council minutes)

The new arch work was completed in July 1968 at the tender cost of $900. Subsequently a new remote control clock was installed at a cost of $1,165.00. Katoomba finally had its clock back. In 1975 Council's Town Planning Department advised that the structure was not aesthetically pleasing and an alternative location and design be examined. Nothing appears to have emerged from this proposal. There is another Blue Mountains town clock located in the shopping centre in Wentworth Falls but that is another story.   


* Tower clocks -

* Blue Mountains Local Studies vertical file - Katoomba Town Clock

* 'The Rotary Town Clock', presentation by Mrs Georgie Jefferies to Katoomba Rotary Club meeting, 5 March 1984.

All images from the Local Studies collection

John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian


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