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History of Megalong - Page 1

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