William Murphy, who led a hermit-like existence in the Hat Hill area early in the 20th century, was a contemporary of Sid Bellingham, whose 1899 journal, “Ten Years with the Palette, Shotgun and Rifle on the Blue Mountains NSW” was republished with a commentary by historian Jim Smith.
Both men were pioneers in persuading the white occupiers of NSW to study and appreciate the native animals. They provided a counter-balance to the late19th century “Acclimatisation” movement which sought to replace the Australian ecology with European flora and fauna.
Bellingham made a living from guiding shooting parties and expressed some bemusement when uncontrolled hunting drove some species out of settled areas or into local extinction. Murphy, on the other hand, mildly threatened local fauna by feeding it but generally encouraged his fellow residents and visitors to value the creatures for their own sake.
The legend of William Murphy owes much to the renowned balladeer of the NSW countryside, Jim Low (now of Mount Riverview).
Extract from a Jim Low lyric:
“There’s food for all creatures – the Gang Gang and quail
Brown wallabies and possums and the willy wagtail
The old man smiles broadly, his teeth displayed
As he stares at the sanctuary his kindness has made.”
Today, the site of William Murphy’s hut can be found a short distance from the Hat Hill carpark on the Perry’s Lookdown road. The hut stood in a typical patch of species-diverse Upper Blue Mountains heathland. Examples of the Proteaceae family proliferate, including Petrophile pulchella, Isopogon anemonifolius, Hakea dactyloides, and Lambertia formosa. There is also Platysace linearifolia and various Eucalypts.
NOTE: You can LISTEN to a PODCAST by Jim Low called In Search of Mr Murphy, (or download ithere). Go with Jim on a journey of discovery as he pieces together information about this fascinating character.
John Whitton, chief engineer of New South Wales railways from 1856 to 1889, left at least three monuments to his career in spectacular natural locations. The piers beside the current Hawkesbury River rail bridge at Brooklyn and the Knapsack viaduct at Lapstone are notable. But it is possibly the series of viaducts on the Great Zigzag at Oakey Park near Lithgow (completed in 1869) that most impress today’s tourists.
Viaducts of the “middle road” of the Great Zigzag are visible above the existing western railway. They enabled Sydney bound trains to ascend the side of a canyon carved by a small tributary of Farmers Creek. The landscape of sandstone cliffs and pagodas is a strikingbackdrop to Whitton’s world-stunning engineering feats.
The revegetation from the 2013 “State Mine Gully fire” makes the scene even more impressive as one looks at Eucalypts astride the ridgetops and spurs with epicormic leaf growth making sleeves along their trunks and branches.
Since the suspension of tourist trains on the Great Zigzag, it is more challenging for visitors to view these viaducts but the photograph shows it is still possible.
Much of the native vegetation in this area would have been cleared during rail construction and nearby development of the coal mining industry. A rich mixture of natives and exotics now adorns the Zigzag formation and the base of the adjacent canyon. Mistletoe surmounts the canopy of the Eucalypts descending to the creek.
Road builder William Cox is reputed to have completed the first Emu Plains to Bathurst Road in 1814 and 1815 without loss of life. Convict labour on the western road continued until 1844 and Edgar Church was a documented fatality in 1822.
The vegetation on Pulpit Hill includes the common Upper Mountains ridgetop vegetation community of Eucalyptus piperita and E. sieberi as well as very yellow Banksia spinulosa, Lambertia formosa and various Leptospermum species. Most prominent are the Eucalyptus oreades – a great range of tree ages within this species are visible around the flanks of Pulpit Hill.
The proposed shared path for pedestrians and cyclists between Katoomba and Medlow Bath runs near one of the most impressive corridors of elderly Oreades. It is to be hoped this corridor will be treated with respect during construction.
A visitors’ book and a small warning sign mark the entrance to the long sandstone overhang which is the main “hand stencil” site in this Aboriginal place. It is reached by a steep informal path from a clearing studded with “brown barrel” Eucalypts and orchids. Down a groove in a tall pagoda next to the overhang flows a trickle of water nurturing mosses and other dark green vegetation.
The hand stencils were made by indigenous people of past centuries who blew a mix of locally obtained materials onto the rock surface after laying their hand and forearm in front of them. In contrast to some nearby sites, these hands and forearms seem to have belonged exclusively to adults.
This locality evokes a timeless and spiritual sensation in the visitor. By walking up the four wheel drive trail away from the brown barrel clearing towards Bungleboori you experience a great variety of pagoda shapes and pagoda dependent vegetation, especially as there is a humid microclimate
here. Mosses, foliose lichens and other lichens cascade down the surfaces and small ferns nestle in the crevices.
There are a few locations where soil has infilled the clefts between the pagodas and you can see at close quarters how thin and quirkily patterned are many of the rock protuberances near the top. Some of the most fragile formations seem to be guarded by bull ants’ nests. Opportunities to gain an overview of the grand circle of these stone wonders are rare but it is worth
carefully attaining one of the vantage points.