Blue Mountains (Australia)

Blue Mountains (Australia)

The Blue Mountains is a mountainous region in New South Wales, Australia, which borders Sydney's metropolitan area, beginning approximately 50 kilometres west of the city's centre. [Gregory's New South Wales State Road Map, Map 220, 11th Edition, Gregory's Publishing Company] The area is generally considered to begin on the west side of the Nepean River and to extend westward as far as Coxs River. [The Blue Mountains Rediscovered, Chris Cunningham (Kangaroo Press) 1996, p.33] Consisting of a sandstone plateau, the area is dissected by gorges of up to 760 metres in depth, and has high points up to 1,190 metres above sea level. A large part of the Blue Mountains is incorporated in the Greater Blue Mountains Area World Heritage Site and its constituent seven national parks and a conservation reserve.

The Blue Mountains area includes the local government areas of the City of Blue Mountains, the City of Hawkesbury, the City of Lithgow and Oberon .


Following European settlement of the Sydney area, the area was named the "Carmarthen and Lansdowne Hills" by Arthur Phillip in 1788. The Carmarthen Hills were in the north of the region and the Lansdowne Hills were in the south. The name "Blue Mountains", however, was preferred [ [ Project Gutenberg Australia] ] and is derived from the blue tinge the range takes on when viewed from a distance. The tinge is caused by mie scattering which occurs when incoming ultraviolet radiation is scattered by particles within the atmosphere creating a blue-greyish colour to any distant objects, including mountains and clouds.Fact|date=September 2008 It is widely, but incorrectly, believed that this is created by light reflecting off eucalypt leaves.Fact|date=September 2008


The Blue Mountains were inhabited for millenia prior to pioneer settlement in 1788. Red Hands Cave, near Glenbrook, for instance, is a rock shelter containing hand stencils by adults and children. [Sydney and Blue Mountains Bushwalks, Neil Paton (Kangaroo Press) 2004, p.170] On the southern side of Queen Elizabeth Drive, at Wentworth Falls, archaeologists have discovered grinding grooves used to sharpen stone implements.

The native Aborigines knew two routesFact|date=September 2008 across the mountains: Bilpin Ridge, which is now the location of Bells Line of Road between Richmond and Bell, and the Coxs River, a tributary of the Nepean River. It could be followed upstream to the open plains of the Kanimbla Valley, the type of country which was prized for farming.

European settlers initially considered the mountains impassable; adding to their aversion, it was almost certain that fertile lands lay beyond. [PDFlink| [ Beyond belonging? The landscape and belonging in colonial and contemporary imaginings of the Blue Mountains] |88.8 KiB, Luke Heffernan.] This idea was, to some extent, convenient for local authorities, who believed the "insurmountable" barrier ranges would deter convicts from trying to escape.

A former convict, John Wilson was the first man known to history to cross the Blue Mountains. After being freed in 1792 he promptly went bush, living with the Aborigines and even functioning as an intermediary between them and the settlers. In 1797 he returned to Sydney, claiming to have explored up to a hundred miles in all directions around Sydney, including across the mountains. His descriptions and observations were generally accurate, and it is possible that he had crossed the mountains via the Coxs River corridor, guided by the Aborigines. [The Blue Mountains Rediscovered, pp.76-77]

Governor Hunter was impressed by Wilson's skills and sent him on an expedition with John Price and others in January 1798. The party crossed the Nepean River and moved south-west towards the present site of Mittagong, after which they turned west and found a route along the ridge that now bears the Wombeyan Caves Road. In the process they found a way to go west of the mountains, by going around them instead of across them. In March of the same year, Wilson and Price ventured to the Camden area, then further south until they discovered Thirlmere Lakes, finally almost reaching the present site of Goulburn. It is possible that the accomplishments of this expedition were suppressed by Hunter, who may not have wanted convicts to know there was a relatively easy way out of Sydney. [The Blue Mountains Rediscovered, p.83] Wilson was killed by Aborigines after abducting one of their women for his personal use, but he had accomplished much as an explorer. He was never recognised as the first person to cross the mountains, possibly because his Coxs River journey could not be confirmed, while his route west of Mittagong may have been the "long way around" for a colony that had its eyes fixed on the sandstone fortress west of the Nepean.

Between 1798 and 1813, a number of people made exploratory trips to various parts of the mountains, from the Bilpin Ridge to the southern regions and what is now Kanangra-Boyd National Park, but without finding any definite route across. Official credit for crossing the Blue Mountains was eventually given to Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and William Charles Wentworth. Following an exploratory trip in 1811, Blaxland, who wanted more grazing land, reasoned that the mountains could be crossed by following the ridges (thus creating the myth that the ridges were the easy way, when the easy way was in fact Coxs River). [A History of Australia, Vol. 1, C.M.H.Clark (Melbourne University Press) 1962, p. 277] Accompanied by Lawson and Wentworth, he set out on 11th May, 1813, and the party succeeded in crossing the mountains by 31st May. At their furthest point, they reached what is now Mount Blaxland, just west of Coxs River. On their return to Sydney, they were rewarded by Governor Lachlan Macquarie with a grant of convert|1000|acre|km2 of land each. [Crossing of the Blue mountains, Boardman (Scholastic Australia) 1997, pp.29-30]

In November 1813, Macquarie sent the surveyor George Evans on expedition, to confirm the discoveries made by Blaxland and his party, and to see if the arable land was sufficient to justify settlement. The issue had become more urgent because the colony was in the grip of a drought. Evans and his party reached the Fish and Macquarie Rivers, and the site of Bathurst. [Shaping Australia -- Explorers, Mitchell Scott (Watts Publishing) 2004, pp.5-6] On 7th July, 1814, construction of a road across the mountains was begun by William Cox. The work was at the behest of Governor Macquarie, used 30 convict labourers and 8 guards, and was completed on 14th January, 1815, after 27 weeks. [The Blue Mountains Rediscovered, p.145]

Since the Blue Mountains are rich in coal and shale, mining for these resources began not long after the building of the first road. J.B.North ran a shale mine in the Megalong Valley in the 19th century, [Sydney and Blue Mountains Bushwalks, p.243] and other operations developed in several places. Locations for mining activities included the Jamison Valley, the upper Grose Valley, Newnes, Glen Davis and the Asgard Swamp area near Mt Victoria. Shale mining failed in the long run because it was not financially viable.


The Blue Mountains are a distinct physiographic section of the larger Hunter-Hawkesbury Sunkland province, which in turn is part of the larger East Australian Cordillera physiographic division.


The predominant natural vegetation of the higher ridges is eucalypt forest. Heath-like vegetation is present on plateau edges above cliffs. The sheltered gorges often have a temperate rainforest. There are also many hanging swamps with button grass reeds and thick, deep black soil. "Wollemia nobilis", the "Wollemi pine", a relic of earlier vegetation of Gondwana, is found in remote and isolated valleys of the Wollemi National Park.

The climate varies with height. At Katoomba (1,010 m) summer daytime temperatures are usually in 20s with a few days extending into the 30s (Celsius). Night time temperatures are usually in the teens. In winter the temperature is typically about 12 or 13 °C in the daytime with −3 °C or so on clear nights and 2 to 3 °C on cloudy nights. There are two to three snowfalls per year. In the lower mountains, however, the climate is significantly warmer. Annual rainfall is about 48 inches (1,200 mm) with many misty days.The main natural disasters to afflict the area are bushfires and severe storms. In recent years the lower mountains has been subjected to a series of bushfires which have caused great loss of property but relatively little loss of life. The upper mountains had not had a major fire for some decades until December 2002 (The Blackheath Glen Fire) and November 2006 when an extensive blaze in the Grose Valley threatened several communities including Bell and Blackheath (The Lawson Long Alley Fire). This latest fire burned for almost a month but was extinguished without loss of human life or property. A program of winter burning seems to have been quite successful in reducing fires in the upper mountains.

World Heritage Listing

The Greater Blue Mountains Area was nominated for listing as a World Heritage Area and was unanimously accepted on 29th November, 2000. It thus became the fourth area in New South Wales to be listed. [Gardens of Stone National Park Information Sheet, National Parks and Wildlife Service of New South Wales, October 2001] The total area covers 10,000 square kilometres, including the Blue Mountains, Kanangra-Boyd, Wollemi, Gardens of Stone, Yengo, Nattai and Thirlmere Lakes National Parks, plus the Jenolan Caves Karst Conservation Reserve.

The reason why this site was chosen to be included on the World Heritage list is quoted below:

"Criteria (ii) and (iv): Australia’s eucalypt vegetation is worthy of recognition as of outstanding universal value, because of its adaptability and evolution in post-Gondwana isolation. The site contains a wide and balanced representation of eucalypt habitats from wet and dry sclerophyll, mallee heathlands, as well as localised swamps, wetlands, and grassland. 90 eucalypti tax (13% of the global total) and representation of all four groups of eucalypts occur. There is also a high level of endemism with 114 endemic taxa found in the area as well as 120 nationally rare and threatened plant tax. The site hosts several evolutionary relic species (Wollemia, Microstrobos, Acrophyllum) which have persisted in highly restricted micro sites." []

Tourist attractions

*The Giant Staircase walking track runs down a cliff into the Jamison Valley, near the Three Sisters, providing access to nature walks through the valley. [Sydney and Blue Mountains Bushwalks, pp.212-220]
*The Katoomba Scenic Railway, the steepest railway in the world according to the "Guinness Book of Records", and originally part of the Katoomba mining tramways constructed between 1878 and 1900. The cable railway line descends 415 metres through sandstone cliffs, via a rock tunnel with a maximum gradient of 52 degrees. Also, at this location is the Scenic Skyway a glass-bottom aerial cable car that traverses an arm of the Jamison Valley, and the Scenic Flyway, the steepest aerial cable car in Australia.
*Jenolan Caves, a series of limestone caves south west of Katoomba.
*The Zig Zag Railway: A steam-powered railway near Lithgow.
*Valley Heights Locomotive Depot Heritage Museum.
*The Toy Museum at Leura.
*The Edge Cinema offers visitors a panoramic view of the Blue Mountains.
*The Norman Lindsay Gallery and Museum at Faulconbridge, operated by The National Trust of Australia and is located inside the former Norman Lindsay homestead, "Springwood". .


*Mount Boyce
*Mount Piddington
*Mount York
*Mount Solitary
*Mount Banks
*Mount Trickett
*Mount Bindo
*Mount Hay
*Mount Wilson, New South Wales


* World Mountain Encyclopedia (2002-5). " [ Great Dividing Range] ". Retrieved 8 November 2005.

ee also

* List of Blue Mountains topics

External links

* [ Blue Mountains Tourist Information]
* [ Blue Mountains Historical and Other Info]
* [ Blue Mountains Tourism]
* [ Blue Mountains Directory]
* [ National Parks New South Wales - Blue Mountains]
* [ Crossing the Blue Mountains - State Library of NSW]
* [ Blue Mountains Photos]

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