Arthur Phillip, the first governor of New South Wales, first glimpsed the extent of the Blue Mountains from a ridge at the site of today’s Oakhill College, Castle Hill. He named them the Carmarthen Hills, ‘some forty to sixty miles distant…” and he reckoned that the ground was “most suitable for government stock”. This is the location where Gidley King in 1799 established a prison town for political prisoners from Ireland and Scotland.
The first documented use of the name Blue Mountains appears in Captain John Hunter’s account of Phillip’s 1789 expedition up the Hawkesbury River. Describing the events of about 5 July, Hunter wrote: “We frequently, in some of the reaches which we passed through this day, saw very near us the hills, which we suppose as seen from Port Jackson, and called by the governor the Blue Mountains.” During the nineteenth century the name was commonly applied to the portion of the Great Dividing Range from about Goulburn in the south to the Hunter Valley in the north, but in time it came to be associated with a more limited area.
The native Aborigines knew two routes across the mountains: Bilpin Ridge, which is now the location of Bells Line of Road between Richmond and Bell, and the Coxs River, a tributary of the Nepean River. It could be followed upstream to the open plains of the Kanimbla Valley, the type of country that farmers prize.
European settlers initially considered that fertile lands lay beyond the mountains, as was China in the belief of many convicts, but that this didn’t matter much, since the mountains were impassable. This idea was, to some extent, convenient for local authorities. An “insurmountable” barrier would deter convicts from trying to escape in that direction.
A former convict, John Wilson, may have been the first European to cross the Blue Mountains. It is also believed that Mathew Everingham, 1795, may have also been partly successful based on letters he wrote at the time which came to light in the late 1980s. Wilson arrived with the First Fleet in 1788 and was freed in 1792. He settled in the bush, living with the Aborigines and even functioning as an intermediary between them and the settlers. In 1797 he returned to Sydney, claiming to have explored up to a hundred miles in all directions around Sydney, including across the mountains. His descriptions and observations were generally accurate, and it is possible that he had crossed the mountains via the southern aspect at the Coxs River corridor, guided by the Aborigines.:76–77
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