Jennifer StackhouseBlue Mountains crossing 200 years on

This weekend (April 13-14) marks the start of celebrations of the bicentenary of the crossing of the Blue Mountains. Those of you who went to school in NSW will no doubt have learnt about this pivotal journey in Australia’s colonial settlement.

Gregory Blaxland Esq, by and unknown artist, pencil drawing

Gregory Blaxland Esq, by and unknown artist

Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and William Wentworth and a party of four took 21 days to make the 50-mile (80km) journey across the rugged Blue Mountains. They set off from Blaxland’s farm at South Creek near St Marys on May 11 and reached the point now called Mt Blaxland on May 31. The next day, June 1, they headed home following the trail they had blazed on the way up.

William Lawson c.1840, miniature portrait

William Lawson c.1840

As well as the three celebrated explorers, there were three convict servants and a person described as a “guide and kangaroo hunter” James Burns (or Burne), along with four horses. One of the convicts has recently been identified as Samuel Fairs (for more on Samuel Fairs see this link).

William Charles Wentworth, 1872 by James Anderson, oil painting on canvas

William Charles Wentworth, 1872 by James Anderson



They carried provisions for the journey, which were nearly depleted by the time they returned. Their clothes and boots too were almost worn out.

The bicentenary of the crossing is being celebrated in many ways over the next few months including through a re-enactment of the original journey, which is being made by descendants of the original explorers, along with various performances and lectures. The Central Blue Mountains Garden Club is also launching a bicentennial everlasting daisy whose name is being found through a competition among local school kids. The native daisy has been bred and grown by fellow GardenDrum blogger and plant breeder Angus Stewart.

Everlasting daisy bred by Angus Stewart for the Bicentenary

Everlasting daisy bred by Angus Stewart for the Blue Mountains crossing bicentenary

I am involved in a bicentennial garden lecture series, which is examining the development of gardening over the past 200 years. The series has been organised by Warren Boorman and Barrie Redshaw of the Central Blue Mountains Garden Club. Speakers are Angus Stewart, Jerry Coleby-Williams, Professor Ian Jack and Bundeluk.

The journey
For anyone wanting to find out more about the historic Blue Mountains crossing, there is plenty of good information about that original exploration. Both William Lawson and William Wentworth kept detailed diaries, which are now in the State Library of New South Wales and are available on line. Here’s a link to Wentworth’s diary, which is neatly written and filled with extravagant descriptions of the countryside and soils along with the native animals and vegetation.

An image Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth’s historic journey, which appeared in the Sydney Mail in 1880

An image Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth’s historic journey, which appeared in the Sydney Mail in 1880

Following Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth’s expedition, the route over the Blue Mountains to the fertile country beyond was opened up quickly. By November of 1813 the road was being surveyed and by May 1815 Governor Macquarie and his wife and a large party journeyed over the mountains on the new road. Along the way Macquarie named places including Springwood where they camped overnight.

Two hundred years after the historic crossing the road is still being upgraded (the completion of the upgrade was part of the bicentennial celebrations but it’s a part that’s not actually met the deadline), but the region has become well known for gardens and growing. It is one of the places to live if you want a cool climate garden as the elevation, which is over 1000m in many parts of the mountains, guarantees a cool to mild summer and a cold even snowy winter.

Corydalis, pulmonaria and peonies thrive in the cool conditions of Sydney’s Blue Mountains

Corydalis, pulmonaria and peonies thrive in the cool conditions of Sydney’s Blue Mountains

200 years of gardening
While 200 years has brought about a huge change in how we garden, and what we grow, some things seem to have gone full circle. Gardeners today are just as likely to be dependant on tank water, organic fertilisers and organic remedies as they were in days gone by. Many too now have flocks of hens as part of their backyard menagerie along with a thriving vegetable garden and even a small orchard.

A corner of Trisha Oktober’s Katoomba garden with its wealth of rare cool climate plants

A corner of Trisha Oktober’s Katoomba garden with its wealth of rare cool climate plants



Our 21st century gardens are very much focussed on providing a safe haven from a changing world and a place that can put food on the table. Of course a gardener from 1813 wouldn’t recognise our well-established, paved, grassy, gadget-filled gardens, but I think we’d certainly have enough in common to complain about the weather, bemoan the lack of water and swap a few cuttings.




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Jennifer Stackhouse

About Jennifer Stackhouse

Recently Jennifer Stackhouse made the big move from Kurmond in NSW to a Federation house in the little village of Barrington tucked beneath Mt Roland in northwest Tasmania. With high rainfall, rich, red deep soil and a mild climate she reckons she's won the gardening lottery. She's taken on an acre garden that's been lovingly planted and tended for the past 28 years by a pair of keen gardeners so she is discovering a garden full of horticultural treasures. Jennifer is the author of several gardening books including 'Garden', which won a Book Laurel for 2013, as well as ‘The Organic Guide to Edible Gardens’, ‘Planting Techniques’ and ‘My Gardening Year’, which she wrote with her mother Shirley. She was editor of ABC 'Gardening Australia' magazine and now edits the trade journal 'Greenworld' magazine and writes regularly for the Saturday magazine in 'The Mercury'. She is often heard on radio and at garden shows answering garden queries.

4 thoughts on “Blue Mountains crossing 200 years on

  1. Wonderful story thanks Jennifer. Amazing to think of the arduous journey of that party crossing the Blue Mountains – plus the resilience of our early gardeners. We’ve come so far but ironically now ‘rediscovering’ some fundamentals!

    • Thanks Kim! I can report that the seminar was a big hit with all the speakers making a wonderful contribution to our understanding of not only the history of our gardens, but also what may lie ahead. There’s a dvd being produced of the event which the Blue Mountain’s garden clubs will be marketing shortly.

  2. What an interesting project to be involved with Jennifer. Seeing how gardening methods and material has changed ( and reverted ) over the decades would be fascinating. The Blue Mtns gardens are a treat, aren’t they? Recently came through there on the train from Perth and we certainly saw the topography change that comes with elevation, hence lush growth and the fertile landscapes prevailing.

    • The railway line was actually pivotal in the opening up of the Blue Mountains. The line went through in the 1860s and gardens followed with both grand estates and guest houses for holiday makers.

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