History of Megalong - By Keith Duncan

“Megalong”, an Aboriginal name thought to mean “valley under the rock”, is the name of one of the valleys close to Blackheath. Almost surrounded by sandstone cliffs, Megalong Valley is said to have an atmosphere all of its own and has been developed into a farming and tourist area.

The first settlers travelled from Burragorang and Camden. The first settlement dates back to 1838. Long before this time cattlemen used the fertile Cox’s River area and its tributaries as additional grazing land. There does not appear to be any records to say when Megalong was officially discovered, although the first record dates from 1818 when Thomas Jones, a natural history specimen collector, followed the course of the Cox’s River to Hartley.

First Survey
The first survey of any land within the Megalong area was made in 1838 when surveyor W. H. Davidson marked off 640 acres. This being an original grant to George Aspinall and is claimed to be known as “Megalong Station” and also “Medlow Station”, which was later incorporated into the “Euroka” property. In 1849 two other 40 acre blocks were taken up by Patrick McAviney and G. D. Grant in the northern end of the valley. From this time onward the early settlers selected land and built their bush homes along the two main access tracks, the first from Burragorang via Medlow Gap and the other from Katoomba via Nellie’s Glen.

Six Foot Track
In 1884, acting on advice given by Peter Fitzpatrick of Burragorang, Premier Stuart ordered the work of finding a horse track from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves to be undertaken. This work was successfully accomplished, trees blazed and mile pegs set. Parliament granted 2,500 pounds for making a six foot wide track, which was completed and afterwards maintained by two men with their wheel-barrow and pick and shovel and since has become well known as the “six foot track”. From then on most of the building development took place close by its route which passed Megalong Creek, Cox’s River, Gebralta Creek and Little River to Boggy Swamp at Jenolan. Some descendants of the early settlers still live in the area, names such as Boyd, Tolhurst, Duff, Duncan, Carlon, Kirby, Grady, Ward and Gracey.

Kerosene Shale Discovered
Kerosene shale was discovered in the Nellie’s Glen area in 1870 and J. B. North began the shale mining in 1885 which continued until 1904. During this period the population grew and prospered with the building of a hotel, butcher shop, store, bakery and public hall. The hotel was owned by Mrs Isabella Long and in 1895 leased to Mr Delaney. With the closing of the mines in 1904, many of the best buildings were demolished and the material used again in Lovell Street, Katoomba.

Megalong Timber
A new industry began after the road link with Blackheath was opened – the timber industry was important to the valley people. All the land was heavily timbered. The best of the timber was sold to sawmills and the other lower grades were sold for fencing material and firewood. Countless tons of firewood was cut and sold to people living in Blackheath and other mountain towns. At that time wood was the main source of fuel and heating. This industry gave the pioneers of Megalong some ready cash while they developed their land.

Megalong and Tourism
Some other pioneer families had moved into the valley by this time and one of them was the Mark Foy family, who had already began to develop the Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath (overlooking the Valley). They developed land at the foothills on the new road and built was a substanial farm, producing dairy products and vegetables for the Hydro Hotel. Foy’s devised an ingenious way of transporting this produce from the farm to the Hotel by using a flying fox.

As the motor car became a popular form of transport in the late 1920′s, so Megalong became a popular place for tourists. Motor tours from Blackheath and other towns were conducted daily. Several afternoon tea houses and small guest houses started business and this was the beginning of the tourist industry. In 1940 a regular twice daily bus service was operated by Mark Foy, from Katoomba via Medlow Bath and Blackheath to Megalong and return. This service ceased operation about 1950 when more private cars made people less reliant on bus transport.

Great Bushfire 1904
During the last days of 1904, the “Great Bushfire” swept through the valley and destroyed many homes. The fire, the first large one that had been experienced by the settlers, burnt through the valley in a few hours, leaving very few of the dwellings standing. Most were reduced to a heap of stones, which was the material used to construct the chimneys at the time.

Road Link to Blackheath
Soon after, a road link with Blackheath was opened, via Blackheath Glen. This gave the people better access and horse and bullock teams were then used more readily for transport, making it possible to build more substantial houses of imported material. The next generation of houses were built of sawn timber and piesa (earth walls) which proved to be a very substantial and durable building material and many of these houses are still being lived in.

The new road changed the development pattern of the valley, Blackheath became the town and development moved towards and along the road to Blackheath.

Megalong Cricket Team
There were many more people living in Megalong during this period than today and the men were fond of sport – particularly cricket. There were sometimes two cricket teams, one known as the “All Blacks”, made up of mainly aboriginal people. These teams would travel by horseback twenty miles or more at weekends to meet other teams, the whole weekend would be spent travelling to and from a game. Because of the abundance of wild life that existed at that time shooting was another very popular sport.

Aboriginals in Megalong
Any story of Megalong would not be complete without some reference to the Aboriginals. Aboriginal tribes that lived their nomadic existence in this area moved from the Burragorang-Camden area, along the Cox’s River through the valley to the headwaters in the Lithgow-Wallerawang area. This was done on a seasonal basis, spending winter months in the warmer area of Burragorang and the summer on the higher mountain area of Wallerawang. This would mean that Megalong would be a spring and autumn venue for them, a popular locality because of the abundance of wild life and fresh water.

It could be said that if the early explorers had followed the trail of the tribes they could have found a way to the west of the great cliffs of the Blue Mountains by following the ridges and valleys from Burragorang, via the Blackdog track and Medlow Gap at the end of Narrow Neck Mountain and on to Megalong, Hartley, Bowenfells and Wallerawang. This was. one route that the early stockmen used to bring in their cattle herds.

The last of the aboriginals to live in Megalong claimed to be from the Gun-dun-gorra tribe. They were “Werriberri” (Billy Russell), chief of the tribe, old and young Billy Lynch (father and son), and Fanny Lynch. Although they all passed on from life soon after the turn of this century, their names were held in high esteem by the settlers who remembered them. All that remains to remind us of these early people are the aboriginal names given to some of the localities and a few stone implements that have been found in the area.

Megalong and the Mail
During July 1892, representation was made for the establishment of a post office in Megalong Valley. About 160 miners and 30 settlers in the valley received an average of 40 letters a day. The postmaster at Katoomba reported that the Megalong settlement via Nellie’s Glen was six miles from his office and 120 men were employed at the mines and the mining company intended employing another hundred. An inspector who visited Megalong Valley in September, 1892, reported that most miners and their families were living in temporary dwellings. On his recommendation, tenders were called for a mail service between Katoomba and the top camp at Megalong. James Duff of Katoomba secured the mail contract. Mrs Elizabeth James was appointed to take charge of the post office, which was established at her Megalong store on the 1st December, 1892.

On 8th July, 1896, Mrs James resigned and was succeeded by Mrs Margaret England, whose house was adjacent to the main road on the opposite side of Megalong Creek and only a couple of hundred yards from the school house. By then there were only seven men working at the mine. The arrangement continued until Mrs England’s resignation on 13th November, 1913, when Mrs Jane O’Reilly took charge. Jane O’Reilly was mother of the well known Bernard O’Reilly and her eldest son was the manager of the silver mines at Yerranderie, twenty miles south of Megalong. Her husband, Peter O’Reilly was at the time a prospector for the mining small company in Megalong.

Following the resignation of Mrs O’Reilly, the office was transferred to the home of James Anderson, a farmer living close by, on 19th February, 1917. James Anderson’s daughter Enid looked after the post office during that time. She later married Jack Duncan of “Ballymore” and in 1976 is still living in the valley.

A public telephone was installed during 1915 but there were no private telephone lines connected to the post office.
James Anderson complained in 1918 that the allowance of 14 pounds per annum was insufficient and tendered his resignation. At this time the department was considering reducing the status of the office to that of receiving office for mails, as the annual revenue was only about 15 pounds. By March 1919 an agreement was reached where by the office was opened Monday to Friday from 9 am to 11 am and 2.30 pm to 4.30 pm and on Saturdays from 9 am to 12.30 pm and 4 pm to 4.30 pm. One telephone subscriber’s service had been connected to the office on 15th August, 1918. This was in the name of J. Ward of “Euroka” property.

John Kirby succeeded James Anderson as postmaster on 1st December, 1919. The post office was moved to his premises. Mrs Mary Kirby was assistant. On the 1st December, 1948 John Kirby’s son, John Thomas Kirby was appointed post master which his sister Mary Kirby carried on with until the closure of the Megalong Post Office on 31st July, 1967.

From about 1896, for some time, it is interesting to know, the Royal Mail was delivered daily except Sunday, by packhorse from Katoomba, via Nellie’s Glen, Chaplow Creek, Mount Sandy to a post office at Cullenben Bong near Hampton.

The mailmen to follow on after Jim Duff were George Duff in 1900, John England 1901, and Peter O’Reilly 1913 to 1915. This was referred to as the “Pony Mail” because the mailman travelled on horseback.

Prospectors investigated coal and shale mining localities in the valley from time to time and about 1932 a coal mine operation got underway for a short period close to Megalong Road, approximately three miles from Blackheath. There are few records of this operation but it is known to have produced coal mainly for the local fuel market.

Megalong and Mining
There was a brief revival of mining in the valley in 1943. A shale mine was re-opened on the Megalong Valley side of Narrow Neck Mountain, a little further south than the original shale mines of the 1885 period, by Genders Brothers of Lithgow. The shale was mined and transported to Mittagong, N.S.W., and reported to obtain petrol to bolster up the diminishing supply of petrol available during the time of the Second World War. This operation was a kind of war effort to keep the motor vehicles moving and assist to maintain supply of much needed coal for industry.

During 1945 Coal mining began on the Megalong side of Narrow Neck Mountain approximately three miles further south. By this time shale mining had ceased once again and much of the equipment and buildings were removed and re-used at the newly developed coal mine. This mine (Sunny Ridge Colliery) operated for approximately five years and produced good quality coal.

The coal was hauled by motor vehicle to Blackheath and was sold to local users for 1 pound 10 shillings per ton. During the early stages, the Blue Mountains City Council was the main buyer for their electricity power generating plant at Katoomba. Also, much of the large coal was sold to the N.S.W. Government Railways and delivered to Mount Victoria for gave the pioneers of Megalong some ready cash while they developed their land. Prospectors investigated coal and shale mining localities in the valley from time to time and about 1932 a coal mine operation got underway for a short period close to Megalong Road, approximately three miles from Blackheath. There are few records of this operation but it is known to have produced coal mainly for the local fuel market.

One of the principals of the Sunny Ridge Colliery was Mr Scott Bonner who then lived in Megalong Valley and was the well known manufacturer of Scott Bonner lawn mowers.

Megalong and the Church
Christian worship was carried on in various places in Megalong from the 1890′s. Reverend Scott Fletcher (afterwards Professor of Philosophy in the Queensland University) commenced services in the Miner’s Hall. Next was Rev. F. V. Pratt of the Congregational Church, Katoomba. He and his friend Douglas Mawson (later Sir Douglas) were keen walkers and they hiked through Megalong and Burragorang Valleys, both sharing in the early services in quaint localities. Later Rev. Ian Stebbins carried on services at various homes and it was during this time that the first protestant church was built. It was constructed of piesa walls and corrugated iron roof and was built by volunteer labour on land donated by well known local citizens Donald Boyd and family. It was opened for worship in 1923. This church was serviced by several ministers. The Rev. Leslie Barbour worked towards the building of a new church which was built by a well known Katoomba builder and of a pioneer family, Ben Esgate, and was completed in 1943. After the passing on of the Rev. Barbour a Sunday School Room was built and dedicated in his memory in 1961.

In an early report on the old hotel, it was stated that a room was always available for Father McGough who came from Katoomba on Sundays to offer mass for his flock. Later a Catholic Church was built close to “Euroka” property by the six foot track, next to the Megalong Cemetery, but soon after this church was accidentally burnt. Following this unfortunate mishap, mass was conducted in various homes by visiting Priests from Blackheath and Katoomba. John Kirby and family gave continued support and many services were conducted at their home until the year 1922, when the second church was built on the site of the first. With local helpers with finance and labour, under the supervision of Steve Gibbins, a builder living at Blackheath, the job was soon completed. In 1952 this church was moved to a site by the entrance to “Euroka” property on land donated by the Ward family.

It is sad to know the pioneers and old timers have gone and their wonderful stories have died with them. We would be interested and amused with stories of romance and adventure of the early days but unfortunately not many have been recorded. You may hear tell of the shy young man who, more than fifty years ago, courted a neighbour’s daughter but the said neighbour was not impressed, feeling that his prospective son-in-law did not have enough “go” in him. However after long months of waiting, a cat was eventually the direct cause of happy ending. It was one of those occasions when the young man had been asked to tea. When the meal was already spread on the table, one of the cats (no doubt there were many of them) sprang up without warning and began with zest to devour the food. Seizing the chance of a lifetime, our young hopeful reached for a bag of sovereigns in his pocket and hurled it with unerring aim at the miscreant. Whether it was the gold or the initiative is not known, but father was persuaded that night to give his consent. Then there was the time that a settler meeting a friend of his, offered to share with him a beast which he had killed and skinned up in the hills. the two set off together and in due course each arrived home with half a bullock and happy thoughts of good fresh meat for some time to come.

A few weeks later the second party, while riding out in search of one of his bullocks that had strayed, passed on his journey the first party who was also riding : “Did you happen to see a red baldy bullock?” he called to his neighbour. “Yes” was the reply “you ate half of it about three weeks ago.” Megalong, the “Valley under the Rocks” has been sheltered from the world of noise and bustle through countless years. Even when the shale mines were working and there were many people in the Glen, normal life among the settlers was not disturbed and it would seem that nature had decreed that its little masterpiece should not be spoilt. Perhaps the loudest noise in bygone days was the crack of stockwhips as men searched for cattle in the hills or drove them to market across the “Black Dog” track.