Published by the Colong Foundation for Wilderness Ltd (September 1999)
2/332 Pitt Street Sydney NSW 2000 ph 02 9261 2400; fax 02 9261 2144
email keith@colongwilderness.org.au web site colongwilderness.org.au

NAME: Grose
NOMINATED BY: Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs.
LOCATION: 55 km west of Sydney, between the Great Western Highway and Bells Line of road.
SIZE: 50,550 ha nominated
50,200 ha identified
TENURE: Nominated Identified
NPWS Estate (Oct. 1993)
Blue Mountains National Park approx 47,000 ha 47,000

New NPWS Estate (Oct 1993 - Sept. 1999)
Former Crown land (mining lease) 900 ha 900 ha

Other tenure
Crown land 2,000 ha 2,000 ha
Sydney Water land 100 ha 100 ha
Freehold land 550 ha 200 ha

Wilderness Declared:


Wilderness Not Declared:

Blue Mountains National Park;

Size: 47,900 ha
Percentage of entire nomination: 94%

Crown land;

Size: 2,000 ha
Percentage of entire nomination 5%

Sydney Water lands;

Size: 100 ha
Percentage of entire nomination: <1%

Freehold lands;

Size: 550 ha
Percentage of entire nomination: 1%


The Grose Wilderness contains some of the most dramatic gorge and canyon landscapes of the entire Sydney basin sandstone region. The Grose also constitutes one of the most accessible wilderness areas for bushwalking or public observation from its escarpment margins. The geology of the area consists of Triassic sandstones and underlying Permian sedimentary rocks. A number of basalt capped peaks dominate the area, notably Mount Banks and Mount Hay. The Grose River and its tributaries have eroded an extensive labyrinth of gorges and canyons through the Hawkesbury (upper) and Narrabeen (lower) group sandstones, exposing cliffs of commonly over 200 metres and up to 510 metres in height (Banks Wall). The Burramoko Head sandstone in the upper and middle Grose gorges possesses weathering tendencies of breakage along vertical joints and has consequently yielded some of the sheerest cliff faces in the Blue Mountains. The wilderness contains 80% of the Grose River catchment. The River flows to the Nepean through an undisturbed environment for all but its final 5 kilometres. Consequently the Grose has substantial wild river values, as do its major tributaries such as Wentworth Creek and Carmarthen Brook.

The bulk of the vegetation in the wilderness is dry open forest and woodland, dominated by Eucalyptus sieberi and E. piperita above 800 metres altitude with E. oblonga, E. globoidea, E. agglomerata and Angophora costata becoming dominant at lower altitudes. Plateau areas have thinner or waterlogged soils and generally support heath or low open woodland communities. Within the sheltered and well watered canyon environments closed forests commonly occur, with typical species being Coachwood, Sassafras and Possumwood. On the isolated basalt caps the fertile soils support taller eucalypt forests of E. viminalis, E. blaxlandii and E. fastigata. A small area of alluvial sediments deposited in the upper Grose Valley during the Quarternary supports a tall moist open forest dominated by E. deanii, E. oreades, E. notabilis and. E. cypelocarpa. The famous ‘Blue Gum Forest’ at the junction of the Grose River and Govetts Creek is included in this forest type.

The River is known habitat for Platypus and certain hanging swamps provide habitat for the endangered and endemic Blue Mountains Water Skink (Eulamprus leuraensis). The rocky sandstone complexes of the plateau provide habitat for some specialised and rare native animal species (eg the Broad-headed Snake Hoplocephalus bungaroides). Woodland communities are habitat for mammals such as the Red-necked Swamp Wallaby, Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby and Eastern Pygmy Possum.


Aboriginal The area was within the territory of the Dharug people. Asgard swamp in the north west of the area, contains a great concentration of Aboriginal sites and occupation in sections of the valleys has been estimated to date back at least twelve thousand years.
Grazing Cattle have been present in the valley since the 1870s, with a peak in use of the area for grazing between the Great Depression and 1940s. The cattle were effectively contained by the valley walls and very few developments such as fences, yards or other infrastructure were ever established.
Mining The coal seams in the Grose Valley are typically thinner and less economically viable than their equivalents in the western and southern coalfields. Access to the coal measures was also hampered by the valley’s terrain. Despite this, several minor attempts to extract coal and oil shale were undertaken from the 1880s onwards. The only venture to have a substantial and long term impact has been the Canyon Colliery at the head of the Grose Gorge, below the Darling Causeway, commencing in 1962.
1967 The mining lease for the Canyon Colliery, which had been part of Blue Mountains National Park since the park was created, is excised from the reserved area by the Minister for Lands, Tom Lewis, upon the gazettal of the National Park under the new National Parks and Wildlife Act 1967. The park trustees protest this loss of national park land to no avail.
1997 The Canyon Colliery ceases operations, having exhausted the economically accessible coal measures. The mining lease will expire in 2005 and site rehabilitation is required by that date.
Fire trails In the 1950s and 1960s following some harsh bushfire seasons, fire roads were constructed along virtually all of the ridges surrounding the Grose Gorge. Only the southern part of the Mount Hay Range was left completely free of roads and the valley was also spared from road construction, apart from the Canyon Colliery access road.
The Proposed Badgerys Creek Airport 14 December, 1979, the Major Airport Needs Study examines alternative sites and recommends Badgerys Creek as the preferred site for a major second airport.
1985 Badgerys Creek becomes targeted as the preferred site for a second Sydney airport by a site selection process environmental impact statement (EIS) funded by the Department of Aviation.
1991 A Badgerys Creek airport proposal, with a 1,800 metre runway is announced by the Federal Government as a "sop" to the noise affected inner Western Suburbs when the decision is made to construct a 3rd runway for Kingsford Smith Airport.
1996 May: The Howard Government announces it will build a second major airport for Sydney, with the "Claytons choice" between a very rugged bush site at Holsworthy Military Base and a flat semi-cleared site at Badgerys Creek. A draft second EIS is commissioned.
1999 4 May: Dr Jim Thorsell, field assessor for the Blue Mountains World Heritage nomination area, considers the impacts of the proposed Badgerys Creek airport would be worse than he thought, damaging the chances of World Heritage listing.

30 June: Final Environmental Impact Statement for a second Sydney airport is completed. The proposed airport will generate 360,000 aircraft movements a year. Maximum use will be made of airspace to the west, threatening the natural quiet of the Kanangra-Boyd, Nattai and Grose Wilderness Areas. The Federal Government’s EIS, however, fails to consider impacts on wilderness users and other park visitors or any reasonable measures to mitigate these impacts.


1875 7 December: Lands in the Grose and Govetts Gorges and surrounding plateau areas are reserved from further sale in order to protect potential water supply resources.
1931 The ‘save Blue Gum Forest’ campaign is ignited by the alleged intentions of a leaseholder on the Grose River/Govetts Creek junction to clear the icon stand of tall blue gums for agricultural or grazing purposes.
1932 The Blue Gum Forest Committee, consisting of members of the Wildlife Preservation Society, the Sydney Bush Walkers and the Mountain Trails Club, secures the purchase of the forest for 130 pounds. Considerable fundraising, and the financial assistance of W.J. Cleary and the Wildlife Preservation Society, allowed the purchase to proceed. The land, upon purchase, was returned to the Crown for immediate proclamation as a recreation reserve on 2 September 1932 (The campaign also precipitates the formation of the National Parks and Primitive Areas Council, Australia’s first wilderness society).
1933 The Grose Valley proclaimed a ‘district’ under the Birds and Animals Protection Act following the recommendation by W.J. Baltzer that the area becomes a wildlife sanctuary.
1934 August: The National Parks and Primitive Areas Council’s proposal for a Greater Blue Mountains National Park is published as a supplement to the Katoomba Daily.
1959 25 September: The Blue Mountains National Park is proclaimed, covering much of the Grose catchment. The Blue Gum Forest reserve is incorporated into the park two years later and the only private inholdings in the Grose Valley acquired 10 years later.
1966 March: The Federation of Bushwalking Clubs propose wilderness zonings over the Grose Canyon/Kolonga area and the Carmarthen Labyrinth. The proposal gained the support of the Park Trust but was not implemented before the Trust was superseded in 1972.
1970 The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) places a temporary ban on camping in the Blue Gum Forest, with alternative sites provided at Acacia Flat. The ban became permanent in 1977, with the support of the Federation of Bushwalking Clubs, National Parks Association and Boy Scouts Association.
1980 The Sydney Water Board assume responsibility for Upper Blue Mountains sewage systems.
1987 8 May: Blue Mountains Sewage Management Strategy is released proposing expenditure of $125 million over 20 years to upgrade and replace sewage treatment facilities in the Blue Mountains. The first step of the strategy is a sewage tunnel from Winmalee to North Springwood and the decommissioning the Valley Heights, Springwood and North Springwood plants, diverting the effluent to the new Winmalee plant.
1988 January: NPWS produces Draft Plan of Management for Blue Mountains National Park, but is shelved after public exhibition.
1988 4 May: A 29 kilometre, $83 million dollar sewage tunnel from Faulconbridge to North Katoomba announced by Environment Minister, Tim Moore. It is essentially Stage Two of the Sewage Management Strategy as the tunnel is already constructed to North Springwood. The proposal would divert effluent from five old treatment plants to the modern Winmalee plant. The proposal is approved in 1990 and an extension to Mount Victoria, Blackheath and Medlow Bath is foreshadowed subject to further study.
1989 Colong Foundation publish ‘Blue Mountains for World Heritage’ - a proposal covering 897,661 ha of the Greater Blue Mountains. The author, Geoff Mosley, notes that the Grose meets all of the criteria for wilderness.
1994 Friends of Blue Gum Forest hold the first annual ‘Great Grose Gorse Walk’ along the river, aimed at controlling the weeds Gorse and broom in the catchment.

A preliminary assessment of the Colong Foundation’s 1989 Blue Mountains for World Heritage proposal by the National Herbarium identifies most of the Sydney Basin sandstone National Parks, and adjoining areas, as suitable for inclusion in a nomination boundary.

1996 January: The Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs NSW submits a nomination under section 7 of the Wilderness Act 1987 for the Grose Wilderness.

July: Sewage tunnel to North Katoomba is commissioned. Subsequently the North Katoomba and Wentworth Falls sewage treatment plants are decommissioned and the affected areas are rehabilitated by September 1999.

1998 January: A new Draft Plan of Management for Blue Mountains National Park is exhibited. The plan proposes to allow vehicle use by permit of the Grose Road to Faulconbridge Point which was locked following bushfires in January 1994.
June: The State and Federal Governments lodge a nomination to IUCN for World Heritage listing of the greater Blue Mountains. The nomination covers Blue Mountains, Gardens of Stone, Kanangra-Boyd, Nattai, Thirlmere Lakes, Wollemi and Yengo National Parks.

Also in June, Sydney Water release a sewage overflows EIS which aims to reduce the discharge of raw sewage during wet weather.

1999 January: Three years after the Wilderness nomination, the Director General of NPWS has not formally identified the Grose in accordance with the requirements of the Wilderness Act 1987.

26th February: The Government gazettes 900 ha of Crown Land at the head of the Grose Valley as part of Blue Mountains National Park. This area was removed from the park in 1967 to allow the Grose Colliery to mine for coal.

March: The Grose Wilderness Assessment is released and exhibited for a 3 month period for public submissions. Also in March, the Government commits to fund the Blue Mountains Run-off Control Program for one million dollars a year over four years.


Water quality The Grose catchment has been degraded by sewage effluent and urban stormwater. Recent closures of seven old sewage treatment plants, and the transfer of sewage via a tunnel to a new tertiary plant at Winmalee, has already resulted in a four fold improvement to the water quality of previously polluted streams in the Grose catchment. The State Government has spent 15 million dollars on an urban run off control program in the mountains which includes stormwater retention basins and weed control.

18 December: EIS for the Upper Blue Mountains Sewerage Scheme is released proposing to expand the Blackheath plant as "the most cost effective option for the desired water quality objectives in the Grose River". The 1998 proposal is at odds with the waste transfer measures introduced lower in the mountains that removed sewage effluent from the Grose River catchment. The upgraded plants would continue to pollute the Grose River as the treatment plant proposed does not produce effluent that meets ANZECC stream water quality standards. The limited capacity local plants will not curb urban expansion. Neither can Sydney Water limit development. The mistakes of the past are likely to be repeated with inadequately serviced development polluting downstream environments.

Recommendation: The Blackheath, Mt Victoria and Medlow Bath urban areas should be connected by pipe to the Katoomba sewage transfer tunnel for treatment at the Winmalee plant. Further stormwater controls and monitoring are essential to improving water quality and reduce weed dispersal in the Grose Valley.

Off-road vehicles The use of 4WD vehicles in wilderness areas is highly detrimental to the environment. Such vehicles: introduce weeds; cause large scale soil erosion; and damage fragile ecosystems such as hanging swamps. Management tracks act as effective barriers to some wildlife, isolating and fragmenting wildlife populations. The Mount Hay Road penetrates 11.5 kilometres into the wilderness core. Its retention as a public road would cause a significant reduction in the size of the wilderness.

Recommendations: Vehicles should be excluded from wilderness areas. Except for fire trails in perimeter areas, trails constructed during fire fighting operations should be closed and rehabilitated immediately following the operation. The proposed permit system for the Grose Road should be abandoned. All of the 23 fire roads which intrude into the wilderness should be gated and managed as walking routes.

Fire management Hazard reduction burning, spot burning and other methods of fire management can lead to wildfires, cause local extinction of fire-sensitive plant species, kill fauna, and promote erosion and stream sedimentation. The Grose River has become choked with sand since European occupation, most likely due to clearing, urban expansion, changed fire frequency and the roading associated with these activities.

Fires also destroy old growth vegetation and it is the very oldest plants that provide most of the nesting and roosting places. The assertion that Australia’s forests were once all some sort of grassland, and that it should be burnt more often to mirror Aboriginal burning practices, is incorrect. Dr John Benson is adamant that "most forests and woodlands of Australia would not have been subject to frequent (less than ten-year) burns".

Recommendations: Maintenance of management trails in wilderness areas does not comply with the management principles laid down in the Wilderness Act. The existing trails that serve little purpose should be removed. Where a fire occurs within a wilderness area it should be dealt with by remote area techniques or, if the risks are too great for this direct approach, control should be exercised from the relative safety of perimeter trails. External management trails can also be used to prevent fire spreading to adjoining areas. Trails established during fire fighting emergencies should not be maintained but be ripped and revegetated. Where absolutely necessary, helicopter landing areas could be cleared for fire control purposes.

Councils and volunteer fire brigades must ensure local residents protect themselves from fire by removing combustible material from around their homes. The main danger is caused by the building of inflammable dwellings in inflammable bushland. Local government must prohibit all residential development in these areas.

Effective fire-fighting in wilderness requires constant aerial or satellite surveillance in bushfire danger periods to enable rapid detection and response. Such an approach eliminates the need for fire towers in wilderness areas. To effectively tackle fires in remote areas while they are still small, more fire fighters need to be trained as ‘smoke jumpers’ and helicopter crews.

Fuel-reduction burns should be undertaken where they are most effective, that is close to the assets being protected (eg. towns and rural districts).

The protection of wilderness values in fire management plans needs to be a priority. During fire emergencies bulldozers should not be allowed to scar the scenery by cutting fire control lines on steep slopes. All too often these measures fail to contain a wildfire. Decisions on damaging suppression practices should be addressed during management planning, not in a fire crisis.

Alienation of
park land
The Canyon Colliery ceased operating in 1997. The area was sought by the NPWS and environment groups for return of the lease to the Blue Mountains National Park and rehabilitation of the mine’s surface works to a natural condition. An attempt to bypass the transfer was launched in 1997 by Earth Sanctuaries Ltd in order to establish an enclosed wildlife sanctuary and tourism venture based around the old mine. The construction of 2 metre animal proof perimeter fences would severely scar the landscape of the upper Grose Wilderness.
The sanctuary is sought at this location not because of the specific threat to the local fauna of the sandstone ridge country (probably the best reserved ecosystem in the country), but rather to more widely promote and financially supplement the particular methods of species conservation advocated by the company.
The inclusion of all but the mine head works in the National Park on 26th February 1999 effectively blocked the proposed development, although a lease of National Park land is still sought by the company.

Recommendation: There are other suitable areas accessible from Sydney where this venture could be housed without occupying former National Park lands and identified wilderness. The mining lease should be surrendered now that the undisturbed majority of the area has been returned to Blue Mountains National Park. The disturbed area should be returned following satisfactory rehabilitation by the Mining Company.

Feral animals .The Grose contains a small population of feral cattle and horses descendant from the grazing usage of the early 20th Century. These animals cause damage to river banks, pollution and spread weeds. Foxes and cats are also present and prey on wildlife.

Recommendation: The remaining cattle and horses should be destroyed as a matter of high priority. The ongoing control program for foxes and feral cats, in co-operation with local council and the community, should be promoted and encouraged by the NPWS. The 27 Bushcare groups in the Blue Mountains area should be adequately funded and resourced by local council.

Recreational pressures Usage of the Carmarthen Canyon system is approaching its acceptable environmental and safety limits. At present levels of usage, the area is suitable for inclusion in the Wilderness Area. Declaration will prevent the establishment of visitor facilities or the proliferation of commercial activities that would distract from a canyon experience.

Recommendation: The canyon system should be included in the declared wilderness and party size limits be imposed to preserve the wilderness character of the area.

Aircraft and
Joy flights in environmentally sensitive areas such as National Parks and Wilderness Areas are subject to operator self regulation through Fly Neighbourly Agreements (FNA's). The operators claim they are improving environmental quality as the FNA's raise the minimum flying height from 500 to 1000 feet. As flying height is measured from the lowest point in the landscape, in many inscances planes and helicopters can still fly below the cliff lines under this code. Further the increase in flying level is through a voluntary code of practice, therefore tour operators are not required to comply. The Civil Aviation Authority introduced a FNA for the Blue Mountains National Park without environmental impact assessment, or adequate public comment, on August 18, 1994.

The natural quiet of the Grose Wilderness will also be seriously compromised if Badgerys Creek airport is constructed. The residents of Western Sydney will seek to push flight paths over wilderness to help mitigate their noise impacts. Aircraft, on take off, will spread a ‘lawn mower equivalent racket’ of 69-79 decibels over the wilderness.

Recommendations: The only way to effectively solve the aircraft noise problem is to construct a replacement airport outside Sydney, away from urban settlement and environmentally sensitive lands. This should be connected to the city by fast rail.
The Commonwealth Department of Transport is responsible for protecting the environment from aircraft. To effectively protect the natural quiet of declared wilderness areas, the Minister for Transport should establish a minimum fight ceiling at 10,000 feet. Helicopters movements over wilderness should be restricted to essential management and emergency operations.


Colong Foundation for Wilderness Ltd
Shop 2 Gloucester Walk
88 Cumberland Street
Contact: Keith Muir (Director) Ph: (w) 02 247 4714
FAX: 02 247 7118
e-mail keith@colongwilderness.org.au

Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs NSW
GPO Box 2090
Sydney NSW 2001
Contact: John Macris (Conservation Officer) Ph: 02 9526 7363
e-mail jmacris@amaze.net.au

Friends of Blue Gum Forest
C/- Andy Macqueen
39 Bee Farm Road
Springwood NSW 2777
Contact: Andy Macqueen Ph: 02 4751 2556
FAX: 4751 2576
e-mail andymacq@pnc.com.au


Macqueen, A., 1997, Back from the Brink (Blue Gum Forests and the Grose Wilderness), Sydney: Macqueen. (This book is recommended to anyone seeking a detailed historical account of the wilderness area).

Mosley, G., 1989, Blue Mountains for World Heritage, Sydney: Colong Foundation for Wilderness.


Colong Bulletin, 107, March 1988, "Blue Mountains and Wollemi Draft Plans of Management", p 3.

Colong Bulletin, 138, May 1993, "Blue Mountains World Heritage Forum", p 3-5.

Colong Bulletin, 155, March 1996 "Grose Wilderness nominated", p4.

Colong Bulletin, 164, September 1997, "Back form the Brink" p3.

Colong Bulletin, 164, September 1997, "Blue Mountains for World Heritage" p5.

Colong Bulletin 167, March 1998, "Decibels over the Mountains", p3.

Colong Bulletin 167, March 1998, "Olympic Heritage", p9.

Colong Bulletin 169, July 1998, "A last! Blue Mountains Nominated for World Heritage Listing", p1; and also "Threats to the Blue Mountains National Park" p7.

Colong Bulletin 170, September 1998, "The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Nomination", p1.

Colong Bulletin 173, March 1999, "Upper Mountains sewage disappointment", p8.

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