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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.

Tread Softly in the wilderness

Is there a party limit when walking in declared wilderness areas?

Yes and no. Sometimes there is a legally enforceable limit, and at other times there is a recommended limit. In other parks there is no set limit at all in the Park Plan of Management (POM).

You can access POMs here.

Most people are unlikely to want to trawl through the complexities of the POM. However, the National Parks Association (NPA) has published a comprehensive list of wilderness limits and recommendations here, compiled from the park Plans of Management.

Additionally, under the National Parks and Wildlife Regulation 2019, a Park Authority may impose a legally enforceable condition of entry on people entering or using the park. That condition of entry may be printed at the point of park entry or as a notice in the park office, or alternatively may be given verbally. The current fine for disobeying a condition of entry is $300.

Four wilderness areas have a set limit of eight people, six others have higher limits or recommendations. Most (over 30 more) do not have limits set in their Plans of Management. Unfortunately the National Parks website does not always tell you the answer to the question of maximum party size, so if in doubt always ring the local park office for information.

So just what is a wilderness area? NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) defines it on their website as

‘Large, natural areas of land which, together with their native plant and animal communities, remain essentially unchanged by modern human activity. They allow the natural processes of evolution to continue with minimal interference, which protects the existing biodiversity in a functioning natural system.’

NPWS prepare report with a proposal for each new wilderness area, which must then be approved by the Minister for the Environment. Once the Minister publishes the declaration in the Government Gazette, special protections apply to the Declared Wilderness Area.

The Wilderness Act 1987 states that wilderness should be managed so as to:

(a) to restore (if applicable) and to protect the unmodified state of the area and its plant and animal communities,

(b) to preserve the capacity of the area to evolve in the absence of significant human interference, and

(c)to permit opportunities for solitude and appropriate self-reliant recreation (whether of a commercial nature or not)

Many wilderness areas are remote. Access is usually by foot. Motorized vehicles are prohibited except in emergencies. There are no signs or trail markers. These areas should only be tackled by highly experienced, self sufficient walkers with advanced navigation skills.

If we walk and camp with too large a party, we risk damaging the pristine environment, and impact on the ability of others to enjoy the solitude of these precious places. As responsible bushwalkers we should always aim to Tread Softly in the wilderness, with small party sizes, in accordance with the principles of the Bushwalkers Code, regardless of whether or not there is a legal limit to party size.

 

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 – bushexplorers.com.au (postage free at $66)

Keith Maxwell.

The Splendour Rock Choir from the Illawarra Grammar School.

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 – https://www.bushwalkingnsw.org.au/history/

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.

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 history@bushwalkingnsw.org.au

Splendour Rock Memorial 1948