(header photographs by Harry Waite 1912-2011)

The Myth of the Sacred Brumby







The Valley of the Grose.

Its Historic Associations.


(The Warrigal Club of N.S.W.)

Rugged and secluded, the valley of the Grose is a favourite haunt of the walker. Its attractions are numerous, and its profuse historic associations extend over a century and a half.

The lower Grose was discovered in 1789 by a party under Governor Phillip which explored the Hawkesbury, and four years later it was named the Grose, after the Lieutenant-Governor, by Captain Paterson, who made an expedition some ten miles up the river in small boats, eventually reaching a point called Canopy Cliff, near Wentworth Creek. The reports made by members of this expedition, and the description given of the upper reaches of the river by Caley in 1804, deterred the inhabitants of the colony from trying to cross the mountains by following its course. Settlement extended to the Nepean-Grose junction early in the century, but land was only occupied for a mile or so up stream, where the banks afforded opportunities for cultivation and grazing.


In the late 1820's Major Mitchell, the Surveyor-General, decided that the valley of the Grose might afford a good route for a road, and he determined to explore the river to ascertain whether it would be possible "to carry the western road along the valley of the Grose, and, by cutting a tunnel of about a mile through a ridge at the head of it, to reach the Vale of Clwydd and so avoid the mountains altogether." Before he had traveled far up the valley from the Nepean, Mitchell's party was forced to leave the horses, and the journey was continued on foot for some distance, until the huge boulders which line the stream compelled a retreat.

A year or so later Surveyor Dixon, one of Mitchell's assistants, when connecting the trigonometrical survey with Mount King George, made an excursion into the gorges of the upper Grose and was unable to find his way out of the maze of gullies for three days. In 1830 Dixon made another excursion near the Grose to Mount Hay, and ascended its summit on February 10, 1830, being the first white man to achieve that honour.


These pioneers, particularly Caley, Mitchell, and Dixon, were competent bushmen, and it is no reflection on their ability that they were repulsed by the wild ruggedness of the Grose. Even the great explorer, Paul Edmund Strzelecki, to whom Australia owes the discovery of its highest peak, found exploring in the Grose a hazardous enterprise. He was pursuing mineralogical and geological studies in the. colony in 1839, and in August of that year he traversed a substantial portion of the Grose valley above Mount Hay, eventually climbing out of the valley near Mount King George to Bell's Line of Road. His description of the valley is worth quoting. He said : "Between these ranges lie yawning chasms, deep and winding gorges and frightful precipices. Narrow, gloomy, and profound, these stupendous rents in the bosom of the earth are enclosed between gigantic walls of a sandstone rock sometimes receding from, sometimes frightfully overhanging the dark bed of the ravines and its black silent eddies or its flowing torrents of water. Everywhere the descent into the deep recess is full of danger and the issue almost impracticable."


For some years settlers and surveyors studiously avoided the valley since nothing was to be gained by further exploration, but in 1857, when the western districts were clamouring for a railway to Sydney, a survey was authorised to ascertain whether a line could be laid along the valley to Hartley, thereby saving the gradients which a railway over the main ridge would necessitate. The Royal Engineers were entrusted with the work, and, after a preliminary survey had been made, they were instructed to make a bridle track up the valley from the Nepean to Shepherd's Toll Bar at Mount Victoria. This track took months to construct, and was not completed till March, 1860, when the senior officers of the Railway Department made an inspection. They decided that the valley presented a practicable route for a railway, and estimated the cost at 15,000 per mile. Other trial surveys were being made at the same time, however, and shortly afterwards, when the Government announced that the most suitable route lay up the Lapstone Hill ridge, the Grose was abandoned.

This bridle track was a remarkable piece of work, considering the difficult country and the necessity for quarrying for rock, making embankments and clearing the route of timber. So substantially was it constructed that even to-day parts of it are still in good condition, though landslips, fires, floods and rain have demolished or obstructed the greater part of it.

The track was used a little by local residents, and people with a scientific bent, such as Louisa Atkinson and the Rev. W. B. Clarke, traveled up it on occasions during botanical and geological ramblings.


In the year 1868 a proposal "was made to use the Grose for water supply purposes, and an investigation was made by members of a Royal Commission who journeyed down the Grose from Mount Victoria as far as Govett's Leap Creek. At this point they considered that a dam could be built below the junction, and with a wall fifty feet high at least one year's supply would be impounded. Ultimately, however, the weakness of the permo-carboniferous strata and the cost of building the dam and a take-off weir further downstream were found to be serious obstacles, and the Commission, while praising the quality of the Grose water, recommended the exploitation of the Cataract River system.

By this time the Grose had become fairly well known, and interest in it was increased by the popularity of Govett's Leap as a tourist attraction. The 'seventies saw members of the Academy of Art undertaking the first pleasure trip and photographic excursion in the Grose, and, after the discovery of the Evans' Lookout route into the valley in 1882, many tourists wandered into its sylvan recesses. Before the close of the century the Govett's Leap cliff track was made, and tourists often made round trips over Perry's Lookdown and Evans' Lookout and up the cliff track to Blackheath.


At various times industrial pursuits have threatened to disturb the peaceful solitude of the Grose. Abortive attempts to mine coal and shale near Mount Hay and a few miles below Mount Victoria have been made on several occasions since 1881, and in 1925 a company which proposed to exploit the coal measures near Mount Hay made surveys for the construction of a light railway from Richmond. Financial support was lacking, however, and the project was never carried to finality. As recently as 1931, and within the memory of most walkers, commercial interests began cutting the glorious forests of blue gums at the "Junction Camp" where Govett's Leap Creek meets the Grose. Happily their depredations were stopped by the bushwalking movement and other altruists, who subscribed enough money to buy the land, and in September of that year the Blue Gum Forest was dedicated as a reserve for public recreation.

Thus the finest spot in the whole valley, a veritable treasure-house of memories and a regular haunt of the bushwalker, has been preserved for posterity. Here Nature can be seen in her most varied and brightest moods, and communion with her is the solace of a hard and bitter world.