Book Review: The Blue Mountains. Exploring landscapes shaped by the underlying rocks, uplift and erosion

Authors: Peter Hatherly and Ian Brown (2022)

Review by Roger Lembit, NPA Member

On my first walk in the Blue Mountains with the school bushwalking club over 50 years ago one of the teachers pointed to the railway cutting at Glenbrook Station. ‘There is a volcanic dyke running through this section of the Lapstone Monocline’ he said. I have been fortunate to have travelled widely through the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area in subsequent years, for pleasure, and for work, awed by the diversity of the landscape and the plants.

This book by Peter Hatherly and Ian Brown explores the landscapes of the Blue Mountains in a new and different way. It incorporates three dimensional models created from laser imagery, high quality photographic imagery, and detailed text written in a way which brings the sciences of geology and geomorphology to life in a way accessible to all.

The book is divided into three main parts: the geology and geomorphology; their relations to ecology and occupation and use of the Mountains by Aboriginal people; and a region by region guide to distinct sections of the Mountains.

The first section includes an overview of the landscape, the geology and its history, and the processes which have, over millions of years, produced the landscape we experience today.

The overview starts with an elevation map which shows main rivers, topographic features such as the location of the Great Dividing Range, larger towns and main roads. The earliest rocks in the Blue Mountains formed over 400 million years ago. The sequence of the two main periods of rock formation separated by 70 million years, followed by erosion, volcanic intrusion and eruptions is described in words and images. Also of interest is the description of the development of the ironstone bands which are an iconic feature of the pagoda formations now largely protected as the Gardens of Stone reserves.

‘Interactions’ forms the second part of the book. This section discusses one of the key values which resulted in the Greater Blue Mountains achieving World Heritage status – eucalypt diversity. It also describes different vegetation types such as heath, forest and rainforest and their relationship to geology and landforms.

The history of Aboriginal occupation and ongoing use of the landscape is an important feature of the book, illustrated with several images of art sites, gathering sites, artefacts and occupation shelters.

The regional section, which takes up about half the book, takes the reader on a tour of key landscape features across the Mountains. The regions covered are the lower Blue Mountains, the Kedumba, Jamison, Megalong & Kanimbla Valleys, the Boyd Plateau and Kanangra Walls, the Bindook Highland and Yerranderie, Upper Grose valley, Newnes Plateau and the Wolgan and Capertee Valleys. The more northern parts of the Greater Blue Mountains, including the basalt peaks of Coricudgy, Kerry and Coriaday and the Bylong Labyrinth are not included.

Each includes a topographic map and 3D perspective which highlights points of interest which are then discussed in the text.

The overseas tourists who travel to Echo Point and look across the Jamison Valley to Mount Solitary and beyond are looking at a landscape which has been developing since the initial uplift of the Blue Mountains 100 million years ago. The more adventurous take the descent from Scenic World or along one of the walking tracks which descend the escarpment to tall forest and rainforest. The relationship between these forest types, geology, and earlier human use such as mining of the Katoomba Seam for coal is featured.

Most who have ventured to Kanangra Walls in good weather have marvelled at the stunning scenery which is revealed after a short walk from the car park. To have the geological origins and structure explained in such clear detail is a triumph for the authors. The annotations to some images highlighting unconformities between different rock strata gives additional useful information.

The detailed description of the landscape changing impacts of landslides in the Deep Pass and Carne Creek areas is another subject of great interest.

The book is filled with valuable insights into the geological development of the Blue Mountains landscape. There are many cross-references in the later regional section to illustrations earlier in the book. I found these of great interest, rather than being a struggle. In some ways this multi-dimensional approach reflects the presentation of the graphic material relating to geological structure and stream morphology.

The term Lapstone Monocline, that I knew, is supplanted by the Lapstone Structural Complex. This landscape feature is the entrance to the Mountains for those leaving the Cumberland Plain from Sydney, and the first encounter with the Mountains for overseas visitors.

The book concludes with a call to readers to enjoy their exploration of the Blue Mountains and the many special natural places which exist across the World.

The 204 page book is available at a cost of $75 from Windy Cliff Press Ian Brown Photography | Blue Mountains | Windy Cliff Press

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