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Friday, 21 November 2014

THE KATOOMBA LANDSLIDES OF 1931



Photo taken June 1960
What was once a place of high drama is now practically forgotten. The site of these great landslides cannot be seen from any of the well-known lookouts, nor does a sign point to any place from which it can be seen (with the exception of the track from the Scenic Railway). In fact, with the continued discoloration of the once-clean rock face as oxidation takes effect and plants make it their home, the site is beginning to look much the same as the rest of the cliff line. The site is usually referred to as at “the Dog Face Rock”. Presumably this landmark was lost when the cliff collapsed.
Even the jumble of debris at the base of the cliff and down into the valley is becoming overgrown in spite of gravity pulling it further down the slope.
So, what is the story of this place and where can you go to see what remains? We only know that cracks behind the top of the cliffs were first reported in 1929, apparently by a miner returning from work at the coal mine in the valley below.
It became apparent that a major rock fall was imminent, though what that might mean in geological terms wasn’t at all clear, since no-one had witnessed anything like this in the Blue Mountains previously (nor has it been observed since, to my knowledge). As 1930 advanced, the cracks widened noticeably and pieces of rock regularly detached themselves and hurtled into the valley below. Crowds came to watch, hoping to be there for the climax when hundreds of thousands of tons of rock would fall in one great mass.
2014
January 1931 arrived. By this time anybody and everybody was practically holding their breath, waiting for the GREAT EVENT. See the Sydney Morning Herald article (Tuesday 27th January 1931) here. It happened (unfortunately, as these things tend to happen) around 4am on the morning of 29th January. There were no witnesses and no photographs, though there are plenty of the lead-up and the aftermath. This was not the end, as things turned out, because it soon became obvious that there would be a further fall before long. This took place on Saturday 2nd May, at around 2pm, according to the Herald report in the edition of Monday 4 th May, page 9 (here). The report mentions witnesses, but evidently they weren’t carrying cameras and I can’t even find a mention of their names. It’s a bit late in 2014 to be asking for eyewitness reports, though. The Sydney Mail of Wednesday 6th May has a good report, including some photographs taken at around the time of the fall (here). There must have been many smaller falls after this, but people’s interests moved on. This all happened during the Great Depression and there more pressing issues to worry about than yet another landslide at Katoomba.
2014
So where can you go to see the site today? If you take the walk from the bottom of the Scenic Railway towards the Ruined Castle, you will soon find yourself crossing the debris field of the Landslide. See my video on this walk here. See the Wild Walks description and map here.
Landslide Lookout is perched at the highest point of the actual break in the sandstone cliff, but you can’t see the landslide itself from here. You can, however get a good view from Narrow Neck Lookout by heading off through the scrub to the left (ie, away from the Narrow Neck below you). See my video Cliff Drive Lookouts here. There are many places along Glenraphael Drive (which goes along the Narrow Neck peninsula) where you can see the landslide, but naturally they are further away. See my video Narrow Neck Lookouts
Landslide Lookout 2014
here.
An assortment of photographs may be found in Trove here. Finally, I can recommend Barbara Cameron-Smith’s Blog “All Things Written”. She has an entry titled “The Katoomba Landslide Fades into Obscurity?” which you will find here.

From below June 1960




June 1963
 

Friday, 7 November 2014

THE GIANT STAIRWAY KATOOMBA, BLUE MOUNTAINS NSW AUSTRALIA



Ranger McKay - first construction phase
This popular walking track leads from the cliff-top near the Three Sisters to the Dardanelles Pass at the base of the cliffs below. It was conceived by Ranger Jim McKay, an employee of the Katoomba Council, which approved the construction of the track in July 1916. By this time the Grand Stairway at Wentworth Falls, Furber Steps at Katoomba Falls and the descent to the bottom of Govett’s Leap at Blackheath had all been in use for a few years.
                   Moss Vale High Students 1972
McKay’s proposal to chip out flights of steps in the cliff face, linked by ladders where necessary, was thought by many to be ridiculous, if not impossible, though the construction of the other three descents showed that it probably could be done, given enough time and effort. McKay and his assistants made good progress, but the middle of the First World War was not the best of times and Council called a halt in August 1918.
It was not until early in 1932 that work resumed, again under the direction of Ranger McKay. They had done such a good job in the earlier construction period that the Stairway was completed in time for the official opening by the Premier of NSW (the Hon. BSB Stevens) in October of that year. See my Blog on Echo Point and the Three Sisters here for information about that event.
Since that day, the stairway has gone through the usual stages of disrepair and renovation common to all Blue Mountains tracks. At present (November 2014) it is in excellent condition but it will always be a challenge to keep it that way.
There is a lot of information in print and on line about this great tourist attraction. Keith Painter’s booklet “The Giant Stairway” (Mountain Mist Books, 2005) may be ordered here. The Blue Mountains Local Studies series is an excellent on line publication. You will find an article on the Giant Stairway here. Of videos, there is no end. I’ll confine myself to just two – my own (here) and an unusual one of a running descent, which makes me glad that I am not that sort of fanatic (here).
McKay's Lookout Leura 2013






It seems as if the workers who constructed these Blue Mountains masterpieces have had scant recognition. Underpaid and overworked, they were clearly people who loved what they did. Their monuments are the sculptured cliffs and outcrops they left for our benefit. Jim McKay’s name is remembered in two places today. The first is the line at the bottom of the plaque at the top of the Giant Stairway, which looks like an afterthought. The second is the neglected lookout between Leura Cascades and the old Kiosk, just off Cliff Drive. I think he deserves more than that.
 The photograph opposite is from the Northern Star (Lismore), 28th September 1932. The associated text reads: "A party of  aldermen and officials making an inspection of the stairway while in the course of construction.The successful completion of this work has provided a connecting line with the famous Federal Pass midway between Katoomba Falls and Leura Falls.This stairway should prove the most popular attraction on the Blue Mountains. It will be officially opened by the Premier of N.S.W., Mr Stevens, on October 1, 1932."
Leura Forest picnic area








It has indeed become one of the most popular attractions on the Blue Mountains. What would the writer think of Scenic World, I wonder?
My Blue Mountains You Tube playlist may be found here. I have three other playlists - on gem hunting/mining, Glen Innes and New Zealand.