The Western Road Over the Blue Mountains


The road transformed the way the early colonists perceived the Blue Mountains. From being an insurmountable obstacle to future growth, the Mountains now became a key factor in the colony's development. Though little settlement appeared on the mountain landscape until after the advent of the railway, the road established the Blue Mountains' role as an artery linking the coastal settlement with the rich pastoral lands of the west.

Construction problems and later Improvements

To create the passage that would link the seaboard to the western plains, Governor Macquarie chose a man already possessed of considerable experience in the art of colonial road construction. William Cox (1764-1837), former Captain in the New South Wales Corps, landholder at Clarendon and Mulgoa and Chief Magistrate at Windsor, was appointed in July 1814. He was instructed by Macquarie to follow where possible the survey route laid down by Evans and to construct the road ''at leat 12 feet wide, so as to permit two carts and other wheeled carriages to pass each other with ease ''.

The work began on Monday 18th July 1814, in fine, clear and frosty weather, with the crossing of the Nepean River. Six months later, in the heat of summer, on the 14th January 1815, the road was completed to Bathurst.

The construction technique consisted initially of blazing trees along the road's chosen alignment. This was followed by the cutting and clearing of the timber and the grubbing up of stumps. The road was graded and the bridges and culverts were constructed where necessary. Only rarely was it fenced. The tools used were just as primitive as the method - axes, crowbars, block and tackle, gunpowder, augers, irons, etc.

With such limited resources the terrain through which the road was constructed posed problems for Cox at numerus points. Many of these sections remained difficult for later travellers and continued to test the abilities of surveyors and labourers for many years. Examples of such sections of the road are:

1. Lapstone Hill
Immediately on crossing the Nepean River, Cox's work party got an indication of what lay ahead of them. They found the ascent of Lapstone hill not only very steep but also '' the soil very rough and stony; the timber chiefly ironbark '' (Cox's Journal). Cox's road up the eastern escarpment remained the principal route until the 1820's. It was however, particularly hazardous in wet weather, suffering badly from washaways and creek floodings. The exact route of this section of Cox's road, at least as far as Blaxland is not universally agreed upon.

In 1824 a new route, the Lapstone Zig Zag road was opened several kilometres further north. Believed to have been built by William Lawson, it climbed to present-day East Blaxland and re-joined Cox's road at Blaxland. Today this road is known as the Old Bathurst Road and was repaired in the 1950's to carry modern motor traffic. It's steepness and sharp curves and the fact that it, too, was susceptible to wet weather damage, meant that by the early 1830's a further alternative was sought.

When asked by Governor Darling to plan the town of Emu, the Surveyor- General, Thomas Mitchell, declared that this could not be done until the line of the western road was finally established in relation to it's ascent of Lapstone Hill. He suggested the gully of Lapstone Creek as offering the most satisfactory route.

Work on this new road began in 1832 and was completed in 1834. Mitchell's Pass, containing the oldest stone arch bridge on the Australian mainland (Lennox Bridge), remained the principal road to and from the Mountains for nearly a hundred years.

In the Mid-1920's the newly formed Main Road Board sought to provide a new road up Lapstone hill that would be suitable for the increasing volume of motor traffic. The grades of Mitchell's pass and the old Zig Zag road were too steep and the curves too sharp for the early motor cars. The route chosen was basically along the course of the old railway line abandoned in 1913. This included the Knapsack Gully Viaduct but avoided the Zig-Zag portion and sections of deep cuttings too narrow to use for a main road. Passing the site of the original Glenbrook Station and through the cutting beyond it, it continued along the old railway route to Blaxland where it met up with it's predecessors near the Pilgrim Inn.

In 1938 the Knapsack Viaduct was widened to relieve the congestion that was occurring there. Much recent work has been carried out on the
Lapstone-Glenbrook section of the highway to increase it's width.

2. The Steep Ridge Near Linden
By the time Cox's party reached the region of Springwood the trees were ''both thick and heavy, with a thick strong brush, the roots of which are very hard to grub up, making it altogether extremely hard work'' (Cox's Journal). However, this was nothing to the problems faced when they arrived at a steep ridge in the vicinity of Linden, an area that had posed difficulties for Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth and that would later complicate rail and road construction.

To create a passage Cox had to employ twelve more men for three weeks cutting and blasting a pass from solid rock and building a large wooden bridge. Named by Macquarie ''The Bluff Bridge'', later road deviation work and the construction of the railway have erased all trace of it. It survived into the late 1820's but was probably replaced during the changes Mitchell made to the section of the road between Springwood and Woodford in the early 1830's.

For several miles after the bridge the road continued to pose problems for "the mountain is nearly a solid rock. At places high broken rock s, at others, over hanging or shelving, which makes it impossible to make a level good road'' (Cox's Journal). The evidence of later travellers who traversed the Mountain road shows that this section remained a serious problem long after Cox had completed his work. Sections of the original road in this vicinity can still be traced today on either side of the Great Western Highway.

3. Wentworth Falls
While not the cause of such problems as the other sections mentioned, Wentworth Falls was the site of a later major deviation to the line established by Cox and is therefore deserving of mention here. From this point, where Cox constructed his second depot, the road followed the route used by Blaxland, Lawson & Wentworth which passed to the north and west of the present Wentworth Falls Golf links, along the ridge Cox named ''Hobby's Reach'', and traced in large part the course of the present Blaxland Road. The main road still followed this route when McBrien's survey was carried out in 1823, but had changed to the present one by the time of Butler's survey in 1832. The deviation appears to have been part of the improvements to the Western Road carried out by Mitchell in the early 1830's.

4. Mount York
When Cox reached the end to the ridge at Mount York he ''found it much worse than I expected. It commences with going down steep between immense large boulders, when it opens with a very steep gully in front, and towards the left it falls off so steep that it is with much difficulty a person can get down at all (Cox's journal). He concluded that available resources permitted him only to build ''such a road as a cart can go down empty or with a very light load without a possibility of it's being able to return with any sort of load whatever; and such a road will answer to drive stock down to the forest ground" (Cox's Journal).

The precipitous nature of the descent of the remained a hazard for travellers after Cox's road was completed and alternative routs were soon sought.

The first alternative to Cox's road was the descent from the Mount York plateau known as "Lawson's Long Alley", credited to Lieutenant William Lawson and in use from about 1823. The road was marginally easier in grade and the descent was not as long.

In 1823 Archibald Bell discovered a route from Richmond to the Cox's River. Bell's Line of Road was rough, steep and often dangerous. It remained virtually unused until it was improved during, and in the years following, World War II.

In 1828 - 1829 construction began under the supervision of Major E. Lockyer of a new road, which while remaining steep, would possess a more even grade and wide bends. Construction of Lockyer's road was abandoned when Surveyor-General Major Mitchell transferred the work, amid some controversy, to the route down Victoria Pass.

Victoria pass was opened in 1832. With the exception of a period between 1912 and 1920, when the early automobiles found difficulty with its steep grade, it has remained the principal western access route.

The alternative during 1912 - 1920 was Berghofer's Pass, construction of which began in 1907. This provided a more gradual ascent for the early motorist, though its easy grades were matched by some very sharp curves.

Stimulus To, and Influence Upon, Town Settlement and Development.

On June 10, 1815, Governor Macquarie issued his order that travel over the Blue Mountains to the west was to be restricted. The Government, desirous of keeping the settlement and development of the west under its control, required intending travellers to make a written application. Those "Gentlemen or other respectable free persons" approved by the Government were then issued with a written pass. A military depot, established initially on the site of Cox's store near the Glenbrook Lagoon and subsequently moved to Springwood, ensured that these regulations were observed.

Travel restrictions continued to be enforced throughout the 1820's under Governor Brisbane and Governor Darling and settlement in the west remained confined to those sanctioned by the Government. Such restrictions meant that little development took place along the Western Road during the first fifteen years or so.

The 1830's, however, saw an easing of restrictions under Governor Bourke. In 1831-2 the Crown Lands of the colony were opened to settlers beyond the limits of location, and the land grant system was replaced by land auction. The wool industry continued to thrive as settlement in the west increased.

These developments made their impact on the Blue Mountains. As travellers over the Mountains increased in number, so too did the development of facilities to accommodate them. Inns, or "huts" as they were known, sprang up at regular intervals along the Western Road. Sizeable areas of land nearby invariably became "reserved" for travelling stock, including horse and bullock teams, and as public camping grounds.

Following the discovery of payable gold at Ophir in May 1851, the traffic on the Western Road became heavier than at any time since its construction. Thousands travelled west by foot, horseback, dray or coach. In the ensuing decade the population of Australia more than doubled, and many of the diverse nationalities arriving in the country passed to the western goldfields over the Blue Mountains. At night the inns and their surroundings were transformed into large, animated encampments.

The development of a number of the Blue Mountains towns can be traced back to the establishment of road construction depots, military posts to supervise traffic flow and convict road gangs, and inns built to accommodate travellers. These acted as focal points around which the early inhabitants (temporary and otherwise) of the Blue Mountains tended to congregate. In the years before the railway, settlement was sparse and, without exception, what was built had a very close relationship to activity on the road. The examples given below illustrate this pattern.

1. Springwood: The store and military depot established initially near the Glenbrook Lagoon was transferred to Springwood in 1816. The military depot operated until 1845 and its presence encouraged Springwood's reputation as a safe place to camp. Following the abandonment of the military depot, the property was purchased by Robert Martin in 1845 and sold again to Thomas Boland the same year. Boland built the Springwood Inn.

2. The Woodford and Linden vicinity saw a concentration of hostelry, military, police and toll collecting activity. In the late 1820's an unauthorised "hut" was operated at Twenty Mile Hollow (Woodford) by William James, which was permitted to continue until 1835. In 1832 Thomas Pembroke, who had previously operated a "hut" at Twenty-four Mile Hollow (Lawson), was granted a "special reserve" of 2 acres on which he built The Woodman's Inn. Pembroke later obtained possession of 50 acres surrounding his inn. On this site the King's Arms Hotel was built in 1843 (later Buss's inn and later still the Woodford Academy). In the early 1830's, when Mitchell was making changes to the road in this area, a military depot was established to house the convict road gangs and their guards. It operated here (at what came to be known as Bull's Camp) until removed to Blackheath in 1844. In 1855 a police lock-up and mounted patrol station was established on 10 acres adjacent to Pembroke's original grant. When the Government erected turnpikes on the Western Road in the late 1840's to help finance its upkeep, one was established at Seventeen Mile Hollow (Linden). Thomas Ellison, the toll keeper, later (ca1857) acquired 5 acres adjoining the toll bar and built an inn.

3. Wentworth Falls: Here in 1814 Cox established his second store depot - the "Weatherboard Hut" - during the construction of the Western Road. In 1826 John Mills applied for a grant to establish an inn. He was granted the use of 100 acres and the right to use the right bank of Jamison Creek as a watering place for stock. This was on the present Pitt Park side of the creek and opposite where Cox had built his store. Wentworth Falls was, until 1855, also the site of military and police activities.

4. Blackheath: In 1829 Andrew Gardner applied for land on which to build an inn. He was granted 20 acres and opened The Scotch Thistle Inn in 1831. Gardner's grant formed the nucleus of the eventual village of Blackheath, which was surveyed in the late 1870's. It appears that convict road workers were also stationed at Blackheath from the early 1830's and in 1844 the Blackheath Stockade was established when the Eighteen Mile Hollow Camp was transferred. When the Stockade was broken up in 1849 and the military left the Mountains, a mounted police troop occupied the buildings until 1862.

The Railway Across the Blue Mountains


Improvements in transport and communication were of vital significance for the development of New South Wales. In 1815 it took Governor Macquarie nine days to travel from Sydney to Bathurst. This time was substantially reduced during the next thirty years as improvements were made both to the Western Road and to the type of coaches operating along it. However, travel and the transportation of goods remained uncomfortable, hazardous and sometimes impossible if the weather was bad. The construction of the railway to make transport to and from the west both more reliable and more rapid was essential for the development of New South Wales. This had a dramatic impact upon the development of the Blue Mountains; opening it up to those with the resources and the leisure to enjoy the environment for its health and recreational value, providing the means for exploiting the coal and shale resources being discovered there, and, ultimately making it practical to commute to work in the city.

Construction, Problems and Later Improvements

From the late 1840's there emerged a strong demand for the building of railways in Australia, which was strengthened by the discovery of gold. From the 1850's railway construction began which transformed eastern Australia. In the mid 1850's lines opened from Sydney to Parramatta (1855), Campbelltown (1858) and from the Port of Newcastle to Maitland. Maitland had become the centre of trade for most of northern New South Wales and was the first section of what was to become the Great Northern Railway. Extension of the railway westward to Bathurst was also considered a priority to tap the rich natural and rural products of the Bathurst plains and western areas, although this was not to prove easy. Indeed in 1857 a survey of a route across the Blue Mountains stated that, "a direct line between Sydney and Bathurst cannot by obtained". By January 1863, the Western Railway was completed as far as Penrith and for the next four years this town was the train terminus and departure point for the coach services to Bathurst. As they had been earlier, the Blue Mountains were again seen as a major barrier to westward progress, for the extension of the railway line was proving difficult.

Three alternative routes were considered:-
1. To follow Bell's Line of Road via Mount Tomah and Kurrajong.
2. To follow the Grose Valley to its head and proceed by way of a tunnel to Hartley Vale.
3. To follow the traditional route already favoured by the road builders.

The third alternative was finally chosen as the one offering the least problems, both physical and financial. But, as in the case of the road, the difficulties of ascent and descent at each extremity of the mountain barrier were to occupy the technical and imaginative talents of those concerned for may years. A railway requires easier grades than a road, so the problem was a formidable one.

John Whitton, a man with considerable experience in railway construction in England, had been appointed Engineer-in-Chief of the N.S.W. Railways in 1856. He was responsible for finding a solution to the problem. While personally favouring the construction of a tunnel through Lapstone Hill, the finance available could not match the expense. As an alternative, he and his staff designed a zig zag railway with two reversing points. It ascended the escarpment with a grade of 1 in 30 to 1 in 33, and incorporated a magnificent seven-arched sandstone viaduct across Knapsack Gully.

By July 1867, the railway was completed as far as Weatherboard (Wentworth Falls), and by May the following year had reached Mount Victoria. Whitton again employed the zig zag technique to descend the Blue Mountains in the west as the route diverged form that of the main road lines and offered no possibility of a suitable grade.

The Lithgow or Great Zig Zag is an impressive piece of engineering. Two reversing points were again employed, but being considerably larger than the Lapstone equivalent, it required the construction of three large viaducts. Work on it began in 1866 and by October 1869, the railway line was completed as far as Bowenfels.

The top of the main ridge is the only viable route to cross the Blue Mountains. It was necessary, therefore, to that the railway share this often extremely narrow area with the road. This resulted in the railway crossing the road at various points and also meant that in some places the road itself had to be moved to make the best use of the limited space available. Such places are often indicated where the present road closely hugs the railway boundary.

At locations where the original railway crossed the Bathurst Road, level crossings were constructed. There were twelve of these between Emu Plains and Mount Victoria, all numbered for easy identification and all except one, No.7 at Springwood, provided with stone gatehouses. When the major part of the Blue Mountains line was duplicated in 1902, most of these original level crossings were removed and replaced by under bridges or over bridges. At the time of duplication many of the present station buildings (e.g. Blaxland, Faulconbridge, Valley Heights) were demolished and the original stations converted into island platforms. Indeed, Springwood, Wentworth Falls and Mount Victoria were the only brick station buildings then existing to survive duplication.

Originally of light construction, the railway line over the Blue Mountains was characterized by steep grades and curves imposed by the Government's emphasis upon economy. As traffic increased over the years, considerable relocation work has taken place where possible, to ease grades and straighten curves. While it is difficult in many places to identify the original centre line, the abandoned cuttings and formations can still be seen. For example, between Linden and Woodford, the line was moved from the original deep cuttings during extensive relocation work in 1896, removing several bad curves. In some areas the abandoned rail route has been used to improve the alignment of the highway, as seen in the Lapstone-Glenbrook area.

As with the road approaches to the Blue Mountains, significant modifications have also occurred over the years to these sections of the railway:
1. Lithgow end. By 1885, westbound traffic caused a bottleneck and a deviation to avoid the zig zag came under consideration. A new route involving extensive tunneling was opened in October, 1910.
2. Lapstone end. Increases in rail traffic caused similar bottlenecks to those occurring in the west, while the shortness of the reversing stations meant a limit on the length of trains. This posed a severe disadvantage as freight increased and more powerful engines were introduced. In December 1892, a deviation avoiding the zig zag and incorporating a tunnel through the Lapstone Hill was opened. Evidence of the original zig zag route remain on Lapstone Hill.

By 1911, because of the discomforts caused by the tunnel's poor ventilation, the severe 1 in 30 to 1 in 31 grades, and the bottlenecks that occurred following the duplication of the line from Glenbrook to Mount Victoria, a further deviation following the gorge of Glenbrook Creek, incorporating a new tunnel through The Bluff and a new brick viaduct across Knapsack Gully, remains the present rail route. The grade was improved to 1 in 60. The old tunnel still exists and much of the old rail route, including the Knapsack Viaduct, has been incorporated into the Great Western Highway.

Stimulus To and Influence Upon Town Settlement and Development

In the decades that followed the opening of the railway line, a large number of the present mountain townships emerged and took shape around the new railway platforms. The railway provided incentives for town growth and development in a variety of ways:
1. Various inns spread at intervals along the Western Road provided the nucleus for the sparse settlement occurring during the first half of the 19th century. With the development of the railway, many of the early platforms were located in close proximity to established places of accommodation, thus reinforcing the early stages of human occupation.
Blaxland began as Wasoe's in 1867. John Outrim Wascoe was the current landlord of the "Pilgrim Inn".
Springwood was established in 1867 near the popular Springwood Inn, better known as Boland's Inn.

Woodford was opened in 1868 as Buss's Platform. William Buss had been the popular licencee of the King's Arms Hotel, or Buss's Inn as it was more generally known, until his death in October, 1867.

Lawson began as Blue Mountain in 1867. The Blue Mountain Inn, established in 1840, was nearby.

Wentworth Falls opened as Weatherboard in 1867. The Weatherboard Inn was one of the oldest of the mountain inns, established in 1827. This was for a time the railway terminus, and a bustling itinerant community developed around it.

Blackheath had a railway platform built in 1869. This was the location of the Scotch Thistle Inn, though evidence suggest it was closed at this time.

2. During the 1870's, the more reliable and rapid travel provided by the railway encouraged Sydney's more affluent people (judges, politicians, businessmen, etc.) to purchase land and build country residences in the Blue Mountains. For a number of these, private railway platforms were provided to service their families, while others established their estates in proximity to already existing stations. The "country estate" trend soon attracted others including the businesses and services required to satisfy the needs of new communities. Many of these large properties were eventually subdivided in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

3. Various specific railway activities provided growth incentives to those areas in which they were located.
Water was essential for the operation of steam engines and a regular supply had to be maintained until electrification was introduced. Thus at a number of points along the railway line facilities for water storage and reticulation were established. From 1867 at Glenbrook (Watertank) water was gravitated from a lagoon to a tank by the rail line, while dammed supplies were constructed at Woodford/Linden (from 1885), Lawson (from 1867), Wentworth Falls (from 1878) and Blackheath (from 1867). The supply at Linden eventually became public, serving towns on the Lower Blue Mountains, while Glenbrook and Wentworth Falls were converted to public recreation lakes and Lawson and Blackheath to public swimming pools.
With grades varying from 1 in 33 to 1 in 66, the climb between Valley Heights and Katoomba is one of the steepest in Australia. During the age of steam, both Katoomba and Valley Heights, with their turntable facilities, benefited as terminus points for the pilot engines. Valley Heights still retains its significance in relation to the railway with its roundhouse and workshops.<
Mount Victoria's position as a terminus for both tourist rail traffic to Jenolan Caves and commuter trains, has contributed to growth. For many years Mount Victoria was also one of the principal refreshment stops on the western line. Full meals were served in the substantial refreshment rooms built in 1868 and now occupied by the historical museum.

The numerous railway navies and labourers who worked on the Mountain line also contributed to the growth and development of the towns along its route. For example:
In 1866-67, while the railway was being built, labour had to be supplied. At Weatherboard (Wentworth Falls) for example, Charles Wilson erected an accommodation house on the site of the present post office, which served the railway workers as a hotel, store, butcher's shop and baker's shop.
In the 1870's the Springwood area contained a large proportion of railway families whose numbers contributed significantly to the early establishment of a public school in 1878 and, to business growth in the town around this time.
A similar stimulus for town development occurred at Glenbrook where a public school was established in 1892 in response to the many children in the work camps during deviation work to replace the old Zig Zag. Glenbrook/Lapstone was again the site of major construction camps during the 1913 deviation.
A further influence the railway has had on the pattern of development in the Blue Mountains arises from re-emphasis of the earlier division already imposed on the landscape by the road. The road and the railway both dominate the crest of the ridge, the principal area where settlement could occur. Many of the towns that developed found themselves bisected by the road/rail route. Additionally, many parish boundaries (e.g., Coomassie and Magdala; Linden and Woodford; Blackheath and Kanimbla) had been partly defined by the road route and many towns have grown half in one parish and half in another. As a result of this bisection there have been, in some towns, noticeable variations in settlement patterns on either side of the road/rail. Towns such as Katoomba and Blackheath, where a Crown subdivision was established on one side of the railway, separate from those areas where development occurred through subdivision of earlier grants.

4. Electrification of the suburban line between Parramatta and Penrith was completed in 1955. By the end of the following year, an electric service was operating to Valley Heights and this was extended by the end of 1957 to Lithgow. Electrification of the railway had considerable effect upon development in the Blue Mountains. Along with the improved performance and general ownership of motor cars it encouraged a shift in tourist emphasis from the extended holiday to the one-day excursion, an effect felt by most in the Upper Mountains. Also, by improving access to the city and its western suburbs, it stimulated the trend to "commuter" or "dormitory" settlements. The effect of this was noticeable particularly in the Lower Blue Mountains.