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The Whistler

Blue Mountains   -  Australia

HISTORY

Mulheran's Masterpiece

by Jim Smith

The Kings Tableland Cliff Edge Track
Wentworth Falls
Constructed in 1899


Mulheran's track is clearly visible in this 1922 painting entitled 'Blue Mountains' by Theodore Penleigh Boyd.
from MossGreen Auctions catalogue June 2015


Master track builder Peter Mulheran
photographed in 1909 at the
Kowmung River Cedar camp.
The Sydney Mail, 13 October 1909.
Photo by H.J. Tompkins

Safety Warnings

The Kings Tableland Cliff Edge Track is not maintained by the National Parks and Wildlife Service or signposted. It is suitable for more experienced walkers. Parts of the track may be somewhat overgrown if local volunteers have not recently cleared it. Some sections can be slippery after wet weather.

At Te Willa Lookout, as with all unfenced cliff edges, you should stay back at least two metres from the edge and restrain any children in the party from getting too close.

How to enjoy Mulheran's Masterpiece

The Kings Tableland Cliff Edge track will give you a whole new perspective on the Jamison Valley. You can race around the track in half an hour, but the best way to enjoy it is to walk slowly, lingering at your favourite spots to savour the views and the wildflowers and occasionally sitting down on a rock or one of Mulheran's steps for some peaceful moments. I also like to study how Mulheran designed the track into the landscape, planned his sets of steps and made the drystone walls.

Manipulate the map on smartphones and tablets.
Zoom by spreading your thumb and forefinger.
Move the map around with your finger.

Download the map for printing on an A4 page.

1. The Big Loop

If you are doing the track for the first time, start at the Rocket Point Lookout. After enjoying the view from Mulheran's stone wall go past the archway [marked A], not through it again, and up a short rise until you see a side track on the right. It is not signposted. Follow the track through the Allocasuarina trees southwards until it zig-zags to Annie's Picnic Rock. From here the track sidles up the hill.

Before dropping down again for the next section, note the start of Peter's Pathway on your left. The cliff edge is then followed, through the Leprechaun Tunnels [marked T] to Te Willa Lookout. Three of Mulheran's beautiful steps start the pathway up the hill.

As the track levels out towards the top, it meanders through the heathland, before coming out before the second locked gate. The fire trail can then be followed back to the Rocket Point Loop Track. The fire trail can be quite a pleasant section in itself, particular during the cooler months, when many honeyeaters are migrating and others are breeding in the heath. However, if you follow it all the way back to Rocket Point, you will miss out on doing the delightful Peter's Pathway.

Mulheran's original design was a 'figure of eight' track. Because of the location of the current fire trail you will need to use the fairly subtly marked 'shortcut' track through the heathland to link up with the southern end of Peter's Pathway. (The 'shortcut' is easier to find from the other end.)

If you are starting from the Horden Road end, park near the first locked gate and walk to the second locked gate. The track begins about five metres to the left from this gate. The first section of track from here is not constructed, just a pad through the heath, until it starts to go down the hill when you see the evidence of Mulheran's excavations and stonework.

2. The Small Loop

This combines Allocasuarina Alley with Peter's Pathway to provide a short round trip. If you are doing other walks at Wentworth Falls you might like to take this short loop to enjoy morning or afternoon tea at Annie's Picnic Rock.

If you want to start from the northern end of Peter's Pathway, look for the cairn of stones that marks the entrance. I started this in 1981 and call it the 'Mulheran Memorial Cairn'. If you would like to show your appreciation of Mulheran's work, you may like to add a stone or two.

After you have enjoyed Mulheran's Masterpiece ask yourself the question: Is there any other park management authority in the world that would ignore the existence of such a beautiful historic pathway, already constructed and ready to be used?

Typically, the National Parks and Wildlife Service will argue that these forgotten tracks are unsafe for tourists to use, for example the Te Willa Lookout is not fenced. But the nearby Lincoln Hall Lookout to which visitation is encouraged by the Blue Mountains City Council, is also unfenced.

'Sensitive vegetation' is another reason used by the NPWS to discourage tourist use of some areas. Good planning can allow vegetation and tourists to coexist. If fencing Te Willa Lookout was the price to pay for reopening this track, I would reluctantly accept it

PLACE NAMES ( by Jim Smith )

Leprecaun tunnels These two sections of track pass through 'tunnels' [marked T], where the vegetation on both sides of the track has arched overhead. Adults have to bend over to get along them. They seem designed for 'little people'. In reference to Peter Mulheran's Celtic heritage these tunnels are named after the 'little people' of Ireland.

Lincoln Hall Lookout The official name is Lincoln Rock, honouring the memory of mountaineer Lincoln Hall (1955-2012) who lived near here.

First Lookout
At this bend in the track [marked L] the full grandeur of the view first reveals itself.

Te Willa Lookout From this lookout, one of the finest in the Blue Mountains, can be seen part of the ridge followed by the road that Mulheran built in the early 1900s to access the last big stands of Red Cedar in the state. A branch of this road went up Ti Willa Creek. In memory of his adventures in that wild country, Mulheran named his house in Backhouse Street, Wentworth Falls, demolished in 2012, Te Willa. This was his preferred spelling and, as there were Gundungurra (aboriginal) speakers still living in the area when he was building the road, it may represent a more accurate pronunciation.

Wilf's Rest
Wilf Hilder (1934-2011) was fond of this little promontory and would rest there when he was clearing the track.

Conchostraca Corner
Conchostracans are small invertebrates that live in ephemeral rock pools on the cliff tops. About the size and colour of a passionfruit seed, they look like little mussel shells with waving legs between the shells. When the pool dries out they survive as eggs in the soil at the bottom of the pool. After rain they hatch and start a new generation. I have spent many hours lying on my stomach watching them and the other inhabitants of their small ecosystem. These pools are precious. Do not step in them or leave rubbish around.

The History of the Kings Tableland Cliff Track

The first published description of the track appeared in the Katoomba newspaper The Mountaineer on February 17, 1899. It is republished online in the Blue Mountains Whistler with illustrations and annotations.

When I first discovered Peter Mulheran's Kings Tableland Cliff Edge Track in the 1980s I was perplexed to find it heavily overgrown and apparently forgotten by the community. There was no available map which showed what I could see right in front of my eyes.

When I first stepped on to 'Te Willa' lookout at the southern end of the track I found a 1943 penny coin on the open rock and thought it was possible that I could have been the first person to be there since World War II. To me it was unbelievable that about 1.5 km of beautifully designed walking track, with hundreds of stone steps and some of the most remarkable views of the Jamison Valley was not recognised as one of the best tourist attractions of the Blue Mountains.

I decided to take direct action to organise its restoration and produce a map which would help others to discover this forgotten gem.

By word of mouth I got together a few volunteers in 1981 and we began pruning back the overgrown vegetation. I did a press release for the Blue Mountains Gazette in July 1981 inviting others to join us. The team eventually consisted of Anne, Hugh, Dick, Dell, Sue and Isa. At that time the track was in a reserve controlled by the Blue Mountains City Council. I received a message from Council that our actions were illegal and should be stopped. Anne dropped out after that warning but the others were undeterred. By December the whole track was open and I did a sketch map and description of it which was published in the Gazette. This was my first published map of a bushwalking track. Finding this activity so enjoyable, I went on to clear many more forgotten tracks and mapped most of the constructed tourist bushwalks of the upper Blue Mountains in my book How to See the Blue Mountains published in 1982. This included the Kings Tableland Cliff Edge Track map with directions.

In my view it was unfortunate that the National Parks and Wildlife Service took over management of Wentworth Falls reserves in February 1987. Some upgrading was done but I knew they would never take an interest in Mulheran's Kings Tableland Track or the other forgotten tracks in the Jamison Valley.

As my track clearing team of 1981 were all keen nature lovers and conservationists, our clearing was rather delicately done and consisted mainly of removing side branches of shrubs beside the track. Naturally these regrew and, by the end of the 1980s, people were having trouble getting through the track.

A Wentworth Falls resident, who prefers to remain anonymous, then recleared the track between 1991 and 1993. He was quite open about it and informed the NPWS of what he was doing. He was 'carpeted' by a NPWS bureaucrat and threatened with prosecution if he continued. Later, I was to receive a letter personally signed by Bob Carr, Minister for the Environment, promising that I too would be prosecuted if I persisted in my unauthorised track restorations.

The Blue Mountains Walking Track Heritage Study was released in November 1998 by the NPWS. It and later stages of the study included the recommendation that the whole of the Wentworth Falls Walking Track Complex, including the Kings Tableland Cliff Edge Track, was of State Heritage significance. Still, the track was ignored. In addition, other historic track segments and lookouts began to be closed or not included in maintenance programs.

The work done in the early 1990s on the Kings Tableland Cliff Edge Track was very thorough and it wasn't until the mid-2000s that more clearing was needed. I understand that various locals and the late Wilf Hilder carried out sporadic maintenance between 2008 and 2012 which resulted in the track looking more like what Mulheran would have been proud of, except for the 'Peter's Parade' section which had very thick regrowth. A final push by volunteers in late 2013 removed this obstacle. I decided that, as 33 years had passed since this track was first reopened, a new map and another round of publicity was called for. I was inspired to do this after having researched the activities of Peter Mulheran and produced a book on his remarkable life.

Why was 'Mulheran's Masterpiece' forgotten?

The first map of the Wentworth Falls tracks that showed the Kings Tableland Cliff Edge Track was published by the NSW Government in 1908. A new edition appeared in 1919. This map was reproduced in guidebooks published by the Katoomba photographer Harry Phillips between 1913 and 1927. Unlike the other major tracks on this map, there was no descriptive text about it. Another problem was that the track was never given a name. No doubt many tourists in the early days were directed onto it by signposts erected by the Wentworth Falls Reserve Trustees. Mulheran's cliff edge track tended to be overshadowed by the many other attractions of the Wentworth Falls reserve including the Valley of the Waters and the National Pass.

Perhaps the signpost directing visitors southwards from Pocket Point lookout fell down, or was burned in a bushfire, and was not replaced. Very few tourists would have made their way as far as Horden Road and found the track from that end.

A tokenistic indication of the track appeared in some maps published between the 1930s and 1950s. These were produced by the NSW Railways and Gregory's Publishing Company (both with map by Nin Melville), H. Robinson and Blue Mountains City Council (map by V. Coleman). Again there was no descriptive text about how to access the track or its attractions.

Over 30,000 copies of my book How to See the Blue Mountains were sold in the 20 years after 1982. In the text the track was recommended for 'experienced walkers only'. Perhaps that dissuaded those who preferred to stick to signposted pathways.

REFERENCES

NEW WALKS ALONG KING'S TABLELAND
The Mountaineer February 17, 1899


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