Author Archive | Keith Maxwell

Splendour Rock – another name

No, its not a fallen bushwalker overlooked just after WWII but one of a remarkable group of Australians that should be better known.

All overnight bushwalkers should camp at least once on top of dry Mt Dingo (in the Wild Dogs of the Megalong Valley) near its southern end on 24 April for an early start.  From around 5.30am onwards they will hear the tramp of feet as bushwalkers gather for the 6am Dawn Service at Splendour Rock.

Splendour Rock was a special place even before it was dedicated as a bushwalkers war memorial on ANZAC Day 1948.  The plaque is on a small rock island in what surely must be a bushwalkers cathedral.  There is no stained-glass window but an amazing view of the southern Blue Mountains.  Mountains just disappear into the distance bounded in the east by King’s Tableland and to the west by Kanangra Walls and the High Gangerangs of Mt Cloudmaker.

In a moving but simple service thirteen (13) bushwalkers who died on active service in WWII are remembered.  With luck you will greeted by an amazing sunrise as the red dawn spreads out from King’s Tableland.

In February 2023 Michael Keats and I released a book “Splendour Rock – A Bushwalkers War Memorial” that documents these bushwalkers but also four other plaques at Splendour Rock available through

The History pages of Bushwalking NSW holds a page on Splendour Rock where you will find answers to obvious questions such as who were the fallen plus some details on the other four plaques in the immediate area.

But who were the bushwalkers who served and returned from WWII?  I am quietly pleased to have prepared a list for the book from available resources of 191 bushwalkers (including the thirteen fallen) since I could not find a list.

One name appeared frequently in a major resource as a POW correspondent – Bill Cawood.  Each month during WWII in the Sydney Bush Walker magazine there was a section “Letters from the Lads and Lasses” where young men and women in uniform from any bushwalking club were listed.

Now, I often read books about the edges of WWII such as a recent library loan of how the French hid the Mona Lisa and other art works from the Nazis who were known art thieves.  Or a book about the 2/5 AGH – “Proudly We Served”.  An essential part of an army must a hospital based close to the front line such as an Australian General Hospital – AGH.

One group of remarkable unarmed Australian servicemen accepted becoming POWs.  A desperate attempt to slow the German Army in Greece and Crete led to evacuation under fire via warship.  The female nursing staff of the 2/5 AGH were evacuated while a core of doctors and support staff stayed behind to care for injured Australian servicemen.  Their story is one of survival as they moved from prison camp to prison camp as they continued to care for those around them with limited bandages etc.  Later, it was desperate times as all sorts of starving people were on the move in various directions as armies closed in on a war-torn Germany during winter of 1945.  During this time the 2/5 AGH continued to assist those around them.

Previously I have never seen a bushwalker mentioned by name in a book unrelated to bushwalking but one man of this remarkable group of medical staff, is mentioned by name – Bill Cawood.  Thus, Sydney Bush Walkers should be very proud of an Australian who served in WWII with great distinction as an unarmed serviceman.

Hence when you reflect at Splendour Rock on the thirteen bushwalkers who did not return from WWII also remember an unarmed bushwalker who showed great care for his mates and others around him – Bill Cawood.

Keith Maxwell.

The Splendour Rock plaque from 1948.

November 11, 2019 – Splendour Rock.

Where were you on November 11, 2019?

On November 10 a good bushwalking friend, Matthew Stephenson and I had camped on Mt Dingo for November 11.  We were at Splendour Rock to remember the end of World War One 100 years ago.

On November 11, 1918, the guns of World War I fell silent.  Each year since then Australia falls silent for one minute at 11am (as the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month).  The mass slaughter was over, but the war was not over until the Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919.  Medals from World War I often call it “The Great War 1914 – 1919”.  It had been such a vast war that it was thought this was “the war to end wars”.

The First AIF (Australian Imperial Force) army under General Sir John Monash played an important role in pushing the German army back to the border of Germany.  In the ‘glorious 100 days’ of combat Monash and the allies used the “all arms combat” they had developed where artillery, infantry, tanks, and planes all worked together.  The way was open to Berlin, but the allies went no further.  The German people were close to a (possible communist) revolution from a food blockage by the Royal Navy.  The German Navy had tried to stop convoys getting to Britain with submarine warfare, but the Royal Navy was successful in its similar blockade.  The Australian Light Horse had also played a major role in the defeat of the Ottoman (Turk) empire in 1918.  The original ANZAC Day Gallipoli campaign of 1915 was an attempt to defeat the Turks through the Dardanelles.

Unfortunately, there were those like Adolf Hitler who were convinced that Germany had not truly been defeated and hence wanted another go.  Japan had been an ally in WWI but felt slighted by the terms of The Treaty of Versailles.

War came close to Australia in New Guinea during WWII.  Darwin, Broome, and many other northern Australian towns were bombed.  Around 191 bushwalkers (young men and women) from clubs of Bushwalking NSW (BNSW) joined the fight.  Seven died in the Pacific Campaign while six others died in the European theatre.

Post WWII bushwalkers of BNSW were hurting.  They were keen not to forget these thirteen bushwalkers as their numbers had included some outstanding bushwalkers.

Several ideas were thrown around including a memorial park on Narrow Neck or renaming a peak towards Kanangra Walls.  Now, Splendour Rock had always been a special location.  It is even featured in ‘An Introduction to Bush Walking’ from 1939.

During February of 1948 four bushwalkers installed the memorial plaque at Splendour Rock.  In the book by Michael Keats and I (Splendour Rock – A Bushwalkers War Memorial) you can see the breakdown of which items each bushwalker carried as described from Minutes of BNSW.

We are not sure of how many bushwalkers were present at the dedication of Splendour Rock on ANZAC Day 1948.  It was led by Paddy Pallin (an RAF veteran from WWI) and the BNSW President, Stan Cottier.  It is said a list was passed around, but I have never seen it.  One report says 140 bushwalkers while another suggests 80 bushwalkers were present.  Equally, I have not seen a list of the bushwalkers who served despite having a Bushwalkers Services Committee to support bushwalkers on service.  The list of 191 bushwalkers in our book is based on a collation of data from available sources.

Australia changed considerably as it fought for its survival.  It changed from an agricultural society to an industrial society.  In WWI only Australia and India were volunteer armies.  Very few women served, mainly as nurses.  In WWII women donned overalls to work in factories or served in important support roles within many auxiliary services.  Male farm labour was replaced by the Australian Women’s Land Army (AWLA).  While two Conscription referendums had been defeated in WWI under the (WWII) Manpower Regulations the entire Australian workforce was either directed into armed services or kept at home (like my father) for essential services to make munitions or war materials.  Rationing was tight.  At the end of WWII Australia had the fourth largest air force in the world.  So many of the very best young bushwalkers were serving that there was concern about the future of bushwalking.

Only since 1992 has there been an annual ANZAC Day Dawn Service at Splendour Rock.  Australia’s most remote war memorial requires a serious bushwalk to get there so for many past mid-week ANZAC Days there was no service.  Special anniversaries only had been remembered.

An overnight camp on Mt Dingo then the Dawn Service on ANZAC Day is a never-to-be forgotten experience especially the sunrise over King’s Tableland.  All bushwalkers should go there at least once.  Splendour Rock has drawn visitors from all over the world.

Matthew and I were on our own on November 11, 2019, but we did not stay until 11am.  The bushfires of the ‘Black Summer’ were already becoming a menace.  Walking in the Wild Dogs during midday was out of the question as it was going to be a fiercely hot day.  We passed through the upper gate in the Megalong Valley just as an NP&WS Ranger was posting a sign – PARK CLOSED.

Keith Maxwell.

The Splendour Rock plaque from 1948.

ANZAC Day is near

ANZAC Day is not far away so your mind may be turning to the special memorial at Splendour Rock that remembers 13 bushwalkers (from bushwalking clubs of Bushwalking NSW) who did not return from World War II.  This memorial in the Megalong Valley of the Blue Mountains must be Australia’s most remote war memorial.

You may or may not be aware of some other memorial plaques at this site.  A new book by Keith Maxwell and Michael Keats OAM should be on your bookshelf.  It is the definitive work that is bound to become a valuable reference on Splendour Rock with so much information.  It answers so many questions.  For example,

# Who found Splendour Rock plus when was the plaque installed and by whom?

# When was the memorial put on the official NSW register of war memorials and Australian War Memorial?

# Who are the bushwalkers remembered and what did they look like plus who were the bushwalkers who served and returned from WWII?

# How did the bushwalkers at home support their friends in uniform?

# How have these bushwalkers been remembered at ANZAC Day Dawn Services starting in 1948?

# What are the other memorial plaques including on the Central Coast and in a North Sydney church?  What is their story?

# How have fallen NZ (of ANZAC – New Zealand) trampers been remembered?

# What is the bushwalking club founded by a walk to Splendour Rock?

With 360 glossy pages it is a great read packed full of so much information plus pictures and early maps.  A must for every bushwalker’s bookshelf.

Splendour Rock – A Bushwalkers War Memorial by Keith Maxwell and Michael Keats OAM is available at bookshops where you find other great bushwalking books or from the website – (postage free at $66)

Keith Maxwell.

The Splendour Rock Choir from the Illawarra Grammar School.

Know your Clubs – YMCA Hobnails

Hobnail Canyon is a short, pleasant canyon located just off the Bell Road past Mt Tomah.  Now hobnails are a kind of boot cleat popular in the pre-WWII era.  They were nailed onto the leather sole of boots to minimise slipping.  Did the first bushwalkers through the canyon wear boots or were they from YMCA Hobnails Bushwalking Club?

From 1952 to 1970 the Hobnails were a club of young men 17 – 21 years of age with a strong reputation.  This club was just one of a strong group of bushwalking clubs in the YMCA during 1950s / 1960s where boys could progress into bushwalking as they grew older.

Young Pioneers included boys 12 – 14 years of age.  These boys could then progress to the Venturers (not Scouts) as they grew to 17 years old.  When my younger brother joined the Venturers in 1969, they were down to just three members and were officially folded up a few years later.  From 18 years of age young men and women (note) could join the YMCA Ramblers.

The YMCA Ramblers were the longest lived of these clubs.  Formed in November 1938 by Harry Black and three others it lost two members in WWII.  At their AGM of 1978 the Ramblers left the YMCA but had a final BBQ at Neilson Park on 23 November 2003.

The Ramblers always had a tense relationship with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).  Not every member had a tent, so they were often shared including ‘co-tenting’.

‘Old’ Hobnails were meant to progress to the Ramblers except that they mostly didn’t instead going to the Kameruka Bushwalking Club (KBC).   From 1946 to 1988 the KBC were renowned for doing tough and exploratory bushwalks.

So, what did hobnails look like?  Dunlop Volleys sandshoes were all the go for the Hobnails bushwalkers.  I can remember an ex-Hobnail telling me that he could not recognise a hobnail (boot cleat) when he was shown one.

You can find club badges for the Hobnails, Ramblers and KBC among many others at the Bushwalking NSW website club badges page.

Keith Maxwell – Honorary Historian BNSW.


Splendour Rock book

Did you know that there are four other memorials in the immediate area of the plaque at Splendour Rock in the Wild Dog Mountains.  A detailed, fully researched book by Michael Keats and Keith Maxwell is now with the printer.  For any bushwalker with even a passing interest in Splendour Rock this will become a go to reference.

Splendour Rock honours thirteen (13) bushwalkers from clubs who died on active service during WWII. While Splendour Rock has been described as ‘God’s Balcony’ with its views of the Southern Blue Mountains it was not the first choice of a site for a memorial.

The book answers so many questions such as, who were the thirteen (13) young men, how did they die and what did they contribute to bushwalking?  How have they since been remembered?  Who cast the Splendour Rock plaque and when / how was it installed and then dedicated?  Who were the bushwalkers who served and returned?  How were they supplied comforts from home?  What is the story behind the other four memorials.

A great read and a great reference not to be missed.  Watch out for a book launch early in 2023.

Keith Maxwell.

BNSW Honorary Historian.


Splendour Rock – hidden in plain sight

ANZAC Day is not far off.  Many bushwalkers will be heading to Splendour Rock in the Wild Dog Mountains of the Megalong Valley.  They will be there to honour thirteen (13) bushwalkers remembered by a simple but moving Dawn Service at this memorial plaque.  There has been an annual Dawn Service since at least from 1992 and perhaps even 1990 (records are incomplete).  Prior to that time Dawn Services were infrequent but usually at significant anniversaries such as 10, 25 and 50 years since its dedication in 1948 by the NSW Federation of Bushwalking Clubs (now Bushwalking NSW)..

The Bushwalking NSW website has a file that describes the fallen we remember at Splendour Rock prepared by Michael Keats OAM, Belinda Keir and Keith Maxwell.  See –

There is something special about Splendour Rock that has been hidden plain sight.  Its not just the location which is very special with its stunning view of the southern Blue Mountains.  It tells the story of a changing Australia in World War II.

In WWI Australia sent a new army, the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) to the other side of the world for an amphibious landing on ANZAC Day 1915 at Gallipoli.

Australia industrialised as war came very close in WWII and the casualties tell an interesting story.  Among the bushwalkers remembered a minority were in the AIF but all four (4) died in the fall of Singapore in 1942 or later as POW of the Japanese.

Bruce Elder (pictured) of Coast & Mountain Walkers died on HMAS Sydney when it was lost off the Western Australian coast in November 1941.

James McCormack of YMCA Ramblers although in RAAF died on HMAS Canberra when it was lost in the Battle of Savo Island in the Pacific Ocean.  Again, not Europe.

Norman Saill of Sydney Bush Walkers and RAAF died in the New Guinea campaign.  The remaining six (6) bushwalkers (of the 13) were all in RAAF and died while based in the UK.

So, hiding in plain sight was the fact that at Splendour Rock more airmen (8) are remembered than soldiers (4) who were more likely to have died close to Australia and not in some foreign (European) field.

Splendour Rock Memorial 1948

Elder Bruce photo

Keith Maxwell.


You or your club may be able to help in a fabulous project.  Michael Keats and Keith Maxwell are researching Dawn Services at Splendour Rock on ANZAC Day.  There are few details for many years as to whether a Dawn Service occurred at all.  We are calling on clubs to fill in the gaps, if possible.

A book is well advanced that will contain a wealth of information about Splendour Rock but we would like to confirm details for the years below.  You could help make this publication an even better book.

Splendour Rock was dedicated on ANZAC Day in 1948.  Contributions from various club magazines and individual club members have resulted in some truly great recollections which will be included in the text. There are significant gaps in the record, such as an incomplete set of logbooks in the State Library of NSW, and anyone who can help fill these years would be most welcome to send us their stories or recollections or field notes. Years for which we seek stories are –

1949 1953 1957 1970 1977 1981 1987 2020
1950 1954 1963 1974 1978 1982 1990  
1951 1955 1964 1975 1979 1984 1991  
1952 1956 1968 1969 1980 1985 1992  


Please contribute your records or memories to Michael Keats at

Keith Maxwell.

REMEMBRANCE at Splendour Rock 2021

At 6am on 25 April (ANZAC Day 2021) there will be a short ceremony of remembrance at Splendour Rock to recognise the thirteen fallen bushwalkers from WWII.  This will return the pattern of remembrance from at least 1992.  Every year since then (and perhaps even 1990 but there is insufficient evidence) on ANZAC Day there has been a Dawn Service of remembrance at Splendour Rock.  Naturally, due to the pandemic, there was no dawn service in 2020.

Bushwalkers who have previously been to Splendour Rock for ANZAC Day will know that Mt Dingo is a dry campsite that can be subject to high winds.  However, when the weather is right overnight camping on Mt Dingo can be an unforgettable experience.  Splendour Rock is in the Wild Dog Mountains whose nearest access is the Dunphy Carpark at the end of the Megalong Valley Road from Blackheath.

It is now an NP&WS requirement that you must REGISTER your intention to camp overnight in a National Park of NSW.  Please be COVID safe in your camping.  More information can be found here – camping 

The memorial plaque at Splendour Rock was installed in February 1948 by a combined group of Sydney Bush Walkers (SBW) and Coast & Mountain Walkers (CMW).  The plaque was dedicated on the following ANZAC Day.  Both clubs each lost four (4) members while the YMCA Ramblers Bushwalking Club lost two (2) members.  Three other bushwalking clubs each lost one member being the Campfire Club, Rucksack Club plus the Trampers Club.  Background details for all of these fallen service personnel can be found on the Bushwalking NSW (BNSW) website – here.

Splendour Rock photos

Splendour Rock in the Wild Dogs of the Blue Mountains with its fabulous location is a unique war memorial that has attracted visitors from all over the world.  There is value in old photos.  Your help could make a planned book on Splendour Rock even better.  I am after photos of Jack Cummings as the Convenor of ANZAC Day Dawn Services.  Jack started the current series of an annual Dawn Service at Splendour Rock but it is a tragic tale.

Around 1990 Jack lead his first Dawn Service as a member of the (ex) Nepean Bushwalking Club.  He did so each ANZAC Day until his tragic death in 2001.  Now 2001 was not a good year for the Cummings family as on Christmas Day their family home and hence many bushwalking records were destroyed as a bushfire engulfed the town of Warragamba.

I am also after photos of something that is easy to overlook.  You camp on Mt Dingo but do you take photos of it?  Photos of camping on Mt Dingo before an ANZAC Day Dawn Service would also be appreciated.

Photos must be of the highest possible resolution.  All photos that are used will be acknowledged but (of course) not all photos will necessarily be used.  The aim is diversity in photos so please look through your old photo albums for relevant photos.  The more to choose from the better.

This small memorial raises many questions.  Who were the fallen bushwalkers?  Who cast the plaque and how / when was it installed?  Which bushwalker found this site and why was it chosen for the memorial?  When were Dawn Services held and do we have any old programs?  Who were the bushwalkers who served in WWII and returned?  What was the “Bushwalkers Service Committee”?  What about the “MATES” memorial?  The planned book by Michael Keats and I will answer these and many other questions with a wealth of information about this memorial plus several other memorials in the immediate area.  Hence, it should become a valuable reference for any bushwalker.  The story of Splendour Rock and the other memorials is a fascinating part of the history of bushwalking.

Coast and Mountain Walkers (CMW) have provided many excellent early history photos.  Other clubs must also have photos.  I am keen to balance this CMW contribution with more diversity.

Send your scanned photos to

Splendour Rock Memorial 1948

Places of Pride – Australian Register of war memorials

Splendour Rock Memorial 1948

Splendour Rock is a special place that remembers bushwalkers from Clubs of Bushwalking NSW (BNSW) killed during WWII with that wonderful phase “THEIR SPLENDOUR SHALL NEVER FADE” and it seems that it is getting better known outside Australia.  Bushwalkers / walkers who go to Splendour Rock, in the Wild Dog Mountains of the Blue Mountains, are rewarded with an amazing wide vista of the southern Blue Mountains from Kings Tableland in the east to the Blue Breaks and Lake Burragorang (southwards) then finally to Kanangra Walls in the west.  Splendour Rock was chosen for its location but also as a bushwalkers war memorial so it does require a bushwalk to access it.

In 2014, on behalf of BNSW, I had Splendour Rock placed on the register of NSW war memorials maintained by the State Library of NSW.

From an incomplete series of visitor logbooks in the State Library of NSW we can see that Splendour Rock has always attracted bushwalkers, Scouts and others.  It is just not groups from NSW but groups from within and outside Australia (not just Europe).

Similarly, “Places of Pride” is a virtual register of war memorials from all over Australia maintained by the Australian War Memorial (AWM in Canberra) as it aims to keep the memory alive of all Australians who died in past conflicts.

Recently, again on behalf of BNSW, I added Splendour Rock to this virtual list, of Australian war memorials, maintained by the AWM.


Entries on Places of Pride are more concise than the State Library of NSW register so a link was added back to the BNSW website for more information on the thirteen (13) fallen bushwalkers remembered and so consequentially to the State Library of NSW register of war memorials.

Splendour Rock is obviously a little different and probably unique in Australia and NZ.  In the Places of Pride text box for information on Splendour Rock I had to stress that access was only possible via a bushwalk.  The registration process with Places of Pride required a location given as a decimal latitude and longitude.  Since, the interactive map could not find a recognised road it suggested that access was possible via a dirt road.

Splendour Rock is now remembered as both an Australian “Place of Pride” as well as a NSW war memorial.

Keith Maxwell.

Honorary Historian BNSW