I’m an old woman now, and live by the sea, but I remember the Blue Mountains. I knew them well and drank from the clear streams in my youth.
John Whitton Memorial Place, Emu Plains
John Whitton was the Chief Engineer of NSW Railways from the late 1850s to 1890 whose major achievements include the Zig Zag viaducts (Lapstone and Lithgow) and the original Hawkesbury River bridge at Brooklyn. His memorial cairn stands in a currently sadly neglected, weed-infested reserve.
The memorial to this pioneer of access to the Blue Mountains is next to a car park accessible via Mitchells Pass Road from Glenbrook or the old highway from Emu Plains. The area has been a popular locality for exercise and fresh air for household members during the recent crisis, especially for those making the few hundred metre pilgrimage to the Knapsack Viaduct, one of the most beautiful of Whitton’s sandstone structures. It is beside the bicycle route from the new foot/cycle bridge across the Nepean to the Glenbrook Tunnel area.
Blue Mountains Council has put huge effort, with significant input from the Blue Mountains Conservation Society, into planning the future of Knapsack Park which virtually adjoins the John Whitton Memorial Place.
John Whitton Memorial Place is part of the so-called Western Sydney Parkland City. It is time it was festooned in layers of native vegetation as a tribute to the beautiful region that Whitton opened to the eyes of the world. It certainly deserves better than the layers of weeds, layers of graffiti and layers of State Government bureaucracy that presently bedevil it.
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.
© Don Morison