John Low offers a treasure trove of Mountains tales in new book

The proposed Explorer's Tableau at Govetts Leap from 1959.
The proposed Explorer's Tableau at Govetts Leap from 1959.

Armed with a wealth of yarns from his quarter-of-a-century spent as Local Studies Librarian at the city library, it's fair to say John Low's new book, Blue Mountains Byways, is a fascinating read.

The collection of 64 largely unknown stories is now available. It includes tales of Irish revolutionaries, "The Flying Parson", a headless horseman, "Of mermaids and dugongs", ghosts and "The Megalong Piano".

Some of the stories relate to famous folk, including Shakespeare, Charles Darwin, John Muir and Edward Elgar, while others serve as tributes to dreamers like Harry Phillips and Mark Foy.

There are also stories about artists and environmentalists.

Of particular interest will be a recount of the 1959 development proposal for a 600-bed hotel at Govetts Leap, which generated much excitement at the time.

It detailed toboggan slides, ice rinks and lifts to take guests to the floor of the valley. The centrepeice was to be a tableau of 50 Australian explorers carved into the cliff face north east of Govetts Leap lookout.

The plan was for sculptors with pneumatic drills and gelignite charges to work from platforms hung hundreds of feet above the valley.

The founders of Leura's Megalong Books were so thrilled by Low's work that they revisited their publishing years to bring the work to the people. It was originally penned for the Blue Mountains Conservation society and the Blue Mountains Historical Society.

William Murphy, "The Hermit of Hat Hill", 1926. Picture: Supplied

William Murphy, "The Hermit of Hat Hill", 1926. Picture: Supplied

The stories are enhanced by historical photographs, seldom reproduced elsewhere, including: a makeshift hospital in Kedumba Vallery, where a teen was treated for a bullet wound acquired on Boxing Day, 1926; the proposed explorer's tableau at Govetts Leap; a depiction of the death of "bold" Jack Donohoe; and portraits of William Murphy, the "Hermit of Hat Hill" and the unfortunately named "Springwood Jacky", a local aboriginal identity, who in the 1880s was admired for his knowledge of the bush and skills as an animal tracker, horse breaker and athlete.

Historian Jim Smith offers in the book's introduction: "although this volume is not intended to be a guidebook, the 'legend laden' places described by John Low, with their 'aura of romance' are rarely more than a few kilometres from Blue Mountains townships. They can all be visited by anyone who wishes to follow in the author's footsteps."

Blue Mountains Byways is available now from bookshops and local retailers.