In the Footsteps of Allan Cunningham

a trip to Glenroy

As part of the Allan Cunningham Project we are following in the footsteps of our tenacious Botanist. Our first adventure outside of the Sydney metropolitan area took place some time ago. We visited the Glenroy Camping Ground, just a little way from Hartley, west of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains.

Glenroy was the site of a military station set up to guard the original western road later known as the Old Bathurst Road. I assume the soldiers, guarding the road, were protecting the colonial invaders from the local Gundungurra tribe who’s territory extended from the Blue Mountains at Hartley and Lithgow through the Burragorang Valley.

Many of the early colonial explorers and scientists passed through this area. Allan Cunningham set up camp at Glenroy several times. The first time was in 1817 when he was part of John Oxley’s exploration party headed west to trace the course of the Lachlan River, a journey full of privation through bogs and scrub that ruined the health and shortened the life of all involved.

Glenroy Camping Ground

After we parked our car, we tried to walk down to the Coxs River but the whole area was fenced off with barbed wire fences, locked gates and signs saying private property. One sign said “Danger”. We couldn’t get close enough to read the detail, however the black bull lazing in the sun nearby gave us a hint.

There was a bridge across the river but we couldn’t risk walking on to it as it had no shoulder. The fence of the bridge butted right up on the two lane tarmac road. To make matters more difficult and more dangerous, very large semi-trailers were speeding across the bridge, going backward and forward. In the short time we were at the camping ground we would have seen at least 10 trucks barrelling along. We assumed there must have been some serious roadworks going on, further up the road.

The Bridge Over the Coxs River at Glenroy

John was inspired to write a little ditty after our lack luster attempt to walk in the steps of our protagonist.

by John Challenor

Glenroy, what a failure
There were semi trailer after semi trailer
We went down to see the river
But because of the trucks we couldn’t deliver

There was another hurdle that confronted us too
A barbed wire fence we couldn’t get through
And even if we did, there was a bull in our face
and being tired and hot we definitely would have lost that race.

We took photos of the Memorial which celebrated the first church service west of the Blue Mountains, on April 20, 1815, attended by no less than Governor Macquarie himself. The land, the memorial stands on, was donated to the public and is the only piece of land that is easily accessible. Nearby, within the accessible area, were the stumps of two recently felled trees. As the searing Australian sunshine beat down on our heads, it seemed a shame that the trees would no longer give the traveller shade as they read the memorial plaque and contemplated the past. We sensibly retreated to our air conditioned car.

The Macquarie Memorial at Glenroy
Memorial of the First Divine Service
West of the Blue Mountains 1815 at Glenroy

A sign, on the locked gate, supplied a telephone number (02 6355 2186) for enquiries. It was the phone number for the Glenroy Cottages described as “a magnificent historical rural property overlooking the Coxs River in Hartley, where you can enjoy warm and friendly hospitality in country style cottages with luxurious interiors in a bush setting overlooking tranquil river pools”.

We hope to return to Glenroy another time when we will be able to call the owners of the property and request permission to take some photos and walk down to the river. We may even have a “wild” swim in the spirit of Roger Deakin, the writer and environmentalist, who wrote the wonderful book “Waterlog”, about a journey across Britain taking a swim in every rock pool, river, mountain tarn and open-air swimming pool encountered on the way.

I’ve read that near Glenroy Bridge there are some ruins of the military station that once guarded the road and there is a grave stone, marking a colonial burial ground. We will be better prepared next time.