Part One of a two-part series
THE spectacular waterfalls at Fitzroy Falls occur where the Yarrunga Creek descends an 80-metre escarpment into the gorge below, creating three distinct falls, and then flows on towards the Kangaroo River.
Folklore has it that only once have the falls been known to dry up. What is definitely known is that the flow of water over the falls was much more massive and irregular before the construction, upstream, of the Fitzroy Falls Reservoir.
This reservoir, completed in 1974, is on Yarrunga Creek and forms part of the Shoalhaven Scheme that provides back-up water to the Sydney supply. Water from Tallowa Dam in Kangaroo Valley is pumped up to Wingecarribee Reservoir in stages and then fed down waterways to Warragamba and Nepean dams.
Before European settlement, the falls were a central landmark in the Wodi Wodi people's tribal territory.
The earliest white visitors to the locality were an exploration group that camped on the banks of "Yarranghaa" Creek in March, 1818, led by surgeon, settler and explorer Dr Charles Throsby.
In an attempt to find an inland route to Jervis Bay on the coast, an expedition led by Surveyor James Meehan had set out from Sydney earlier that month but were unable to find a way through the rugged Shoalhaven Gorges.
The party divided and Throsby took charge of a smaller group that headed back to the north-east along the Bundanoon Valley and, with the help of Aboriginal guides, came to Meryla Pass, which led them down into the Yarrunga Valley.
Throsby noted in his journal on March 30 that he set out to look at the creek towards its source, his Aboriginal guides almost certainly having told him of the existence of waterfalls upstream. It seems, however, on this first occasion he did not sight the outstanding natural feature.
Before long Throsby had traversed the entire area and in 1819 the Yarrunga Creek district, including the falls, was granted to him, and for many years the falls remained part of the Throsby estate.
Visitors were immediately taken to view the breathtaking beauty of this rugged wilderness and the spectacular nature of the waterfalls soon became well known.
ARTIST Conrad Martens, who arrived in the colony in 1835, was commissioned the following year by Charles Throsby Jnr to do a painting of the new homestead at Throsby Park, Bong Bong. This Charles was the nephew of Dr Charles from whom he had inherited the property.
Martens was born in London in 1801, his father being of German descent. Conrad was taken on as artist for a time on the Beagle's second voyage with Charles Darwin as botanist, and then made for Sydney where he became fascinated with the views of the harbour and the Australian landscape. He remained for the rest of his life, and gained recognition as the most prominent of colonial artists.
During his stay at Throsby Park, Martens was taken to the waterfalls and he made a preliminary sketch entitled Fall of the Quarrooilli. This work is now held in the State Library of NSW collection.
He returned to Sydney and completed a watercolour painting The Falls of Quarrooille that he sold to Throsby for 12 guineas in October 1836. Along with his painting of the homestead, this grand artwork hung for many years at Throsby Park and both are now in a private collection.
The Quarrooille painting ranks among the artist's many works that transcend history, continuing to inspire as art. Yet, as history, the 1836 sketch and painting are the earliest known images of the falls.
The place name Quarrooille used in his titles was presumably a corruption of the Aboriginal name for the area.
Two small figures shown standing and sitting near the top of the waterfall in both sketch and painting are said to be Charles Throsby Jnr and Joseph Wilde. Wilde had accompanied Dr Charles during his explorations and had stayed on at the Throsby estate. Wildes Meadow is named after him.
IT WAS not until 1850 that the falls were given their present name. When the Governor of NSW, Sir Charles FitzRoy, made a tour of the Berrima district he, too, visited the well-known natural feature.
"His Excellency the Governor went to see the waterfall on the Throsby estate and, as no Governor had previously visited this delightful scene, the falls were named Fitzroy Falls." (Sydney Morning Herald March 1850).
From that time on the falls bore his name officially, although the local name - Throsby's Waterfalls - persisted for many years.
To be continued