The Gully Water Catchment

We at The Habitat Advocate haved lived in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains of Australia since 2001, continue to be closely connected to the small creek valley just below us outside our windows, called by some simply as ‘The Gully’, situated on the western fringe of Katoomba regional township. 

 

 

‘The Gully Water Catchment’ comprises the upland creek valley of some 600 hectares above Katoomba Falls in the Blue Mountains.  Over time since the 1800s it has been divided up for various human occupation and exploitation.

 

The Habitat Advocate is connected geographically to The Gully geographically less that 50 metres away.

We live metres away uphill and observe the valley below from outside our windows.  We are connected environmentally (we have cared for its ecology (including Bushcare and Streamwatch for years).  We are connected socially (we hold a close friendship with many local residents who live around the hilltop fringes surrounding this small creek valley.  We are connected personally (we hear and see the going on down there daily and we walk around it weekly.  We are connected historically (having fond memories of those who once lived down in this creek valley and have studied its history back to 1813).  We are connected politically (we have lobbied the land managing custodian, local council, since 2001 for its protection and rehabilitation).   

So basically, we think we know this small creek valley personally, regarding it as a natural neighourhood environs, and as an extension of our home environment.  To us and to many local resident friends it is beautiful natural creekk valley; quiet, peaceful and from our reading historical research regarded by many as sacredly spiritual.  We don’t disagree and since arriving here feel very cconnected to a sense of a special natural place. 

However, since various others refer to this creek valley and its many portions by other titles, and given various renamings by local council over the years, for clarity we herein begin by explaining the various namings and their meanings as follows:

  1. The Gully Water Catchment
  2. The Gully
  3. Katoomba Falls Creek Valley
  4. McRaes Paddock
  5. Catalina (amusement) Park
  6. Catalina Park (motor) Raceway
  7. Frank Walford Park
  8. Katoomba Falls Reserve
  9. Selby Street Reserve
  10. Katoomba Golf Course
  11. The Gully – Aboriginal Place’
  12. Gargaree

 

How so many place-descriptive names?   

These multiple place names for this creek valley have locally evolved over decades to various portions by vested interests, make it confusing to outsiders to comprehend what is what.   So from our local knowledge gained from living here for the past 20-odd years and from our passionate interest in researching to better understanding this place, we elaborate.

 


The Gully Water Catchment

 

One of the headwaters of Katoomba Falls Creek.  One of three StreamWatch water quality testing sites selected by The Friends of Katoomba Falls Creek Valley Bushcare Group [2003-2007]. (Photo by Editor 2011-04-01)

Given the field focus of The Habitat Advocate is ecology, for ecological clarity we shall herein refer to the entire valley catchment area with a hybrid title of ‘The Gully Water Catchment‘.  We include the term ‘gully’ as a conciliatory recognition and respect to the former residents who used this term affectionately when they lived here before the racetrack ursupation.

Ecologically, this creek valley is most importantly fundamentally a hydrological environmental system. 

The natural geography of this creek valley is characterised as an upper course riverscape, which takes the form of a south-facing naturally steep bushland amphitheatre shape in the northern portion of this valley.  The valley lies about one kilometre above sea level.  

This area is defined as the entire water catchment area of 6 km2 (600 hectares).  the water catchment’s geographical boundaries comprise the Cox’s Watershed (Bathurst Road) to the north, Valley Road to the Jamison clifftop escarpment to the west, the meandering watershed though central Katoomba to the east and Katoomba Falls to the south.

The Gully Water Catchment‘    [SOURCE:  Dr Val Attenbrow’s Map of 1993 used in ‘The Study Area’, in Katoomba Falls Creek Valley Environmental Study  | Draft Report and Management Plan prepared for Blue Mountains [city] Council | by F.&J. Bell & Associates  | June 1993  | page 3 of 87]

 

Rainwater that becomes surface water and ground water flows from a small perennial waterfall and a number of springs which flow into several watercourses that confluence into the central creek with a native sedge swampland riparian zone leading to and surrounding the creek.  The creek froms downstream southward over Katoomba Cascades and plunges over Katoomba Falls into the Kedumba River about 300 metres below in the magnificent Jamison Valley of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.  Kedumba River then flows and meanders southward confluencing into the flooded Cox’s River and the artificial Lake Burragorang (constructed 1948-1960) which has since been Sydney’s primary drinking water supply.  

Lake Burragorang (reservoir) situated about 40km downstream of The Gully Water Catchment

 

This all means that indeed the relatively small creek valley on the western fringe of Katoomba forms part of an official drinking water catchment.  But it is not just for the benefit of a distant growing urban Greater  Sydney metropolis; The Gully Water Catchment in its own right serves as a vital small natural ecosystem to sustain remnant locally native flora and fauna including aquatic macroinvertebrates throughout its riparian zone.  This was albeit despite the catchment’s history of land management abuse and neglect by local council and self-interested outsiders. 

This author between 2003 and 2007, as a former member of The Friends of Katoomba Falls Creek Valley Bushcare Group undertook regular voluntary water quality monitoring and testing under the instruction and resourcing the then Sydney Catchment Authority’s Streamwatch Programme. 

‘Citizen science’ indeed.

 

Our group proudly won five awards over this time for our efforts including this one below in 2005.   Our winning award was a recognition by the Sydney Catchment Authority for our specific work in monitoring, testing, investigating and reporting incidents of sewer overflow pollution of the creek from Sydney Water’s sewer network in the valley.   

As part of our win, Sydney Catchment Authority rewarded our StreamWatch group with a $2000 cheque thank you.

 

Fresh flowing water has always been an integral value of this small creek valley.  It is not just that it is part of the Kedumba River Water Catchment that supplies drinking water to Sydney, but vital to restoring the local riparian ecology.  At the time our volunteeer charity group ‘The Friends’ subsequently invested this $2000 into a fixed interest account, since its operational expenses continued to be funded out street stalls in Katoomba Street.  Ulitmately, upon the sad passing of the founder and chairperson of The Friends on 26th May 2016, The Friends elected to formally wind up the incorporated organisation.  These funds along with the balance of the operational bank account were then gifted to the Blue Mountains Historical Society as part of a successful handover of The Friends archival records spanning 27 years. 

Over two centuries, government in NSW (both  state and local) continually re-zoned and divided up The Gully Water Catchment from being a pristine natural water catchment into various ‘sold out’ portions, thus.

  • The New South Wales colonial government’s usurpation of country west of Sydney for colonial settlement following the British explorers’ crossings from 1813 
  • Government sales of the Blue Mountains plateau lands around what is now Katoomba and Leura (including this creek valley) to various colonial settlers who subsequently deforested the land for timber, cattle and horse grazing and for town building and associated housing subdivision
  • The acquisition of this creek valley and surrounding land by one John Britty North in the 1870s for subsequent deforestation and then for coal mining exploitation 
  • Incremental sales of bushland by Council for housing subdivisions along with urban streets over many years since the 1880s
  • Catalina Park amusement park and lake (1946-1951)
  • Council’s subsequent purchase of the land of Catalina Park in 1952
  • Catalina Park motor racing circuit (leased by Council to the Blue Mountains Sporting Drivers Club Ltd.) (1957-1971)
  • Council’s aquatic centre constructed in Katoomba Falls Creek valley in the 1980s
  • Two Council cricket ovals at Katoomba Reserve
  • Katoomba Golf Course (1911-2013)
  • Council’s rezoning and subdivision approval of ‘The Escarpments’ townhouses on a portion of the Katoomba Golf Course site  (2000 – current)
  • Council’s caravan park (currently called ‘Katoomba Falls Tourist Park’)
  • The NSW Government’s Rural Fire Service’s South Katoomba RFB Station with subsequent access roads
  • The NSW Government’s Rural Fire Service’s Bushfire Control Centre built near the aquatic centre below Mission Street
  • As a secret waste dump for hundreds of tonnes of sand and rock on top of the swamp extracted from the RTA’s Great Western Highway cutting between Blackheath and Mount Victoria 
  • The areas previously gazetted by Council as Frank Walford Park, Mc Rae’s Paddock, Selby Street Reserve and Katoomba Falls Reserve have in piecemeal parts been handed over to Gundungurra (Aboriginal)-only custodianship as ‘The Gully – Aboriginal Place’ in 2002
  • Council’s proposed ‘Centre for Planetary Health’ to occupy the defunct golf course clubhouse from 2022

This list is not complete.

The remnant natural bushland portions of The Gully Water Catchment continue to be steadily sold off periodically by Council (along with many other  bushland blocks owned by Council in order it seems to bankroll Council’s annual operations and councillors’ capital works indulgences – external consultants, legal fees, media public relations, over-paid executive management, and unnecessary capital works projects. 

 


 

The Gully

‘The Gully’ is the old affectionate name given to this northern portion of this small creek valley by its former residents (numbering two or three dozen or so) who lived down  inthis small creek valley for decades from the early 19th Cenury first contact with British colonial settlers up until the last residents were forcibly removed from the gully 1957-1959 by Council and their homes demolished by contracted bulldozer. 

Those residents comprised both locally Aboriginal clan families, comprising predominantly people of Gundungurra and Darug ancestry as well as non-Aboriginal, many of whom had inter-married.  It had been a tight-knit self-sufficient yet quite poor community refuge of displaced persons, subsisting in bushland typically in meagre dirt-floor shacks with no utilities (i.e. no connected running water, electricity, gas, plumbing, phonelines or streets). 

The Gully in the old days (Early 1800s to the 1957 forced eviction by Council).  It had been simple bush living refuge of poor folk subsisting on the fringe of Katoomba of both regional Aboriginal, non-Aboriginal and a intermarried mix of both. Many had been previously displaced in 1948 from their Burragorang Valley bush homes when the NSW government evicted them to flood the valley to create a Sydney’s Warragamba Dam  reservoir.  The Gully was a close-knit community.  It holds archaeological evidence thanks to field research separately by Dianne Johnson, Ph.D in 2001 and Alan Lance in 2005 which confirms ancient Aboriginal archeological sites within the gully extending to ancient origins.

 

But the gully people must have had sewage since around 1907 when then Katoomba Municiple Council had trenched up the valley for sewage to flow to the ‘Leura Filter Beds’ via the escarpment around Katoomba Falls and situated down in the Jamison Valley.  Remnants of the long disused iron sewer pipe infrastructure may still be seen along on the hiking track between Katoomba Kiosk and the Furber Steps access down into the Jamison Valley.

 


Katoomba Falls Creek Valley

Katoomba Falls Creek Valley was its gazetted name by local council for decades throughout the 20th Century. 

It was affectionately referred to simply as ‘The Valley’ by surrounding residents’ grassroots environmental group The Friends of Katoomba Falls Creek Valley Inc. (The Friends) which functioned to respect and rehabilitate its natural values and ecology as informal ecological custodians and to challenge the many damaging threats to it by various vested outside interests between the years 1989 and 2016; some 27 years.

Katoomba Falls Creek Valley was the historical name of this creek valley water catchment up until 1995, after which Blue Mountains {city} Council unilaterally decided to rename it ‘Upper Kedumba River Valley‘ without asking anyone.   One presumes that Council’s renaming logic was because this the central creek flows of this upland valley flows to Katoomba Cascades and over to Katoomba Falls into the Kedumba River more than 300 metres down in the Jamison Valley below, so it seems that some bureaucrat in Council wanted to continue the name to the small creek above the falls.   The renaming suggests Council’s recognition of this upland creek valley as being part of the water catchment area of the Kedumba River below Katoomba Falls and throught the lower Jamison Valley.  This is correct. 

The following recent YouTube video shows the downstream water emanating from this creek valley flowing over Katoomba Cascades and then down Katoomba Falls.

One suspects that given Council’s decades of fighting against the wises of local community environmental activist group The Friends off Katoomba Falls Inc. and that the  renaming of the creek valley was a snide attempt by Council to undermine the validity of this group.  Compare the following two documents below.   The second shows the original name crossed out by Council.  

This study and report by Fred Bell and his environmental consulting team was commissioned by The Friends at a cost of $10,000. It was formerly submitted by The Friends to Council, but was wholly ignored by Council bureaucracy and the councillors at the time.  A full transcript copy is made availabe on this website at: https://www.habitatadvocate.com.au/gully-report-1-the-bell-report-of-1993/

 

This subsequent report was commissioned by Council at ratepayer expense and prepared by Sydney based consulting firm (in Neutral Bay) Connell Wagner and probably at considerably higher cost – not their money.

 

Council’s 1996 plan of management was pretty much a copy of Fred Bell’s 1993 plan of mamagement for The Friends.  Both plans considered the entire water catchment and recommended similar  environmental restorative actions be undertaken – didnt happen.  Council didn’t fund these and didn’t seek external grant funding; it filed both plans.

As a former member of The Friends, this author recalls that when the group learned of the renaming on Council’s 1996 plan of management title, the group chose not to change their name.  Affectionately the members just referred to the entire water cathment simply as ‘The Valley’ for short anyway.  The word ‘Kedumba’ is has Aboriginal origins and is just a variation of the word ‘Katoomba’ depending on how it is pronounced.   The original meaning was supposedly “tumbling waters” in reference to Katoomba Cascades and Katoomba Falls below.

Katoomba Falls

 

Another theory espoused by a local Blue Mountains historian Jim Smith Ph.D. is that ‘Katoom-ba‘ could be a local aboriginal Gundungurra phrase relating to the pointing to a certain edible ‘fern: ‘Katoom’ (the fern plant) and ‘ba’ (over there) down in the Jamison Valley.   We like the tumbling waters version.

Blue Mountains {city} Council has since renamed Upper Kedumba River as Kedumba River on Google Maps: 

Council renamed Katoomba Falls Creek as Kedumba River.  Seriously, has Blue Mountains {city} Council bureaucracy got nothing better to do than indulging in ‘cancel culture’ renaming of local geography?

 

So watch this space and be prepared for more of unexpected Council renamings that may come to hand!

 


McRaes Paddock

This middle portion of the creek valley used to be colloquially called by locals as McRae’s Horse Paddock possible as far back as colonial times pre-1901 since the days of horse-drawn transport preceding the invention of the motor car. 

McRaes Paddock is characterised as a shallow riparian swampland corridor midway along the valley creek that extends from being channelled as a drain culvert underneath Gates Avenue and then south for just about 800 metres to being similarly channelled as a drain culvert underneath Neale Street.  The creek corridor at this creek valley portion narrows from about 200 metres wide to 100 metres at Neale Street, and the approximate remnant swamp/bushland area not yet been encroached upon by housing, covers about 70 hectares (0.7 km2).

Anecdotal local oral history records that the land owner was a grazier by the name of McRae (or Macrae) who grazed his horses in this swampland and the surrounding natural grassland either side of this comparatively narrower section of the creek valley.  

 

Over the decades locals shortened the name to just ‘McRae’s Paddock’ and the name stuck.  The surname has Scottish ancentral origins, the Clan Macrae being a Highland Scottish clan, however the origins of McRae’s Horse Paddock are not know to us, yet, but give us time with our ongoing research for this website.

 


Catalina (amusement) Park

Post World War II, between 1946 and 1951 local Katoomba tourism entrepreneurial businessman, Horace Gates, established an amusement park in the valley (The Gully)  that with support from local council aldermen he named Catalina Park.

Catalina Park circa 1949

 

However not long after, by 1951 Horace Gates had lost patronage for his amusement attraction and it fell into disrepair.  In 1952 local council acquired his land in the valley. 

 


Catalina Park Raceway

At this time, Council had hiked up the land rates of properties across the Blue Mountains including those in this creek valley.  It was in order to fund Council’s then  utility obligations in a growing need for sewage, electricity and road making.  Over more than a decade post-war, Council had forcibly acquired many bushland properties that had been investment block of private land holders due to the repeated default in payment of these increased rates, outsourcing the legalities to the Katoomba legal firm Soper Brothers.   By 1957, Council owned most of The Gully.

During the 1950s motorcar racing had become very popular in Australia and particularly with local businessmen in the Upper Blue Mountains who had bought racing cars and wanted to test them out and to compete with one another.  Numerous small motorcar garages established and there became a growing motorcar racing fraternity.  They registered as as company as the Blue Mountains Sporting Drivers’ Club Limited. 

Their short uphill car races became popular, usurping various steep local streets of Katoomba and their power and influence evolved into them lobbying Council for a dedicated local car racing circuit to be established in the Upper Blue Mountains.

The Blue Mountains Councillors obliged on Tuesday 2nd April 1957 by passing the following motions thus:

SOURCE:   Council of The [city} of Blue Mountains councillor special meeting minute 447 (c), page 216, dated Tuesday 2nd April 1957.

 

And then on the same day..,

SOURCE:   Council of The [city} of Blue Mountains councillor special meeting minute 450, page 216, dated Tuesday 2nd April 1957.

 

So between 1957 and 1959, Blue Mountains [city] Council proceeded to forcible evict the residents of The Gully and demolish their homes in order to appease these influential businessmen and to construct a motor-racing racetrack circuit in the northern amphitheatre portion of this creek valley.   Council funded the racetrack construction by way of a loan to the Blue Mountains Sporting Drivers’ Club Limited, using ratepayer  moneys.  That loan was never repaid.

The usurping motor racing fraternity then called the place ‘Catalina Park‘, named after the float plane that had decades earlier been positioned in an artificial dam alongside the creek as an amusement attraction.  

The Catalina Park Raceway motor racing circuit launched in 1961 – with track sections; and the start grid so labelled shown in standard chequered black and white lineage.  [Source: ^https://www.racingcircuits.info/australasia/australia/catalina-park.html]

 


Frank Walford Park

This is the name that Blue Mountains {city} Council gave to the northern portion of the creek valley which forms a natural amphitheatre shape and covers about 80 hectares.  In the 1990’s, following the demise of Catalina Park racetrack, the government landowner of The Gully, councillors on the Blue Mountains {city} Council unilaterally  named this northern protion of the creek valley after one of their own, former alderman Frank Walford [1882-1969] who was also local mayor on three occasions. 

Frank Walford was from Sydney and settled in Katoomba from 1919 just after The Great War where he worked as a journalist with the local newspaper The Blue Mountains Echo and became its editor.  He was a keen and experienced bushwalker, bushman, mountaineer a variable adventurer.   He became an accomplished author of novels and poetry.   

As alderman and mayor he was largely credited (accused by former residents of ‘The Gully’) as being largely responsible for approving the motor racing circuit in 1957 in this portion of the creek valley.   However, while he supported the race track construction, Council records show that he was not mayor at the time in 1957, but an alderman.

The park sign off Madge Walford Fountain car park just by Lake Catalina. It was moved likely by Council sometime around 2014. Madge was Frank’s wife.  [Photo by Editor 2007-10-27]

Frank Walford Park is bounded by a steep bushland amphitheatre up to the surrounding ridgeline along where Lower Wells Street borders to the north, where Valley Road and Mission Street borders to the west, where Cascade Street borders to the east; and to the south where Gates Avenue, Catalina Avenue and Farnells Road.  There is also a spurline that juts into the valley from the east whihc includes the residential streets of Murri Street, Waimea Street and Warriga Street.

The surrounding street map around Frank Walford Park.  [Google Maps, 2022]

It was the broader gazetted land area of the creek valley around which the 1940s amusement park ‘Catalina Park’ centred around the artificial lake was constructed by Horace Gates and later from 1957 where the 2.1 km ‘Catalina Park’ motor racing circuit was constructed by the former Blue Mountains Spoorting Drivers’ Club Limited.

Probably a key justification for Council’s naming of Frank Walford Park’s likely after Frank’s passing in 1969 was because his home with his wife Madge was situated close by in an 1880s stone house up on the eastern spurline overlooking Dunlop Corner at 6 Kundibar Street in Katoomba.  Frank and his wife became a fan of the motor racing so much so that during the circuit’s peak operation in the 1960’s Frank had a second storey added to their the stone house as well as a small balcony so they could better  watch the car racing especially from the starting grid up Lockheed Straight and left around the sharp Dunlop Corner.

Dunlop Corner of Catalina Park (anti-clockwise) motor racing circuitlooking west from up near Katoomba Tyres on Cascade Street.  Frank Walford’s home was located left of the photo, uphill on the spurline above the racetrack. With all the trees cleared by Council, Mayor Walford created an uninterrupted view from his new upstairs balcony.

 


 

Katoomba Falls Reserve

(content pending)

 


Selby Street Reserve

(content pending)

 

 

 


Katoomba Golf Course

(content pending)

 


‘The Gully – Aboriginal Place’

The areas previously gazetted by Council as Frank Walford Park, Mc Rae’s Paddock, Selby Street Reserve and Katoomba Falls Reserve have in piecemeal parts been handed over to Gundungurra (Aboriginal)-only custodianship as ‘The Gully – Aboriginal Place‘ in 2002

The truth about ‘The Gully – Aboriginal Place’ as set aside by Council is that it is only a part of The Gully Water Catchment.  Of the remnant bushland within this catchment, ‘The Gully – Aboriginal Place’  comprises selective land portions that are not contigious, that is they don’t link up.  Yet The Gully historically, before the racetrack usurpation, the former residents considered The Gully as one unified little valley from the northern ridgetop down to Katoomba Falls – two kilometres north to south and one kilometre east to west.

This is what Council bureaucracy has done ‘The Gully – Aboriginal Place‘ portions – divided them up piecemeal.

‘The Gully – Aboriginal Place’ divided up in Blue Mountains {city} Council’s  Plan of Management dated 4th October 2021.

 

‘Gargaree’

In around 2005, a small group of former residents of The Gully (from the pre-1957 Council evictions) and their decendants who hold Gundungurra aboriginal ancestral heritage, decided to form an organisation they named The Gully Traditional Owners (GTO).   Their purpose has been to become the sole managing custodians of ”The Gully – Aboriginal Place’ in a memorandum of understanding partnership agreement with the legal landholder Blue Mountains {city} Council. 

Regrettably, this has proven to be a controlling initiative over what management decisions are made concerning the Gully, about the priority works and their funding and funding streams.  Local residents around The Gully and The Gully Valley Catchment, the broader interested local community and former members of The Friends of Katoomba Falls Creek Valley have been deliberately excluded in the consultation process and so effectively ostracised by Council and this group.

If the 1957 forced eviction of The Gully residents for an elitist motor tracing group’s exclusive usage as a racetrack was usupation with racist overtones, then how is the current exclusion by The Gully Traditional Owners comprising a select Gundungurra-only membership that excludes interested local residents around The Gully, not the comparable usurpation?   

A reciprocal repeat of a sad history?  As a society here are we learning?  Age and experience does not automatically translate to wisdom. It is not a bad thing to grow past your elders in some things. 

A few years later GTO decided to rename The Gully (yet again) as ‘Garguree‘.   This word apparently means gully or valley in the Gundungurra language, and was sourced from Blue Mountains historian, researcher and author into the Gundungurra history, Jim Smith Ph.D.   This follows a contemporary trend of renaming geographic places in Aboriginal language.  Is it sending a socially dividing message of some sort of cultural payback to the descendants of non-Aboriginal Australians, who had no say nor played no role in tragic past events in our social history before they were born, just as do the descendants of Aboriginal people and of mixed marriages thereof?

The Gully used to look all like this, pristine riverine ecology uninterrupted by human harm –  all the way to Katoomba Falls, Kedumba River, Cox’s River, Nepean River, Hawkesbury River out to Broken Bay into the Pacific Ocean.

Remnant upland swamp/wetland of The Gully

 

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