Sunday, 28 April 2013

4 Develop-ment of 'The Great Western Road'


At first, traffic across the Bathurst Road was infrequent. As previously mentioned, Governor Macquarie held tight rein over the number of land grants issued in the western districts, and any persons wishing to cross with stock or provisions had to receive a pass in order to do so.

Thus, occasionally, maybe once every couple of weeks, one might have seen groups of men droving a mob of sheep or small herd of cattle, or a string of packhorses taking provisions to the settlers who were seeking long term residence near Bathurst. By the time of Macquarie’s departure, 1821, this amounted to 117 souls—insufficient to disturb the livelihoods of the local Wiradjuri people.

Governor Thomas Brisbane--he implemented the Bigge Report, increased the population of Bathurst, and declared 'Martial Law' to put down the Wiradjuri/Windradyne uprising

After the arrival of Governor Thomas Brisbane, however, the Bigge Report began to be implemented. The process of Crown Land distribution to the growing wave of free immigrants was streamlined and expanded—for every 100 acres of land granted, the settler was obliged to provide support and lodgings for one convict labourer. In a sense, much of the responsibility for penal supervision was now privatized.

There was a rapid expansion of population in the next few years: by 1824, the height of the Wiradjuri/Windradyne uprising, the number of white settlers was several thousand, so that natural game and hunting grounds had rapidly diminished. Open warfare and martial law were the result.

Thus, in the early 1820’s our picture of the Western Road around the Lower Mountains changed considerably. Now, the sight of travelers making their trek overland, by whatever means, was more common, as were bullock teams carrying increasingly heavy loads of provisions. These would return after several weeks, having picked up bales of wool (this had to be shorn in sheds at the top of Mt. York) or pelts or salted meats on the other side of the Mountains. Troops and convict gangs too, made the journey back and forth according to governmental order.

This is a famous and commonly used sketch of an 'Ironed Gang'--sights such as this would have been common on the Blue Mountains as such Gangs were used for both maintenance and construction of the 'Bathurst Road'

When the Wiradjuri Uprising was put down, traffic grew even more dense. Not only for those settlers who had legitimately secured further Land Grants west of the Divide, but for those cashed-up speculators who could not wait for official approval. They took their stock in search of fresh grazing-land and formed a new squattocracy flooding outward on  paths blazed by Oxley, Mitchell, Cunningham and others.

These “squatters” were unstoppable, because official supervision could not keep up with them. They occupied the best land: fertile valleys and watercourses, clear grazing plains and sweet grasses, and they occupied hundreds of thousands of acres…

 Thomas Livingstone Mitchell

In 1828, at the direction of the new Governor, Ralph Darling, Major Thomas Livingstone Mitchell succeeded John Oxley as Surveyor-General of New South Wales. He so impressed the British government with his detailed mapping of the ’19 Counties’ (the officially settled European areas of the colony) that he was knighted. One of his first objectives was to improve the access of the Bathurst Road at both ends of the Blue Mountains.

Governor Ralph Darling--replaced Brisbane in 1828 but had a tempestuous relationship with his Surveyor -General

Ignoring Darling’s demands to keep costs low and simply maintain a convict ‘Repair Gang’ on the switchback ‘Zig-Zag’ road up the escarpment (currently called ‘Old Bathurst Road’)—a road, because of its nature, that required constant maintenance, Mitchell commenced construction of a new, more direct, more spectacular road up the mountain (now called ‘Mitchell’s Pass Road’).

Thomas Livingstone Mitchell--Surveyor General of New South Wales and outstanding cartographer. He was another Scot who made a significant imprint upon the Blue Mountains
The only problem was, this road demanded the crossing of a deep creek gorge, and thus a bridge, yet no bridge designers or builders existed in the colony in 1830. At least until Mitchell discovered one David Lennox, quietly constructing a sandstone fence in Macquarie Street. Lennox was immediately ‘snatched’, and was given the task of designing and building bridges across NSW, but first, the one at ‘Mitchell’s Pass’!

'Lapstone' or 'Lennox' Bridge, drawn during construction in the early 1830's...Note the sparser vegetation in those days

Spanning “Brookside” or “Lapstone” Creek, the bridge was a tall horseshoe shape, and required the establishment of a nearby quarry in order to be properly built—it is a tribute to the convict gangs that built it, and is a masterful construction, which rightly bears its designer’s name. It was opened in 1833. Early travelers on this Mountains’ gateway frequently remarked on the spectacular ascent below beetling cliffs, and the picturesque bridge as the road began to level out.

Meanwhile, Mitchell had also addressed the bottleneck at the other side of the Mountains by constructing a new descent of the Western escarpment down ‘One Tree Hill’ (Mt. Victoria). It soon became known as “Victoria Pass”, and was again testament to Mitchell’s vision and stubborn persistence in demanding high quality, well built, stone supported, roads.

With further improvements to the resilience of this “Great Western Road”, the time spent traversing it in horse drawn carriages reduced from two weeks to two days. Indeed, it now became a fashionable thing for ladies and gentlemen of means to take the trip across the Blue Mountains in order to view the countryside of New South Wales in all its forms.

Victoria Pass in the 1920's--it survived to service motor vehicles 100 years after it was built by over 200 convicts. This was part of the NSW 'Gulag'

The newly set up Pilgrim and Valley Inns, sandwiching as they did the bushland of present-day 'Warrimoo', now looked to a healthy future, but it is clear that the changes taking place in the 1830’s threatened to swamp the Darug and Gandungarra peoples, and their way of life.

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