Lake Macquarie History

Watagan Mountains


Watagan is an Aboriginal word meaning "many ridges" (Source: Newcastle Herald 11 May 1993). The Watagan Mountains are located on the western side of Lake Macquarie. They are part of the Great Dividing Range, and stretch from the Upper Hunter in the north to Tuggerah Lakes in the south. The area is a spectacular pristine wilderness, and popular tourist and recreational destination. Several designated wilderness areas, including the Watagans National Park and Olney, Heaton, Awaba, Ourimbah and Wyong state forests spread along the range and boast graded walking tracks, scenic lookouts and well maintained picnic and barbecue spots.


photo: horgan family, watagan mountains 1905

Some of the finest rainforest scenery in the country can be found in the Watagan National Park. Rock walls and boulders covered in moss, canopies of red cedar and Illawarra flame trees all are interspersed throughout the walking trails. The area also boasts some remarkable eucalyptus forests and breathtaking views.

Several camping areas and access roads for four wheel drives are sprinkled throughout. Mount Warrawolong is the highest point rising to 641 metres (2,103 ft) above sea level.

Aboriginal Heritage

The mountains are of great importance to the Awabakal and Darkinjung people, and evidence of art and engravings have been found at over 40 recorded locations in the Watagan Range and surrounding lands. Strategies are in place to identify Aboriginal sites and to protect and conserve them from human activity. Although a number of sites have been recorded, it is thought that many more exist that have not yet been identified.

European Settlement

photo: whiteman's home, owens road martinsville

European settlement began around the area in the 1820s. One of the first structures built - erected in the early 1800s - was the Trig Station, a fixed survey point used to calculate distances when making maps and building the Great North Road.

During the 1840s bushrangers roamed throughout the mountains, particularly the Jewboy Gang.

The 1830s saw the beginning of the logging industry, initially with bullock teams. European settlers originally targeted the cedar trees discovered in the forest, however other varieties, turpentine for example, was also sourced from the Watagans. The timber industry within the mountains thrived because of the close proximity to coal mines and timber markets and reached its peak in the early twentieth century.

The area was severely logged during World War II to source timber for the war effort. The post war demand for timber to feed the housing and mining put further pressure on the forest. In the latter half of the twentieth and early twenty first centuries concern has escalated and there have been numerous calls for the conservation of the area. Environmentalists fear the extinction of many varieties of flora and fauna and believe that there are many areas worth protecting.

Historic Sites

A number of historic sites can be found within the Watagan region:

Site Information
Boarding House Dam Named for the boarding house which originally accommodated the longest-serving and largest logging camp in the area. A small dam was built to ensure a supply of water for bushfires after the ravages of a major fire in the summer of 1939-40.
Crump's Retreat
Deverell's fire tower This 18 metre high tower was built in response to the devastating bushfires which destroyed the area in 1839-1840. It is named for head ranger Deverell who was in charge of the Wyong Forestry district.
Five Mile
Espley's Flying fox Arthur (Ben) Espley ran the first large commercial timber mill in the valley near Martinsville. A huge demand for railway sleepers in the 1880s caused Ben to formulate an ingenious plan to move timber quickly and cheaply from the mountain top to the valley floor by way of a flying fox. The cables ran for 1,500 feet and covered a 250 foot drop. The flying fox is believed to have been in full service for about 4 years, until the demand for timber declined. It was eventually abandoned in 1892.
Gap Creek Falls The Falls were originally called Brownes Falls. They were named after the family who operated a sawmill at Martinsville.
Geering's Shop Lionel Geering's general store served Martinsville from 1903-1955. It stood on Martinsville Road opposite the turnoff to Wattagan Road. The shop became a favourite meeting place for locals who would gather on the verandah or under the huge cedar tree which stood nearby. The family's Creamery dairy factory and a butter factory were nearby.
German Point
Heaton's Lookout was named for Joseph James Heaton, born 1859, who lived in a hut on this spot. From this spot you can see the whole are down to the coastline, and when Joseph's family who lived at Dora Creek wanted to contact him, they would light a fire. The smoke would signal there was an emergency at home.
Hickey's Shelf Hickey's Shelf is a low spur in the upper reaches of the Gap Creek valley and is named after Peter Hickey who lived and worked there cutting railway sleepers, until his death in 1932. Hickey was a recluse and sometimes referred to as the 'Gap Creek Hermit'. Local legend has it that Hickey was jilted and sought solitude at Gap Creek to mend his broken heart.
Monkey Mountain
Mt Faulk Road
Mt Sugarloaf
Muir's Lookout
New Mill Road
Paddy's Shelf An extensive area of flat country in the Watagans. This land was part of William and Sarah Martin's 50 acre selection. On William's death his son Patrick or 'Paddy' Martin used the shelves to pasture his bullocks and store stockpiles of timber, hence the name 'Paddy's shelf'.
Palmer's Crossing See Traveller's Rest Hotel (Palmer's Pub)
The Pines This is a stand of slash pines planted in 1932 as part of an unsuccessful plantation forest experiment.
The Dog Ridge
Waterloo Point Road
Wishing Well


The Watagans offer a diverse range of recreational activities:

photo: horgan family at brown's waterfall 1905

  • Relaxing and dining in the well maintained picnic and barbecue areas
  • Camping in the rustic campgrounds, serenaded by kookaburras, lyrebirds or sometimes the sooty owl.
  • Bushwalking, taking in the breathtaking views along the way
  • Mountain bike riding
  • Four wheel driving
  • Trail bike riding
  • Nature and scenery appreciation including bird watching and observing other fauna and flora species, and stunning lookouts and waterfalls
  • Rock climbing and abseiling
  • Rogaining and cross country runs
  • Archery

Acknowledgement of Country

We remember and respect the Ancestors who cared for and nurtured this Country. It is in their footsteps that we travel these lands and waters. Lake Macquarie City Council acknowledges the Awabakal people and Elders past, present and future.

Council acknowledges traditional custodians throughout Australia. We commit to listening deeply to and collaborating with First Peoples in our work.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website and Council's cultural collections may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs, film, audio recordings or printed material.

This website may contain place names, opinions and terms that reflect authors' views or those of the period in which the item was written or recorded. These may not be considered appropriate today.

If you experience any issues with the website or its content please contact us [email protected]