The "Official" Story
Everyone knows that Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth were the first Europeans to succeed in crossing the impenetrable Blue Mountains, and thus opened up the way for the colony to expand onto the vast fertile slopes and plains of the west. Previous expeditions had tried, of course, but all failed. The only way across was via the three explorers' innovative ridge-top route.
Well, it makes a nice story.
Francis Barrallier, 1802
Francis Barrallier was a refugee from the French Revolution, with a knowledge of engineering, surveying and navigation. He came to New South Wales to assist the Corps.
Barrallier was not informed of John Wilson's travels, whether by design or accident. Rumours of a white settlement inland persisted, and it was hoped that exploration would help to refute them, and strengthen the official line that it was not worth trying to cross the mountains.
A supply depot was set up at Nattai, on the eastern side of the Burragorang Valley, with supplies being brought in by wagon. Plans to establish further depots had to be abandoned, as the terrain prevented wagons from entering the valley.
Barrallier's commanding officer objected to the able young man going exploring, but the governor soon discovered that he had need of an aide-de-camp. So Barrallier set of, as an emissary from Governor King, to convey the governor's compliments to the (Aboriginal) "King of the Mountains". A natural diplomat, who related well to the Aborigines, Barrallier performed this duty to the letter.
Leaving their depot, they descended to the Nattai River and followed it downstream to the Burragorang Valley and Wollondilly River. Drought-breaking rain set in, making conditions more difficult. Heading west, they climbed a ridge south of the Tonalli River, and climbed towards Southern Peak. Here they encountered Goondel, chief of the local Gangangara tribe.
The Diplomat, the Murderer, and the Jilted Groom
Unfortunately, Barrallier's interpreter, Gogy, had been in a gang which had brutally murdered Goondel's sister. Whilst his presence with Barrallier afforded a degree of diplomatic immunity, Gogy was terrified. On the other hand, another member of the party, Bungin, won Goondel's favour and was rewarded by being promised the hand of Wheengeewhungee, the chief's daughter, in marriage.
Gogy begged for permission to return (flee) to Nattai, whilst Bungin pleaded for release from his duties. Barrallier granted both requests.
Returning to Nattai, to await the arrival of new supplies, they were rejoined by Bungin. It seemed that Wheengeewhungee was less than enthusiastic about the forthcoming nuptials, and had gone bush with Goondel in hot pursuit. Deciding that it was diplomatic to avoid Goondel and company, they took a "shortcut" over the rugged Tonalli Peak, arriving exhausted at camp late in the day.
Re-supplied, they headed back up towards Southern Peak on November 22, reaching Mootik Plateau just south of Yerranderie, and making camp at Alum Hill on the 24th. From here, they followed a similar route to that taken by today's four wheel drive track, via Bindook towards the Great Dividing Range.
Throughout Barrallier's diary, there is a sense of fun in the occasion; pauses to rest in the heat of the day; hunting and fishing to supplement supplies; and at night a sense of camaraderie from which their Aboriginal companions were not excluded.
On the 26th, two forward scouts returned to report having found: "an immense plain; that from the height they were on the mountain they had caught sight of only a few hills standing here and there in this plain; and that the country in front of them had the appearance of a meadow".1
What the scouts could not see was the Kowmung River gorge slashing through the "plain".
They hastened through Barrallier's Pass to set up camp near Bent Hook (Bindook) Swamp. In spite of heavy rain, they were in high spirits, and after setting up bark huts, "they congratulated themselves with having succeeded in accomplishing the crossing of the Blue Mountains without accident"1.
Bindook: The Mountains Crossed
They were now on the eastern edge of the Bindook Highlands. From here, it is an easy ridge-top journey to the Great Divide, along what was to become the Oberon - Colong Stock Route.
According to Cunningham, Barrallier and his party eventually reached a point approximately 2km short of the Great Divide and within sight of it. They did not recognise this, however, due to the nature of the terrain. Had they explored south, they could have reached Mt Werong in an hour, and seen the westward flowing Abercrombie River. However, the Abercrombie starts off by flowing southeast, so they would not have recognised it as a westward flowing river. Having travelled as far as their supplies allowed, they returned the way they had come.
Cunningham's interpretation of Barrallier's route is disputed by bushwalker & historian Andy Macqueen. According to Macqueen, the route went as follows (see map below).
After following the Tonalli River up from the Wollondilly, Barrallier passed north of Yeranderie, through Byrnes Gap, then descended via Cedar Creek to the Kowmung River. After camping at the junction of the Kowmung & Christys Creek, he followed the creek up to Wheengee Whungee Creek, which he followed as far as the base of Johnston Falls below Mt Barrallier.
Having stated his intention to "penetrate as far into the Blue Mountains as I should find it practicable"1, Barrallier could hardly be said to have failed.
Barrallier and his party had crossed the Blue Mountains, and come substantially closer to the Great Divide than Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth were to. His route later became the Oberon - Colong Stock Route. Prior to the flooding of the Burragorang Valley, it was possible to drive from Camden to Oberon via this route. Today, there is 4 wheel drive access to the ghost town of Yerranderie from Oberon. Beyond there, access is restricted, by Sydney Water, to protect the catchment area.
Early this century, it was proposed to build a railway via the Warragamba Slot, Coxs River and Scotts Main Range, meeting up with Barrallier's route and proceeding west. It was intended to exploit the cedar forests of the Coxs valley, and a gold discovery near the Great Divide. The gold was a non-event, and the cedar not economically viable. Instead, the existing railway line was duplicated.
Jets over the Wilderness
This is also the approximate route taken by aircraft, including around 300 jets per day. Coming in from the west, they home in on the Bindook beacon, then turn near the lake to follow an appropriate course into Sydney. Probably not what Barrallier envisaged!
1 From Barrallier's journal.
Map © Andy Macqueen. From his book, "The Life & Journeys of Barrallier".
Information for this work comes from Chris Cunningham's "The Blue Mountains Rediscovered", 1996, Kangaroo Press, & Andy Maqueen's "Blue Mountains to Bridgetown - The Life & Journeys of Barrallier", 1993, published by the author. See our Shopping Arcade for booksellers.
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