"A brooding monolith, isolated, menacing, Orphan Rock excites the imagination. What mystic bodies created this prehistoric structure? It is 'a picturesque pillar of grey, time-worn stone, detached from the main mass, towering above the coal mines'. (Blue Mountain Echo Saturday 25.12.1909)."
This mystery attracted late 19th century Mountain visitors who came to see Orphan Rock, Katoomba Falls and the coal mine at the base of the cliffs. Until the early 20th century, its lure was stronger than the Three Sisters, perhaps because it was more easily visited as Echo Point remained part of Sir Frederick Darley's Lilianfels estate until 1908 and tourists had to negotiate private access.
Geologically, Orphan Rock was formed around 170 million years ago when erosion followed the planes of weakness called joints. The Three Sisters today show these strong vertical joint planes between them. Orphan Rock, standing alone, was once connected to the cliff face in this way.
In 1910, the Sunday Times (April 17) and the Blue Mountain Echo (30 April) explained Orphan Rock's formation. A young girl, seized by another tribe, bravely escaped her captors who chased her relentlessly. A good spirit rescued her before she could be re-captured, turning her into a pillar of rock. There she stands to this day, awaiting her people's return.
On November 1, 1920, Sydney Webster fell over the cliffs at Orphan Rock, luckily landing on a ledge only 40 feet below. He began to crawl slowly to safety, with a broken arm, cuts over his body and face and hip injuries. A passer-by found him and took him to hospital.
Despite rumours about deaths and suicides, this seems the only accident reported in Trove.
By 1924, the Simos Brothers used Orphan Rock as the logo for their Paragon Restaurant. Dash's Department Store in Leura flew advertising banners from it.
In 1934, this isolated rock was of such interest to tourists that Katoomba Municipal Council spent part of its £5000 development-money on the track and stairs to the summit. Previously, it had only been scaled by enthusiastic climbers but the hazardous work being completed meant many more tourists could behold a "magnificent view" of the Katoomba Falls.
By 1936, Orphan Rock was floodlit at night.
Safety on the rock continued to worry. In 1974, entry was closed; a mudslide "obliterated" the access track. Entry to the top of the rock was forbidden.
In 1998, Phil Hammon of Scenic World took the mayor and the head of NPWS to the top to assess re-instating access. Debate over who "owned" the Rock stalemated the project.
Orphan Rock still rears its rugged, lonely head above the Jamison Valley.
- Robyne Ridge is publicity officer for Blue Mountains Historical Society.