The Cummins family were pioneers of Blaxland, in the lower Blue Mountains of NSW. Bernard Cummins bought land nearby and called his property Mount Riverview. Its far-reaching views across the Nepean and Hawkesbury rivers to Sydney gave him an idea. He constructed a wooden stairway to the top of a huge gum tree, adding a viewing platform. He also provided tearooms, and a museum of curios. The property was beautified with unusual plants and trees. Voila!….a nice little business during the years of the Great Depression.
For those without a motor car, Mount Riverview was a two mile walk through the bush from Blaxland railway station. The refreshments must have been very welcome, especially in summer. Entry was 6d., with use of binoculars (later a telescope). I’m not sure whether this fee included the museum, but it sounds pretty reasonable. An account of a visit was published in The Katoomba Daily, in October 1933.
Arriving at the enchanting spot, a human presently emerged from a small, modern bungalow. We were received with courtesy, then taken indoors and viewed the interesting contents of the home. The various curios told us that the inmate had travelled further than the ‘Look-out’; island spears, plaques from the original copies of the old world masters etc., photos of the movie artists, and scenery of our own Austral land…..The owner of the bungalow has erected a staircase, and made a landing stage at the top of a huge gum tree. I’m sure a few more steps would have taken to the golden stairs, beyond the skies. Down again to terra firma we view the artistic garden plots; the flowers are so rare. The land is apparently barren, but the soil must be rich in some way or other….We partake later of refreshments served very daintily by the lonely man (so he seems). We bid farewell, with promises to return in the near future.
A five star review, although I suspect Mr Cummins was far too busy to be lonely. He was entrepreneurial, enterprising and very involved in his community. He was also kept busy badgering council to keep the local roads in decent repair. Little was done, although sometimes unemployed men on ‘relief’ would be sent out to fill a few potholes.
On Easter Monday 1935 a troop of boy scouts from Sydney enjoyed a visit. Mr Cummins was described in The Nepean Times as ‘a popular and well-known host.’
‘The greatest thrill was in climbing the stairway to the look-out, perched in the branches of a giant tree. The telescope was likewise very attractive, whilst the museum and art collection was of great instructive value to the boys. Needless to say, a day in the open is not complete without boiling the billy, a few scratches, and a fair amount of grime and dust.’
Clearly Francis appreciated his surroundings. He wrote two books of poetry on the theme of nature. The second was published in 1940. It is held in the Library of New South Wales.
That inspirational peacefulness did not last.
TROUBLED TIMES FOR BERNARD AND THE LOOK-OUT
Nepean Times, February 12 1942
Returning home after being away all day on Wednesday of last week Mr B. F. Cummnins, of Mt. Riverview, Blaxland, had trouble with his car when a tyre burst and the vehicle struck a tree. Next morning he found that his home at Mt. Riverview had been broken into and the giant stairway had been badly damaged. Misfortunes did not come single on that occasion.
And soon the giant stairway up the gum tree would be just a memory. In 1944 a bush fire swept though the Lower Blue Mountains and the look-out tree burned down. The tea-rooms, house and its content were also lost. It was reported that Bernard Cummins was one of the biggest losers in the fires. He was left with only the clothes he was wearing. His property was uninsured and the damage estimated at £1,000.
The tragedy was made much worse by looters and vandals. In a letter to The Nepean Times dated November 22 1945 Bernard expressed his frustration and sorrow.
‘On December 10th 1944 I lost everything I possessed in the bush fires…..the savings of years and a lovely garden. Vandals, not satisfied with my tragedy began, while the fire was still burning, to remove things, and it is still going on. Not content to take, anything that can be smashed is being destroyed vis; two very large stone tables and two tanks, the surrounding stones bordering the gardens, every plant, bulbs generally, which show up their growth above ground and, worst of all, one 16 year old palm tree grown from seed (a very beautiful plant). These thieves have no human feeling. No wonder the police force is inadequate when so many people are criminally inclined. The force would have to be doubly staffed.
Perhaps the person who took the palm thought the property had been abandoned. Still, it is hard luck that anyone could be so callous to add to another’s tragedy in this way.’
Poor Mr Cummins. Earlier that year his unmarried sister Maria (Mary) had died. She was described as an artist and poet; a very cultured lady with a fine home library. She too had written a book of poems. It was titled Jewels of Destiny. Her obituary mentioned that she may have been the only woman in the country to write a book, then set the type, print and bind it. She had requested that Bernard market her work. I hope he summoned up the spirit to fulfil her wish.
The Mount Riverview Scouts Hall now stands on the site of the old look-out.
Bernard Francis Cummins died in 1964.
The shadows creep out from the mountain,
As the golden orb sinks in the west.
Till it spends its last rays,
As on all sunny days,
And its deepening shadows bring rest.
By B. F. Cummins
Rest in peace, Bernard. I wish I had met you.