The White House by the Nepean River© Jim Low 2014
Scattered through the bushland on the eastern escarpment of the Blue Mountains of New South Wales are many reminders of the past. Not all are as visibly obvious in the landscape or as meaningful as the towering, seven-arched, sandstone viaduct across Knapsack Gully or the convict built, sandstone Lennox Bridge over Brookside Creek. The locations of the innumerable, indigenous sites are less well known too. And unfortunately their significance is not widely understood either. For many reasons, a lot of evidence from the past has not survived the years or is in varying stages of destruction.
The ruins of what was known as 'the white house' are such an example. They comprise four, once white-washed walls, made of a composite, stone construction. The ruins are all that is now left of a two storey house built on the western side of the Nepean River, on the escarpment below Singles Ridge and directly opposite the Upper Castlereagh area. Although a modest, unpretentious structure, for many locals the white house became a familiar reference point on the escarpment. As well as highlighting its position in the bush landscape, the house's whitish colouring seemed also to emphasize its lonely isolation.
[Arthur Street Collection - Penrith Library, NSW]
The white house ruins remind me of William Wordsworth's poem Michael which relates the sad story of an old shepherd. His shattered dreams for the future are symbolized by the ruins of what was to be a sheep-fold. In order to see this 'straggling heap of unhewn stones', it was necessary to leave 'the public way'. The same is true for the white house which has always been a difficult and dangerous place to access. Crossing to the western bank was usually accomplished by fording the river at narrow, shallow sections or crossing by boat. The river's susceptibility to flooding further isolated the area.
For many years I have lived within walking distance of the white house ruins, unaware of their existence. On hearing about the white house a year ago, my curiosity was roused to go in search of the ruins and their hidden history.
But finding the ruins was easier said than done. The thick covering of lantana, blackberry and other assorted weeds and thorny vines that greeted me in May last year (2013), made their finding difficult.
[White house ruins May 2013]
No wonder I had previously walked past the area without seeing them. But despite the elation in finding the ruins, it was frustrating not to be able to access the site easily or to see the four surviving walls clearly. Later in October a severe bush fire raged through this and neighbouring parts of the Mountains. Returning in December, I found the ruined walls now clearly exposed in the blackened landscape.
[White house ruins December 2013 following the October bushfire]
The definite worry of snakes made my time at the site limited and uneasy. However, I managed to document the ruins in photographs and video. I also planned to return before the bushland again accomplished another disappearing trick with the ruins.