If you have driven along the Great Western Highway through Blackheath, there is a fair chance that you would have spotted the statue of a man on a horse, braced for a jump, a look of desperation on his face. It is located on the western side of the highway in Neate Park which stretches along the railway line. It is a popular stopping point for travellers who have crested the mountain ridge and need a break before the steep decline of Victoria Pass.
As with all statues, there is a story behind it. The popular legend was that there was a bushranger called Govett who was being hunted by the police. They finally tracked him down and called upon him to surrender. But he spurred his horse on instead, plummeting to his death over the edge of the cliff to where the water falls into the valley below.
If you have travelled into the national park at the end of Govetts Leap Road, walked to the viewing platform and risked vertigo from glimpsing over the side, you might be able to imagine how desperate you would have to be to plunge over the edge and tumble down into the valley. A close inspection of the statue shows a mixture of fear and resolution on the rider’s face.
Bushrangers form an intriguing part of early colonial history, and a handful remain as examples of wilder times including Ned Kelly, Ben Hall and Captain Moonlite. The Western Road (Great Western Highway) was well-travelled from the time of its construction, and there was bushranging activity in the area, particularly during the time of the gold rushes at Bathurst, Sofala, Hill End and beyond.
But it is, alas, a myth. A persistent myth which added to the fabric and history of Blackheath.
The waterfall at Govetts Leap which cascades into the Grose Valley had been surveyed in 1831 by William Romaine Govett. A descendant of Govett responded to the later claims of Govetts Leap being named for a bushranger with the same name who managed to elude police by seemingly vanishing at a cliff regarded as impossible for a man or beast to climb. It was suggested that the bushranger and the surveyor had been conflated. It had been named by Major Mitchell, Surveyor-General, in recognition of Govett who was his assistant surveyor.
The statue was created by Arthur Murch and was erected by the Blackheath Rhododendron Festival Committee in 1974. It is a nod to the importance of myths in our history.
What myths are on display in your local area?
Sources: Exploring the Blue Mountains, ME Hungerford and JK Donald, 1982 and Blue Mountains Journeys by Ken Goodlet, 2013.
[Photo: Govetts Leap statue in Neate Park, Blackheath]
I was almost relieved to hear it was only a myth for I couldn’t help think of his dear horse who had no choice but to take that leap along with his ‘master.’
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I have to admit, I also immediately thought, “but the horse didn’t choose to die!’ So I’m glad it’s a myth, but it’s an interesting one! If a myth is repeated often enough, it does tend to be regarded as a fact, doesn’t it? Which makes me wonder how many “facts” I know about my area are actually true.
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That’s a great point, Ann. Myths tend to swirl around us and if they’re there long enough or are reinforced in some way they tend to stay. I thought the story was one of those sad but true tales until I looked a little deeper into it. It’s interesting too how the truth doesn’t always have to get into the way of an interesting story. Thanks for reading.