In the early 2000s, travelling towards our new little weekender in the country, 24 Dabee Road Kandos, I yearned to know more about the places I passed. Names intrigued me like Jews Creek and Kadisha Herb Farm. Roads tempted me like Razorback and Excelsior. And lonely villages troubled me like Blackman’s Flat and Ben Bullen. Scenic spots such as Pearson’s Lookout and the wishing well enticed me, while quaint localities, Cherry Tree Hill and Running Stream at least caught my attention.
You too? Well, having done a bit of research over the last few weeks, I can tell you something (but certainly not everything) about this well-travelled road.
Blackman’s Flat is where I’ll start, named for and no doubt by, James Blackman, Chief Constable of Kelso, the first white settlement west of the Blue Mountains. In 1821, he and four others marked a road from Kelso to Mudgee, via Wallerawang. You might have noticed the village of Blackman’s Flat was there for years but then it wasn’t. The cluster of houses suddenly disappeared. Now there is just a single house and a small cemetery in a grassy stretch. Apparently, residents (except for an elderly woman) were concerned by the encroaching coal industry, negotiated with the coal company and re-located; the houses were auctioned and transferred to other sites. I guess that is the way of many places along the road to Mudgee. There for a while, and then no more; just a place name.
Those early explorers followed a narrow line of high ground over the first thirty miles or so. But it was intersected by a number of streams, resulting in sections of swampy ground. It didn’t make for easy passage and nor, at first, was it considered good farming land, not until after they had taken up the grazing lands of the Cudgegong, first at Mudgee and then at Dabee. Movement of animals, wagons, coaches etc, to and from Sydney and Bathurst, was painstakingly slow and rough. There was constant carping about the condition of the road and three toll bars were opened to pay for frequent road works. Plenty of inns, providing accommodation, food and grog, sprang up along the way and sometimes these became localities. One traveller in 1874 counted thirteen public houses between Wallerawang and the northern side of Cherry Tree Hill. Some well-known ones included Barnaby’s Inn at Round Swamp, James Shervey’s Capertee Inn and Paddison’s Crown Ridge Inn (a little south of Pearson’s Lookout).
I don’t know when or why Jews Creek was named. In 1913 the Bathurst Times suggested it was because Jews “played a conspicuous part in extracting gold from the creek”. That’s a furphy. The name was established at least a decade before gold (it was certainly there by 1842 and in 1845 Michael and Susannah Keenan were running the Travellers’ Inn there. Jews Creek forms the head of the Turon River and in the 1850s it became a hot spot for gold as well as other minerals – nitre, alum and salt – spasmodically through to the end of the nineteenth century. The bridge you drive over was built in 1950, and not before time, because Jews Creek was prone to “very sudden and violent floods”, as reported in 1852, and “boiling floodwaters” 80 yards wide in 1950.
The names Cullen Bullen and Ben Bullen have always seemed to me to have a Scottish ring about them but I’ve discovered they have an Aboriginal origin. Cullen Bullen was named in or before 1833 by Robert Dalhunty who got the first land grant of 2000 acres in this area and who, it seems, had a good relationship with the indigenous population; Cullen Bullen meaning “lyre bird” and Ben Bullen meaning “high, quiet place”. In 1861 Cullen Bullen had a Post Office and in 1864 William Hart the Post Master had aspirations of making it a substantial township when he offered 81 acre allotments for sale, promoting its closeness to the impending Bathurst railway. I don’t know how many lots were taken up at that time but 150+ years later it is a contented little village. In the late nineteenth century there was coal mining and basic cement making there, and coal continues to be mined in the area.
These days there’s not much to the village of Ben Bullen but during four decades, at the turn of the century, soon after the railway went through, there was a light rail siding to a limestone quarry; and coal was mined a couple of miles south. So that little railway station did a fair job sending both coal and limestone to the Lithgow Steelworks. You won’t be surprised to learn there was also a pub, The Occidental, and a small school. More intriguing though, is an earlier industry in 1844 – The Ben Bullen Boiling-Down Establishment, on The Mudgee Road which was “in full operation, and capable of boiling down 3,500 Sheep, or 300 head of Cattle, per week” – for tallow and skins! There was also an Inn at Ben Bullen around that time.
The highlight of the highway route, but also the part that causes a tinge of anxiety for me, is that sliver of road cut into the side of Blackman’s Crown, in early days referred to as the Crown Ridge. Yes Blackman’s name is preserved again, in that craggy mountain peak which imperiously looks out over Pearson’s Lookout and the magnificent Capertee Valley. No one seems to know who the lookout was named after, but the most likely person appears to be John Westall Pearson, Director and Chairman of the Commonwealth Oil Corporation, which had a mining operation there in 1910. In any case Lithgow Mercury installed the sign for Pearson’s Lookout in 1937.
I’m not the only one who feels a little nervous on this part of the road. In 1870 a traveller reported that along “this perilous ledge the horses are driven at full gallop” although he did add that the outer edge of the road was securely protected by a three-railed fence. Another traveller in 1874 enthusiastically advised “those who love the glories of light and shade, of boundless extent…See Capertee and Die”. At least twice the side of the mountain has been “nailed” with reinforced concrete rods driven into the shaly strata, for fear of landslides.
Looking over to the right of what is now The Gardens of Stone National Park, can be seen an even more impressive peak. It at least looks like a crown and is called Pantoney’s Crown, named after William Lee who is supposed to have been in that road-marking party. Lee had been fostered by William Pantoney and at one time went by the Pantoney name, so Pantoney’s Crown is a legacy for both his foster father and himself.
A well-known Australian artist Conrad Martens, captured this extraordinary section of the Mudgee Road, including Pantoney’s Crown, when he stayed at the Crown Ridge Inn in December 1874. It is the featured image on this blog post. (Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW)
Well that is all for now. You can thank Brent for prompting this particular post when he suggested the extremely large topic of local place names. There’s more to come!