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Wednesday, 22 January 2014

FURBER STEPS, KATOOMBA FALLS BLUE MOUNTAINS AUSTRALIA



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Original ladder: State Library of Victoria

When the Federal Pass was completed in 1900, linking Leura Falls to Katoomba Falls, it was hailed as a great achievement, which indeed it was. Tourists no longer had to visit the two sights separately – they could now descend into the valley at either end and walk between the two.

However, the descent of the lower cliffs at Katoomba was made in part by wooden ladders which many visitors would have found rather daunting in such an exposed position, especially when you look at old photos and see the clothing visitors wore in those days. The answer was to carve a set of steps into the cliff to replace the most dangerous ladders. Similar steps had already been carved into the cliffs at Blackheath and Wentworth Falls. The government surveyor who arranged funding for their construction in 1908 (at a cost of 140 pounds) was Thomas Frederick Furber. This sum might seem tiny to us, but to the volunteer Trust controlling the area it must have seemed enormous and no doubt they were profuse in their thanks to Mr Furber and the NSW government.

Even so, many visitors sought a free ride on the coal trucks ascending the cliff nearby and this ultimately led to the establishment of the Scenic Railway and Scenic World as we know them today. There are still lots of people who descend into the valley via the steps but you don’t see many going the other way!                                                                                                                                                          
View from Lyne's Point 1957

The official opening of the Federal Pass took place on 3rd November 1900, just a few weeks before the Federation of the six Australian States took place on 1st January 1901, hence the name. The Premier of NSW, Sir William Lyne, officiated. Sir William Lyne drew the line after climbing down to the bottom of Leura Falls. He then returned to Katoomba but many others went on the complete the entire walk. All assembled at Katoomba Falls Reserve for afternoon tea and speeches and an official banquet was held at the Carrington in the evening.

There are many newspaper reports of this event; you will enjoy the one in the Evening News (Sydney, NSW) of Monday 5th November 1900, page 8. Here is an extract referring to the ascent to Katoomba Falls, which was obviously the hardest part.

From Evening News 5/11/1900

Back to Furber and the steps. There is a lot of information about TF Furber in an article compiled by The Institute of Surveyors NSW Inc. beginning on page 139. You will find this reference here. This is the origin of the photograph. He was clearly a man of vision dedicated to his work and the good

Furber Steps, newly built

of the community. However the construction of the steps came about, this is a place which remains exciting to visit and, if anything, the visitor comes to the bottom all too soon. With the views, the element of danger and the knowledge that you don’t have to climb up again, it is yet another place “not to be missed”.

Furber Steps today from Cliff View Lookout
You will find my video of this walk here.                             

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