Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Eurama & Weemala at Faulconbridge

This burnt out building ruin on the side of the south side of the Great Western Highway at Faulconbridge, was once a grand house with a tower, built for a wealthy businessman named Andrew McCulloch, in the early 1880s. The stone used in its construction was quarried nearby and the work was carried out by a well known local stonemason, Patrick (Paddy) Ryan. McCulloch furnished his country house using the exclusive Sydney firm of Lyon Cottier and Co. The property boasted a tennis court, flag-staff, landscaped gardens and an ornamental lake, made by damming a gully.

McCulloch named his new residence “Weemala”, an Aboriginal word said to mean “expansive view”, and spent the next few years developing the grounds. However, at the end of the 1880s, he began to experience financial difficulties and sold the property to J.W. Cliff in 1889.

When Cliff sold the property, then totaling about 113 acres in 1907, the new owner, a solicitor named George Evans, changed the name to “Eurama”, said to be a Greek word meaning much the same as the earlier Aboriginal one. Evans had also purchased the neighbouring house, “Numantia”, a wooden cottage adjacent to the railway line with its own rail platform, It had been built in 1877 by Sir James Martin, and to this he transferred the name “Weemala”. This has proved to be a source of great confusion and many people today still refer to “Eurama” as “Weemala”.

When George Evans died “Eurama” passed to his daughter, Mrs Emily Ethel McLaurin. It was later sold to Mrs Katherine Nathan in the 1920s and around 1930, to Mrs Daisy Brown. Following Mrs Brown’s death the building was left vacant for a time and suffered from some vandalism. Over the ensuing decades many owners had their dreams cut short. The Great Depression, the Great War, and other hard times, falling on the owners. In the early 1960s, the then owner, Mr Adams, set about restoring the decaying property. Restoration had been completed just prior to the disastrous bushfires of 1968. The fire consumed the house in all its grandeur and the building remains a ruin today.

As a postscript to the “Eurama” story, the Blue Mountains City Library was given permission by Mr. Watkins, the then owner, to stage an open air children’s adventure theatre performance among the ruins during the Bicentennial celebrations in 1988. With the ruins as a backdrop the property proved a most effective site for this project.

Numantia - Weemala
The site of "Numantia" later "Weemala", is now situated close to the rail line behind a high stone wall. The cottage originally on this site was erected about 1877 for Sir James Martin K.C.M.G. It was to be his country residence which he named "Numantia", the name being a region in Spain. It has been said that Sir James thought the countryside here similar to that of its Iberian namesake.

It was a wooden house set behind a high stone wall on land Sir James had acquired from Sir Henry Parkes, and it was his intention to build a huge mansion after he had built this small wooden cottage. The grand mansion never eventuated - the foundations only were laid. They were later removed  c.1914-18 and reused in the foundations for “Banool”, now “The Bungalow” on the corner of Martin Place at Linden.

In 1876 a railway platform was erected to service the well-to-do residents of the area. It became the Numantia Platform, but ceased operation in 1892 with the platform being removed in 1897.

In 1898 Adolphus Rogalsky purchased Numantia and it was he who changed the name to Weemala. This coincided with the name change for the other Weemala to Eurama.

The high stone wall of “Numantia”, later “Weemala”, still stands. The cottage was destroyed by bushfire in December 1977. Since then a new three bedroom brick veneer cottage has been erected behind the stone wall.

To summarise:
Weemala (1880s) became Eurama (1907)
Numantia (1877) became Weemala (1907)

Photos from the Blue Mountains City Library collection, from the McLaurin family album.
1. Ruins of Eurama after 1968 bushfires
2. Ornamental lake, Eurama
3. Emily Ethel McLaurin
4. Eurama in its heyday
5. Map of Eurama and Weemala c1920, Local Studies map collection.

Link to Weemala Heritage Listing

John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian 2015, Blue Mountains City Library

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Giant Stairway, Echo Point, Katoomba

First Steps
At 540 metres in length, with 911 steps hewn from the cliff face and 32 steel staircases, the aptly named Giant Stairway drops almost 300 metres to the floor of the Jamieson Valley below the Three Sisters. At the official opening in 1932, the Newcastle Morning Herald saw it as a "triumph of nerve and skill", while the Sydney Morning Herald concluded that "patience and courage have had their reward".

Such comments, made in relation to the official opening of both the Giant Stairway and the Projecting Platform at Echo Point on Saturday October 1, 1932, were among many offering tribute to Ranger McKay, the man who almost two decades previously had conceived the idea of a track linking the cliff top at Echo Point with the Federal Pass below.

James Henry McKay was born in Balmain on December 4, 1869 and died in Katoomba on September 12, 1947. He appears to have been the third ranger employed to care for reserves in the Katoomba area, following in the steps of John Smith and Charles Deeves. His appointment as Chief Ranger in 1901 came a year after the opening of the Federal Pass, which traversed the valley floor between Katoomba Falls and Leura Falls, an event representative of a new phase in the leisure use of the Blue Mountains. Gaining full time employment with Katoomba Council may have also helped Jim McKay make up his mind in 1902 to marry Emily Cole, a twenty year old widow and mother of four, and have six more children; William 1903, Letitia 1904, Isabel 1908, Dorothy 1910, Edna 1914 and Laura 1921. Emily’s daughter Ruby Cole, born 1901, was killed in Katoomba in 1910 by a kick from a horse; her father Henry Cole had died in a fall from a horse outside the Katoomba Railway Hotel in 1902. Both were attended by Dr John Spark; Henry and Ruby Cole share an unmarked grave in Katoomba cemetery.

Prior to 1890, the development of the Blue Mountains bushland for the benefit of visitors had been concentrated primarily on the cliff tops - constructing lookout access to the most popular views. The 1890s and early 20th century saw interest moving downwards into the valleys with the emphasis placed now on the active enjoyment of walking. Track-walking remained the primary motive behind the development of the area for leisure until the 1930s, when the motor car, speeding from sight to sight with its cargo of ‘sightseers’, revolutionised tourism and re-directed attention once again to the cliff edge. Indeed, Echo Point, with its Giant Stairway down into the valley and its Projecting Platform looking out over the valley, could be said to represent both the end of one era and the beginning of another.

It was from the Dardanelles track that, in 1914, he conceived his idea of a new pass that would junction with the Three Sisters at Echo Point. Scoffed at initially, his project eventually received Council approval in July 1916 following an all-day inspection of the reserves by the Reserves Committee (Aldermen C.L. Dash, G. James, G. Davies and R.V. Smythe), In their report to Council, they recommended "that it be left in the hands of Chief Ranger McKay to construct a new track from the vicinity of Echo Point to connect with Federal Pass at a point below the Three Sisters". Council adopted the report and the work began under the direction of McKay, his assistant Walter Botting and their team of labourers, which included Reubin Esgate, father of the noted Mountains identity Ben Esgate.

An article in the "Blue Mountain Echo" in 1916 reports that McKay "took to the work from the first" and with a dedication few could match today. On one occasion, the writer asserts, his wages were eight months in arrears and he survived only on large credit accounts with local stores. Before he began work on the Giant Stairway, the Federal Pass had 1,764 steps, 500 of which were in reasonable condition. By 1916, McKay had increased this to 6,464 steps, including a new track from near Bull's Head, which skirted the cliffs and led to the top of the Leura Cascades and he planned and opened the Dardanelles section of the Federal Pass. In 1908 he had led the construction of the Furber Steps, his first great stairway into the Jamison Valley.

Delay... then renewed interest
After proceeding for almost a quarter of the distance, however, the work of hacking the steps from the sheer cliff face was deemed too costly by Council and the project was brought to a halt in August 1918 and in 1922 Council's Chief Engineer estimated that a further 300 steps needed to be cut. The whole idea then lapsed for over a decade.

In the early 1930s, Harry Phillips, the noted Mountains photographer, published a small pamphlet outlining his suggestions for the future tourist development of Katoomba. Among these was the completion of the Giant Stairway which, he argued, "Can be completed at a small outlay; it leads directly into the most prolific and prettiest Fern Glen Forest in the Jamieson Valley, Leura, where magnificent motor tracks and camping areas can and should be, opened up immediately." Following vigorous agitation on the part of Alderman W.C. Soper, a close friend of Phillips, a renewed interest in the scheme was awakened early in 1932. A motion put before Council by Soper was passed and work, again under the control of Chief Ranger McKay, recommenced. This proceeded with sufficient speed for a decision to be made in July to arrange for the official opening to take place on the first weekend of October. An extensive publicity campaign under the direction of the Town Clerk, Mr. F.C. Taylor, was set in motion, circularising the provincial and city press, various radio stations and arranging with Cinesound to make it, as the Katoomba Daily put it, "a boost day for Katoomba".

Official Opening
The official opening duly took place at 3.30 p.m. on the Saturday of the Eight Hour Weekend. Following the speeches of welcome by the Mayor Alderman A.E. Packer, and the local members of Parliament, Hon. J. Jackson, Minister for Local Government and Mr. J.N. Lawson M.H.R., The Premier of New South Wales, the Hon. B.S.B. Stevens, responded and declared both the Giant Stairway and the Projecting Platform open. In his speech, the Premier paid tribute to those who carried out the hard physical work, work that on occasions was so dangerous that they had to be roped to prevent them falling. He praised their skill and courage and assured them that "they will always have the satisfaction of knowing that their initiative and labour will bring pleasure to countless thousands in the years to come", and to "have shaken the hand of Chief Ranger McKay made this a memorable day".

The ceremonies over, the huge crowd witnessed an exciting exhibition of rock-climbing by three members of the Blue Mountaineers Club: Dr. Eric Dark, Mr. Osmar White and Mr. Paddy Ellis.
"These intrepid mountaineers first appeared on the sheer wall of the western precipice about 4.00 p.m. and quickly ascended 500 feet of cliff face to the summit of the Second Sister, where the Australian Flag was flown. The descent proved even more spectacular and although the climbers did not take any unnecessary risks, and were on no occasion in danger of falling, many of the spectators literally held their breaths as they witnessed the amazing ascent of the beetling crags". (Katoomba Daily).
While the motor car was ushering in a new era of leisure activity in the mountains, which reduced somewhat the popularity of walking tracks, the Giant Stairway, though perhaps representative of this earlier phase, has, with its panoramic views and as a companion to the Scenic Railway, survived as a popular tourist attraction for the eight decades since its completion. As a memorial to the work and vision of Chief Ranger Jim McKay, and others like him, its value to the Blue Mountains is even further enhanced.

Top: Chief Ranger Jim McKay poses on the Stairs with his assistant Walter Botting (Harry Phillips photo).
Second: McKay with workers, showing use of picks, hammers and chisels to cut back rock prior to step making.
Third: The official party, The Premier Sir Bertram Stevens 4th from right, the man in the bowler hat at rear is Percy Wilson, President of Blue Mountains Shire.
Bottom: The crowd at the official opening, Echo Point.

"The Giant Stairway 1932-1982", by John Low, Blue Mountains City Library 1982.
"The Giant Stairway", by Keith Painter, Mountain Mist Books 2005.
"Walking the Federal Pass, the first 100 years", by Jim Smith, Den Fenella Press 2001.

John Low, John Merriman, Local Studies Librarians.
Blue Mountains City Library 2009

Monday, April 6, 2009

Stratford Girls' School, Lawson

Stratford Girls School, San Jose Ave. Lawson

The original building with its three floor levels and tower was constructed in 1879 and named “San Jose”, by Joseph (Jose) Guillermo Hay, an official in the Lands Department, who had received a grant of 300 acres at Lawson the previous year. In the 1880s Hay took advantage of the Mountains’ new and growing reputation as a health and recreation retreat, and by 1882 the name “San Jose” had the words “The Blue Mountains Sanatorium” added to it and described in a local guidebook as “the best for private families” and “with grounds laid out with romantic paths in all directions”. In 1889 Hay applied for a publican’s licence for the property then known as “Hay’s Family Hotel”, described as having fourteen rooms for public use. During the 1890s the property was acquired by John Ralston who ran it as a guesthouse known as “The Palace” for the next two decades until, in 1919, it eventually took the name and function for which it is best known.

The original Stratford School was founded in Lawson in 1915 by Miss Effie Townsend Wiles, known as Edith, who began classes with six pupils in a rented cottage named Tahlia, on the Bathurst Road as the highway was then known. By 1919 the old cottage was “bursting at the seams” and a move became imperative. The school made the move across the highway and railway line taking the name “Stratford School for Girls” with it. In 1924 Miss Wiles and her sister, who was also a member of staff, purchased the building from the Ralston estate and were then able to make additions and alterations to accommodate the school.

When Miss Wiles died in 1930, the enrolment was 49 girls of which 31 were boarders, five girls sat for the Intermediate Certificate exam and two girls sat the Leaving Certificate. Control then passed to the Stratford School Council and subsequently, in 1936, to the Church of England, and the school entered its heyday as “Stratford Church of England School for Girls”.

“The development of capable Christian gentlewomen in an exceptionally healthy, bracing and invigorating climate” - that was the promise of Stratford School, to prospective students and parents in the 1940s-50s. According to a 1950s school prospectus, boarders at Stratford enjoyed an atmosphere of individuality and co-operation. Pupils were “fitted for practical business”, whilst encouraged to regard life from the stand-point of high ideals and to further their studies at the university.

Stratford’s curriculum, extending from primary to leaving certificate, included scripture, English, history, geography, French, Latin, mathematics, physiology, biology, business principles, book-keeping, art, handicrafts and speech training. Music and singing also featured as an important part of school life and students could choose to sit for Australian Music Examinations Board grade exams.

The girls wore an attractive grey uniform, but jewelry was strictly forbidden, with the gracious exception of the school badge and a wrist watch. Money was also controlled, with all funds going to a pocket money account. Statements on expenditure for outings, church collections and incidentals were issued to parents. There were three school terms, each 13 weeks long, though the girls were allowed one weekend mid-term to visit relations or friends. Travel to and from Sydney for vacations and mid-term holidays, was always supervised by a mistress from the school.

During term, visitors were allowed, by arrangement with the headmistress, but no student could accept invitations without written permission from her parents. Non-vacation weekends were devoted to healthy activities and visits to places of interest in the district. As with most Mountains boarding schools of the era, great emphasis was placed on fresh air, healthy diet and wholesome activities. The dining room menu boasted copious quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables, home¬made jams and preserves and plenty of milk. Prospectus photographs showed bright, healthy young ladies, poised with grace and decorum in the dining room, clearly enjoying their healthy, wholesome meal.

Recreation was also high on the list at Stratford with tennis, netball, Vigoro and swimming at the nearby Lawson Pool offered to all pupils. The girls were accommodated in bedrooms for two and four boarders and there is also mention of a fine glassed-in balcony with an eastern aspect which appears to have housed a few beds as well. During the winter, swimming lessons were abandoned and wood fires were lit in the assembly hall and classrooms. Stratford girls, unlike their counterparts at Osborne College, Blackheath, were also afforded the privilege of a hot water service. The prospectus makes no mention of students’ academic records, but in the early 1950s, following a report by the Department of Education; the school was reduced to Intermediate Certificate level.

The 1957 fees brochure shows that the Leaving Certificate had been reinstated and announced the launch of a building fund to raise ₤5,000 for the erection of new and modern classrooms and to “gain help for Stratford to develop along modern lines.” Two coaches from the Lawn Tennis Association had joined the staff to provide coaching to pupils for which a fee of ₤2.10.0 per term was charged. It appears however that all this was unsuccessful, so with the buildings and furniture run down, changing trends in education and competition from Public schools and other private schools such as Blue Mountains Grammar at Wentworth Falls - Stratford finally closed in 1961.

In 1966, the building was sold to a Sydney couple, who refurbished the interior to house wedding receptions, dinners and private patties. The establishment lasted until the late 1970s, when in 1977, the Blue Mountains Community School moved in with 18 students, a new teacher and Government grants for a library and mini-bus.

By 1980, the building was owned by brothers Lionel and Vivian Coleman of Sydney, but there would be no more tenants for Stratford. On June 4, 1980, as the result of an electrical fault, the building was gutted by fire. Today, the only reminder of Stratford’s former glory is a large stenciled sign on the building's tower, the rest has gone. The remains of the building, except for the tower section, were demolished by a developer in the early 1990s. No further move has been made, at the time of writing, to develop the site, which is listed on the local heritage register.

Stratford at Tahlia and the Japanese Cherry Tree
In 1915 the first home of the school was the rented cottage Narbethong on Bathurst road, then until 1919 at a house named Kawarree, later known as Tahlia House, situated near the Lawson Community Hall. In 2008 Talia was threatened by road widening plans for Lawson and was re-sited back from the highway alignment by the RTA. While the school occupied Tahlia, in 1916, Woodford resident Toranosuki Kitamura, manager of Kinematsu (Australia) Ltd, imported a Yedoensis flowering cherry tree which he planted at the school as a token of respect for the high quality of education his three daughters, Jean, Una and Beth had received. The tree thrived for many years but due to its age and poor health could not be moved to make way for traffic. However over 100 young trees were successfully propagated from cuttings which are to be incorporated into landscape plans for the new highway and town centre. In 2002 a farewell ceremony for the old cherry tree was organised by a former Stratford student from the 1940s, Mrs Kathleen Hooke nee Barwick, and attended by the Japanese Consul General, the Mayor and the Member for Blue Mountains, local councillors and the grandchildren of Mr Kitamura.

Headmistresses of Stratford Girls School
1908 - Miss Effie WILES, known as Edith,“a woman of high ideals and rare courage.”
Effie Wiles, the daughter of a Methodist Minister, the Rev Henry Wiles, was educated at the Maitland High School and at Burwood Methodist Ladies’ College. In 1908 she opened a small school at Lawson, in a cottage called Narbethong. At first there were six pupils, but it was not long before larger premises became necessary and Miss Wiles opened the school in a larger cottage named Kawaree, and it was she who chose the name ‘Stratford’(SMH April 1930).

1919 – Move to the building in San Jose Ave.
Miss Wiles and her sister moved from the rented house to Stratford School for more class rooms. Later teachers were Mrs Senga Erratt, nee Rose, a pupil of Miss Wiles and also a gifted musician and a triple certificated nurse; Mrs Tibbits (nee Plummer) and Lady G. Cassidy, nee Waterhouse, a former Stratford School captain, were pupils of Miss Wiles.

1929 - Placed under management of Stratford School Council

1930-33 - Mrs Jeanette ASHTON
When Mrs Ashton became the new Headmistress in April 1933 the pupils still were devastated by the news of Miss Wiles’ death. She found the fiancial situation difficult and eventually left in 1933. A small committee had been formed to address the financial situation and it was agreed that £100 be borrowed from the Diocesan Education and Book Society on the personal guarantee of Mr R Allen and the Rev F H B Dillon

1934-35 - Miss Rita J ALLAN
In l936, the Rev Barwick was asked to leave the Kurrajong Parish and to come to Lawson to become the Treasurer of the Stratford Council. In the same year, the Archbishop, the Most Rev HWK Mowll D.D. asked Miss GML Watkins to consider becoming the Headmistress of Stratford School, she ‘graciously consented’ to accept the position as Headmistress.

1936 – 1948 Miss Gertrude Mary Lethbridge WATKINS
Miss Watkins exerted a unique presence throughout the school by her kindly smile, a quiet nature and yet maintaining strong discipline and by her long and saintly leadership, as well as her Sunday evening ‘Devotions’ conducted by her in her lounge for the Boarders with discussion of problems and the sermon of the Rector delivered at the Church that morning.

All helped to ‘mould’ the school together into a ‘more or less’ unified whole. She had been in charge of the ‘Holmer’ School, in Parramatta for about 10 years (1915 -1925) and then there is a break between 1925 and 1935. She may have gone to Bedford College, London to do extra teacher training there. She started at Stratford Girls’ School, Lawson early in 1936.

On her staff were the following:

Senior School: Miss M C Day, Miss Jean Frazer, Mrs A L Gorrod, Miss A. Howard, Miss I A Sawkins, Mr Bernard Schleicher BA Oxon.(languages, mathematics, history, ref. John Low).

Junior School: Miss Blaikie, Miss B M Holt, Miss R Missing and Miss G E Waring (ref. Autograph Book of K H Hooke).

The Assistant Headmistress, House Mother, Music Teacher and Matron was Miss Lilian Murray, from Wellington and Kelso, who was at the school in Miss Wiles’ time and then continued till 1952 and died on 23rd June 1953, age about 24 years.
Miss Watkins wished to retire at the end of 1947 but there was no successor to replace her so she offered to stay until there was someone who would continue her work. All this was done for 13 years without any salary! (ref. Kathleen Hooke)

1949 – 1950 Miss Nina BRENTNALL B.A. died 1984
Miss Brentnall was chosen by the newly elected Stratford Council and warmly congratulated after the first few months of her being in office, in registering the school, reintroducing inter school Sports and for getting a new Playing Field for the girls. Though the girls had to help in the kitchen in making meals, maintaining discipline seemed to prove difficult and the school seemed to be on the wane after Miss Watins left. She extended her time at the school till another
headmistress was chosen. On her staff: were the following Miss Adam, Miss Carnarole, Mrs Eastman, Miss Graham, Miss Daphne Kellet (3rd Class Art and Drama, Shakespearean plays), Miss Parr, Miss Thomson and Miss Nancy Walsh (ex C.M.S. India).

1951 – 1956 Mrs Helen McT WAYNE
Mrs Wayne improved the appearance of the school with painting and new furniture, and the Inspector of Education was impressed with the educational standard of the school, but it was reduced to the Intermediate Certificate Level. ‘A lovely
person’ (ref Miss J. Thomas) Mrs Wayne resigned in Dec. 1955 after being there for 9 as a teacher and 5 as Headmistress, 14 years in all. (ref. Kathleen Hooke)
1956 (1st and 2nd terms) MISS Mary THOMSON B.A. Work greatly appreciated by the School Council, lived out of the school grounds.

1956 (3rd term) Mrs Deirdre HAYTER The Council acknowledged that she had worked untiringly.

1957 (January) 1959 Miss Judith THEWLIS, B.Sc. Dip.Ed.
Miss Thewlis was appointed by the Council. She insisted on the wearing of gloves when girls left the school grounds, she also introduced a new summer uniform, a beautiful cotton frock with a window frame check, in blue and gold, and no white dresses for Speech Day to save expense. She fell down some polished stairs and broke some bones and then died of pneumonia just 42 years of age (1960). She was greatly loved and sorely missed. On her staff were the following: Mrs Baker (Primary 1st to 4th class), Miss Gwen Thompson (English and History), Mr Trask, from Penrith, teaching Etiquette. Stratford almost burnt down. A miracle that it was saved. (ref. Kathleen Hooke)

1959 – Miss Bannerman (Ascot Aggie, her brand of cigarettes, thanks to Kerrie McNamara)

1961 – School closes

Stratford School Song
The mountains are rolling around us,
And the blue sky is arching above.
Stands the old Stratford grammar at Lawson,
The school that we honour and love.
Stratford, Stratford the school of the blue and gold,
Gold for the sunshine and blue for the mountain tops cold.

The future lies glorious before us,
And though we are eager to try -
Its pleasures, we’re all of us ready
For the duties that close to us lie.
Chorus: repeat

Though all of us cannot be clever,
We all can be useful and kind.
Or learning to cherish forever,
The treasures of spirit and mind.
Chorus: repeat

Whether defeated of winning,
Heads high we shall smile and press on.
‘Til at last we shall sigh to remember,
Our school days at Stratford are done.
Chorus: repeat


Fees 1957
Primary per term ₤85.0.0
Secondary per term ₤88.0.0
Laundry per term ₤3.10.0
Yearly linen fee ₤2.2.0
Entrance fee ₤3.3.0


Stratford School Headmistresses, notes by Kathleen Hooke, 2000
Stratford Prospectus, Anglican Diocese of Sydney, c.1950
Stratford Girls School – Local Studies clippings file, Blue Mountains City Library

Images from top
1: Stratford ruins after the fire, photographed by Neil Billington(1983) for Blue Mountains City Library.

2: Advertising poster for San Jose, The Blue Mountain Sanatorium, note Blue Mountain was the earlier name for Lawson from the 1840s until 1879.

3: Stratford girls in uniform (centre) at the opening of the relief map of Australia at Lawson swimming pool 1932, Lawson public school pupils on left and Percy Wilson, Blue Mountains Shire President, in bowler hat with his wife on the bridge; a Stratford mistress appears to be with them on left of bridge. The cement model was constructed by Mr Frank Higgison (1909-1943) of 35 Allen St Lawson, who was to die on the Sandakan Death March on Borneo. Frank may be present in the photo, he would have been about 23 at the time.

4: Stratford about 1960, colour slide by Milton Porter from the Local Studies Collection.

5: Miss Judith Thewlis, photo courtesy Mrs M E Patrick, Local Studies collection.

Note, July 2010: Kathleen Hooke (nee Barwick) died in October 2009 having published her memoirs of Straford as:
Hooke K.H. (2008) Blue Mountains Heritage and Nostalgia including Stratford Church of England School for Girls, Lawson and Memoirs. Self published, Kathleen H Hooke, 2008, Printed by Cliff Lewis Printing, Sydney. 585pp
Thanks for Brian Fox for this reference.
Further helpful information regarding Miss Wiles was supplied by Nancy Donald.

John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian
Blue Mountains City Library 2009

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The White Cross at Mt York


For many years one of the Blue Mountains’ most distinctive landmarks was a large white cross on the cliff-edge at Mount York which could be glimpsed from the highway between Little Hartley and Victoria Pass. Although now removed, the cross has been a continuing source of speculation and enquiry since its erection early in the 20th century. It stood facing west, just off the Mount York road, some distance before the obelisk which marks the western descent of the explorers, Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson in 1813.

The cross was formed of a large upright and transverse steel girder bolted together, and was erected about 1911 by Henry Marcus Clark (1859-1913) who founded the business known as Marcus Clark & Co. Ltd. From a modest start in the Sydney suburb of Newtown in 1883, Marcus Clark & Co rose to become one of the city's largest department stores with a network of branches in towns and suburbs across Australia.

The cross commemorated the death, on April 1st 1899 of his son Byron Henry Clark at the site of their Mount York home known as "Drachenfels", which stood near the cliff edge facing Victoria Pass. The house and its extensive outbuildings, coach-house and orchard were lost in a bushfire in 1902.

On the day of the tragedy, Mr. Clark was in Sydney, while his second wife Georgina and several friends were staying at "Drachenfels". Two of the Clark children, Hazel, aged 14 and Roland, 10, and a couple of companions decided to visit a small cave on the cliff face about 15 metres below the top and some distance along a ledge.

The children were experienced in scrambling around the local rocks and cliffs and the descent presented no difficulties. However, on this occasion, just as they had almost reached the cave, it was noticed that their younger brother, Byron, aged 6, was following. He had already descended from the top of the cliff and was just commencing the traverse, when one of the girls, realising the danger, called to him to go back.

The words had hardly left her mouth when the ledge of rock on which he was standing broke and he fell about 50 metres to the foot of the cliff, striking a ledge about half way down in the course of his fall. Two of the girls and young Roland Clark climbed back to the top of the cliff and informed Georgina, who set off with her companions by a round-about route to the base of the cliff.

In the meantime, Hazel and Roland climbed down to the base of the cliff, where they found young Byron lying badly injured but scarcely marked amongst the fern and bracken. The women decided to carry him to the top but Byron died during the ascent. The family never again lived in "Drachenfels", which they placed in the care of Sam Wilson, a storekeeper at Mount Victoria, who made occasional visits to the property until the buildings were destroyed by bushfire. Byron is buried at Waverley Cemetery in the family plot.

The property has changed hands a number of times in recent years and the cross was removed from the cliff edge by the owners around 1989 to discourage sightseers. The site known as the Marcus Clark Cross received Blue Mountains City Council heritage listing in 1991. It is believed the White Cross remains on the site.

John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian
© 2012 Blue Mountains City Library

* P.W. Spriggs, ‘Blue Mountains cross recalls tragedy´ Daily Telegraph, September 7,1964
* Local Studies research & clippings files.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Coal and Shale Mining Near Katoomba


As early as 1841 Rev. W B Clarke noted the presence of coal in the Blue Mountains and in 1866 made the first systematic description of the deposits of oil shale in the Hartley area, where its existence had been known from as early as 1824.

Early exploitation of resources

Seams containing both coal and shale outcrops were noticed by the early settlers in the valley walls of the Blue Mountains and in the 1860s the imminent construction of the western railway encouraged considerable local exploration. The most extensive and successful oil shale operations took place in the Hartley region where, prior to the rail connection, bullock teams carted shale to the railhead at Mount Victoria. With the building of the Lithgow Zig Zag rail line and the consequent extension of the railway to the west, the growth of the Hartley-Lithgow region into a large industrial center founded on the local coal and shale deposits was assured. While the Grose Valley near Mount Victoria also attracted some freelance small-scale exploration from the mid 1860s, it was the Katoomba area that was next to profit from the exploitation of the Blue Mountains’ coal and shale resources.

In the 1860's Campbell Mitchell discovered three seams of kerosene shale on the Megalong Valley side of the Narrow Neck Peninsula. With Thomas Sutcliffe Mort he acquired 640 acres here (Portions 14 and 15, Parish of Megalong, County of Cook) and established the Glen Shale Mine. To ascertain whether the shale deposits extended into the adjoining Jamison Valley, he then explored the eastern side of Narrow Neck, including the area of the Ruined Castle Ridge. His investigations revealed profitable seams but the difficulties of transporting it over the rugged terrain to the Western Railway appeared too daunting.

In the 1870's, John Britty North purchased a substantial quantity of land, much of which later formed a large part of the developing town of Katoomba. Included in his purchase was most of the land along the cliff front from Echo Point to Narrow Neck and across to the Ruined Castle. North also rented the substantial home ‘Essendon’ (or ‘Essendene’), owned by the Henderson family and built near the present junction of the highway and Cliff Drive. The building, with a large tower was later used as a school and guesthouse, until destroyed by fire in 1929. He later built his own home, ‘Lassie Brae’, in Katoomba Street, which was eventually demolished as the commercial centre of Katoomba developed.

To exploit the coal seams, which outcropped at the base of the cliffs near the Orphan Rock, North registered a company under the title of Katoomba Coal Mine, in 1870. Once the coal mine was under way, North began an examination of the Ruined Castle area in the Jamison Valley in the early 1880's and, locating two substantial outcrops of kerosene shale, formed another company known as the Katoomba Coal and Shale Co. Ltd. in 1885.

In 1882 a loading depot, known as North's Siding was opened on the Western Railway on the Sydney side of what is now ShelI Corner on the western edge of Katoomba. There developed a whole system of interconnected tramways linking this depot with the various coal and shale mines, which opened up in the Megalong and Jamison Valleys to the south.

With the opening of the Ruined Castle mines, North imported engineers from Germany to construct an elevated tramway known as the Flying Fox from the company's engine bank - now the site of the Scenic Railway - across the Jamison Valley to the Ruined Castle ridge. A fault in construction resulted in a short working life when, after carrying only 500 tons of shale, it collapsed into the valley below where the wreckage still remains. Considerable money had been invested in this project and the disaster spelled the end of the company. Shale mining at the Ruined Castle ceased and while the coalmine continued for a time, the company soon went into liquidation.

In 1890 the Glen Shale Mine in the Megalong Valley was purchased by The Australian Kerosene Oil and Mineral Company, which operated a shale oil industry at Joadja near Mittagong. The following year this company leased the shale mines at the Ruined Castle formerly operated by the Katoomba Coal and Shale Co. Ltd., together with that company's tramway system linking its coalmines near Orphan Rock with North's Siding.

The new company concentrated its effort on the Glen Shale Mine. As well as bringing a large quantity of machinery and transport equipment to Katoomba from their operations at Joadja, they tunnelled through the coalmine at the base of Engine Bank and then through the Narrow Neck to link the Megalong Valley operations with those in the Jamison Valley. A single-track horse tramway was laid out beneath the eastern ramparts of the Narrow Neck Peninsula linking the Ruined Castle mines with the double-tracked skipway before entering the Narrow Neck Daylight Tunnel.

From 1895, the shale mining activities at the Ruined Castle and Glen Shale Mines gradually decreased. The seams were becoming exhausted and the returns from sales were reduced. By 1903, the shale industry at Katoomba ceased to exist. Most of the equipment was transferred to the Australian Kerosene Oil and Mineral Company's operation at Torbane. The lease at West Katoomba expired in 1906.

Miners' Settlements During This Period

1. Settlement in the Engine Bank/Katoomba Falls Area.

Several streets of weatherboard cottages extended from the Engine Bank to the intersection of the road now known as Golf Links Road, (the location of this raod is currently unknown). A hotel, The Centennial, later known as The Falls House, was destroyed by fire in 1973. A small store also existed but has long since disappeared. When the mine closed the miners’ cottages were bought by Paddy Mullaney who rebuilt them at the lower end of Leichhardt, Clissold and Vale Streets, Katoomba where many still stand.

2. Nellie's Glen Settlement.

At the foot of Nellie's Glen existed a sizeable mining settlement with a large hotel, butcher's shop, bakery and public hall but this settlement did not survive the end of the shale industry in 1903. In 1904 the hotel was moved in sections by bullock team and re-erected in Lurline Street where it became a guesthouse known as ‘Maldwin’.

3. The Ruined Castle Settlement.

The settlement here was predominantly made up of quarters for single men. The building materials used consisted of bush timber, bark, kerosene tins and whatever was at hand. This settlement also faded away with the end of the shale works.

Later Mining Operations at Katoomba

In 1925 there occurred a revival of North's long abandoned coalmine below the cliffs at South Katoomba. A local syndicate formed the Katoomba Colliery Ltd. and resumed mining activities on a lease of 160 acres. The old workings supplied a substantial quantity of coal, which was sold on the local market, principally to the Katoomba Electric Power House and in smaller amounts to the hotels, guesthouses and local residents.

During the Depression however, capital costs increased and the local market was reduced. Despite its decreasing viability, the mine continued to operate until the Second World War. However as the company progressed toward liquidation, one aspect of its operation had a parallel rise in fortune, and helped to augment the mine's declining income. The rehabilitation work carried out on the coal haulage system up the cliff face opposite Orphan Rock integrated into the booming Katoomba tourist industry of the 1920's and 1930's. The "Mountain Devil" of the early 1930's became eventually the "Scenic Railway" of today.

The exploitation of the coal and kerosene shale deposits in the Jamison and Megalong Valleys brought the Katoomba region to wider public notice than its earlier use as a stone quarry and began to establish it as a population centre. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Katoomba was known principally as a coal-mining town. However the influence of the mining operations upon Katoomba's early development coincided with another vastly different trend, which began to make itself felt at about the same time: the development of the Blue Mountains as a tourist and recreational destination and recognition as a valuable natural and wilderness area, culminating in its recognition as a World Heritage Area in December 2000.

John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian
(c)2009 Blue Mountains City Library

Blue Mountains Heritage Study 1982, Croft & Associates in association with Meredith Walker for Blue Mountains City Council

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Anvil Rock, Blackheath, NSW

Anvil Rock, Blackheath, NSW

Anvil Rock is a weathered sandstone rock formation, situated on the top of the cliff line above the Grose Valley. It is accessed by Hat Hill Road, Blackheath that runs north along Anvil Ridge. At 900m before Perrys Lookdown there is a left hand intersection and 500m along this is the Anvil Rock car park.

Anvil Rock was so named as this rock formation resembles the shape of an anvil. The Rock is a popular location for overseas tour groups as the local road to this site allows an easy and short walking access to one of the best views of the Grose Valley. Blackheath Council had named this rock formation, Anvil Rock in 1938 - the same year that an access road was constructed to this picnic area.

In 1948 an anvil was donated by Stan Miller, Company Secretary, Bradford Kendall Industries Pty Ltd. Stan was an ardent bushwalker and used to take his holidays at Blackheath. The anvil was a standard size manufactured by this company and made at the Number 1, Botany Plant, 340 Botany Road, Mascot. After the anvil was placed at Anvil Rock the company appointed a Custodian of the Anvil in the person of Mac McCarthy, paymaster of the Botany Plant and resident of Leura, (he used to travel from Leura to Botany every day). He continued his role as custodian for a number of years. In the 1950s a brass directional plate was made and attached to the anvil.

Sometime in 1970 that the anvil disappeared, probably pushed over the cliff.

Local historian and author Brian Fox interviewed Kevin Browne, a former National Parks Ranger on the 26th August 2001, who had this to say:

The anvil was carried to Anvil Rock on a stretcher type construction by four people owing to its weight. Jack Grady and Ted Smith were two of the people carrying it. (Kevin could not remember the other two) about 1940. Jack Grady at the time was a council worker.

Geoff Bates, another local historian had mentioned that the Police Rescue Squad conducted a training day (no date given) at Anvil Rock with the intention of looking out for the anvil, but it was not located.

On the 26th February 2005 the Police Rescue Squad had the unpleasant task of conducting a body recovery at the base of Anvil Rock. Through the local grapevine Brian was informed by David West and Peter Rickwood of Blackheath that during the recovery the anvil had been located.

On Saturday 21st May 2005, Brian and his brother John walked in to the base of the cliff and finally located it. The anvil was lying at the base of a tree which had stopped its fall.

The anvil had remained completely intact despite being dropped onto sandstone from a height of 300m. This was no surprise as, being made of hardened steel; it had been designed to be pounded with a blacksmith’s hammer. It was light grey in colour and inside an ellipse was engraved the letters: “BK/Sydney/Aust” and below that “6 CWT”. This denoted the manufacturer, Bradford Kendall, where the anvil had been manufactured and its weight (672 lbs or 305 kg).

In 2008, thanks to a joint effort by NPWS, Blackheath Rotary, local police and community members, the anvil was retrieved, restored and re-bolted to the Rock.

Article by Brian Fox 2005, with additional information supplied by Mike Keats.
Blue Mountains Geographical Dictionary, Brian Fox 2006
Photo: Blue Mountains City Council, publicity photo, 1960

John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian
(c) Blue Mountains City Library, 2008

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

William Andrew Murphy (1846-1927) the Hermit of Hat Hill Road, Blackheath,

Murphy at his hut holding one of his brooms
photo courtesy of Charlie Drane
The following article utilises an oral history recording held by Blue Mountains City Library: "Mr Murphy as remembered by Jack and Ted Harris". The Harris boys, during their schooldays, became acquainted with the old solitary who lived at the foot of Hat Hill overlooking the blue expanse of the Grose Valley.

"At this particular spot there was an old gentleman, an old Irishman, by the name of Murphy who with his own hands had built himself a stone house. The stones he collected from the area, a very very rocky area. He used the local soil and mud mixed together for mortar and he built himself what was quite a weather proof and comfortable little cabin.

Now I don’t really know how Mr Murphy took up residence there. I first remember him in 1913 but he was a man, I think, who would be known as a remittance man. I think he probably had been sent out here to Australia because of the fact that maybe he had disgraced himself in his homeland. However, he lived out there, he made his daily trip into Blackheath, which was a five mile trip return, to pick up his money and to buy his provisions.

He was a great nature studier and he fed all the animals and birds in the area and, of course, they became more or less dependent on him for food. And a most interesting man to talk to and one of the attractions of a Sunday afternoon was for our tourist coach to take people, tourists, out to see Mr Murphy just about sundown, all congregate at his stone hut and then he would bring out the food and whistle and call up the animals and they would come – wallabies, possums, all sorts and sizes of birds – and it was something which you would liken to a miniature Taronga Park.

Well, Mr Murphy lived on there for many years and he was no trouble to anybody. He was always happy to interview people, talk to them, discuss the local environment and so on. Then he set his hands to making what would be a millet broom out of a particular shrub which grows in that area and he made a machine to make what looked like a very, very good replica of our millet broom today. But unfortunately for Mr Murphy, although his machine worked wonderfully, as my dad always said, when his brooms dried you had to have another broom to sweep up the mess that his broom left.
Murphy's hut at Hat Hill
photo courtesy of Charlie Drane
However, Mr Murphy was burnt out in a bushfire very similar to the Grose Valley fire of November 1982. He was completely wiped out and we up here on the top end of Hat Hill Road thought for sure that Mr Murphy must be incinerated. That bushfire occurred somewhere around 1918-1919. When the fire cooled off I can remember quite plainly a party of us set out to find what we thought would be his remains and what we found was his stone house still standing, red-hot, no roof, nothing at all left inside it, everything charred and Mr Murphy missing.

Scouting around we found the old gentleman, only just barely clad, standing underneath a little waterfall which was his shower, his own private ablution, and he was alive. So a voluntary party set out to make his stone house habitable again. Of course, the old gentleman had received quite a great shock over this fire and he was not able to get about as he did before. He was given a horse as transport but that didn't work out and the horse escaped. From then on we feel that Mr Murphy was picked up by some of the welfare people and taken to a home.”

Murphy's grave at Woronora cemetery
photo courtesy of Charlie Drane
Mr Murphy appears in the Blackheath electoral roll in 1913, occupation labourer, apparently living in Hat Hill Road. He would then have been aged about 67, he left Blackheath around 1926, the date of the photo. He was then taken in by family friends, Mrs Helen Drane and family of Kogarah, where he died on November 30th, 1927 and is buried in the Roman Catholic section of Woronora Cemetery. His grave has been recently restored by Helen Drane’s son Charlie and his daughter.

Charlie Drane writes:
“I must have been 5 years old when our Dad took us to this place called the Hill. My brother Bill would have been 7 years old. After all these years I can still hear our Dad saying you will have to be quiet as it’s time for Mr Murphy to feed the birds, what a great sight is was.”

Although his brooms were a main source of income, he augmented this by fortune telling, although just what kind is unknown. His drinking water came from a spring near his hut, but he used the waterfall on a nearby creek for bathing, it was probably the latter that saved his life in the bush fire. His horse was given to him by the Byron brothers who ran a dairy in Blackheath.

Murphy's house site at Hat Hill with restored signage
photo by the author 

His obituary reads:


Lived life of loneliness for years

Why did Mr W Murphy turn recluse and live a life of almost complete isolation in a
little wooden hut which he constructed amid the rugged splendour of Hat Hill?
For years he lived there and in his loneliness won the affection of many
plumaged birds in the adjacent bush. The wild thrush used to perch on his
shoulder and eat meat from his hand. He had a fine, generous nature, it is
said of him. But he didn’t die in his little hut in the foothills. Instead he
died at the residence of Mrs Drane, Wallace Street, West Kogarah, on Wednesday
night. Those who knew 'The Hermit of Hat Hill' will regret to hear of his

Note: 2013, Blue Mountains musician and songwriter Jim Low has recorded a song based on Mr Murphy's life, see -

Please contact the author if you can add any more information or corrections to this entry.

John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian
2009, 2017 Blue Mountains City Library

Ref. The Mud, the Millet and the Magic of Mysterious Murphy, John Low 2006.

Thanks to Charlie Drane and Lynne Mallard for extra information.

Links: the Harris brothers' oral history recording is now online at the library website

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