Wednesday, July 2, 2008

William Andrew Murphy (1846-1927) the Hermit of Hat Hill Road, Blackheath,

Murphy at his hut holding one of his brooms
photo courtesy of Charlie Drane
The following article utilises an oral history recording held by Blue Mountains City Library: "Mr Murphy as remembered by Jack and Ted Harris". The Harris boys, during their schooldays, became acquainted with the old solitary who lived at the foot of Hat Hill overlooking the blue expanse of the Grose Valley.

"At this particular spot there was an old gentleman, an old Irishman, by the name of Murphy who with his own hands had built himself a stone house. The stones he collected from the area, a very very rocky area. He used the local soil and mud mixed together for mortar and he built himself what was quite a weather proof and comfortable little cabin.

Now I don’t really know how Mr Murphy took up residence there. I first remember him in 1913 but he was a man, I think, who would be known as a remittance man. I think he probably had been sent out here to Australia because of the fact that maybe he had disgraced himself in his homeland. However, he lived out there, he made his daily trip into Blackheath, which was a five mile trip return, to pick up his money and to buy his provisions.

He was a great nature studier and he fed all the animals and birds in the area and, of course, they became more or less dependent on him for food. And a most interesting man to talk to and one of the attractions of a Sunday afternoon was for our tourist coach to take people, tourists, out to see Mr Murphy just about sundown, all congregate at his stone hut and then he would bring out the food and whistle and call up the animals and they would come – wallabies, possums, all sorts and sizes of birds – and it was something which you would liken to a miniature Taronga Park.

Well, Mr Murphy lived on there for many years and he was no trouble to anybody. He was always happy to interview people, talk to them, discuss the local environment and so on. Then he set his hands to making what would be a millet broom out of a particular shrub which grows in that area and he made a machine to make what looked like a very, very good replica of our millet broom today. But unfortunately for Mr Murphy, although his machine worked wonderfully, as my dad always said, when his brooms dried you had to have another broom to sweep up the mess that his broom left.
Murphy's hut at Hat Hill
photo courtesy of Charlie Drane
However, Mr Murphy was burnt out in a bushfire very similar to the Grose Valley fire of November 1983. He was completely wiped out and we up here on the top end of Hat Hill Road thought for sure that Mr Murphy must be incinerated. That bushfire occurred somewhere around 1918-1919. When the fire cooled off I can remember quite plainly a party of us set out to find what we thought would be his remains and what we found was his stone house still standing, red-hot, no roof, nothing at all left inside it, everything charred and Mr Murphy missing.

Scouting around we found the old gentleman, only just barely clad, standing underneath a little waterfall which was his shower, his own private ablution, and he was alive. So a voluntary party set out to make his stone house habitable again. Of course, the old gentleman had received quite a great shock over this fire and he was not able to get about as he did before. He was given a horse as transport but that didn't work out and the horse escaped. From then on we feel that Mr Murphy was picked up by some of the welfare people and taken to a home.”

Murphy's grave at Woronora cemetery
photo courtesy of Charlie Drane
The death certificate shows that William Andrew Murphy was born in 1846 in Maitland to Peter Murphy, farmer, his mother is not shown, he died at the age of 81 of heart failure and gastric carcinoma, his occupation is shown as carpenter, he was not married and had no known children. Mr Murphy appears in the Blackheath electoral roll in 1913, occupation labourer, apparently living in Hat Hill Road. He would then have been aged about 67, he left Blackheath around 1926, the date of the photo. He was then taken in by family friends, Mrs Helen Drane and family of Kogarah, where he died on November 30th, 1927 and is buried in the Roman Catholic section of Woronora Cemetery. His grave has been recently restored by Helen Drane’s son Charlie and his daughter.

Charlie Drane writes:
“I must have been 5 years old when our Dad took us to this place called the Hill. My brother Bill would have been 7 years old. After all these years I can still hear our Dad saying you will have to be quiet as it’s time for Mr Murphy to feed the birds, what a great sight is was.”

Although his brooms were a main source of income, he augmented this by fortune telling, although just what kind is unknown. His drinking water came from a spring near his hut, but he used the waterfall on a nearby creek for bathing, it was probably the latter that saved his life in the bush fire. His horse was given to him by the Byron brothers who ran a dairy in Blackheath.

Murphy's house site at Hat Hill with restored signage
photo by the author 

His obituary reads:

"HAT HILL’S HERMIT DEAD

Lived life of loneliness for years


Why did Mr W Murphy turn recluse and live a life of almost complete isolation in a
little wooden hut which he constructed amid the rugged splendour of Hat Hill?
For years he lived there and in his loneliness won the affection of many
plumaged birds in the adjacent bush. The wild thrush used to perch on his
shoulder and eat meat from his hand. He had a fine, generous nature, it is
said of him. But he didn’t die in his little hut in the foothills. Instead he
died at the residence of Mrs Drane, Wallace Street, West Kogarah, on Wednesday
night. Those who knew 'The Hermit of Hat Hill' will regret to hear of his
death."


Note: 2013, Blue Mountains musician and songwriter Jim Low has recorded a song based on Mr Murphy's life, see - http://acrossthebluemountains.com.au/lyrics/Old_Mr_Murphy.html

Please contact the author if you can add any more information to this entry.


John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian
2009, 2017 Blue Mountains City Library

Ref. The Mud, the Millet and the Magic of Mysterious Murphy, John Low 2006.
Thanks to Charlie and Lynne Drane for extra information.

Note: John Low's brother, Jim Low, has written and performed a song to Murphy, which is available on CD.

Links: the Harris brothers' oral history recording is now online at the library website https://bmcc.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/search/asset/1000142/0

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