Glenbrook, the first sizeable village in the Lower Blue Mountains on the highway up from Sydney, lies between Lapstone and Blaxland at an elevation of 163 m (535 ft) and is approximately an hour's drive from Sydney. It is home to a large number of tourist attractions, recreational opportunities and native flora and fauna. Glenbrook retains many historical homes and buildings throughout the village, although most homes are occupied and not open to the public.
RAAF Base Glenbrook is the home of Headquarters Air Command, whose role is to manage and command the RAAF's Force Element Groups (FEGs), which contain the operational capability of the Air Force. The Officer's Mess at RAAF Glenbrook is actually the old Lapstone Hotel. Built in the 1930s, it has been restored and the interior re-modelled, albeit only slightly due to its historical status. The outside remains unaltered. Interestingly, there is no airfield at Glenbrook, New South Wales although it is an HLS (Helicopter Landing Site).
Heritage Listed properties in the town include Ilford House (1884), Wascoe Street; Briarcliffe, Great Western Highway; Bonnie Doone (1905), Moore Street; Glenbrook Cottage (1916), Park Street; Former School of Music, Hare Street.
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You don't have to be a railway buff to enjoy this heritage walk at Lapstone, which is the first town at the eastern end of the Blue Mountains. There are numerous places of railway-related historical interest on the boundary between Glenbrook and Lapstone, and most are covered by this walk through pleasant bushland in the Blue Mountains foothills.
The original railway line built across the Blue Mountains in 1863-7 took a different route to that used today. The original route, part of which is traced by this walk, crossed Knapsack Gully by one of the great viaducts of Australia. This viaduct led to the Lapstone Zig Zag and its 1892 replacement, the Glenbrook Tunnel. The unsatisfactory nature of the tunnel led to reappraisal of the whole ascent of the escarpment above Emu Plains and an entirely new route was planned and built in 1911-13.
In 1911, a new line through Glenbrook Gorge was opened. The east end of this major deviation called for a new crossing of Knapsack Gully, to the south of the 1865 stone viaduct. The new double-track viaduct was built in brick, with eight arches. This new route remains in use today.
The Glenbrook Railway Heritage walk can be commenced from either end. John Whitton Memorial Place is at the northern end of the trail, which is located at the end of the original Great Western Highway. The memorial celebrates the engineer in charge of the construction of the Blue Mountains line and many other early railways, John Whitton.
The trail leads from the John Whitton Memorial Place leads to the Knapsack Viaduct and on to cuttings and culverts of the old Glenbrook Zig Zag. The trail continues to the end of Knapsack Street, Glenbrook, which marks the southern end of the trail.
Built in 1863, the viaduct is one of the finest stone bridges in Australia. In John Whitton's words, the bridge 'consisted of five spans of fifty feet and two of twenty feet each, built in masonry . . . for a single line of railway on an incline of 1 in 30'. This primary description failed to convey the majesty of the block sandstone viaduct sweeping across Jamisons Creek, a deep sandstone gully, with maximum pier heights of 38m, and excellent stonemasonry. The tall ribbed piers taper with height and are topped with classical semi-circular sandstone arches. The bridge terminates in traditional sandstone abutments which have been widened to accommodate the revised road width.
Railway traffic over the bridge ceased in 1913, but wasn't until 1926 that it was adapted for use as a road bridge. In 1938 the viaduct lost its original form when it was widened by means of a 9 metre wide reinforced concrete cantilevered deck to carry the old Great Western Highway. A pedestrian/cycleway path was installed in 1993 when road traffic was diverted to the currently used road, and a The highway no longer passes over the viaduct, which walking trail was created on the old railway/highway alignment.
With the crossing of the Blue Mountains and the subsequent opening up of vast tracts of land west and south, there was an urgent need for quick, safe and reliable transport at a reasonable cost. The extension of the railway to Bathurst was felt t??no be necessary. The Bathurst Road route from the Nepean River to Mt. Victoria was recommended as the best railway location and arrangements were put in hand for its construction.
In ascending the first range of the Blue Mountains, the Engineer-in-Chief, John Whitton, was compelled to cross the deep ravine of Knapsack Gully at the head of Jamison Creek. For this he designed a sandstone arched viaduct, 5.5m in width, to carry a single line of rail. The contract for its construction was let to W. Watkins in March 1863 and the work was completed in 1865. Its length was 118 metres and its height at the centre 38 metres above the creek bed.
The viaduct fell into disuse in 1913 when the railway line closed on the completion of the Glenbrook Gorge Deviation and was unused until 1926 when it was taken over by the Main Roads Board and in??Ícorporated in the Great Western Highway. To cope with the increasing traffic it was widened to 9 metres in 1939. A plaque to honour the memory of John Whitton was affixed to the north-east corner of the viaduct in 1926.
Not to be confused with the Zig Zag near Lithgow that is used by the Zig Zag heritage railway, the little zig-zag opened near Glenbrook in 1867, having been built as part of the line from Penrith to Weatherboard (Wentworth Falls). The three tiered system allowed trains to negotiate the steep ascent of Lapstone Hill on a gradient of 1 in 30-33. It was the first of its kind for the state of New South Wales. A small section of the Zig Zag Railway can still be seen today, in fact the walking trail passes through it. The remains of the private Lucasville Station can also be seen.
In 1856, a party of sappers from the Royal Engineers were surveying the best route for the railway from Sydney to Bathurst. The major problem was where to cross the Blue Mountains. The three alternatives seemed to be (i) the Grose Valley; (ii) Bell's Line Ridge; (iii) Bathurst Road Ridge. The third was decided upon, but there remained the problem of ascending the first stage to the present Glenbrook.
The solution was the Lapstone Zig Zag being an example of the type of railway construction designed to negotiate very abrupt ascents. The line was laid in the form of a 'Z' with reversing joints where the line doubles back to enable the train to reverse i??(c)ts direction.
The design and construction of the Zig Zag was inspired by John Whitton, a Yorkshireman who in 1856 was appointed the Engineer-in-Chief of the New South Wales railways. Whitton had preferred the railway to rise along the mountainside from Emu Plains, tunnel through Lapstone Hill and emerge near the swamp at the head of Knapsack Creek, but because of the expense of this plan the less costly Zig-Zag was constructed. To reach the ascent at the Lapstone Zig Zag, the Nepean River was crossed at Victoria Bridge and the Knapsack Gully was bridged with a stonework viaduct, both designed by Whitton. So on the 11th July 1865, the line was opened as far as Weatherboard (now Wentworth Falls).
This 660.3m long tunnel was built between April 1891 and December 1892 as part of a deviation which bypassed the Lapstone Zig Zag. To save money, a ventilation shaft was not included as it was believed the current of air passing through it would provide sufficient ventilation. This soon proved to be not the case. The gradient of the S-shaped sing??1le-line tunnel was, at 1 in 33, quite steep. Seepage kept the rails wet, leading to slipping and stalling. These shortcomings and the growing need for a second line led to the establishment of a new route through Glenbrook Gorge in 1913 which included a replacement tunnel. The old tunnel was leased for mushroom growing. During World War 2 it was used by the RAAF to store 500lb bombs and chemical weapons including mustard gas.
A spur line was run from the main line near the eastern portal of old Glenbrook tunnel to the edge of Glenbrook Gorge, where a cable incline descended to the works site of a coal and shale mine. The spur line route is now a walking track which crosses Explorers Rd just below the primary school. The remains of the winding house and incline are signposted. Just west of Bluff lookout are the remains of the funicular railway descending into Glenbrook Gorge.
The Old Glenbrook Tunnel is closed and access to the entrances is difficult. The eastern portal can be reached via a walking track which commences at a reservoir alongside where Governors Drive branches off Great Western Highway. The track follows the path taken by the line to a point where the ground is too swampy and the undergrowth too thick to continue. It then leads up the side of the bank and across the top of the portal.
To the north of the heritage walking trail, on Old Bathurst Road, is Lennox Bridge over Brookdale Creek. It was Part of Mitchell's Pass (the main route across the Blue Mountains from 1834-1926), which was the first road across the Blue Mountains. Instigated by the Surveyor-General, Sir Thomas Mitchell, the bridge was completed in July 1833 by its designer, Scottish stone mason David Lennox, and a party of 20 convicts. The oldest bridge on the Australian mainland, the beautiful sandstone structure is unique in its design as the western side is a straight line while its eastern side is a graceful curve. It was the first of many stone bridges in Australia designed by Lennox.
Lennox Bridge formed part of the main route to the west until the Great Western Highway was redirected along the old Glenbrook railway line in 1926. The bridge was closed to vehicular traffic.
The first road up the eastern slopes of the Blue Mountains, built by William Cox (1814-15), was in Governor Macquarie's words "pretty steep and sharp" and was found to be subject to serious washways. This was superseded in 1824 by what was known as the Bathurst Road (now Old Bathurst Road). It avoided watercourses, but its grade was very steep and this rendered it hazardous to travellers.
Early in 1832, Surveyor-General Mitchell suggested a third road about midway between the other two. This was a marked improvement on its predecessors, its grade being gentler and its curves much broader. The work went well until they reached the formidable gully through which Lapstone Creek flows. A superior stone bridge was required, but there was a scarcity of experienced stone masons and bridge builders in the colony. This problem was resolved when Mitchell met David Lennox, a master mason with 20 years experience in the supervision of bridge construction in Britain.
Lennox was appointed Sub-Inspector of Roads on 1 October, 1832, and set to work on a semi-circular stone-arch bridge over Lapstone Creek. The bridge work partly consisted of 20 convicts selected by Lennox from the road gang and trained by him in stone work as they went along. The bridge was completed in July 1833 - the first scientifically designed stone-arch bridge on the Australian mainland. A unique feature of the bridge lies in the fact that while its western side is a straight line, its eastern is a graceful curve. Lennox Bridge formed part of the main route to the west until the Great Western Highway was channelled across the Knapsack Viaduct and along the old railway route to Blaxland in 1926.
During the 1950's particularly, the bride suffered from the increasing load of modern cars and heavy vehicles. Damage to the stonework eventually rendered it structurally unsound and it was closed to vehicular traffic in 1962. Restoration work began in the late 1970's - designed so as to recreate the shape and appearance of the original bridge while at the same time providing the structural strength necessary to prevent damage by modern traffic. The Bridge was officially reopened to traffic on 14th December, 1982.
Glenbrook has one of Sydney's finest lookouts. Mount Portal is situated in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, it is a stunning spot high above the junction of the Nepean River and Glenbrook Creek, the main view is down the Nepean River and across the plains of western Sydney (the Cumberland Plain). The view extends up Glenbrook Gorge and to the stunning cliffs on the other side. It is a popular abseiling spot with plenty of information signs about the local area. The lookout is wheelchair accessible.
Bordered by residential areas on four sides, Glenbrook Lagoon serves as a reminder of the area's historic bush past. Best known for being discovered by William Lawson, William Wentworth and Gregory Blaxland on their crossing of the Blue Mountains in 1813, the waterhole was later used to provide water for steam trains crossing the Blue Mountains The lagoon is home to several wetland birds.
The Glenbrook Native Plant Reserve is a small botanical garden and arboretum of around 2 hectares (4.9 acres) featuring Australian native plants, principally those indigenous to the Blue Mountains. It contains a small nursery and education centre, as well as a small landscaped garden and the local flora reserve, with a number of walking trails and a wide range of local species represented. It is tended by the Blue Mountains Branch of the Australian Plants Society.
Wascoe Siding, a 1km long alternative track which these days is known more for its miniature train open days, was built as a temporary deviation and refuge siding in January 1913. The line was only ever meant to be temporary and was closed in June 1935. The Wascoe Siding model railway park is open to the public on the first Sunday of every month. The railway is operated by the Blue Mountains Railway Society, a non-profit group of interested people who own and maintain the park.
Passengers are invited to bring family and friends to picnic in the grounds and ride on the trains. The train trip involves three laps of the park, including two laps through the tunnel, before returning to the station. The park is a very safe environment for children, and disabled access to the park is readily available. The park also has a kiosk that sells hot and cold food and drinks, and a small range of souvenirs. There are a number of tables in the grounds, or you can bring your own. Contact: (02) 4739 267.
Consisting of layers of hand prints and stencils, the painted images of Red Hands Cave are one of the best examples of Aboriginal art in the Blue Mountains. Although it s thought to have been painted between 500 and 1600 years ago, you can still see the vibrant, earthy colours of red, yellow and white, which combine to make an overwhelming collage. Standing in front of this art is a highly emotive experience, and it s impossible not to be transported back hundreds of years. Red Hands Cave is in the Glenbrook precinct of Blue Mountains National Park. Access to the cave is via Red Hands Cave track (6km) that leaves from the southern side of the Glenbrook causeway.
Parking is available on either side of the Glenbrook causeway and at the Oaks picnic area. Whilst walking along the tranquil Red Hands Cave track to the cave, make sure you keep an eye out for the Aboriginal axe grinding grooves in the rocks beside Camp Fire Creek. More information
Millions of years ago, the river etched a path through the sandstone, creating the magnificent Fairlight Gorge. Today, you can admire the resulting landscape and scenic mountain views from Glenbrook - Nepean lookout, in Blue Mountains National Park. It s a great pit stop on a car touring sightseeing trip to the scenic Glenbrook area. A short and easy track leads to the unfenced lookout where you can gaze down the steep tree-lined gorge on your left and Nepean River on the right. More information