Mitchell's Pass, Lapstone

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 This was superseded in 1824 by what was known as the Bathurst Road (now Old Bathurst Road).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. When Major Thomas Mitchell was appointed as Surveyor-General in 1828, one of the first matters to which he turned his attention was the improvement of the Great Western Road. Mitchell's attention was focussed on providing a more direct and easily graded route for the Great Western Road. Mitchell surveyed and recommended the construction of a road along this route midway between the other two in preference to the Governor s suggestion of stationing a permanent repair gang on the Old Bathurst Road.

To this end, he surveyed a route running northwest from Hartley via Mt Walker to Meadow Flat, crossing the Great Dividing Range at Mount Lambie, then running in an almost straight line westward via Browns Hill to Kelso, to meet the pre-existing road. This road remains in existence  from Mount Lambie west it remains as the route of the current Highway (with deviations) but the section adjacent to Cox s River was inundated by the construction of Lake Lyell for Wallerawang Power Station in the late 1970s. Mitchell was also concerned to improve the worst sections of the road, which were the climb from the Cumberland Plain, on which Sydney sits, and the descent of Mount York, down the western side of the Blue Mountains.

After protracted arguments first with Governor Ralph Darling and then his successor Richard Bourke, and ignoring orders, Mitchell surveyed, designed and had built what is now known as Victoria Pass, where the highway drops from the Blue Mountains into the Hartley Valley. Midway down the road had to be supported on a causeway formed by massive stone buttressed walls, where a narrow ridge connects two large bluffs. This ridge had to be widened and raised to give the highway a route from the upper to the lower bluff. Mitchell cut terraces into the sides of these bluffs to form a passage for the road. It is a testimony of Mitchell's vision and engineering skill that this route, almost unchanged, and using his 1832 stonework, is still in use. Because this pass brought the road into the Hartley Valley several kilometres south of the Mount York descent, it necessitated a new route as far west as Hartley to meet Cox's Road. This also is still in use as part of the highway.

One thing Mitchell lacked was a master bridge builder, however that problem was resolved when in 1833 he met David Lennox, a 45 year old stonemason. Lennox had migrated to Australia from his native Scotland in 1832 after the death of his wife. Lennox had found work in the employ of the Government, building the stone wall in front of the Legislative Council Chambers in Macquarie Street.

In a classic piece of timing, Surveyor General Thomas Mitchell was walking by one day and stopped to chat with him. Upon discovering that Lennox was a master stonemason of twenty years experience which included several bridge projects in England, Mitchell offered him the job of Superintendent of Bridges on the spot. Lennox accepted and left the stone wall he was building, still with his shirt sleeves tucked up, to begin building some the finest stone bridges in Sydney.



Lennox Bridge

In the south eastern section of Mitchell's road, which climbs the eastern escarpment of the Blue Mountains, is a 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 in 1833 when Mitchell met David Lennox who was 45 years old when he came to Australia from his native Scotland in 1832 after the death of his wife. Lennox had found work in the employ of the Government, building the stone wall in front of the Legislative Council Chambers in Macquarie Street.

In a classic piece of timing, Surveyor General Thomas Mitchell was walking by one day and stopped to chat with him. Upon discovering that Lennox was a master stonemason of twenty years experience which included several bridge projects in England, Mitchell offered him the job of Superintendent of Bridges on the spot. Lennox accepted and left the stone wall he was building, still with his shirt sleeves tucked up, to begin building some the finest stone bridges in Sydney, including the magnificent bridge named in his honour.

The oldest surviving bridge on the Australian mainland, Lennox Bridge was the first of a number of bridges Lennox built in and around Sydney. Its single arch was crafted from locally quarried sandstone by a team consiting of 20 convicts, an overseer, a constable and an armed sentry. The bridge was completed in July 1833, being the first scientifically designed stone-arch bridge on the Australian mainland. A unique feature is that its western side is a straight line while its eastern is a graceful curve. Mitchell was so pleased with the bridge, he had Lennox carve his name on one keystone and 'AD 1833' on the other.

With the advent of motor vehicles, heavy trucks taking a short-cut down the mountain often slewed around the curve of the bridge, causing structural damage. The bridge had to be closed in 1956. 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 road below the bridge is now one-way traffic down to the old highway at Emu Plains. Access Mitchell's Pass via Glenbrook Road from the Glenbrook town centre on the eastern side of the highway.



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