The railway, originally built to transport coal from the Box Vale Mine, had long been removed, but the cuttings are still there. A track now follows the disused line, and it is recommended to stay on the path, which takes you to the edge of the Nattai gorge. The mine was located 160 metres below the edge of the gorge.
In 1896 the Box Vale coal mine had closed, but it was just before or around the 1870’s when the indigenous people disappeared. This would have been about the time of the arrival of white man, the coal mine and logging activities that also occurred there.
The local walking guides show the Box Vale walk, as a well-defined path, starting at the old Hume Highway in Welby, not far from Wombeyan Caves Road, and ending at the escarpment.
As children we found the cuttings and followed them, coming from the direction of the Welby township, or from the escarpment, and well before it was a popular walking track.
Following the cuttings, dense with bracken fern and undergrowth, and reaching the long dark rail tunnel, headed towards a tiny circle of light in the distance. Dark, cool, damp and eerie, we followed our brother, gradually seeing the circular light ahead getting bigger and bigger.
From the tunnel it is not far to the escarpment, and well worth the walk. There, the view over the beautiful scenery of the Nattai, with its intertwining creeks, looking out to the Blue Mountains is spectacular and tranquil.
The rock shelters and overhangs at the gorge, provide a real sense of the warmth and security, these great caves would have provided to our indigenous tribes, who lived there for thousands of years.
It would have been an ideal spot for the local aboriginals. Close to the watercourses, a great spot for hunting and gathering.
Of course, a coal mine takes precedence over animals and the human inhabitants, all of the time, and in this instance, and all over the country, we have shown no respect to our indigenous people with the treatment of their land.
The impact of the coal mines is not limited to our community and the places they sit either, especially due to water flowing and escaping into vast interlocking landscapes, with cascading effects into the land all around, through waterways and on to the water supply of our Capital city.
During our youth, the bush creatures when startled would scurry across our path, including lyre birds, nowadays there are no lyre birds, in fact you do not see many animals at all.
Compared to the bushland in the outlying vicinity, it is obvious its natural beauty has been lost. No explanation other than what had occurred there, will persuade me to think differently. To this day, it has not recovered to its previous beauty, with the dominant species here being casuarinas and tree ferns.
Today you will find crimson rosellas, kookaburras, whistlers, thrush, currawongs, magpies and wrens, but many of the monotremes are no longer in the area.
The Iron Mines in Mittagong was established in 1848, and by 1860, the township of Mittagong was well established. The iron mines obtained its coal from Medway. That mine, now also closed, is still to this day, spilling its toxic waste into our waterways, with no solution to control it in place.
To-date, I do not know what toxins are emitted from the old disused Box Vale mine.