Eccentrics more 6
William Andrew Murphy was born in the Maitland district in 1846. In his later years he lived near Hat Hill at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, from around 1913 to 1925. Hat Hill was so named because it looks rather like an old felt hat.
Mr Murphy built a small dwelling and soon the local animals and birds began regular evening visits to scavenge food from him. It was not long before people heard about this. On Sundays a local bus began driving people out to Hat Hill to watch quietly as Mr Murphy fed the wildlife.
Unfortunately, a bushfire came through this area, possibly in either 1918 or 1919, and Mr Murphy’s home was destroyed. After the fire had passed, Mr Murphy was found underneath a small waterfall at the back of his property. Local people helped the old man to rebuild his house. They also gave him a horse to ride. However, the shock he must have suffered during the fire meant that things at Hat Hill could never be the same for him again. In the 1920’s he went to live in West Kogarah. He died there on 30 November 1927 and is buried in the Roman Catholic section of Woronora Cemetery. On his death certificate his occupation is that of carpenter.
Most of the information I know about Mr Murphy comes from the recollections of Jack and Ted Harris. In the early 1980’s, they were asked to record some of their memories of the Blackheath area. William Murphy obviously created a lasting impression for the brothers. They clearly remembered the old gentleman who, over sixty years before, had lived at the end of their road when they were children.
In July 1984, after listening to the Harris brothers’ recording, a part of the Blue Mountains Oral History Collection, I wrote a song about Mr Murphy. Some years later a photograph of Mr Murphy and also one of his home were discovered.
Sections of the stone walls of Mr Murphy’s abandoned home can still be found in the bushland. Over the years the house site has slowly been reclaimed by the surrounding bushland.
I have visited the ruins a number of times since writing the song. It is a place made special for me by Mr Murphy’s story, a story of celebration and loss. Perhaps in the future, as I continue singing my song, I will discover more about him.