Tuesday, 2 April 2013

4. Blaxland, Went-worth and Lawson--'The Crossing'--1813

Young Gregory Blaxland (1778-1853)--it is generally conceded that he led the crossing party. They left  his farm  at Eastern Creek, St. Marys, on May 11th, 1813, and Blaxland kept a journal of the expedition.

Overall,  it can hardly be disputed that Gregory Blaxland, William Wentworth and Lieutenant William Lawson found the most direct, spectacularly scenic and convenient route west to what seemed to be fine grazing land. Maisie Lupton picks up their progress...

In 1813, ‘travelling with four servants, five dogs and four horses loaded with provisions and ammunitions,’ Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth made their historic crossing of the Blue Mountains and although it is difficult to be certain of the exact location, the most recent information states that their first camp in the mountains, on May 12th, was approximately midway between the modern railway stations of Warrimoo and Valley Heights. (Previously, it was thought to have been near the ‘old’ Glenbrook railway station.) The place where they camped later became known as Black Log Hollow. Teamsters travelling to and from the west used to gather and light their fires at the base of a huge tree which eventually died. The blackened trunk became a well-known landmark. [1]

In this year of the Bicentenary of the Crossing (2013), the campsites on the first 3 days remain in some dispute. It is more likely that the campsite for the night of May 12th was at (present day) Glenbrook Lagoon, which subsequently became a 'first stop' landmark and was fairly widely known, even then, as a reliable watering and grazing spot. On the following day (May 13th), the party journeyed through bushland that is now the town of Warrimoo on a path that closely equates with today’s Great Western Highway. Blaxland wrote they had travelled:

...about a Mile and Came into a large tract of forest land rather Hilly they (Blaxland wrote in the 3rd Person--ed) computed it at two thousand acres, the grass and timber tolerably good...they found a tract Marked by an European (Dawes, Hocking, or Wilson?--ed) by cutting the Bark of the Trees and several native huts at different places when they had proceeded about two Miles their course was stopped by a Brush much thicker than they had met before...[2]

Most of the early explorers of this area seem to agree that the Warrimoo/Valley Heights/Sun Valley section is clearer and higher than the thicker bush that follows. It is possible to see Mt. Hay from Warrimoo, but then there is a dip in the ridge plateau that takes one down into moister soil and denser "brush". There is plenty of evidence--the 'several native huts' mentioned--to support the probability of consistent Darug occupation of the district around Warrimoo/Long Angle Gully/Sun Valley on a permanent or semi-permanent basis.

William Charles Wentworth (1790-1872) at the height of his political power--neither he nor Blaxland took up the 1,000 acre Land Grant provided by Macquarie, although he pursued an influential political career as an advocate for NSW independence
Another very interesting revelation regarding Aboriginal presence comes in Blaxland's journal for the 21st May. It doesn't come in the main text, but as a footnote. Blaxland often refers to the dogs' barking and disturbances of the horses at night, and there appears to be some unwillingness to go and check these disruptions in the dark. On this occasion they "heard something run through the brush very distinctly" and they "...called the dogs back supposing it was one of the Horses got loose."[3]

Blaxland's footnote to this incident is rather stunning: "This night we were in the greatest danger, as there is little doubt that the Natives had followed their (the explorers'--ed) track and advanced on them in the Night, intending to have speared them by the light of the fire, which is their custom."[4]

Why is this dramatic moment left as a footnote? There appears to be some degree of conscious effort on the part of almost all the early explorers, except perhaps Barallier, to minimise the presence and role of Aboriginal people throughout this period of contact in the Mountains. Was it simply a matter of British bravado or modesty in the face of possible conflict or confrontation, or was there rather a deliberate policy of presenting the original occupants of the land as peacefully acquiescent, or at least not noticeable?

There is significant evidence to suggest that Governor Macquarie was not overly impressed with the report supplied by Messrs Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson. It was not a venture that he had clearly endorsed. It appears he was unconvinced of their success because, despite the fact that the worthy trio had blazed their trail across a direct ridge line and reached a view of substantially clear, grassy grazing land, there was still a line of Mountains (in fact, the ‘Dividing Range’) reported across a valley (the ‘Vale of Clwydd’).

At first, Macquarie took no direct action over the reports of Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson. It was a full six months before he directed his Assistant Surveyor General, George Evans, to follow the path blazed by them and confirm if anything of value lay further west. 

William Lawson (1774-1850) --took up his 1,000 acre Land Grant and was the first to drive his stock over Cox's road. Became one of the largest land holders in NSW but preferred to return to his property 'home' at Prospect.

[1] LUPTON, Maisie, ibid., p11
[2] MACKANESS, G.,(ed) Fourteen Journeys Over the Blue Mountains Of New South Wales, Part 1 1813-1815, ‘Blaxland’s Journal’. Review Publications, Dubbo, 1950, p.11
[3] Ibid., p.15
[4] Ibid., p24

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