By the second and third decades of the 20th century, day train trips to the Blue Mountains were proving popular with visitors escaping the heat and stench of the city.
In 1932, a large scale organised one-day hiking trip to the Blue Mountains garnered attention throughout Australia.
The Government Railways and FJ Palmer and Sons of Sydney collaborated in organising five Sunday “Mystery Hikes”. Prospective hikers would purchase tickets for two shillings and join a train at Central Station for a mystery destination.
Palmer’s Mystery Hike No. 2 on Sunday, July 10, 1932 was attended by 2909 people who arrived at Central Station with great expectation carrying their picnic baskets. The tour departed on four steam trains between 8.45 and 9 o’clock. About 200 of the hikers had to travel on the ordinary Mountains train which left at 9.10 a.m.
Their mystery destination of Hike No. 2 was Valley Heights where the small village was engulfed by crowds of Sydneysiders who, briefly, quadrupled its population.
The hordes hiked down the hill to Penrith and the waiting homeward bound trains, spreading out along the road, breaking the silence of the mountains with chatter and laughter. They stopped at pretty spots for their picnics. The visitors were intent on enjoying their mystery day out. Some had appropriate footwear. Others eventually went barefoot because of their sore feet. Some 500 of the party were treated by ambulance men for bruised and blistered feet.
This enjoyable activity raised the wrath of some. Rev W.D. Jackson at the Collins Street Baptist Church, Melbourne, criticised the Railway Commissioners for fostering Sunday railway travel and “mystery hikes” simply to make a “paltry profit” (Border Watch 30.7.32).
The commissioners later acknowledged that the Mystery Hikes had indeed been profitable. “More than 50,000 hikers have travelled, and the figures for five Sundays show that the railway Department profited to the extent of over 3000 pounds.” (Gilgandra and Castlereagh Weekly 25.8.32).
Mr Edgar, MLC, spoke in the Legislative Council, after the first mystery hike, condemning the Railways for “desecrating the Sabbath by running ‘mystery hike’ trains on Sundays.” He said it was “indecent for the railways to invite young people to take part in organised gatherings on Sundays. The railways were advertising Sunday trips to an unknown destination – in other words, perdition.” (Canberra Times, 8.7.32)
Hiking continues to be popular today, but, despite their success, there were no more massed mystery hikes.
Robyne Ridge is publicity officer for Blue Mountains Historical Society.