• 05/15 – The Early Days


    WATM | May 2015
    By Russell McKinnon.

    The first organised efforts to provide the West Australian colony with road links began in October 1831 when the embryo government — a Legislative Council appointed and led by Governor Stirling — appointed a roads overseer at a salary of £8 6s 8p.

    With the help of local unemployment on a monthly pittance plus substance rations, he was ordered to build the first trunk road, about 68 miles from Perth to York. “Build” is something of an exaggeration. Well into the 1840s, whenever a route struck bush, the surveyor’s merely daubed whitewash on trees about 100 yards apart and left the road gangs to sort out the surface problems. Undergrowth was usually cleared, but felling full-grown Jarrah or Karri trees was far too much trouble and the road just wound between them.

    The Perth-York road was half finished the following year and completed by October 1835 to the delight and satisfaction of Avon Valley settlers. Instead of a week, the trip could be done in a day with a good team of horses.

    “By 1868, at the end of convict transportation, WA moved from having barely five miles of good road to having more than 11,000 miles in a network, not only in the South-West but also to Champion Bay — later to become Geraldton”

    Within a few months, Carter’s Halfway House, one of the earliest country inns, was squeezing in up to 20 passengers a night. The route was well-worn three years later and Avon Valley folk complained to the Legislative Council about the ruinous state. In spite of a tollgate established at Mahogany Creek to provide funds for its maintenance, the York complainants had to foot part of the bill.

    At this time, transport cost more than £20 per ton for a haul of 30 miles.

    Other roads followed, including a turnoff from the York road to Northam and a cross-country route from Beverley to Williams. The first road from Perth to Bunbury, restored in the 1970s to become the scenic Old Coast Road, followed the course of a traditional Aboriginal track, which had been in use for many centuries…

    To read more, a pdf version of the full article is available for download here.

    This article is from the April 2015 issue of the WA Transport Magazine. The WA Transport Magazine is available directly from the publisher – Angry Chicken Publishing.