Sunday History Photo / WA

Submitted: Sunday, May 06, 2012 at 03:43
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The Great Northern Highway is generally North-South highway which linksPerth with its most northern port of Wyndham. It is 3,204 kilometres in length, with 3,144 kilometres being National Highway. It is constructed as a sealed, predominantly 2-lane single carriageway (excluding a number of single lane bridges in the Kimberley).

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This highway is the longest intrastate highway in Australia and also the longest Australian highway in absolute terms. In parts, it is among the remotest sealed roads in the world. Some sections are several hundred kilometres in length without so much as a roadhouse. Economically, it is a vital link as it provides access to the resource rich regions of the Pilbara and Kimberley. In these areas, the key industries of mining, pastoral stations and tourism are all dependent on the highway.

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Prior to the 1960s, with the exception of several better quality sections in the wheatbelt area, Great Northern Highway was mostly a series of tracks linking Perth to remote pastoral areas. However, several events occurred in the 1950s that moved the highway forwards. The federal government Beef roads scheme encouraged road building in the Kimberley, which meant trucks were able to transport cattle to port, as against the historical but slow cattle drives. In the Kimberley, a sealed single lane link between Broome and Derby was completed in the 1960s, as were a number of access roads to the port of Wyndham.

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When iron ore was discovered in the Pilbara, major improvements to the highway commenced in the 1960s and continued in the 1970s - the section between Meekatharra and Newman opened in 1978, having been upgraded and sealed to two lanes wide. Also in 1978, the road between Halls Creek and Wyndham was upgraded and sealed to two lanes wide, and was followed not long after in 1981 by the widened and sealed 476 km between Port Hedland and Broome, which runs parallel to Eighty Mile Beach and past the western end of the Mandora Marsh.

Work accelerated in the 1980s as part of the Australian Bicentenary roadworks program. In 1986, the widened and sealed section between Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek was opened after 5 years of work. Between Newman and Port Hedland the Great Northern Highway was changed in the 1980s to a new route running to the west of the original. It had previously passed through Nullagine and Marble Bar. The new Newman-Port Hedland link was finished in 1989. This marked the completion of sealing the Great Northern Highway and also completion of the federally funded National Highway around Australia.

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Flooding can be a hazard, as the Kimberley and Pilbara receive periods of torrential rainfall between November and May. The 'dry causeway' Willare Crossing of the Fitzroy River is designed to withstand enormous floods. However, in the early 1980s, seasonal flooding washed away major sections of the 'causeway' several times. To alleviate the problem, two new bridges were built in 1985 to enable more water to flow through the crossing without overtopping the 'causeway'. Then, less than six months later, Cyclone Hector produced 70% more water than the crossing was designed to handle, and washed away 4 or 5 km of the newly rebuilt section and left one of the bridges without its abutments. It was again rebuilt, and although it has overtopped since, it has not again washed away as disastrously as in 1986.
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Reply By: J & Me - Sunday, May 06, 2012 at 04:37

Sunday, May 06, 2012 at 04:37
Thanks again Doug, as usual a good history lesson, which I really do enjoy.
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Reply By: Member - MUZBRY(Vic) - Sunday, May 06, 2012 at 07:11

Sunday, May 06, 2012 at 07:11
Gday Goug
One day I will do that road again. I drove the top half in 1965 .

Muzbry
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Reply By: westskip - Sunday, May 06, 2012 at 11:44

Sunday, May 06, 2012 at 11:44
The photo of Wyndham brings back memories as I was working up here at the time. The corrugated building on the left housed M.M.A. & the National Bank. Looks like the bank manager;s car parked under the Boab tree and quite possibly some one discussing business with the bank manager under the tree.

The manager had no office or privacy so any business was discussed out under the tree. The branch had only two staff and each Friday the manager would do a run to Kununurra with all the pays for the contractors in the boot of the car. Normally carried about $1m with him and most of that would be re-banked with him at Kununurra and returned to the branch in Wyndham ready for the next week. Usually the run to Kununurra would take the whole weekend so the money just floated around in the car boot for a couple of days.

John
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Reply By: Member - digfra W.A. - Sunday, May 06, 2012 at 12:20

Sunday, May 06, 2012 at 12:20
Thanks again Doug for another great article.It brings back good memorys of my trucking days from the 60s to the late 80s when I traveled on that road from
Perth to Pilbara and the Kimberlys on bad dirt to good sealed highway.Joe.
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Reply By: Ron N - Sunday, May 06, 2012 at 13:07

Sunday, May 06, 2012 at 13:07
Doug - A good write-up for Sunday, thanks for the effort. I can recall I went North from Perth in July 1969 with a mate in my near-new HK Holden ute, for a months tour that encompassed the length of W.A., across to Darwin, back down to Adelaide and then back to Perth.

When we got to the (now defunct) Barradale Roadhouse, on the banks of the Yannarie River, we were met with two things that would be a sign of things to come, travelling North.

The first, was the end of the sealed road, and the start of the N.W. Coastal Hwy "track" (you couldn't call it a road) - and the second was a fully loaded, tri-axle low-loader, bogged to the makers name in the floodway crossing of the Yannarie River (there were very few bridges then, unlike today).

Once we got past the bogged float, and headed North again, the N.W. Coastal Hwy was just two wheeltracks across the red plains. Every few miles you'd get a shock as you suddenly came across a massive hole in the "Highway", where a semi had gone down, and been dragged out, leaving a huge, unmarked hole.

I can remember talking to an old Slav prospector in the Goldfields in the late 1970's. Mick had come out here in 1923, and worked mostly between Kalgoorlie and Norseman. We were discussing the new, vastly improved, widened Coolgardie-Norseman Rd that had been recently built.

Mick said - "You wanna know something? They reckon that highway cost a million dollars a mile! You know what? It's worth every cent of it! When I first drove down from Widgiemooltha in 1923, the road was so bad, with bulldust, bogholes, corrugations, and ruts - you spent more time driving through the bush ALONGSIDE the road, than you did actually ON the road!"

So, in one succint statement, old Mick summed up what good roads mean to us nowadays. The ability to travel long distances with little damage to vehicles, the ability to have our supplies delivered to us at low cost, and the ability for people to live in remote areas without the many deprivations that our older generations endured.

Cheers - Ron.
AnswerID: 485121

Follow Up By: Member - Doug T (NT) - Sunday, May 06, 2012 at 20:58

Sunday, May 06, 2012 at 20:58
A good long reply Ron, and thanks, I went from Perth to Darwin in my 1962 EK Holden in 1967, it was ok until I turned of at Roebourne to Marble Bar , from then on the sealed road was in or near towns , the 80 mile beach was quite a drive back then , nothing for 400 miles and the road was very close to the ocean with white sand.
No sealed road until within 34 miles of Katherine, but I really enjoyed the trip.


.
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Follow Up By: Member - Dunworkin (WA) - Monday, May 07, 2012 at 14:19

Monday, May 07, 2012 at 14:19
"Mick said - "You wanna know something? They reckon that highway cost a million dollars a mile! You know what? It's worth every cent of it! When I first drove down from Widgiemooltha in 1923, the road was so bad, with bulldust, bogholes, corrugations, and ruts - you spent more time driving through the bush ALONGSIDE the road, than you did actually ON the road!"

I remember, as a young kid back in the 50's and 60's, doing that across the Nullabor, over the years we were doing bush detours around detours. LOL

Great History Lesson as usual Doug, I remember doing that Highway towing a caravan (with 4 young kids) in 1980, towed that van over all the roads up through there, including Wittenoom and Tom Price, the then Hammersley Range, but the worst patch of road that we travelled was between Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek, it was horrendous when we traversed it, we were fortunate that the van held together and we got no dust in the van, (mirracle), the only damage was broken eggs in the fridge, I was happy with that. :) :) :)


Simba, our much missed baby.

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Reply By: Member - Arsenal Phill - Sunday, May 06, 2012 at 18:59

Sunday, May 06, 2012 at 18:59
Thanks again Doug. As always your efforts and time are appreciated. Another fascinating read.

All the best

Phill
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Reply By: Member - Rob Mac (QLD) - Sunday, May 06, 2012 at 22:41

Sunday, May 06, 2012 at 22:41
Hello Doug, A good lesson today, jogged a couple of memories, fshed off Langi crossing in 1969 squatting on part of the broken up causeway as a 13 year old, caught a 6 foot saw fish, yelled out to my uncle Les and he helped me pull it in and Brycey the studmaster at Yeeda shot it with an old 303. The truck in the Wyndham photo is familiar, I remember seeing it around late 60's early 70's when dad bought Bill Flinders trucking business.
Cheers
Rob Mac
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Reply By: Off-track - Monday, May 07, 2012 at 21:29

Monday, May 07, 2012 at 21:29
Fascinating stuff. Love the old pics, Rob Mac's too.
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