Bert Salmon soloing on the north face of Coonowrin (Crookneck)
in the Glass House Mountains, Queensland, 1932. (A. A. Salmon collection)
Adventures in the Blue Mountains
By the early 1930s, climbing had become a mass activity in southeast Queensland and to a lesser extent, the Blue Mountains. The two movements evolved independently until January 1934 when a contingent of 16 Queenslanders travelled to Katoomba on a ‘rock-climbing holiday’. They met up with Eric Dark and were ushered into Blue Mountains’ climbing culture with visits to the Three Sisters, the Boar’s Head at Narrow Neck, and Orphan Rock. It was the first Australian rockclimbing meet.
Early one Sunday morning, with 300 people watching from a nearby lookout, Salmon and 21 year old Brisbane climber Muriel Patten climbed the first of the Three Sisters, unroped. It was the first female ascent—a memorable event made even more so by Queenslander George Fraser pumping out tunes on his bagpipes as they climbed!
The next challenge was the so-called ‘Fly Wall’, a steep, eight metre sandstone cliff that budding Blue Mountaineers had to climb before they could join the club. The short climb was noted for its ‘rudimentary’ ledges and at one point, climbers had to jump for a handhold. As the Queenslanders lined up to try the route, a problem emerged: Eric Dark (pictured at the top of the cliff above) insisted they use a rope tied around their chests as a belay. ‘I put the rope on,’ Salmon recalled, ‘and then I took it off!’ Eric Dark, the president of the Blue Mountaineers, retorted: ‘You won’t!’ The feisty Queenslander ignored him. ‘I tried my level best for Queensland and for my own reputation,’ Salmon said, ‘and I succeeded in climbing to the top of the wall without the rope. That was the first time it had ever been done! Dr Dark was amazed.’Within minutes, George Fraser (above) had become the second person to solo the wall, perhaps inadvertently sowing the seeds of the mostly friendly interstate climbing rivalry that persists today. The Queensland contingent then headed to Narrowneck where the exposed Boar’s Head awaited them. This time, with a sheer drop of more than a hundred metres below them, they used the rope!