After the explorers Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth, came the surveyor Evans and then the great road builder William Cox.
But now as Blue Mountains residents celebrate the bicentenary of their feats some of the legacy of Cox’s work has become a point of controversy.
Lone Greens councillor Geordie Williamson wants Blue Mountains City Council to re-consider plans to seal Old Bathurst Road at Woodford, an area historians claim is a living museum of Australian history and one of the last three remnants of the road left in the Mountains.
Clr Williamson said Anglo-Australians “do not have so much history that we can afford to be profligate with it”.
“The Woodford stretch of Cox’s original road is a living museum of Australian history.
“Its graded edges are littered with stonework, displaced and buried by regular grading. It is a great irony that these very acts of vandalism are now being used as justification for the road’s final burial. All this, in the bicentenary year of the first crossing.”
At a council meeting on Tuesday June 4, all councillors except Clr Williamson, voted in favour of a further report looking into the road and the cost implications “where it impacts the historic road alignment” after three members of the public spoke for the sealing and three spoke against it.
Clr Williamson admits it was a “symbolic gesture” to save a “semi-wild space”.
Jan Koperberg, secretary of the Blue Mountains Association of Cultural Heritage Organisations, said the road is listed on the NSW Heritage Branch Inventory and is one of the earliest colonial-era road lines surviving in Australia. Two other stretches of the road in the region were in Linden and Mt York.
“Oberon Council has put up beautiful interpretive signage on remnants of Cox’s Road and Lithgow City Council has been proactive in procuring a grant of $20,000 to put up signage. I think they have set a precedent,” Ms Koperberg said.
“This road was all the Cox’s Road from the unsealed part at Taylor to Old Bathurst was the Cox’s Road”.
But Blue Mountains Mayor Daniel Myles said council was acting to improve the health and safety for residents on the dusty road and also disputed the road’s heritage status.
“A road surface that is graded three times a year and regularly driven across cannot be considered heritage in my view.
“While we have always believed that any heritage items would be better protected by sealing, we have paused the sealing work to ensure all interested parties can have confidence that this is so. I thank the residents of Old Bathurst Road, Woodford for their patience and thank the historical groups for their input,” he said.
A council report said the planned sealing of the 600 metre section of Taylor and Old Bathurst Roads would solve drainage and erosion issues and save the council a $15,000 annual grading bill. The work was signed off in May last year when council committed to seal numerous gravel roads in the Mid and Lower Mountains. Most of that work has been done except the 600 metre section of Taylor and Old Bathurst Roads.
The report said a letterbox drop of the area did not raise any concerns and their existing mapping did not show those sections contained items of heritage significance at either local or state level. It was also “not clear if the road alignment follows Cox’s original road, or is part of later deviations and improvements”.
Matthew Turner said he moved into the street in October following council promises that the paving would go ahead.
A member of the Blue Mountains Historical Society, Mr Turner said he is tired of “the dust and the run-off and problems with people having the run-off with the water in their homes”.
“As residents we don’t understand the confusion,” Mr Turner said. “It’s a gravel road ... I’d be up in arms if we sealed that bit down there [where the original Cox’s sandstone road is completely exposed] but it’s gravel. This is a health thing [and] the environment gets damaged.”
He is hoping for “some kind of sensible way forward — [to] save everyone’s property, their health and the environment”.
Clr Williamson said there are “hundreds and thousands of acres of perfectly guttered paved roads, triple glazed houses to keep out the dust throughout the state” and believes “the majority of Woodford residents have actually come in order to have something different and maintain that character”.
“I’m mindful of the concerns of the locals affected [but] it’s the kind of place you would wish to preserve if you have a care for the past. The less you do the better.”
A report will be presented at the next council meeting on June 25.