Photographs by Harry Whaite 1912 - 2011







An early explorer

George Caley and His Work

By R Else Mitchell from the Bushwalker 1938.

Amongst the early inhabitants of New South Wales was a botanist, George Caley, who had come out at the instance of sir Joseph Banks in 1800. Energetic and resourceful, he was a man admirably suited for pioneering work and, through the chief duty for which he had come to the colony was the collection and classification of botanical specimens, he still found time for ornithological and exploratory pursuits. It is of his exploration that worthy merit is mentioned for many of the early pioneers his endeavours were ill rewarded and well-nigh forgotten.

In 1801, soon after his arrival in the colony, Caley undertook several short journeys beyond Prospect westward and south-westward towards the Nepean and Liverpool. Subsequently in that year he traced part of the course of the Nepean, which had been discovered in 1789, and made a journey to Mount Hunter, an eminence some miles west of Camden.

From this point it was anticipated that an expansive view of the Blue Mountains would be presented but the outlook was deceptive because only the lower slopes of the ranges were visible, and Caley, remarked casually that "they did not deserve the name of mountains" and were merely high hills. Thereupon he resolved to explore them and was destined within a few years to alter his impression.

Traced the Nepean

In the next two years all Caley’s spare time seems to have been spent in the central Nepean area, Not only did he trace the course of the Nepean over parts not previously known but he also explored thoroughly and defined the boundaries of the Cowpastures, then known as Vaccary Forest. Which was to become the birthplace of the wool industry. It was during these expeditions that he discovered the Warragamba River some miles above its junction with the Nepean and the headwaters of Blue Gum Creek, a tributary of the Nattai River at Picton Lakes.

Soon after his return from the Cowpastures in 1804 Caley organized an expedition to make a bold assault on the Blue Mountains from Richmond. After six days of difficult traveling over Kurrajong heights, across the swampy headwaters of Burralow Creek, and along the northern brink of the chasm in which the Grose River runs, the party reached Mt Tomah (Table Hill). The rugged nature of the country had by this time dispelled the idea Caley had previously held that the mountains were merely high hills and although his men were sorely fatigued he persuaded them to continue westward.

Reached Mount Banks

Six days later, after crossing the heads of of deeply entrenched creeks and scaling broken sandstone escarpments and buttresses, the party reached Mount Banks, which Caley named after his benefactor Sir Joseph Banks. This prominent feature, now known as Mount King George, had been Caley’s immediate objective and from it he obtained expansive views in all directions particularly towards the coast, the country around Prospect, which he had left over a fortnight before being clearly visible.

From the barren top of Mount banks below which the Grose River flows peacefully in a yawning chasm of abhorrent depth by him called the Devil’s Wilderness. Caley stared into the western fastness of the mountains. He saw no large valleys except the one below, and the ground rising gradually towards the horizon appeared swampy and scrubby. He relates that "by these appearances it might be imagined easy to travel over that space provided the inaccessible valley close at hand was crossed. Yet" his diary continues, "there is no doubt but what others of a similar nature would present themselves as I am too well convinced now of their rugged and impassible state."

Caley realized, with the stock of provisions diminishing and the spirit and enthusiasm of his men extinguished – himself fatigued and almost exhausted - that further progress was not possible, and with disappointment he returned to Sydney. The journey had been accompanied by such hardships that Caley suffered from its ill effects for some time afterwards for, as Governor King said, it was so hazardous "that it could only have been undertaken by a man possessing the bodily strength and enthusiastic mind of Caley."

Later Explorations

Caley visited Burragorang Valley in 1806 near where Barrallier had made a depot a few years earlier, and he confirmed the account which that explorer had given of good forest land and fertile soil which could be developed for agriculture. It has also been suggested that he made a final attempt to cross the mountains from Emu Plains but there is little to support this conclusion other than the existence of a cairn of stones near Linden which Governor Macquarie named Caley’s Repulse.

How unfortunate it is that a man of such outstanding ability and courage – a pioneer in the true sense of the word – was not able to achieve the success the he deserved. Indirectly however his knowledge and ability were instrumental in gaining the coveted objective of a route over the mountains in 1813, for it was he who suggested to Lawson, one of the members of the successful party, the plan of climbing the main ridge between the watersheds of the Grose and Warragamba Rivers and following it to the western plains.

Without derogation from the performance of Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson, let it be remembered that it was Caley and men of his calibre undaunted and enthusiastic, who made the crossing of the mountains possible