The closest wilderness area to both Sydney and Newcastle, Yengo is located in the lower Hunter Valley. Covering 119,500-hectares, this stunning area features steep gorges, rocky ridges and the basalt remnant of an ancient volcano peak, its namesake – Mt Yengo (668m). It also contains most of the Macdonald River catchment, a recognised but unprotected wild river that flows into the Hawkesbury.
Yengo was declared as wilderness in 2009 – an event that came at the end of a turbulent period for Australia’s conservation movement. Even so, then NSW Premier, Nathan Rees, was surely right to remark: “Yengo’s wilderness area will protect threatened species (including Koalas and Brush-tailed Rock Wallabies) and a number of sites of great importance to the Aboriginal community.”
Yengo is rich in rock art, occupation sites, and story places, and the National Park’s most prominent feature, Mt Yengo, is sacred to the Wonnarua, Awakabu, Worimi and Darkinjung traditional owners and their descendants.
Their Dreamtime stories say the mountain peak is where Baiame, the creator spirit, returned to the sky after he came to earth to make the mountains and the coastlines, the plants and the waterways, the caves and the winds.
Baiame also created the Law, knowledge, and ceremony during his time on earth. So, it is fitting that for thousands of years, Mt Yengo was where these tribes came together to trade, engage in ceremony, and where generation after generation underwent secret initiation rituals. Small wonder then that Mt Yengo is said to be as meaningful to these tribes as Uluru is to the indigenous people of the central desert.
Yengo also has the highest plant diversity of all the Blue Mountains World Heritage listed wilderness areas. It’s home to 43 eucalypt species – one of which was only discovered in 2005 – a testament to the many natural treasures that can be found in protected wilderness areas.
Bushwalkers exploring this rugged landscape can expect to encounter Grassy Alluvial Forests and Woodlands; Coastal River Oak or Swamp Mahogany Forests; Ironbark Forests; and Mellong Swamps and Woodlands. You can also find perched sand beds on the Mellong Plateau on the western side of Yengo. These are characteristic of monoclines formed when Australia separated from New Zealand and support their own unique vegetation type – the Sydney Sand Flats Dry Sclerophyll Forest.
At least 253 species of native terrestrial vertebrate fauna – including frogs, reptiles, mammals, diurnal and nocturnal birds – inhabit the southern Yengo and Parr reserves. Sadly, too many fall prey to pests. Feral species, like foxes and wild dogs living in the park prey on driving native mammals further toward extinction – a problem that has only worsened since the 2019/2020 bushfires.
Thirty threatened animal species are known to appear in the southern Yengo and Parr reserves, including: The Regent Honeyeater, Grey-crowned Babbler, Speckled Warbler, Squirrel Glider, Brown Treecreeper, Broad-headed Snake, Black-chinned Honeyeater, Masked Owl, Turquoise Parrot, Barking Owl, Grey-headed Flying-fox, Koala, East-coast Freetail-bat, Black Bittern and Brush-tailed Phascogale. Of these, the Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby is the highest priority for conservation management.
The paradox of Yengo’s protection
Though the place is naturally and culturally significant, Yengo’s protection was complicated. Yengo National Park was created in March 1988. At that time, the incoming Greiner government was promising no more logging or mining of National Parks.
Once elected however, it transferred control of logging in Yengo to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) – sparking allegations of broken promises. Paradoxically, Yengo was a ‘protected’ National Park now facing the chainsaw and axe.
Although the Yengo logging dispute was quickly resolved, the inflammatory nature of the controversy set the tone for the ‘forest wars’ to come. Conservationism was to settle into a decade of trench warfare with blockades, thousands of arrests, frequent litigation and dramatic, heated parliamentary reviews of court decisions. It was largely thanks to these pitched struggles that the wilderness estate across NSW more than tripled in size from 1995 to 2011.
The highest form of protection for natural landscapes – wilderness protection – was finally extended to Yengo in June 2009, ensuring that this significant place is now safer for Australia's plants, animals and indigenous cultural heritage.