Whenever I stand at Blackheath’s Govett’s Leap lookout I sense the spirit of Charles Darwin, one of my great heroes.

Darwin said of the Leap;

It is a tremendous rent or depression in the earth, which is said to be the deepest chasm with perpendicular cliffs in the world. It is almost surrounded by these cliffs, which are nowhere less than 3,000 feet above the level of sea. The full sublimity and majestic grandeur of the scene is not realised at first glance. After contemplating it for a time the mind becomes filled with awe and wonder as it vainly strives to comprehend.

Charles Darwin, who visited Govett's Leap in 1836.

Those cliffs Darwin wrote of were carved not by some great volcanic eruption, but by erosion; the slow, slow action of wind and water. Darwin understood this, but even he found it difficult to comprehend, and decided it just couldn’t be true! It was decades before he accepted that his first conclusion was correct.

The Bridal Veil Falls plunge from a plateau down to the Grose River. They are spectacular, especially after prolonged rain. Oh dear, and we have had so much ‘prolonged rain’ recently. 😪

Govett's Leap, Blackheath NSW

Conversely, when bushfires occur, flames manage to race up the cliffs like a length of burning cordite. If that ‘fuse’ manages to ignite the scrub on the plateau the results can be catastrophic.

Fire at Govetts Leap.

It is impossible to stand at Govett’s Leap or to wander in the surrounding bush without reflecting on the wonder of nature that inspired Darwin’s work Origin of the Species.

It was in the Blue Mountains that Darwin saw a potoroo (kangaroo rat) and a platypus. He noticed that they occupied similar places in the ecological system to the rabbit and the water rat of the northern hemisphere.

In the dusk of the evening I took a stroll along a chain of pools…..& had the good fortune to see several of the famous Platypus or Ornithorhynchus paradoxicus. They were diving and playing in the water; but very little of their bodies were visible, so they only appeared like so many water rats.

He wondered why a creator would make two very different animals for the same purpose. He was also intrigued that they had developed in isolation from the rest of the world.

Darwin is the only man of science whose theories I have ever really understood. Natural selection seems so sensible, even to me.

My interest in Darwin is increased because his children, and the death of his beloved daughter Annie at Great Malvern, featured in my first book. While I was writing it I dreamt that he took me on a tour of his library at Downe House, and talked to me about his work. It was on a par with dreaming I had won the lottery!

The other Govett’s Leap ghost whose presence I feel is the world famous archaeologist Vere Gordon Childe, who fell to his death here in 1957. Childe was a confirmed socialist, atheist and pacifist. Due to these beliefs he had a difficult relationship with Australian academia, and spent most of his professional life overseas. He oversaw the excavation and interpretation of Skara Brae, a Neolithic village in the Orkney Islands.

However, he had spent his childhood in Wentworth Falls and hence the Blue Mountains was very much part of his psyche. It is interesting that his work was influenced by Darwin. David Russell Harris, a former director of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London wrote that Childe had a unique vision of social evolution at a time when other archaeologists had only ‘chronology charts’.

In a letter to a friend published many years after his death (originally deemed accidental) Childe revealed that he had taken his own life;

Vere Childe, who died at Govetts Leap.

I have enormously enjoyed visiting the haunts of my boyhood, above all the Blue Mountains. I have answered to my own satisfaction questions that intrigued me then. Now I have seen the Australian spring; I have smelt the acacia, watched snakes and lizards; listened to the locusts. There is nothing more I want to do here; nothing I feel I ought and could do. I hate the prospect of the summer, but I hate still more the fogs and snows of a British winter. Life ends best when one is happy and strong.

So there we have it, the ghosts of two men of science. In 1836 Darwin visited Govett’s Leap as an intellectually curious young man on the brink of greatness. He fulfilled that early promise, and also became a devoted family man.

By contrast, Vere Childe visited in 1957 as a socially awkward bachelor, at the end of his own illustrious career. He had many friends, but no close, exclusive relationship. Fearing the inevitable diminishment of his physical health and intellectual powers, he did not wish to become a burden on society. He chose to make his own exit, aged 65.

Golden acacia grows at Govetts Leap.

I’m sorry I don’t know who took the following photo, but it is a very special image.

Rainbow at Govett's Leap.


  1. Terrible sight seeing the fires

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