Blue Trail Village Scenes No 9

Everything money can’t buy – Newnes

The village that uses this slogan on its entry sign is one of the least populated settlements in the Greater Blue Mountains. The surrounding sections of the Wollemi National Park suffered greatly in the Gospers Mountain fire of 2019/2020 but the vegetation closest to the old shale mining ruins was saved along with the present-day buildings. Now many of the trees along the road from Lidsdale feature sleeves of epicormic growth and, on a misty March morning, the shrubs near the Wolgan River glisten with the webs of thousands of orb spiders.

Epicormic sleeves in a forest below pagoda-like formations
– Wolgan Gap, on the approach to Newnes

The only surviving building from the early 20th century shale days is the Newnes Hotel which was moved in the 1980s to stop the river undermining it, losing its liquor licence in the process. Now Lithgow Environment Group stalwart, Thomas Ebersoll, is modifying the hotel to include live-in staff quarters for management of the cabins and camping ground, so rapidly are they regaining their popularity.

A permanent pub with no beer – the Newnes Hotel

Thomas is renowned for finding time for special projects. Although, kangaroos, wallabies and numerous bird species have returned to this part of the national park since the big fire, wombats are slow to come back. A striking wooden sculpture by Thomas is adorned with a message for a prodigal wombat, containing this wording:

Why I built this seat
A giant wombat reclined here,
long time ago.
His name was Bob.
As he sat & contemplated
the world he thought:
“Wouldn’t it be nice to have
a proper seat here”
He might be back one day.…

Wagons from the 1910 Newnes shale railway in the background while, in the foreground, another relic provides scale for Thomas Ebersoll’s wombat seat.

© Don Morison

[photos © Christine Davies]

Blue Trail Village Scenes No 8

A Sustainable Town Embraces Its Heritage – Portland

In Portland, the cement works closed in 1991 and the last lime quarry was decommissioned in 1998. The town now has about 2,000 residents. It is a potential destination for a trip across the mountains and is being promoted as a worthwhile stop on a tourist trail from Lithgow to Mudgee.

Restored poster advertisements and traditional country town street buildings (Wolgan Street, Portland)

Numerous historic buildings, the presence of a town common on natural woodland, the hilliness of its site and the interspersing of native and exotic flora add to Portland’s attractiveness. The most striking features are near the town centre. These include the tall cement silos now adorned with large murals of men and women who used to work there.

Contemplating the images of workers who made Portland a famous cement town.

Gradually, the dominant industrial sites are being cleaned up and recycled into modern uses and open space. These recall the old Portland but are compatible with the sustainability of the new. Not far from the tall silos, a commercial nursery is taking shape.

Vegetation surrounds an inundated quarry.

The water-filled disused quarries are conspicuous and impressive visual features. There is discussion about how to create more public access.

A pair of brick kilns adorn the outskirts of Portland’s large disused quarry.

The preserved buildings and murals of the business district evoke the mid 20th century. Everywhere, there is an unhurried atmosphere and the aura of industrial pioneering remains, even where tree changers have occupied the old cottages.

© Don Morison

[photos © Christine Davies]

Blue Trail Village Scenes No 7

Trees of Glenbrook Park

The landscaped spaces of the mountains contain native trees of many ages. The older Eucalypts are especially represented in Glenbrook Park – a major gateway to our region.

There are many reasons to stop at Glenbrook Park. It has one of the best Visitor Information displays. It’s our Australia Day park and hosts other community events. Coming from Sydney, it makes you feel you’re not in the city … and it’s the first rest area, petrol and toilets after the freeway. Within the park is the theatre used by the indefatigable Glenbrook Players dramatic troupe.

A picket fence protects one of the oldest large eucalypts and safeguards members of the public who might stray under dropping branches. (Christine Davies)

In 2016, Council contemplated major changes. The levels of the park surfaces were thought by some to pose a flood risk to surrounding properties. A draft plan canvassed the expendability of many of the older trees and buildings. Blue Mountains Conservation Society, Glenbrook District Historical Society and many others came to the defence of the ambience of Glenbrook Park and its trees. That’s probably why the park still looks as it does.

Signage and sculpture complements natural elements within the village atmosphere. (Neil and Jennifer McGlashan)

In this park, the trees are an opportunity to have a conversation about how the hollows and other features of the older specimens are vital for the welfare of multiple lifeforms. These, of course, include mammals, birds and insects.

The welcoming white bark of native trees. (Christine Davies)

It’s very useful that visitors’ first chance to pause when entering a new region gives them a true sense of place. The subtle changes that have been made to the park and the retention of so many old trees allows Glenbrook Park to do that. It’s one of the few mountains towns to convey a sense of a village green or common. To retain these functions, in coming years, new native trees will need to be planted. Meanwhile, the park is a place that residents and local organisations can take pride in.

© Don Morrison

Blue Trail Village Scenes No 6

Memories of non-indigenous pioneers, Kanimbla Valley

Bernard O’Reilly relaxes after coordinating a rescue for 1937 plane crash survivors. [image thanks to  State Library of Queensland.]
There are many indigenous sites in the Kanimbla Valley area. Structures connected with non-indigenous pioneers are, however, easier for visitors to notice.

Bernard O’Reilly (1903-1975) was born in a slab hut near Sandy Hook. His writing of volumes about the natural environment of the Coxs catchment and the invasive species such as brumbies, based on his childhood memories, remains among the most loved nature prose of the Blue Mountains.

In 1937, O’Reilly showed his skills as a bushman when he initiated a single-handed search in the Queensland rainforest. This allowed the rescue of two survivors lost for a week after a plane crash. He went on to promote the establishment of the Lamington National Park and the still famous O’Reilly’s Guest House.

Ben Esgate (1914-2003) was also a bushman. His contribution to ongoing tourism involves the Blue Mountains. Together with Harry Hammon and Bill Wingrove, Ben engineered the original 1957 Scenic Skyway car which still stands at Katoomba Scenic World. Earlier, in the 1930s, he had helped engineer the flying fox which brought milk and eggs from a farm into the Hydro Majestic Hotel. During World War 2, he was one of the foremost bush experts in the Citizens Defence Movement in the Blue Mountains.

Also in the 1940s, he directed building of many structures, including the church that is now run as a Uniting Church in the Megalong Valley and the Congregational Church hall in the Kanimbla Valley (pictured), a project that involved Italian prisoners of war from the Cowra Prisoner-of-War camp.

The Kanimbla Valley community hall, formerly the Congregational Church hall, a project of Ben Esgate in 1944 and 1945, inscribed on 15 February 1945. [image: © Christine Davies]
These Kanimbla Valley sites are a precious reminder of people who helped shape modern attitudes to the Blue Mountains environment.

© Don Morrison

The slab hut in Kanimbla Valley which was O’Reilly’s birthplace in 1903. [On private property and photographed from a road reservation – © Christine Davies]

To find out more read:

  • O’Reilly, Bernard – Green Mountains and Cullenbenbong
  • Smith, Jim – The Last of the Coxs River Men, Ben Esgate, published by Den Fenella Press 2006.