You Can Lead A Horse To Water

Across Australia, in large towns and small, occasionally there are old horse troughs in parks or along the roadside. They were installed to provide drinking water for horses as they carried people and goods all across the country before motor vehicles dominated the landscape.

Some of the troughs were erected between 1930-1940 by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Troughs Association. A significant bequest left by George and Annis Bills assisted with the proliferation of the troughs. Although rarely used these days, they are regarded as socially significant as they demonstrate early philanthropy and animal protection in Australia in the early twentieth century.

George and Annis Bills were English migrants who met in Queensland. George’s business ventures included a very successful mattress manufacturing business. Annis Bills died in 1910, and George died in 1927. After personal bequests, the income from his estate was to be used to provide troughs for horses, and to prevent cruelty and reduce the suffering of animals in any country. The large bequest was in part administered through the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).

There are at least three stone drinking troughs for horses still in situ through the mountains at Warrimoo, Wentworth Falls and Medlow Bath that were installed as part of the Bills bequest.

The troughs at Wentworth Falls and Medlow Bath have a side trough for smaller animals. Some also had a tap for the boss. The majority of the 700-odd troughs were erected in Victoria, and there were about fifty installed overseas including some in the UK and Dublin.

Although the troughs were initially individually designed and constructed, by the early 1930s a standard design was used featuring pre-cast concrete and a curved pediment with the inscription ‘Donated by Annis and George Bills Australia’.

Check this link out to read more of the history and see some great photos including ducks taking a drink in one of the troughs at St Arnaud, Victoria.

What a wonderful legacy to benefit untold numbers of horses, dogs, humans and any other creatures with a thirst who came across them.

[Photo: George and Annis Bills trough located in Railway Parade, Medlow Bath]


A Different Track

The journey from Sydney to the Blue Mountains by rail is a well-travelled one, particularly for the people who commute each work day to the city. Depending on where you start and finish, it can be quite a lengthy journey through the mountains and the ever-extending suburbs of Sydney.

On a Wednesday afternoon, I embarked from Central Station on the Indian Pacific. The Indian Pacific leaves every Wednesday, heading to Perth via Broken Hill and Adelaide. My journey took me to Adelaide in 24 hours.

I could quite easily rave about the train and the trip as it was extraordinary in many ways. Once I got over the excitement of getting onboard, patiently waiting whilst the two sections of the train were coupled together (it is too long for a single platform with 2 locomotives and 27 carriages on my trip), I settled back to watch the Sydney suburbs slip by before we began the slow climb up the mountains.

The gradual ascent was felt physically through the train – you could feel the engines at work, and I sat by the window entranced as it curved around the bends. There were sandstone segments as we approached Lapstone, moments of darkness through tunnels before bursting out amongst an ocean of trees. At Warrimoo there were houses tucked into gullies. Then a glimpse of a sandstone cottage built in 1867 near Springwood. Passing by the Corridor of Oaks at Faulconbridge, then scorched tree trunks came into view. There were vistas towards Sydney or acres of wilderness, depending on the turn of the track.

It was interesting to see what was familiar from a different angle, a higher viewpoint. I spotted some lovely character cottages near Hazelbrook, then we were running alongside the Great Western Highway and the shops and pub at Lawson sped into view. Little ferns poking out of stone walls, a kid practising discus near Wentworth Falls. As we approached Leura I saw the last lingering remnants of autumn colour and the beautiful sandstone cliffs in the distance. Then Katoomba, the soft glowing lights of guest houses, welcoming weary travellers. Tree branches slapping the side of the train, then the Hydro Majestic, lit up amongst the darkening shadows. Towards Blackheath, the depths and folds of the valleys in the last light, through Mount Victoria, last light over the Hartley valley.

Have you taken a different track on a well-travelled road?

[Photo taken near Emu Plains before the climb up the mountains]

It’s just … a little crush*

In last week’s post I referred to the Hydro Majestic as one of the many landmarks along the Great Western Highway through the Blue Mountains. While poking about on their website, I came across a link to history tours. The tours are held daily and bookings can be made for tour groups or smaller gatherings. I’ve been intrigued by the Hydro for a while, so I thought I’d go along.

The tour commenced in the Casino Lobby, a place that was familiar from old photos of the Hydro. A few of the guests of the hotel were on the tour as well, and we were given an overview of the history and the driving personality behind the hotel. Inspired by sanatoriums and health spas in Europe, entrepreneur Mark Foy travelled up and down the highway looking for a site that would meet three specific needs: a railway station, highway access and a spectacular view. Medlow Bath (or Medlow, as it was then known) offered all three.

From the imported casino dome to the breathtaking views in the Wintergarden restaurant, the old-world warmth of the old billiards room (originally a male-only domain) to the most unusual incline of Cat’s Alley, the hotel is a fascinating mix of styles, designs and architecture. Foy’s preference for arches has been acknowledged in the newly built areas of the complex, and original artwork commissioned for the hotel is on display. This includes a number of hunting murals painted by Arnold Zimmerman which form the backdrop to the stylish Cat’s Alley. The views of the Megalong Valley are spectacular, and from the top of Cat’s Alley it is possible to look down to where the farm that provided much of the produce for the hotel in the early years was located. The food was whisked up and down via flying fox.

There are several novels which refer directly or otherwise to the Hydro Majestic. These include the recent Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale, Evergreen Falls by Kimberly Freeman and Miles Off Course by Sulari Gentill in the clever Rowland Sinclair series which includes a cameo appearance by Mark Foy.

For me, the amazing scenery within and without the hotel only added to my interest in the Hydro. I was fortunate to have an excellent tour guide, Patrick, who wove a spellbinding story around the history of the Hydro and made it come alive.

What brings history to life for you?

*Taken from ‘Crush‘ by Jennifer Paige

[Photo of Cat’s Alley, Hydro Majestic]

It’s a kind of magic*

There are many landmarks for the traveller along the Great Western Highway. Whilst the highway’s course has altered over time due to bypasses and road changes, there are many sections which have remained unchanged despite the perpetual roadworks over the decades.

One memory of a mountain trip was on a school excursion. We stopped at Bull’s Camp Reserve at Woodford.  As we wandered about, one of the teachers explained the location’s significance as a convict stockade whilst the initial road was being carved through the mountains. A large, slightly stained flat rock was pointed out and it was identified as a flogging stone for errant convicts. I’m not sure of the truth of this tale but it lodged firmly in my mind.

As you travel towards the apex of the mountains, the familiar shape of the Carrington Hotel chimney crests the horizon. It fascinated me as a child, looming in the distance before slipping aside as the highway turned towards Medlow Bath and Blackheath. It was built in 1910 and originally provided power to the township of Katoomba as well as the hotel.

A little further along the highway is the sprawling splendour of the Hydro Majestic. It stretches for over a kilometre along the escarpment, commanding views over the Megalong Valley. Recently it was extensively refurbished, and it is once again an extremely popular tourist destination.

The old Toll Bar House is on the left hand side on the final stretch before Mt Victoria, and is another milestone along the highway. Nestled in the bend before the township, it was a collection point for tolls during the early life of the highway and continued through to 1868 when the railway station opened at Mt Victoria. It has the grace of an earlier era, a static witness to over 150 years of history.

There are many kinds of magic along the Great Western Highway. What are your favourites?

*From ‘A Kind of Magic’ by Queen

[Photo is of the Carrington Hotel, Katoomba on an autumn day]