The Conquest of the Mountains

The Sydney Morning Herald

28 May 1913

Australia is still too young to boast many important centenaries, but the march of time has brought us to the hundredth anniversary of an event which marked an epoch in our history, and exercised a tremendous influence over the destinies of

Australia. A hundred years ago today the explorers, Blaxland, Wentworth, and Lawson, succeeded in crossing the mountains, and after a strenuous battle, with these inhospitable heights saw from Mount York stretching below them a fair land of promise, which has since blossomed like the rose.

Their journey opened the door to the west; it revealed to the hardy pioneer the unsuspected riches which lay hidden behind the frowning barrier of the range; it enlarged the territories of the little settlement on the coast beyond all calculation, and it made it possible for the tiny penal station at the end of the earth to become a mighty Commonwealth. Such an achievement is worthy of commemoration, and today it will be celebrated in a fitting manner.

The mountains from Penrith to Bathurst are joining in the festivities. There will be bonfires and junketings, and at Mount York, the scene of the explorers' triumph, a memorial, will be unveiled which will bear permanent witness to their success.

It is eminently proper that posterity should pay the tribute to the men and their deed. Their service was immense; their reward has been the subsequent development of their country, and now their; country is eager to do them honour.

A hundred years ago Australia was a very small place. New South Wales had been colonised for a quarter of a century, yet its possibilities were severely limited. The Hawkesbury, on the north, the Nepean on the west, and Camden on the south were its boundaries, and already it showed signs of becoming overpopulated.

If it was to progress it must find new territory, yet expansion was checked by the seemingly impassable barrier of the mountains. Man after man went forth to wrest their secret from them, and man after man returned to tell of dire hardships amidst impenetrable fastnesses.

In the meantime the fortunes of the little colony were at a low ebb, and the drought of 1812-1813 threatened its very existence. Still, this drought was a blessing in disguise, for it spurred Blaxland, Wentworth, and Lawson - immortal names in the annals of Australia to make one more effort to find a passage.

The story of their journey is well known. They hit upon the key to the riddle of Australian mountain exploration. They avoided the inextricable entanglement of gullies in which their predecessors had lost everything but bare life, and kept to the crown of the ridge. Such was their instinct for the easiest route that to this day railway and road substantially follow the track which they so painfully made.

Perhaps when compared with the achievements, of later explorers, theirs may seem inconsiderable.

We rattle over their laborious path in a couple of hours. Its whole distance is less than fifty miles, and the present-day tourist may wonder where the difficulty came in. But the importance of what they did cannot be reckoned in figures; it is not a matter of so many miles or so many days. They literally discovered a new world for their countrymen to exploit.

Soon from the valley below Mount York radiated the tracks of dozens who went out to the unknown to spy out the land, and returned with tidings that beyond lay pastures inexhaustible.

They ushered in the era of westward expansion, which has not yet ceased. But for these three New South Wales must have remained still longer pent in between mountain and sea; they unlocked the gate to the wealth, of the interior, and it is a service which we do well to honour.