Last year I joined a trip organised by the Lithgow branch of the National Trust which explored some of the original roads of the Lithgow district.
We headed in the direction of Hassans Walls, turning onto Magpie Hollow Road. The road twisted and turned down into the valley before spiralling back up, crossing sections of original roads as designed by Mitchell, Cox and Lockyer. The Lithgow Valley contains remnants of these historic roads: Cox’s Road of 1814/15, the track built by Lockyer from Bathurst in 1828, and the Bathurst Road by Mitchell in 1832/36. All were challenged by the terrain and the roads were physically created by convicts, hundreds of them, working in very difficult conditions. Most convicts were recidivists and a system of manacles of varying weights was used to control and reward behaviour as appropriate. At some of the stockades, there were hundreds of convicts.
We drove along Hampton Road, passing the recently installed monument to Evan’s crossing of the Great Dividing Range, before turning back and heading towards the Sidmouth Valley.
Part of the valley was given in a land grant of 2000 acres to a magistrate, Robert Lowe. Although he never lived here, his family settled at the Sydmouth Valley Homestead (circa 1826) after his death. A story was shared about Lowe’s second wife, Sarah. She was the illegitimate daughter of two convicts, and the marriage to Robert would have been scandalous at the time. Sarah was known for her kindness and for taking care of people. When the eldest of Robert’s sons took over Sydmouth, she moved to Mudgee to take up another of Robert’s land grants with the brood of children in tow. According to the story, she was held up by a bushranger but when he realised who she was her let her pass – she had done right by him the last time they met and he wouldn’t take anything from her.
In 1871 the property was bought by the Webb family and it has been in the same family since then. Over the years there have been inevitable changes, but the original homestead is still surprisingly intact. The homestead has valley views with the remnants of an old grass tennis court in front and an arbour of wisteria stepped down the slope. The original kitchen is now separate accommodation, and the cellar is also intact. The gardens were a delight with lots of gardenias and bulbs, lilac trees and many other pretty cottage garden plants. There is also a well, nearly as old as the house. It was brick lined with a depth of 90 feet.
From there we headed to the Tarana Hotel where a buffet lunch was waiting for us. We were seated on trestle tables underneath an arbour of wisteria vines – just glorious on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
From Tarana we continued towards a place called Locksley. We travelled along old roads that wound along with the railway line with the Fish River in view for most of the way through pleasant countryside. Mt Tarana loomed on one side and there were regular glimpses of Evan’s Crown as we continued on.
Our final stop was at Clifton, an old property at Locksley. Initially, the area was called Dirty Swamp. The main building was once known as the Crispin Arms which was a stopping point for the passing traffic en route to Bathurst. There have been various additions over the years, and there had been a number of smaller buildings around the inn, including convict barracks. There is one of these buildings remaining: it has been restored and is now a comfortable self-contained accommodation facility.
The property is set on a large block of land, and the garden near the barracks and the residence was a delight to walk through with lots of old fashioned flowers and shrubs. A pleasant place to walk about before returning to Lithgow.
There is a website which provides a comprehensive overview of the history of Cox’s Road here, and this includes a link to a lecture on Cox’s Road by colonial historian Professor Grace Karskens.
Day trips such as this one are mind-expanding in a number of ways, creating awareness of places and people, of history and heritage.
When was the last time you had a wander along a different track?
[Photo: glimpse of the Sidmouth Valley from the homestead]