The Great Western Highway stretches from Sydney to the regional city of Bathurst in the central west of NSW. It is 210 kilometres long, beginning at Railway Square and travelling towards Parramatta before linking up with the motorway to Penrith. Once the Nepean River is crossed, the highway winds its way through the mountain villages before descending into the Hartley Valley via Victoria Pass. The western suburbs of Lithgow are passed by before the highway continues over the Cox’s River towards Bathurst.
Large sections of the original roads through to Bathurst remain in use. There have been inevitable changes and diversions over time, and some of the older sections of the highway remain in use as local roads. The length of the highway across a variety of terrains and grades means that roadwork seems like a perpetual feature for travellers along the road.
I have written before about some of the points of interest along the mountain stretch of the highway. There are many landmarks along the way, including buildings and particular views as the road wends its way, as well as numerous memorials to lives lost through accidents and misadventures along the highway.
I can only imagine the challenges of marking and carving out the original road two centuries ago. Early records attest to the difficulty of travelling along the Western Road (later the Great Western Road, then the Great Western Highway from 1928) and there were many attempts to reduce the impact of some of the inclines across the mountains, as well as easing some of the tight bends as usage changed from mainly foot traffic, horses and coaches to motorised transport. The road was a vital link to the pastures in Bathurst and beyond.
In 1915, there are various gatherings along the roadside as the men of the Cooee March made their way towards Sydney along the Great Western Road. Newspaper articles of the time record the townships along the highway turning out to offer refreshments as well as volunteers responding to the cooee call to enlist. This march has been re-enacted a couple of times including in 1987 and again in 2015 to celebrate the centenary of the march. I passed by the marchers in the most recent re-enactment, a blur of people striding down towards Hazelbrook.
Back in the last days of 2012 and across the first couple of weeks of 2013, journalist Malcolm Brown walked along the Great Western Highway from Sydney out to Dubbo in the central west. The journey of approximately 400 kilometres took a fortnight to complete, and throughout the journey Brown posted stories along the way. There is a clip of him preparing for the walk here, and he notes that there are sections of the journey where he would have to leave the Great Western Highway as there is no provision for pedestrians. There is mention of the road west during the Great Depression where thousands of men tramped through the countryside looking for work: the traffic on the roads was much less and travelled at a slower speed.
There is a collection of Brown’s writings along the road here, as well as articles from journalists in some of the towns he passed through along this extraordinary trek. I spotted him walking along the stretch of highway leading into Wellington, towards the end of his journey.
Have you spotted anything out of the ordinary along a well-travelled road?
[Photo: glimpse of the Great Western Highway from a train at Lawson]