Save the 300 Sisters

Genowlan and Mt.Airly

"Sometimes there is a very special place, that makes one feel one has stepped newly born into a different world. Genowlan is such a place."

Near Genowlan Point

Near Genowlan Point

Genowlan Mountain and Mt. Airly are isolated mesas that lie in the Capertee Valley and rise up to 500 metres above the valley floor. Time and weather have carved a masterpiece in sandstone. Like islands lost in geological time, their plants and animals have survived the worst of aeons of weathering and the withering blast of ice ages. Given their isolation and the wealth of habitats found in this small place, it is not surprising that one finds many rare species and rare communities here. Most people know nothing of Genowlan ... and like many ignored things, it is slipping away.

The Diversity of Life

The full extent of biodiversity on Genowlan (and Mt. Airly) is not known, as new species are still being discovered. We do know that there are more than 340 plants found in an area of around 3,000 ha, and more than 75 mammals and birds. There is one endangered plant, which has just been listed (Pultenaea 'Genowlan Point'), 2 vulnerable plants (Eucalyptus cannonii and Prostanthera stricta).and 6 rare plants (Gonocarpus longifolius, Banksia penicillata, Acacia asparagoides, Pseudanthus divaricatissimus, Epacris muelleri, and Leucochrysum graminifolium). This makes it an unusually rich site for rare or threatened plants.

Xanthorrhoeas & Dwarf Allocasuarinas at Genowlan Heathland

Xanthorrhoeas & Dwarf Allocasuarinas at Genowlan Heathland

But beyond the species themselves, this area contains some very unusual plant communities. The most unusual is that of the Dwarf She-oak Heathland on Genowlan Point. This is found on only some 10 ha, and is present due to a massive ironstone band that prevents tree growth. This is the only spot in the world where one can find Johnson's Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea johnsonii) growing with Allocasuarina nana and Micromyrtus sessilis. It is a unique plant community not found in Wollemi or Gardens of Stone National Parks, and deserves protection.

The vulnerable Tiger Quoll (Dasyurus maculatus) and Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua) and Glossy Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami), and the endangered Southern Brown Bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus) have all been seen on Genowlan and Mt. Airly, making it an important centre for threatened animal species. It is almost certain that the endangered Regent Honeyeater (Xanthomyza phrygia) uses ironbark forest on the talus slopes.

Ferns at Genowlan

Geology and Landform

During the Triassic, some 230 million years ago, a series of huge rivers carried material down from the Lachlan Fold Belt to the Sydney Basin. Where they met the sea they deposited a delta of coarse sand and pebbles to form the Grose Sandstone (Narrabeen Sandstone). This was raised up to become highlands some 90 million years ago, and during the Tertiary it was covered in basalt lava which poured into what was then ancient river channels. These are now basalt caps.

Parts of this basalt are still found on Airly Turret and Genowlan Point. The iron from this basalt leached over time and moved through the coarse-grained rock, in places forming ironstone. Sometimes it came out as a massive band, but more often it was a whole series of thin layers throughout the rock. These ironstone bands resist erosion far more than the sandstone, so that weathering has formed structures like towers, temples, step-pyramids and 'lost cities'. On the local level it forms shapes such as pulpits, tables and chairs. The result is the 'Three Hundred Sisters', a landscape that far surpasses that of the Three Sisters at Katoomba, being made up of hundreds of pagodas, isolated tablelands and hidden valleys.

Valley of Kings & City in the Sky

Valley of Kings and City in the Sky

A heritage under threat

Incredible as it might seem, all of Genowlan and Airly are Crown land and unprotected. They were originally proposed as the northern part of the Gardens of Stone NP, but were not added as they contained mineable coal. The area remains threatened by two main dangers:

1) Coal mining. Despite the increasing evidence of the problems of the Greenhouse Effect, coal seems still to be king as far as our politicians are concerned. When total extraction mining is carried out, the surface can be dropped by up to 1.5 metres, cracking pagodas and collapsing caves. Where mining was carried out in nearby Baal Bone Colliery, there were 124 cliff collapses in only two years. However, the lease for the Mt. Airly Coal Project only covers Mt. Airly and Airly Turret. It does not cover most of Genowlan. There is no reason why Genowlan could not be added to the Gardens of Stone NP - except political will.

2) Four Wheel Drives. Access roads have been cut to the top of Mt Genowlan under an exploration licence, making the area popular with 4WDs and trail bikes. These vehicles contribute to erosion and threaten the endangered Pultenaea and the unique Dwarf She-oak Heathland (dieback fungus as well as weeds can enter on vehicles).

There is another way to give some protection to both Genowlan and Airly apart from putting it in a National Park. This is to make the area a 'Crown Reserve for the Preservation of Flora and Fauna'. This would mean that the surface is managed for conservation purposes, even if mining occurs underneath. This would allow closure of the Genowlan Pt road, which would protect both the heathland and the endangered Pultenaea. State Lands Services (who administer Crown land) is happy for this to take place, but want the NPWS to manage the area.


A previous version of this web page offended a resident of Capertee, Mr Colin Ribaux of "Airly Mountain". He alleged that we had defamed him by implying his track cutting activities were illegal. It was never our intention to offend or defame Mr Ribaux. If Mr Ribaux was offended, we are truly sorry.

What you can do

1) Write to the Hon. Bob Debus, Minister for the Environment, Parliament House, Sydney 2000, urging him to:

Direct the NPWS to manage Genowlan and Mt. Airly as a Crown Reserve for the Preservation of Flora and Fauna.

Add Genowlan (i.e. outside the Airly Coal Project Lease) to the Gardens of Stone NP.

2) Write to the Hon. R. Amery, Minister for Land and Water Conservation, urging him to direct State Land Services to create Genowlan and Airly as a Crown Reserve for the Preservation of Flora and Fauna.

3) Write to the Premier, the Hon. Robert Carr, urging him to direct State Land Services to create Genowlan and Airly as a Crown Reserve for the Preservation of Flora and Fauna.

This leaflet was produced by:
  • Colo Committee
  • Blue Mountains Conservation Society
  • Rylstone District Environment Society
This campaign is supported by:
  • National Parks Association of NSW
  • The Wilderness Society Central West
  • Bathurst Conservation Group