Stage 1 conservation plan for the great north road report

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1.1 About this Plan

This document is a Conservation Management Plan (Stage 1) for the entire length of the Great North Road, originally constructed from 1826 to 1836 to link Sydney with the Hunter Valley, a distance of some 240 kilometres.

This plan deals with the historic background and significance of the Great North Road, provides an overview description of its physical condition, considers present management issues, and provides policy and recommendations to assist with the future management of this highly significant heritage item. This Plan is an advisory document. It is not a statutory document and is not binding on any of the parties mentioned, involved or commented upon in this document.

The client for this plan is The Convict Trail Project. This Project is a community based initiative which seeks to link together a diverse range of government agencies, non-government organisations and community groups which either have responsibility for management of parts of the Great North Road or which share an interest in its long term conservation.

In NSW the heritage management system requires three steps:

  • investigate significance

  • assess significance

  • manage significance.

The NSW Heritage Manual , 1996, discusses the NSW system (also see 1.3 below).

1.2 The Brief for the Plan and required Key Outcomes

The Convict Trail Project Heritage Working Group prepared a brief for the completion of a Stage 1 Conservation and Management Plan in February 1997. The Heritage Working Group is chaired by Clare James, the Maitland Council Heritage Adviser. It comprises representatives with heritage expertise from other Local Councils, and representatives of other relevant organisations such as the NSW Heritage Office, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Roads and Traffic Authority (Environment and Community Policy Branch).

Expressions of Interest for the preparation of a Conservation Management Plan were sought in March 1997. The team was formally commissioned to undertake the plan in July 1997.

Those objectives described in the Brief prepared for the Stage 1 plan may be summarised as:

Compilation and Collation of Information, Basic Mapping and Identification; Basic Survey of under-documented road branches or sections.

As described in the Brief, specific outcomes required for the Stage 1 plan include:

  • Identification of the road line, its branches and relevant associated sites on Base Maps

  • Base maps are to include reference to relevant management information

  • Production of a Companion document to the base maps

  • Specification and undertaking of basic survey work in under-represented or as yet undocumented areas of the road line.

1.3 Approach

The underlying philosophy informing this conservation plan, particularly its Policy section, is that expressed in the Burra Charter of Australia ICOMOS (International Council for the Conservation of Monuments and Sites of Significance). The general approach adopted for the structure and process of the plan reflects that recommended in the supporting guideline documents to the Burra Charter as well as The Conservation Plan of J S Kerr (1996).The present plan is also consistent with the NSW Heritage Manual, 1996, issued by the NSW Heritage Office, and in particular with the Heritage Assessments and Conservation Management Documents, guidelines which are included in the manual.

A fundamental basis of all conservation plans is the review and analysis of documentary, physical and other evidence; the determination of what constitutes the heritage value of the place; an indication of the implications of maintaining this value for the place; taking into account other requirements of the place including, importantly, how it is used; then, having considered all this information, states how the valued aspects of the place can be maintained for the future. This process is summarised in the following diagram:

1.3.1 Conservation Definitions

Various terms, such as place, fabric, cultural significance and conservation, are used in this report in a technical sense. The terms are an essential means of expressing and differentiating important concepts pertaining to heritage work. They are all stated as the definitions in Article 1 of the Burra Charter. As many of the terms appear often in the Conservation Policy of this report, the definitions have been restated there for more convenient reference. (Section 6)

1.4 Form and Component Parts of this Plan

The form of this report reflects the basic process required of conservation plans. It begins with a review of the Road’s history (Section 2) as well as a consideration of its physical context and condition (Section 3) before stating what it is that constitutes the value or cultural significance of the item (Section 4). Section 5 considers the various issues relevant to the development of the ultimate purpose of the conservation plan - the Policy and its implementation (Sections 6 and 7).

At the risk of making this part of the conservation plan too large a document, it was thought essential to include a historic overview of the road as well as a discussion of its physical character and its implications in this covering report itself, rather than simply as appendices. The purpose of placing this information early in the report rather than at the end, apart from gaining a clearer understanding of the item, is to emphasise the sequential links between particular observations made in the earlier sections, especially their reiteration as key aspects of cultural significance, and subsequent restatement as policy.

This Stage 1 Conservation Plan consists of several inter-related components:

  • PART 1 - Covering report (this document)

  • PART 2 - Inventory

  • PART 3 - MAPS

1.5 Scope of this Plan

This study is a Stage 1 Conservation Plan. The original funding application, and the consequent Scope of Work, was designed on the basis that this Stage of the Plan would provide an essential overview of the entire context of the Great North Road, by addressing the key outcomes noted in Section 1.2. Thus whilst this plan has addressed all the components of a standard Conservation Plan, the sheer length and complexity of the Great North Road has meant that an exhaustive coverage was not possible. This is particularly the case for the Inventory and Mapping component, which seeks to provide information in a rapidly accessible format for those responsible for managing sections of the Road. The Inventory has been designed with multiple levels in order that extra information and extra items can be easily added in any future plan Stages. It is recommended in Section 6.13 that updates to the Plan, such as those resulting from new discoveries, should be notified to the Executive Director of the Convict Trail Project. It is also recommended that the CTP should retain responsibility for the dissemination of this Stage 1 Plan, and its components.

In the course of completion of the Stage 1 Plan a number of additional items, not reported in previous surveys, were drawn to the attention of the study team, and most of these have been inspected, assessed and included. Some items referred to the team, were inspected but found not to relate to the Road. An example was a potential old road formation at Millfield, referred via Cessnock Council. Field inspection indicated that there were no old road features here, merely modern spoil material adjacent to the existing road shoulder. Sites such as this were not subsequently inventoried.

1.6 Study Team and Authorship

  • Principal Heritage Consultant

& Study Coordinator: Siobh‡n Lavelle

  • Consultant Historian /

Historical Archaeologist

and Specialist Adviser : Dr Grace Karskens

  • Specialist Mapping

Consultants: RTA Technology (Parramatta)

This report (Part 1 of the Plan) and the Inventory (Part 2) has been prepared by Siobh‡n Lavelle. Section 2 of this document was written by Dr Grace Karskens, who also contributed extensively to parts of this report dealing with significance (Section 4), to the physical description of the road and its division into Sections and Precincts as arranged in the Inventory component.

The specialist mapping component provided by RTA Technology was coordinated by Mr William Evans, Engineering Heritage Surveyor. The maps were prepared by Mr Ian Urban.

1.7 Previous Work and Assessments

Completion of this Stage 1 Conservation Plan has been considerably assisted by the large volume of previous work and documentation which has been compiled for the Great North Road.

All relevant sources are listed in notes to the text and in the report Bibliography, however, the following specific items merit further acknowledgment here:

G Karskens,

'"The Grandest Improvement in the Colony" - An Historical and Archaeological Study of the Great North Road, NSW 1825-1836', M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1985

This work is the definitive study and analysis of the history, construction and interpretation of the Great North Road, and it remains an essential source for all subsequent documents.

The series of reports and other management documents commissioned or undertaken by the National Parks and Wildlife Service for the 40 kilometre section of Road between Wisemans Ferry and Mount Manning, as this section (Section 3) passes through Dharug and Yengo National Parks, and is therefore partly managed by the NPWS.

These include reports by H Burke, by J Comber, G Karskens, and also by National Parks staff (refer to Bibliography).

Engineering reports and assessments on various sections of the road by McBean and Crisp P/L.

The Ken Marheine collection of documents which relate to the road.

The Lesley and Alan Wickham indexed document database and their additional research and mapping of the Simpson Track from Ten Mile Hollow to Cooranbong. All information in this study relating to the Simpson Track derives from Lesley and Alan Wickham.

1.8 Acknowledgments

Many individuals and groups made valuable contributions to this document.

The assistance and advice is acknowledged of the following:-

Lorraine Banks, Executive Director, Convict Trail Project

Clare James, Maitland City Council

Bill Evans and Tony Mitchell

Maria Whipp

MacLaren North

Alice Brandjes

Elton Menday

Kathy Kelman

Ken Phelan

David Workman

Phillip Pleffer

Lesley and Alan Wickham

Joan Robinson

Greg Powell

Ian Webb

Carl Hoipo

Gillian James

Rosemary Walsh

Joy Hughes

Don Manson and John Guyver, Central Tablelands Heritage Trust, DLWC Orange Office

Malcolm Hughes, Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment Management Trust

Funding for the preparation of the Stage 1 Conservation Plan (this study) was made available through the NSW Heritage Office

The Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) provided funding for the mapping component of the plan


Historical Overview of the Great North Road (Dr Grace Karskens)

The Great North Road, built by convict labour between 1826 and 1836, has drawn in and fascinated people from diverse disciplines and callings since the early twentieth century, just as it inspired a number of nineteenth century artists. This section does not present a complete history of the road, but an outline which sketches its development, major perspectives and themes of interpretation, and the reasons for its significance. This is thus a precis of a much more complex history and historiography, and the reader interested in a deeper understanding should consult the works listed in the bibliography compiled for this report.

2.1 Historical Outline

The Great North Road was constructed in a period of colonial expansion, in terms of both geographic settlement and population growth. Envisioned by ambitious engineers, surveyors and governors, and built over a ten-year period by gangs of convicts under colonial sentence, it was the first of a network of 'Great Roads', which radiated to the north, west and south of Sydney, by then a rapidly growing port-town. These roads were named after the 'Great Roads' of England, the newly constructed road system which was itself the product of a revolution in scientific road building providing the first durable, reliable and impressive roads since the Roman period. The technology was rapidly transferred to the colony in New South Wales, mainly by military engineers and surveyors. 1

The road was built to provide a land link between Sydney and the burgeoning settlements in the Hunter Valley to the north. The original line ran between Baulkham Hills and Wollombi via Wisemans Ferry, at the confluence of the Hawkesbury and MacDonald Rivers. From Wollombi it originally ran north east to Maitland and Newcastle; later in the construction period, branches were added to the upper and middle Hunter Valley via Broke. Today this historic line traverses a diverse range of cultural and natural landscapes : from the kerbed and guttered suburban streets and roads of Sydney, it leads through the transitional urban/rural fringes at Dural and over dry rocky ridges and eucalypt forests, plunging dramatically down spectacular gorges at Wisemans Ferry. The road winds through the narrow, isolated Wollombi valley, crossing and recrossing streams and rivers, and then reaches the open, undulating lands of the Hunter Valley.

Of the areas to the north, west and south of the Cumberland Plain which were appropriated and settled in the 1810s and 1820s, the Hunter Valley was among the earliest discovered, the latest to be opened, and the most rapidly settled. Its relatively late European development was a result of the penal settlement founded at the mouth of the river (on the site of Newcastle) in 1804, some years after it was discovered by Lieutenant Shortland in 1797. The settlement's only link to Sydney was by sea, but by the late 1810s it became ineffective as a prison, its distance from Sydney eroded by escaping convicts who made their way up the valley and then overland to Sydney. Although the valley was officially closed to settlers, some grants were made in the middle parts in 1817 and 1818. A land route discovered by Windsor grazier John Howe in 1819 between Windsor and the upper Hunter at Jerry's Plains was probably used as a stock route immediately, and was officially opened in 1823. It was known as the Bulga Road, now the Putty Road. The penal settlement was removed to the remote Port Macquarie in 1822, and thereafter the Hunter Valley was rapidly alienated and settled, mainly by newly-arrived free immigrants. The lower valley was characterised by smaller agricultural holdings, the drier upper reaches by large pastoral estates. The rapidity of the valley's settlement, especially in the lower parts, soon made the rough and roundabout Bulga Road inadequate, while and the coastal sea journey was one of 'very great inconvenience [and] risk' to the settlers. In 1825 surveyor Heneage Finch was despatched to find a better route north, and his general tracing was the original line for the Great North Road. 2

For escaping convicts, for the European exploring parties and for surveyors who made these expeditions to find a way north, the land between the Cumberland Plain and the Hunter Valley was a barrier, an unknown wilderness and in many places barren, extremely rugged and inhospitable. But for the various Aboriginal bands and tribes (the Dharug tribe west of Broken Bay on the Hawkesbury River, the Guringai on the coastal regions, the Gandangara inland to the south and the Dharginung to the north) who occupied or moved across it, though, the land was familiar, criss-crossed by paths, and marked by an intimate geography of sacred sites, places of shelter, rest and food sources, places for teaching and learning. Unlike the mammoth bulk of parts of the European road, and the gashes made in the landscape by clearing, cutting blasting and quarrying, the Aboriginal tracks were simply made, they 'didn't need any complicated engineering'; their imprint was light, though distinct. In place of a lineal notion of an orderly, rationally planned Great Road, an artery connecting one place with another, which demonstrated a kind of struggle and triumph over the landscape, the ancient lines were a network of fine interconnected veins with multiple destinations; the landscape, crowded with meanings and stories, was integral to the journey. 3

It is very likely that the Great North Road, surrounded as it is in some parts by sites and artefacts of Aboriginal origin and significance, runs over and incorporates some of this pre-existing network of tracks. The fact that the road skirts sacred sites suggests that Aborigines assisted the European explorers, settlers and surveyors by showing them the paths, but at the same time carefully diverting them from their important sites. The European road, with its evocations of the colonial past, also has an older, Aboriginal context and significance : 'other footsteps that went before', as Coral Edwards expresses it. 4

As yet we do not know who may have guided John Howe in 1819, nor whether Aboriginal people helped Richard Wiseman, the son of Solomon Wiseman, locate a line up and over the ridges from Wisemans Ferry to Maitland. Heneage Finch probably followed this line in turn, surveying it and marking the trees as far as Wollombi. Further south, he had followed the existing roads west towards Parramatta and Baulkham Hills, then the road up to the early Lunatic Asylum at Castle Hill, and from there he followed the ridge line to Lower Portland Head where emancipist Solomon Wiseman had already established a farm and a hotel on the banks of the Hawkesbury River. 5

The settlers of the Hunter Valley, many of whom were wealthy and well-connected, presented a petition to Brisbane in April 1826 praying that the line marked by Finch be constructed. As a result, work eventually began in a modest fashion in September 1826, when two gangs totalling 67 men were posted north of Castle Hill. Another gang was sent up to the road in December, while in 1827 gangs were also sent to Newcastle in the north to work on the road southwards. 6 The work north and south of Wisemans Ferry was supervised in that year by Lieutenant Jonathon Warner. Warner was responsible for the initial construction of the approaches to the Hawkesbury, and the work of this period reflects his interest in minimising both time and effort spent on construction. The walls and drainage from this period tend to be the less well-constructed, ranging from Types 1b to 2b, while the original ascent (via 'Rose's Run' or ‘Finchs Line’) on the north side of the Hawkesbury, downstream of the present ferry crossing, is steep, winding and relatively narrow, with two sharp corners and four hairpin bends with minimal turning spaces. Part of the rough wall erected on the south descent to Wisemans collapsed in heavy rains in 1830.7

Some of these early structures were improved, rebuilt or replaced by Warner's successor, Lieutenant Percy Simpson. Simpson, who described himself as having 'knowledge of surveying and roadmaking', was appointed Assistant Surveyor at Lower Portland Head in June 1828 and remained there until 1832. His period of superintendence is marked by far more ambitious and permanent structures : the 'lofty and massive side-walls' of the best quality Type 3a and 3b masonry, deep cuttings and quarries, elaborate drainage systems and the simple but handsome bridges on the road between Wisemans and Mt Manning. It was during Simpson's period that the road was named the Great North Road, transformed from a simple cart track to a fine and permanent avenue. Further north, around Wollombi, Heneage Finch was appointed to superintend the gangs in 1830, and, resolving to 'complete a road equally secure with the other

part [ie Simpson's]', he too supervised some of the finest and most ambitious structures on the road: the curved walls and bridge at Mt McQuoid, for example, and the massive wall, buttress and flume at Ramsay's Leap on the side of Mt Simpson. He lived on his own property a 2,000 acre grant named 'Laguna', where the gangs, stores and bullocks were also stationed. Road gangs were also proceeding southwards from Maitland, building the road along existing settlers' tracks under the supervision of Patrick Campbell from 1828.8

This grander and more imposing version of the road was given impetus by the arrival Surveyor General Major Thomas Mitchell in 1827. Mitchell took to the roads with great zeal. Believing that the best, 'scientific' or 'true' roads were based not on the paths of 'black natives', nor the tracks of settlers, but on the straightest lines possible, he set about resurveying practically every road in the country. In 1829 he resurveyed Finch's original 1825 traverse (much of which was an established cart track) deviating from it at many points, including Twelve (now Ten) Mile Hollow, Hungry Flat and Sampson's Pass. At these particular points, the road as constructed and surveyed by G. B. White in 1831 differed again from Mitchell's line, probably because his lines involved too much construction, even for the numerous road gangs posted in that area. 9

The most notable deviation from the original line was the new ascent from the Hawkesbury at Devine's Hill, which replaced Warner's 1828 ascent further south. In place of the narrow, precipitous road scrambling up the slopes, Simpson's gangs cut and blasted Mitchell's line out of a mountainside of solid rock and, to support the road, built an almost continuous retaining wall to the summit, reinforced on the steepest section by five (now four) massive buttresses. Mitchell claimed later that the Devine's Hill section was completed in six months, but it was not until 1832 that the gangs there were finally removed. 10

Shortly after his resurvey of the Great North Road, Mitchell also planned another branch which ran from the Parramatta Road at present-day Five Dock, across the Parramatta River at Abbotsford and Bedlam Point and thence northwest through Ryde towards Dural. This road would, he argued, cut four miles from the original more roundabout route via Castle Hill, which had just been completed by No 8 Iron Gang. Work on this section, however, appears to have been slow and sporadic. A Road Party built the southern section, known as 'Kissing Point Road' (now Punt and Victoria Roads Gladesville) and also a stone wharf in early 1830. Meanwhile No 34 Road Party was stationed on the 'New Road to Dural' (now Beecroft and New Line Roads) from March 1830 and a Bridge Party was working in the Dural area. But when the appointed ferry lessee went to Bedlam Point two years later he found that neither the wharf nor the approaches to it had been built, and that no punt had been supplied. A Bridge party was hurriedly despatched and the stone wharf still extant at the water's edge probably dates from this period. 11

By 1832 the substantial structures over the stony mountains, ridges and gorges were mainly complete and the convicts who had acquired skills in their construction were shifted to other Great Roads. Heneage Finch was replaced by Lawrence Dulhunty in 1831, who, Mitchell complained, 'is not acquainted with the country nor what is to be done on the roads I laid out there'. Dulhunty's reports were vague and uninspired and his period of supervision marked the de-emphasis of the road as a premier public work. The workforce shrank to two road parties and a bridge party in 1833, mainly concerned with the numerous crossings of the Wollombi Brook (nine, in addition to creek crossings) which Mitchell's straight line entailed. In 1834, Dulhunty moved the road station northwards to Cockfighter's Creek at Warkworth. 12

Beyond the Wollombi, the final selection of the Hunter Valley branches had been laid out by Mitchell in late 1832. As in many other instances, Mitchell tended to ignore established tracks, villages and towns (such as Singleton) in favour of straight lines with phantom 'official' town sites at their intersections. His new selections for the Hunter Valley road connecting the branches threw the half-finished roads there into chaos, making the work already completed between Wallis Plains, Patrick's Plains and Singleton redundant. The northernmost branches of the Great North Road were cleared by private contract in 1834 and constructed by the convict gangs, supervised

by Peter Ogilvie from February 1835. Ogilvie was also responsible for the road down the Hunter to

Maitland, and although the terrain was much less difficult than the ridges further south, he was hampered by the fact that 'the number of working men in the two parties are only ten, and many of those are cripples'. As a result he felt himself caught in a cycle of construction and decay:

'I am lead to believe that before the Eastern extremity of the line could be completed, the Western would be quite out of repair’. 13

Whether or not the last branches of the Great North Road were actually finished is unclear. Ogilvie presented another dismal report in 1836 listing the work still to be done, particularly at creek crossings. He was removed shortly after and not replaced, and the Hunter Valley and Great North Roads were left, presumably unfinished.

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