Photographs by Harry Whaite 1912 - 2011

 

 

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Romance of Mount Werong

By R. else Mitchell (Warrigal Club of N.-S.W. and

Coast and Mountain Walkers of N.S.W.)

from The Bushwalker magazine 1938

MOUNT WERONG to many will be but a name—and in fact it is little else, even though it appears in the Post Office directory. The village of that name lies some thirty miles south-easterly from Oberon, the nearest railway town, and is in the heart of the mountains on the Main Divide near the eminence from which it derives its name.

i One time, not long ago, Mount Werong promised to be the centre of great mining activity as the country around is very metalliferous and contains, according to assays, gold, silver, lead and copper in reason able quantities. When the mining possibilities were first made known company promoters, metallurgists, and Pitt Street mining engineers flocked to the spot in their limousines along the rocky and muddy dray track from Oberon.

It was not long before the local inhabitants were cajoled into subjection and a company was floated to exploit the mineral resources.. Galvanized iron sheds were erected, engines set up, a dam built, and a pumping plant installed to provide water for a sluice, and the waters of Ruby Creek diverted by an aqueduct from one side of the range across the other side into Limeburner's Creek where mining operations were to be carried on. Soon the place was a hive of industry and the clank of the metal grader and crusher mingled with the intermittent detonations of the donkey engine and pumping plant.

Ere long, however, the invaders of this primitive demesne were rebuffed. The lode did not give the yield which assays had predicted and the company fell into financial difficulties; those who controlled it realized that the proposition was doomed to failure and work ceased. No attempt was made to move the plant or any of the machinery or even an old motor truck, all of which still stand as though they had just been abandoned.

Nature Takes Charge

Since the cessation of work no mining on a large scale has been carried on at Mount Werong—grass has grown in the water race, the aqueduct has eroded away and collapsed, the dam is choked with reeds and water hyacinth, ferns have adorned the pumping plant shed, poking their stiff fronds fearlessly between spokes of wheels and belts which once whirled and hummed with energy, the crusher and grader have seen the ravages of rust and their joints and working parts have seized.

The road which had promised to become a highway to an El Dorado

has reverted to a bush track winding through the forest timber of grey gums and stringybarks to a few scattered bark huts, the abodes of a handful of hardened and yet hopeful prospectors who eke out an existence by toiling for the precious yellow metal with only occasional luck.

There is but one mail a week to Mount Werong and no telegraph communication. The mailman comes in on Thursday afternoon, leaves a few letters or old papers, sometimes none at all, passes the cricket score or other fresh news on, and then departs with the one or two missives which connect the inhabitants with the outside world. Once every six weeks a truck comes out from Oberon with supplies, and apart from a casual visitor or an occasional stockman the miners see only each other from day to day.

In a windowless bark hut at the end of the bush track dwells Ted Billett, the uncrowned king of Mount Werong, his mate Ramsay Grimshaw,

two faithful cattle dogs, and a Malay game cock—Jack Johnson is its name. Ted is one of nature's gentlemen but he's getting on in years. He's been quite a globe-trotter in his day—mining here, farming there, droving on the roads somewhere else; he even kept a butcher's shop in Sydney_ once and fought in the South African War, made his fortune three times and lost it again; no wonder he is respected in this little settlement.

Tales of the Past

Ted will tell of days gone by in real backwoods style, his colourful narrative decorated with drover's curses and punctuated by an occasional spit into the fire with unerring aim.

"Now, boys," he'll say, "you must stay here with me a few days. No, don't put your tent up, you can sleep in my place; let's have something to eat, then we'll talk."

And so you'll eat one of Ted Billett's doughboys, and then listen attentively for hours to his yarns. The evening passes in no time reminiscences—reminiscences—related in that genial and naive style which the cynical city dweller admires but cannot cultivate. Then next day you'll probably come across Wally Bryant, he'd be all right except that he's a Pommy, and Ernie Sharp, poor Ernie is crippled with rheumatoid arthritis; and maybe one or two others.

There is no one else. The inhabitants are decreasing fast; one fell over a cliff some time ago and was killed; then Jimmy Inglis died. He was an identity and is said to have been responsible for building the dancing platform and mud hut at Kanangra. His hut, now deserted, is the mansion of Mount Werong; it is made of slabs cut with madmade-like precision and roofed with solid shingles three feet long and eight inches wide. There is aesthetic beauty in this structure such as no orthodox architect could achieve.

Maybe you'd like to wander through the glorious forest, across the grassy mounds where the earth was ruthlessly torn up in search of mineral wealth, to South Head, a rocky promontory overlooking Werong Creek Gorge—"The Hole" they call it. The vision spreads to the Ruby Creek Falls, a silver thread slithering down the rocks, to the Kowmung Valley and the ranges beyond, and then into space. . . . What solace and quiet this place presents. How one admires Ted Billett and the local inhabitants. What a destructor of peace and beauty is civilization.