The Burragorang Valley is one of those lost places that people fondly remember from the past. A place of the imagination and dreaming where former residents fondly re-tell stories from their youth. These places create powerful memories and nostalgia for many people and continue to be places of interest. They are localities of myths and legends and imminent danger yet at the same time places of incredible beauty.
One of these people is artist Robyn Collier who tells her story this way:
The Burragorang Valley is the picturesque valley that was flooded in the 1950s to make way for a permanent water supply for the growing city of Sydney. What was once a thriving valley of guest houses, farms and other small industries no longer exists. Residents were forced to leave their precious valley, livelihoods were lost, people dispossessed with only a small compensation. The homes and buildings were demoloshed the land stripped of vegetation. That Valley is now called Lake Burragorang. I have been fortunate enough to have had a very long history with what is left of this beautiful area – a history I thought I had left behind 30 years ago.
Robyn Collier was taken on a journey back to the valley in recent years and this prompted to create a number of works of arts. She writes that it is a
It has been a journey I never thought I would ever make again – and yet, here it is.
Robyn created an exhibition of her works in 2018 and her memories of the valley.
In 2006 Radio National examined the loss of the valley to the Europeans who had settled there over the decades. The notes that support the radio programme state:
In the 1930s and 40s, NSW was experiencing a bad drought, and during the war years planning began in earnest for the building of Warragamba Dam. The site of the dam meant that the 170 residents who called the Burragorang Valley their home would need to leave, either because their properties would be submerged by the dam’s waters or because they would be cut off from road access.
Although protest meetings, petitions and deputations to local members of parliament called for the dam to be stopped, it went ahead regardless. Throughout the 1950s, the Sydney Water Board bought up properties in the area or resumed land that was needed for the catchment area. Houses were pulled down and the valley cleared of trees and vegetation in preparation for the completion of the dam in 1960.
The Burragorang was also a popular holiday spot and was renowned for its guesthouses, where Sydneysiders could come for a weekend to go horse-riding and bushwalking and attend the many dances that were on offer. However, by the 1940s, city planners were already talking about one of the most pressing issues facing Sydney – the provision of a secure water supply – and the Burragorang Valley was earmarked as the site for a new dam.
The Gothic nature of the Burragorang Valley
Gothic is a term that has been applied to many things from art to landscape to architecture. The Gothic novel is one expression of this genre and Lauren Corona has written that
The Gothic novel was the first emergence of Gothic literature, and was sometimes referred to as the Gothic romance. These kinds of novels were characterized by elements of horror, suspense and mystery. Gothic novels attempted to find understanding through exploring the darker side of life. They often contained ruined old buildings, wild landscapes, good and handsome heroes, terrified heroines and, of course, an evil character. Arguably the most famous Gothic novel is Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein.’
Gothic architecture usually refers to the large medieval cathedrals that were build across Europe between 12th and 16th centuries. These imposing and grand buildings have special religious and spiritual meaning to the history of Christianity. Gothic architecture usually includes abbeys, churches, castles, palaces, town halls, guild halls, universities and smaller buildings. The style appeals to the emotions and the powerful grandeur of these buildings.
Gothic places possess a duality of beauty and grandeur combined with evil and danger. That is their attraction. Mountain areas are typical of this with their soaring grandeur and risk of imminent death.
It is these characteristics that can be drawn out in the wild grandeur of the Burragorang Valley with its soaring cliffs and breath-taking vistas that create a magnificent natural landscape. There is also the sense of danger from frequent floods, secret gorges, isolation and difficulty of access.
The Burragorang Valley has captured the hearts of many folk over the years and stories have been told about the area from the Dreamtime.
Some of the early photographs of the Valley hint at the Gothic nature of the area. Here one image that expresses some of these characteristic of the Gothic – the picturesque and the dangerous:
The many visitors to the Valley were attracted by the Gothic elements within the landscape. One example from 1941:
It is these characteristics that made the area a popular tourist destination during the Interwar years of the 20th century. Many of the Europeans settlers built guesthouses and accommodation for visitors from Sydney and beyond.
It is not often that the historian can get a view into the past through the lens of the present in real time. I was able to this in Camden New South Wales recently at a photo shoot for the History Magazine for the Royal Australian Historical Society.
Photographer Jeff McGill and author Laura Jane were the participants in this activity. We all walked along Camden’s historic main thoroughfare, Argyle Street, which still echoes of the Victorian period. Our little group made quite a splash and drew a deal of attention from local women who swooned over the ‘gorgeous’ vintage dress worn by Laura Jane.
Mid-20th century enthusiast Laura Janes lives the lifestyle in dress, makeup and hairstyle and made the perfect foil for her History article on Sydney fashion, the David Jones store and their links to the fashion house of Dior. Laura Jane modelled her 1950s Dior style vintage dress in front of Camden’s storefronts that were reminiscent of the period. With matching handbag, gloves, hat, hairstyle, stiletto heels, and makeup she made a picture to behold captured by Campbelltown photographer Jeff.
Laura Jane encompasses the experience of the country woman going to town when Camden women would dress-up in their Sunday best to shop in Camden or catch the train to the city.
A city shopping expedition would entail catching the Pansy train at Camden Railway Station, then change steam trains at Campbelltown Railway Station, then another change at Liverpool Railway Station from steam train to the electric suburban service for Central Railway Station in Sydney. The suburban electric trains did not arrive at Campbelltown until 1968.
City outings for country women often happened around the time of the Royal Easter Show when the whole family would go to the city. The family would bring their prized horses and cattle to compete with other rural producers for the honour and glory of winning a sash. While the menfolk were busy with rural matters their women folk would be off to town to shop for the latest fashions for church and show balls or to fit out the family for the upcoming year.
Country women from further away might stay-over at swish city hotels like the up-market elegant Hotel Australia near Martin Place. These infrequent city outings were a treat and a break from the drudgery of domesticity and women would take the opportunity to combine a shopping trip with a visit to see a play or the Tivoli theatre.
The intrinsic nature of the city outings for country women were captured by the Sydney street photographers. They operated around the Martin Place, Circular Quay, Macquarie and Elizabeth Street precincts and are depicted in an current photographic exhibition at the Museum of Sydney.
The images of the Sydney street photographer captured of moment in time and their most prolific period was during the 1930s to the 1950s. The country woman would be captured on film as she and a friend wandered along a city street. They would be given a token and they could purchase a memento of their city visit in a postcard image that they could purchase at a processing booth in a city-arcade. The Sydney street photographer captured living history and has not completely disappeared from Sydney street.
Laura Jane, whose lifestyle encompasses the mid-20th century, in an expression of the living history movement in motion. The living history movement is a popular platform for experiencing the past and incorporates those who want to live the past in the present, aka Laura Jane, or relive it on a more occasional basis as re-enactors who relive the past for a moment. There are many examples of the latter at historic sites in Australia, the USA, and the UK.
The Camden photo shoot was an example how a moment in time can truly be part of living history where the photographer captures a glimpse of the past in the present. An example of how the present never really escapes the past.
Governor Macquarie made a second visit to the Cowpastures in 1815.
It is 200 years since Governor Macquarie journeyed through the Cowpasture and 2015 is the bicentenary year visit to the local area.
On Macquarie’s 1815 journey to the Cowpasture he travelled with a group of colonial notables or gentlemen as he called them.
Amongst those accompanying Macquarie were William Cox, the road builder over the Blue Mountains, explorer and builder of some of Windsor’s notable buildings. There was also John Oxley of Kirkham, surveyor general, explorer and naval officer, as well as Captain Henry Antill of Jarvisfield, soldier, explorer and farmer.
Another, who was an emancipist James Meehan who was originally transported for his part in the 1798 Irish rebellion, and was deputy surveyor general and settler. There was also Thomas Campbell vice-regal secretary to the governor and Rowland Hassall of Macquarie Grove, the superintendent of the government stock.
On this journey Macquarie called in at Camden Park, Appin, Stonequarry Creek, and climbed down into Burragorang Valley. The party inspected the wild cattle south of the Nepean River, stopped at Macquarie Grove, climbed Mount Taurus and proceeded through the Mount Hunter area.
Read for yourself Governor Macquarie’s diary of the trip.
Extracts from the Diary of Governor Lachlan Macquarie 1815
Wednesday. 4 October 1815 —
Breakfast at 8. a.m. and Set out from Camp in Half an Hour afterwards to inspect the several Farms in the District of Appin, and some of the intermediate ones in the Districts of Upper Minto and Airds. — Passed through Mr. Mc.Arthur’s Farm of Lower Cambden, [sic] where I
stopt [sic] for about a quarter of an Hour to examine a Piece of Ground in rear thereof, which Mrs. Mc.Arthur had Solicited might be added to that Farm, in consequence of her having by mistake built a small Cottage on it. — After having looked at the Land, and seeing no
reasonable objection thereto, I acquiesced in her request, and accordingly directed the Surveyor General to locate and mark out the Piece of Ground in question for her – which may be about Sixty acres.
From Lower Cambden [sic] Farm we proceeded to Mr. Davidson’s Farm called Manangle, where we crossed the River Nepean into the District of Airds, first passing through Horrax’s and afterwards thro’ several other smaller Farms, some few of which were tolerably well
improved, and the Crops in the Ground Iooking well and Healthy. — At 11 a.m. Entered the District of Appin at Mr. Uther’s Farm, which is a very good and a very pretty well improved one on the slop[e] of a High Hill, on the Summit of which he has erected his House. — Mr.
Uther’s Crops look well and promise to be very good and plentiful. — From Mr. Uther’s we passed on to Mr. Hume’s Farm, which is also much improved – but his Crops do not look so well or so promising as the last Farm we passed through. —
From Mr. Hume’s Farm, we proceeded by a short but very rough Road to the Farm of Wm. Broughton Esqr. which he has been pleased to name “Lachlan Vale”. — Here he is now building a large one story weather Boarded House with two Wings, on a very lofty Eminence Commanding a very extensive prospect. — Mr. Broughton has cleared a considerable proportion of his Farm, and has some fine looking Fields of Wheat growing, looking healthy & promising.
From Mr. Broughton’s we proceeded to the next Farm belonging to his Brother in Law Mr. John Kennedy, within a few Hundred yards of one another. —
Mr. Kennedy has done a great deal in improving his Farm; having cut down much Timber, and having now several extensive Fields of very fine looking Wheat, with a good Farm House and Garden. — In consideration of Mr. Kennedy’s industry, and great exertions to improve his present Farm (200 acres), I have promised him an additional grant of 100 acres immediately adjoining his present one. —
We halted and rested for about Half an Hour at Mr. Kennedy’s, where we partook of a slight Refreshment of Bread & Wine.
On our arrival at Mr. Kennedy’s Farm I was much concerned to find my poor Horse Cato very lame. — I discovered early after setting out this morning that he was a little Stiff in his movements, but was in hopes it would go off on his getting a little warm. I was however disappointed, for he continued a little Stiff all Day, and became very lame at Mr. Kennedy’s on getting Cool. — I had no other Horse to ride however, and therefore was forced to use him still. — From Mr. Kennedy’s, we proceeded to see the Farm of Mr. Sykes about Half a mile further to the Southward – and at present the most Southern one in Appin. — This man has, with small means, made wonderful exertions, having cleared and cultivated a large proportion of his Farm, and there is every appearance of his having an abundant Crop of Wheat this Season. —
In consideration of Sykes’s industry, I have promised him an addition of Seventy acres adjoining immediately his present one – which will make his whole Farm 150 acres. — Sykes’s farm is supposed to be about 20 miles distant from the Ground we set out from this morning, and we have at least Ten Miles to ride to our next Ground or Station at the StoneQuarry Creek in the Cow Pastures, whither all our Servants and Baggage proceeded this morning at the same time we set out for Appin. —
At 2 P.M. Set out from Sykes’s farm on our return to the Cow Pastures; and crossing the River Nepean at Mr. Riley’s Farm, and at a very rough steep Pass (which I have named “Campbell’s Pass” in honor of Mr. Paymaster Campbell), we arrived at the Stone Quarry Creek at 4 P.M. after riding 8 miles over a beautiful Country thither in the Cow Pastures. Here we found all our servants, Cattle, and Baggage had arrived safe about an Hour before us. — We saw only 3 or 4 Wild Bulls in our Journey this afternoon between Campbell’s Pass and StoneQuarryCreek.
Our Ride this day could not have been less than 28 miles. — We sat down at 6 P.M. to a very good Dinner, Drank Tea, and went to Bed between 9 and 10,O’Clock. —
Thursday 5 October. —
Breakfasted at 6,O’Clock this morning, and set out for the Natai Mountains at 7 –, arrive on the farthest Verge of the Table Land of the Natai Mountains at Half past 9,O’Clock – disce. bymeasurement of the Perambulator 8¼ miles. – From this Table Land we had a fine view of a
very deep Ravine or Glen below us – which leads to the Natai River; – the mountains on either Side being an immense Height from the Bottom – not less than 8 or 900 Feet High. —
We proceeded on Horseback by a circuitous route to this Glen for 2½ miles through very intricate thick Forest and Brush, at the termination of which we arrived at the Top of a very deep rocky Gulley – which in many places appeared to be almost perpendicular – and down which it was impossible to go on Horseback. — There being, however, no other way of going to the Natai River, we determined to leave our Horses at the top of this deep Gulley (– called by our guide “Brimstone Gulley” –) and to descend on foot, guided by Warbey and the Native “Boodbury.” —
Mr. Hassall not liking the appearance of the rugged Descent, preferred remaining at the Top of the Gulley with the Servants and Horses. — The rest of the Party and myself Commenced to descend at ½ past 10, and after a most tiresome scrambling walk reached the Right Bank of the River Natai at 50 minutes past 11,O’Clock, being one Hour and 20 minutes in getting thither – the distance by Computation from the Top of the Gulley to the River being 3¼ miles. — We were all very much fatigued by the time we got to the River and therefore rested there for an Hour, where we had each a Glass of Cherry Brandy and a Biscuit to refresh us; Major Antill having carried with him a Pint Bottle of this good stuff. —
The Natai River [sic] is here about the Size of George’s River – about ten yards in breadth – and is a very pretty stream; having fine open Forest Land on the Left or opposite Bank of it, and which sort of Land continues for Nine Miles along its Banks until this River unites with the Warragombie, by the account given of it to us by our guide John Warbey. — At Ten minutes before 1 P.M. Set out from the Natai River on our Return, and after a most fatiguing tiresome scrambling walk of 1 Hour and 25 minutes, arrived at the Top of this tremendous Gulley, where we found Mr. Hassall, our Servants, and Horses impatiently waiting our return. — From the near resemblance between them, I have named this Stupendous Valley or Ravine “Glencoe”.
After getting back to the TableLand of the Natai Mountains, we proceeded on our return to Camp by a different Route to that we came by from thence; travelling back by a more Northern Track, and passing through some very fine Grazing Country tollerably [sic] well watered, but were much Surprised to meet so few of the Wild Cattle during our Excursion outwards and Homewards; seldom meeting with a larger Herd than 10 or 12 Head, and those principally Bulls. — We reached our Camp at ½ past 5,O’Clock; having travelled this day only
30 miles. —
I learned this Evening on my return to Camp for the first time that my Greyhound Dog Oscar had been hurt severely Hunting a Kangaroo two days since at Mattalling, when taken out from thence on Tuesday morning by the Cook and Jack Moore along with Dennison the Guide
to hunt in that Forest. I was very angry at their taking so daring a liberty. — I ordered the poor Animal to be taken particular care of, and to be carried in one of the Carts till he recovers. —
Friday 6 October.
Breakfasted at 6 a.m. and at 7,O’Clock Set out from Camp to see and examine the Tract of Country to the Southward of the Stone Quarry Creek called “Great Bargo”. — At ½ past 9,O’Clock, after riding about 8 miles, we arrived at and crossed the Bargo River, which is a small Branch of the Nepean, and divides Bargo from the proper CowPastures.—
On entering Bargo we found the Country Barren and very bare of Feed for Cattle, but on advancing a fewmiles into the Country we found both the Land and Grazing improve a little but far from
being very good. Here Mr. Oxley and Mr. Moore (with my permission) have large Herds of Horned Cattle grazing; but so many of them have died that these Gentlemen intend removing them immediately from this Country.
After halting a few minutes at Mr. Oxley’s StockYard, we proceeded to that part of Bargo where a great number of Trees have been blown down by some violent Tempest, and appears as if they had been felled on purpose to clear the Land. —
From this Place we proceed to view that part of the Great Branch of the River Nepean where the Bargo Branch forms a junction with it, and where the Banks of the former are very high and Rocky. The River runs here nearly N. East, and South West. — On the opposite side is Little Bargo, or Wallamalla, adjoining the District of Appin, from which it is separated by a very deep Creek or Gulley. — Mr. Broughton’s Farm (which he has called “LachlanVale”) in Appin lies in a North East Direction from the Point where we thus took our Station to view the wild and grand scenery of the Banks of the River Nepean. —
At 11 a.m. Set out from the Banks of the Nepean on our way back to Camp. — Halted again at Mr. Oxley’s StockYard to rest our Horses for Half an Hour. — Saw here three very young Emus belonging to Mr. Oxley’s Overseer, not more than 10 or 12 Days old. — I desired the Stockmen to inform the Overseer (who was out in the Bush) when he came Home that I wished to Purchase his 3 young Emus if he was disposed to sell them, and if so to bring them to me to Sydney soon.
We crossed the Bargo River at the same Place as before into the proper Cow Pastures, and returned Home to Camp by a different and more Southerly Track than the one we went out by; arriving in Camp at 4,O’Clock, after a ride of 38 miles. — We saw several small Herds of
the Wild Cattle during this day’s Excursion, and observed many of their Tracks even in Bargo.—
Saturday 7 October. —
Breakfasted at 6,O’Clock, and sent off our Baggage from StoneQuarry Creek at 8, for Mr.Hassall’s Farm called “MacquarieGrove” on the East side of the River Nepean, where we next intend to Encamp; setting out ourselves immediately after sending off the Baggage, in order
to explore the Country lying between the Stone QuarryCreek more westerly than the route we came by, and extending to Mount Hunter Creek.
On the Baggage going away I was concerned to observe that my poor Dog Oscar looked very ill and much reduced in Strength. — I ordered him to be conveyed carefully in the Caravan.
After travelling over several beautiful Valleys and high Ridges alternately, we ascended at the Southern Extremity of Mount Taurus at ½ past 9,O’Clock, and soon after reaching the Top of that mountain, we came up with and apprehended two men named Michael Mc.Grath a Freeman,
and Dennis Bryan a Convict, both residing on a Farm in the District of Appin through which we had passed a few days before. —
Each of these men had a Bag containing fresh Beef on his Back, and which they acknowledged was part of one of the Heifers belonging to the Wild Herds the Property of the Crown, and which Heifer they had killed early this morning, having come hither from their Farm for this purpose. — I ordered them to be sent in the first instance to Mr. Hassall’s Farm, in order to be sent from thence to the Gaol at Sydney and committed by Mr. Cox to take their Trial. —
After taking a view of the Surrounding Country from the Top of Mount Taurus, we proceeded along the High Ridge that connects it with Mount Hunter, from the Top of which we had a very extensive view of the Country lying to the Northward and westward of us, including the
Blue Mountains. — Having rested ourselves and Horses for about Half an Hour on the Highest part of Mount Hunter, we commenced to descend the mountain at 2,O’Clock on the North side of it, and reached the Plains below on that side in about a quarter of an Hour.
From the foot of Mount Hunter we proceeded in a north westerly direction towards Mount Hunter Creek for about Seven Miles of beautiful open Forest rich Ground, containing the richest Herbage and finest Grazing I have yet seen in any part of the Colony, the whole being extremely well
watered either by Ponds or the Creek, and the Country beautifully diversivied [sic] by gentle undulating Hill and Dale alternately. —;
Having reached Mount HunterCreek, we proceeded in a Northern direction towards the River Nepean, travelling over some [some] very pretty
Hills and Vallies for about Five Miles before we reached the River; this last Tract of Land being admirably wellsuited for Sheep Farms. —
The Land lying between Mount Hunter, the Creek, and the River, which I have this day travelled over being well calculated for that purpose, it is
my intention to form an Establishment here for at least Three Separate Herds of the Government Horned Cattle, at three distinct Stations. —
We crossed the River Nepean at a Ford immediately below Mr. Hassall’s Farm, and encamped there at 4,O’Clock, having been 8 Hours on Horseback and rode about 30 miles. We found our Baggage had arrived about Half an Hour before us at “MacquarieGrove”, which is the name Mr. Hassall has been so good to give to this very finely situated and beautiful Farm. As soon as we had rested a little, I wrote a short Letter to Mrs. Macquarie before Dinner, giving her an account of our safe arrival here. — We dined at 6,O’Clock in a Room in Mr. Hassall’s FarmHouse. —
Sunday 8 October. —
We Breakfasted at 8 OClock this morning and had Divine Service performed in the Veranda ofMr. Hassall’s House at 10,O’Clock, the whole of our Party, including Mr. Hassall’s Family, and all our own attendants being present. —
Between 9 and 10,O’Clock this morning my poor favorite beautiful Greyhound Oscar died in great agony, to my great concern and mortification, having had him now upwards of Four Years. I ordered him to be buried in a part of the Farm of Macquarie Grove! —
At Noon I rode out to view some of the Farms in Upper Minto lying along the River Nepean as far as the Boundary Line between them and District of Appin; then passing into the District of Airds, we rode through several Farms in that District and returned Home through Mr. Allan’s
and Mr. Throsbey’s [sic] Farms by a different Track to that we took going out; – returning to our Camp at Macquarie Grove at 4,O’Clock, after a ride of 22 miles. — We sat down to a very good Dinner at 6,O’Clock, and at 7, I had the happiness of receiving a Letter from Mrs.
Macquarie, dated Friday last, giving me the delightful intelligence that her own Health was much better than it was when I left her, and that our darling Boy was in perfect good Health.—
I wrote to Mrs. M. in reply to this Letter before I went to Bed – to be forwarded to her by way of Liverpool tomorrow morning. — Not requiring the Services of John Warbey any longer as a guide for the Cow Pastures, I have this day discharged him; intending to pay him at the rate of 20/. Str. per Day for the time he has attended me, including 10/. per day for the Hire of his Horse. — He has now been Seven Days in my Service including this Day. —
Monday 9 October. 1815.
Breakfasted at ¼ past 6,O’Clock this morning, and sent off our Servants and Baggage at ¼ past 8, for our next Encamping Ground on Mr. Bent’s Farm in the Bringelly District; — [name omitted] Cosgrove going with the Baggage as a Guide to conduct it by the safest and best Road. — I discharged the two other Guides Neale and Dennison this morning, and also two of the Carts which had been hired by Mr. Moore at Liverpool for carrying Corn for my Horses; agreeing to pay for the said Carts at the rate of 10/. Pr. Day for the time they have been employed, including this present Day. —
I set out with my Suite from Macquarie Grove at ½ past 8,O’Clock this morning for the Cook and Bringelly Districts, halting at each of the Farms in our course along the River the whole of the way. — Some few of these Farms were well enclosed and Cultivated, but generally very
little has been done by any of the Settlers in these two Districts, the Lands being still nearly in a state of nature. —
The Farms belonging to Mr. Hannibal Mc.Arthur, Mr. William Wentworth, Mr. Secretary Campbell and Mr. Bent (now Doctr. Wentworth’s) are all very fine ones; especially Mr. Secry. Campbell’s, which is one of the richest and best Farms in the Colony. Mr. Campbell has done a great deal already towards improving his Farm, having Fenced in considerable parts of it, and cleared about 200 acres of ground, part of which is
sown with Wheat – and which looks very promising. —
On arriving at what are called the KobbattyHills, we overtook our Servants and Baggage, one of my Carts having been upset going up a steep Hill through the carelessness and obstinacy of the Driver – but no damage or injury was occasioned by this accident – and the whole
went on again as soon as the Cart was uprighted and loaded. — We halted until this accident was rectified, which gave us an opportunity of ascending the highest of the Kobbatty Hills and from thence having a very fine extensive view of the surrounding Country.