The History of Rocklily
Rocklily is in the Wombeyan Caves Karst conservation area in NSW, and also within the Sydney water catchment locked gate area. We are bordered on two sides by the Greater Blue Mountains National Park, and are in its south-west corner. The area has been locked up since the 1950s. It retains a very diverse range of native species with a number of endangered species.
The Gundungurra Aboriginal tribe inhabited the area, which covered most of the blue mountains. We respect that these first Australians lived in harmony with the land for many tens of thouands of years. There is little local Aboriginal history or stories in our local area that we know of but there is an important creation dreaming story about Jenolan and wombyean caves as well as the rivers associated with them. A complete story can be found on the National Parks website.
But in summary as follows:
Gundungurra Creation Story of Jenolan Caves
For tens of thousands of years, Jenolan has been part of the culture of the local Indigenous people. This beautiful and mysterious place holds special significance to the Gundungurra people who knew it as ‘Binomil’ or ‘Bin-oo-mur’.
According to Gundungurra Elder, Old Jimmy Lynch, who lived the latter part of his life in the Gully in Katoomba, until his death in 1913, “The old natives knew the caves. They penetrated them as far as the subterranean water, carrying sick people to be bathed in this water, which they belived to have great curative powers. Sick people were carried there from considerable distances.”
Gundungurra people’s knowledge of the caves goes back a long way, and there is a dreamtime creation story about how this whole countryside came into being. The story describes an almighty struggle between two ancestral creator spirits, one a giant eel-like creature, Gurangatch, an incarnation of the ancestral rainbow serpent, and the other, a large native cat or quoll, Mirrangan.
The scuffle resulted in the gouging out of the land to form the river systems of the Cox and Wollondillly Rivers, much of which is now under Sydney’s water storage lake behind Warragamba Dam. In this dreamtime creation story, Gurangatch and Mirragan visited Jenolan as well as Wombeyan (Whambeyan) Caves, which were already part of the landscape.
The Wombeyan Caves date back from the Silurian period, and were some of the first limestone caves discovered by settlers in New South Wales. In the late Devonian period (about 380 million years ago), an intrusion of igneous rock into the limestone (from which the caves are formed) metamorphosed into marble, which is a significant difference from the better known Jenolan Caves. Four hundred cave entrances have been recorded at Wombeyan, and the surrounding area contains a 1.5 km long limestone canyon which is actually a collapsed giant cave. It contains 8 springwater pools, one of which is 60 m long and between 1 m and 2.5 m deep. Big limestone boulders, which used to be the roof of the cave, are now in amongst the pools. It’s a really great place to swim in summer. Local aborigines believed the caves were formed during a contest between a mythical being (part fish and part reptile) and a tiger cat. (Quoll)
The year 1829 is given as the date of the whiteman’s Re-discovery of Wombeyan Caves, and ten years later a constable from Goulburn paid a visit, however he went no further than the arch. If 1829 is the correct date, then these caves were discovered twelve years earlier than Jenolan Caves, which were first seen by James Whelan while pursuing the bushranger McKeown in 1841. The Government appointed the first guide and caretaker at Jenolan in 1867, whereas Mr. Charles Chalker had been appointed guide at Wombeyan Caves three years earlier.
In 1856, a 650-acre section was put aside for the protection of the caves – the larger area is now called the Wombeyan Caves Karst Conservation Area. . There is a local wattle named after the Chalkers, which grows at Rocklily: an ironwood, Acacia chalkeri that only grows in the limited area around the caves.
Wombeyan is an adaptation of an Aboriginal word meaning ‘grassy valley between mountains’ which is so true of Rocklily. Many of the caves at Wombeyan Caves have adapted Aboriginal names.
Jim Dingo Mountain was actually called Gin Dingo, as an Aboriginal woman fought off a dingo on the mountain before returning to her camp.
The area was first settled in the 1840s and blocks like Rocklily were eventually settled in 1897 by Bill and Johanna Lang. Joanna bore 9 children in 11 years and died at the age of 34. Bill then remarried Mary Flemming. Bill expanded Rocklily so each of his sons had a place nearby. Shearing was a busy time at Rocklily and Bill taught his sons to shear. Even with a shearing strike in the rest of the country there was always shearing done at Rocklily (Excerpt from More homes among the hills by Pat Williamson). This Rocklily was the buildings behind the existing Rocklily (now called Fernleigh) with shearing sheds atop the hill behind the existing Rocklily. The swapping of names by a purchaser in the 1950s is a sore point for local descendents, I think this happened as the name went with the newest most habitable house.
There are stories of Granny Lang walking two days to Taralga (now a 30-minute car trip) to get her flour and tea, stopping and overnighting at friends. We recently had Cecil Lang and some of his family, who were born at Rocklily, out for afternoon tea. Hearing their childhood tales of the area puts living there now in perspective.
In early 2003 after nearly nine months and having to get the property rezoned from its accidental zoning as a National Park we finally owned Rocklily in Easter 2004. We’d spent over two years looking for something as unique as this and just missed it a year beforehand. Thankfully the buyer got sick of waiting for the rezoning, and we finally owned Rocklily.
Today Rocklily has two spring-fed dams, and a number of other small natural springs. These have attracted some really special animals, as they have still run even at the height of drought. Our favourite sight here was two brush-tailed rock wallabies, delicately holding in both hands the turning leaves from the mulberry tree, about 50 m from the house on a cool autumn morning.
We also love watching a wedge-tailed eagle nest on our highest mountain ‘Wire Hill’. The gale force winds finally allowed us to clearly see the nest. And when we see only one we know the other is nest-sitting and eventually we see all three flying, with the smallest obviously that year’s hatchling.
There are plenty of snakes, Brown’s copperheads and red-belly blacks, wombats, red-necked wallabies, swamp wallabys, Wallaroo’s a range of euros and of course the grey kangaroo. We have a small flock of gang-gangs nesting in the hill opposite the house, as well as Glossie cockatoos and the yellow-tailed black cockatoos make a regular mess of the new pine cones. Our valleys have plenty of lyrebirds too. The funniest sound they make is the sound of star posts being banged in! It’s bliss sitting having a cuppa with mists in the valleys below the house and a number of lyrebirds and others all calling as we watch the blue wrens, eastern spinebills and other small birds in the garden.
We will be adding to the fauna and flora surveys as we can and would love any twitchers or flora specialists to contact us—come and help us identify even more.
Work we have done to get it to where it is now
Although not living at Rocklily full-time until 2012, we have managed quite a bit so far.
We are not farmers, just bushwalkers and outdoors people. Warwick’s engineering background sees him tackle many problems in innovative ways. This has been helped with the recent addition of Terence the tractor (thanks Dad!)
We try and run Rocklily bio-dynamically, and organically but ended up having to break this in order to treat the very mangy wombats in 2009 and have been mange free since. As you can see in the ‘before and after’ photos below, this has really made a difference.
When we purchased the property it had areas regularly ‘supered’ (super phosphate), and ran a small herd of cows. We treated the soil with bio-dynamic preparations as well as increasing the diversity of the grasses with a mix of native grass seeds local to the immediate area, helping bring back the diversity of grasses and to encourage and feed the wildlife.
Getting in a proper septic system was vital, local wild pigs had had a field day in the old gravel pit. With a main septic tank, then a sand filter the same size, leading to two enormous absorption pits. Enough for a caravan park we think. All because the soil analysis we had done on that spot (for $1,000!) classified it as ‘grit’: it was actually just years of run-off from the dirt road. The place looked like a gravel yard with the amount we had to bring in. This was no mean feat in itself, as trucks still loaded had to take the empty dogs (trailers) back out up the hill and leave them there as they just could not get enough traction to get up the hill. And often the digger driver had to do this, as the normal truckies just were not skilled enough, and we do admit it’s a scary road in: a sheer unfenced drop, single-lane and crumbling unfenced edge!
While we had the machines in we ‘ripped’ the hillsides, where water rushed down their bare slopes, dug out years of silt from the dams and put in 3-level terraces for a berry area. The berry area of about 600 square metres is now called the detention centre: we had to put in 6-foot wallaby wire fencing, only to watch the wallabies squeeze through, hardly pausing. So then we tried chicken wire, and they burrowed straight under. We have installed wombat gates to finally get some sort of solution.
We use the local fallen timber for fencing, we find we get lots down with high winds, wearing out our older relatives in their efforts to help.
We have cleaned out two old dips and collected old rubbish from around the place. Painting the housefront cream and adding a veranda helped. We built a rock wall to retain soil, in order to add bird and bee-friendly plants. Warwick resorted to his impact drill to do postholes around the house, as the hillside is basically rock. We now have a tractor with various attachments to do this work.
We also have a large range of native bees: blue-banded, teddy bear etc. and have a number of hives of the standard ‘honey’ bees. This dictates my plantings, it must have nectar or pollen for bees and/or fruit for the birds (we occasionally get some too!).
It’s a truly magic place to live.