History of the area
Part of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, Yengo has spectacular views, remote wilderness and unique Aboriginal cultural heritage. There’s an abundance of Aboriginal sacred sites and rock engravings to discover.
The historic, convict-built Old Great North Road in the south-east of the park is also a reminder of the park’s more recent colonial history.
To get into the park by car, at St Albans, follow Wollombi Road to Mogo campground and the southern precinct of the park.
Local Aboriginal lore states that Mt Yengo is the place where Biamie departed to the skies after finishing his creative tasks during the Dreamtime. The mountain top was flattened when he stepped on it.
Biamie’s son, Daramulum is believed to have created the smaller flat rock peaks in the area. You can walk up to one of those above the house at Yanada.
Aboriginal people have lived in the area for at least 20,000 years. Yengo is criss-crossed with Aboriginal routes used by many highland and coastal clans, where reciprocal visits were often arranged to exploit seasonally abundant food.
The original line of the Great North Road was probably one of a web of Aboriginal tracks in this area. Edwards (1996:89) states that the Old Great North Road deviates around certain sacred Aboriginal sites, suggesting that the local Darkinjung people purposefully diverted the European trail-blazers to avoid these sites.
The land and waterways, and the plants and animals that live in them, feature in all facets of Aboriginal culture - including recreational, ceremonial, spiritual and as a main source of food and medicine. They are associated with dreaming stories and cultural learning that is still passed on today.
Today rock carvings and cave paintings found in the area stand as a visual reminder of the spiritual ties Aborigines held with the region.
The Hunter Valley is home to over 300 Aboriginal sites dating back over 13,000 years, and well-preserved Aboriginal engravings can be viewed in a number of locations in Yengo National Park and the Watagans.
Settlers, mostly escapees, emancipated convicts or their freeborn sons, began arriving "unofficially" soon after. The first "official" Grants along the Hawksbury River were not allocated until 1794 to James Ruse and Charles Williams who simply added their number to "the list of those already established". By 1796, in an official survey, had 400 "white" people along the banks of the Hawkesbury. It is well documented that there were many people living up the narrow valleys who were not counted and many indeed "up the Branch". By the time the river flats were surveyed in 1833 the "First Branch" had been renamed the Macdonald after John Macdonald of Pitt Town, an early bushman, explorer and settler of some repute.
During this time the relations between the indigenous aboriginal population in the area was reasonably harmonious. The Dharug and Darkinung people treated the newcomers as welcome guests, teaching bush skills and assisting in the planting of crops, they did not realize that the whites intended to stay and claim ownership of the land. Property ownership was completely alien to the Aboriginal; one cared for the land, but did not own it any more than one could own the sky overhead or the air one breathed.
Old Great North Road
The McDonald valley is home to one of Australia’s most significant engineering structures.
By the early 1820’s the Colony was expanding rapidly and settlers began taking up land in the fertile Hunter Valley. In 1825 Assistant Surveyor Heneage Finch was sent to survey a suitable route for a road North from the Hawkesbury. A number of aboriginal tracks were found and thus the Old Great North Road began.
Built between 1826 and 1836, the Wiseman Ferry section of the Old Great North Road saw in excess of 700 convicts working on the road at any one time - clearing timber, digging drains, blasting & shaping stones. Convicts who committed another crime after arriving in the colony were assigned to Iron Gangs and worked in leg irons - an iron collar around each ankle was joined together by a length of chain. Weighing up to 6kg these could only be put on or removed by a blacksmith.
After completing a sentence in an Iron Gang men were often transferred to a Road Party, where they undertook the same work but without having to wear the irons.
Much of the high quality construction was carried out under the watchful eye of Assistant Surveyor Percy Simpson. The road was at the cutting edge of European technology. Some of the blocks weighed up to 660kg.
Each sandstone block that helps form the buttressed walls beneath the road was shaped and placed in such precision that, with the exception of a few washaways, the wall still stands perfectly aligned today, 177 years on.
A wall on Devines Hill just north of Wisemans Ferry reaches almost 10 metres and is supported by 5 massive buttresses.
Cleverly designed drainage systems kept rainwater from the surface of the road. Drains were cut along the high side of the road and the water diverted into stone lined culverts under the road, to flow away where it would not damage the structure.
The Old Great North Road is also home to the Thomas James Bridge, at St Albans, built in 1830 it is the oldest bridge in mainland Australia.
Today the Old Great North Road at Wisemans Ferry is open to the public year round. It can be easily walked or cycled, and provides a lovely afternoon exploration. A self guided tour can be undertaken for those who want flexibility but to understand the true significance of the structure a Guided Tour is recommended and can be booked in advance of your stay.
The view is enough reason to venture there but its the roads palpable history that is its strongest draw card!
UNESCO announced in 2010 that the Old Great North Road at Wisemans Ferry has been included in the World Heritage List.