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Thursday, 30 January 2014

ECHO POINT AND THE THREE SISTERS KATOOMBA




The Three Sisters around 1900
A million photographs have been taken and a million words written about these two famous places, which are linked by the most heavily used path in the Blue Mountains. Rather than repeat a lot of this information, I’ll pick out a few details and expand on them.

The first mention of Echo Point I have been able to find is in the Sydney Morning Herald of 31st August 1891, which mentions the intention of the reserve trustees to construct fences in the most dangerous places around the cliffs at “Echo Point”. I suspect that the locality came to prominence when the Chief Justice of NSW, Sir Frederick Darley, built his country residence (Lillianfels) nearby in 1889. Land sales along Lurline St took place the same year so there must have been a road of some sort to the vicinity.

Prior to this, the tourism emphasis was on Katoomba Falls. The presence of the coal mine there would have meant that there was road access, especially as quite a village already existed near the present day Katoomba Falls Reserve.

Echo Point today is by far the most visited spot in the Blue Mountains. The lookouts there have been through many stages of development since 1891 and the principle feature that tourists are drawn to is, of course, the famous Three Sisters.

One reference in particular throws light on the early history of this spot, which was usually seen from afar and was often mentioned by visitors to the cliff line around Katoomba Falls (though the Orphan Rock which was much closer drew even more attention). This is a fascinating document from a journal called “The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil” (Melbourne, Vic) for Saturday 5th June 1880. You can download the article here.                                                                                                                           

The critical words are these “Continuing to the eastward, the Triasaxa point is the next object of interest. It is commonly called the Three Sisters and from the distance has a remarkable resemblance to a cathedral”. “Tria Saxa” basically means “three stones”, though who gave this name or when I cannot say; most likely it would have appeared on a map and was given by some classically educated mapmaker. It was easy for “Three Sisters” to displace it and was last heard of more than a century ago.

One of the significant events which occurred here was the opening of the Giant Stairway in 1932, for which occasion the path connecting Echo Point and the Three Sisters was vastly improved. The lookout at the top of the Stairway already existed and was commonly called “Three Sisters Lookout”, though its correct name is “Lady Game Lookout”. The plaque on the archway just before the lookout reads as follows: “Three Sisters Giant Stairway Officially Opened by Hon. B.S.B. Stevens, M.L.A. Premier of N.S.W. 1st October 1932”. At the bottom of the plaque (in smaller writing) is a second inscription reading “Steps Cut by Ranger McKay”. We’ll consider the second inscription in a later article.                                                                                                                      
Official party. Photo courtesy of Blue Mountains City Library
1932 was an exciting year in NSW politics. The Great Depression was making life difficult for almost everyone. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was completed early in 1932 and newspaper speculation was rife as to who would officially open it. One says the new Governor General Sir Isaac Isaacs, another the NSW Minister for Works, Mr Davidson. In the end, the opening was scheduled for Saturday 19th March. Both the aforementioned gentlemen were indeed present. The Governor of NSW, Sir Philip Game, unveiled a commemorative plaque and the bridge was declared open by the Premier of NSW, the Hon. JT Lang. He was about to cut the ribbon when an extraordinary thing happened. A man on horseback (Captain Francis Edward de Groot) rode up and slashed the ribbon with his sword, declaring “I officially declare this bridge open in the name of the decent people of New South Wales”. Now there is a lot more to this story, of course, but it highlights the huge differences of opinion between the Labor Party of Premier Jack Lang and the right wing sentiments of “The New Guard”, to which de Groot belonged. For a good account of the bridge opening see here.

John and Sue at the beginning of the Three Sisters path 2013
By the time of the opening, the financial crisis in NSW was worsening and the Premier declared that his government would refuse to pay the interest or make repayments on foreign loans. The Federal Government (headed up by Prime Minister Joseph Lyons) declared that this was illegal. Matters came to a head on 14th May, 1932, when after repeated refusals from Mr Lang to change his mind, the Governor of NSW, Sir Philip Game, dismissed the NSW government and appointed Mr Bertram Stevens, leader of the opposition United Australia Party, as Premier. This was followed by an election on 11th June, at which Lang was soundly defeated.

Meanwhile, back in Katoomba, preparations were going ahead to open the Giant Stairway. Sir Philip Game was being mentioned as a likely candidate, but in the end the Katoomba Council played it safe and went with the new Premier, Mr Stevens. So what was supposed to be on the vacant part of the plaque? I’m guessing that it would have referred to the Governor opening the Stairway and the lookout being named after his wife. One day we may know. There is an account of the opening here.

Sir Philip Game held on for another two years as Governor. For some members of the community, he was fair game. For others, the game was well and truly up.

My video of the walk may be found here. Wild Walks information is here. My Blue Mountains You Tube playlist may be found here. I have three other playlists - on gem hunting/mining, Glen Innes and New Zealand. Please comment and subscribe.

The Three Sisters from Echo Point 1958

Additional information added November 22nd, 2015
I've come across a slightly earlier reference to the Three Sisters than the one above. It's from the "Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser" for Saturday 29th May 1890 (page 988). You may read it all here. The article is essentially the same as the one quoted above (from The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil”); however it also includes a delightful sketch of scenery, including the Three Sisters, making this the earliest illustration I've yet found of this landmark. The illustration may be in the later reference as well, but a brief search failed to find it. Here it is for your enjoyment.

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