ROAD TRANSPORT IN WESTERN SYDNEY
History in Brief
One of the first problems faced by the early settlers was the transportation of men and materials from place to place.
Exploration on the Parramatta River led to the discovery of good farming land at 'Rose Hill' west of Sydney Cove. Subsequently, the area was quickly settled and soon an overland track provided a means of transport for those unable to pay the cost of travelling by boat. This track was later to become Parramatta Road and linked Sydney Port to Government House at Parramatta.
During the early colonial days, most of the roads began as unruly tracks between the pioneer settlements.
As settlements spread and consolidated, new roads were built and the old ones widened and improved.
Parramatta was often a traveller's first night stop before their journey took them north, south or westward. Passing the extensive Government domain, the tollgate at May's Hill, and then on to Prospect Creek, travellers soon came to Old Windsor Road (Hawkesbury Road) winding towards Constitution Hill and the fertile soils of the Hawkesbury region.
In 1813, the famous explorers, Wentworth, Blaxland and Lawson explored and blazed a trail westward across the Blue Mountains to Bathurst. Governor Macquarie ordered a road be built following their route and it became known as 'The Great Western Road.'
The Western Road was described as "beautiful and level". Mimosas, eucalypt and casuarinas providing shelter for the weary traveller and their beasts of burden.
Convict gangs in their distinct 'slops' worked hard carting and breaking stone for building and maintaining the roads, pavements, retaining walls and drains. Timber had to be logged and sawed into planks to form culverts and bridges.
A traveller on the road between Sydney and Emu Plains in 1827 would have passed a total of nine convict road gangs, many of them with their legs shackled in chains.
In the pastoral boom of the 1820's and 1830's, the great grab for land meant a wave of settlement moving inland. Roads spread out in a large arc to the north, west and south of Sydney Town, linking the principal areas of settlement - Penrith, Parramatta and environs, Hawkesbury, Fairfield, Campbelltown, Holroyd, Blue Mountains and Blacktown.
Stone bridges were constructed, like the Landsdowne Bridge over South Creek near Lansvale, Lennox Bridge on Lapstone Hill and the Victoria Bridge over the Nepean River, all providing essential linkages to these early communities.
The Dog Trap Road (now Woodville Road) led travellers southwards towards Liverpool, Fairfield, Minto, and the Cowpastures. Connotations of wild dogs and bushrangers and fewer settlements did not prevent the determined from this track. For many years this road ran through isolated, wild country, inhabited by rough timber getters, convict road gangs and provided a safe haven for the legendary bushrangers. It was not until the 1840's and 1850's that orchards and inns began to appear.
Many travellers left colourful descriptions of their impressions of the districts, its people and their way of life. Stories of 'blackguards, bushrangers and profligate women' improved with the telling.
Road technology improved dramatically in the 1820's and 1830's as skilled surveyors and engineers arrived in the colony. But the new roads proved just as hazardous, as roaming convicts and stock thieves moved along them at night, and gangs of bushrangers lay in wait alongside them.
In the early decades of the twentieth century the old Merrylands Hotel was a major stopover point for carriers with their teams of horses, drays and wagons. Most movement at this time was along the route linking Parramatta, Liverpool and Campbelltown.
Along with rapid development came demands for improved road maintenance and construction. In 1857, the authorities created the Roads Department but it was not until 1864 that road maintenance and construction became the responsibility of the State.
In these major settlements, main roads were gradually metalled but most secondary roads were just mud tracks.
With the arrival of the motor vehicle in the early 1900's much damage was done to the roads originally designed for horse and carriage transportation.
Local councils protested strongly at the heavy financial burden of road maintenance caused by 'speeding' vehicles (34-50 kilometres per hour).
Eventually in 1924 the Main Roads Board was formed and some order was imposed on the various municipalities, roads and streets.
About this time, local councils began to classify and rename roads and streets. At railway stations, sign boards showing street maps were erected for travellers.
Mechanisation was introduced and road maintenance and building became more efficient and the quality of road functions improved dramatically.
Concrete for drainage pipes, culverts and bridges superseded the use of wood.
Soon, the old horses and drays were remembered with nostalgia.
The motor vehicle is now an essential part of our lives with garages in every home and service stations on all main roads. Traffic congestion and positioning for parking lots have become integral to our way of life.
Today our roads are constructed with bituminous hotmix for blacktop roads and roadmix for concrete roads, kerbs, gutters and pavements.
Roads are now designed to meet the demands of a fast-moving and changing world. Instead of the one lane rutted tracks of last century, we are moving massive numbers of people and produce on freeways, by-passes, fly-overs and six (6) lane highways.
Today, as in the early years, the high cost of road construction and maintenance is offset by taxes and tollways. But it is still the preferred method of transportation by commuters and transport services alike.