Great North Road (New South Wales)

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Great North Road
(Historic Road)
Section of Great North including gutter hewn from solid rock leading to culvert for box drain beneath road surface.
Type Historic Road
Coordinates 33°22′42″S 150°59′40″E / 33.37833°S 150.99444°E / -33.37833; 150.99444Coordinates: 33°22′42″S 150°59′40″E / 33.37833°S 150.99444°E / -33.37833; 150.99444[1]
Area 393.72 hectares[1]
Status Australian National Heritage List
World Heritage list

The Great North Road is a historic road that was built to link early Sydney Australia with the fertile Hunter Valley to the north. Built by convicts between 1825 and 1836, it traverses over 260 kilometres (162 mi) of the rugged terrain that hindered early agricultural expansion.

The road is of such cultural significance it has now been included on both the Australian National Heritage List[2] and UNESCO's World Heritage list[3] as amongst:

" .. the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts."[4]

The road was an engineering triumph, with some sections constructed to a notably high standard. Unfortunately, it was not an unqualified success in practical terms. Apart from the steep grades, there was a lack of water and horse feed along the route. For these reasons it quickly fell into disuse with the development of alternative means of getting to the Hunter Valley, such as steamships and newer roads. Much of the road fell into total disuse while other parts were absorbed into the urban and rural road network.

The Great North Road was listed on the Australian National Heritage List on 1 August 2007 as a nationally significant example of major public infrastructure developed using convict labour.[5]

The route[edit]

The Great North Road commences at Parramatta Road, at what is now the Sydney suburb of Five Dock. After crossing the Parramatta River at Abbotsford (by boat, since there is no bridge), it passes through Ryde and Dural before reaching the Hawkesbury River at Wisemans Ferry, 100 km (62 mi) to the north. It then winds through isolated and often rugged bushland along the edge of Dharug National Park, continuing through Bucketty until forking at Wollombi. From there one branch continues to Singleton via Broke and the other goes to Cessnock, Maitland and on to Newcastle.

The Great North Road today[edit]

The Great North Road survives to this day, but different parts are preserved in very different ways. Much of it is under bitumen and concrete, either as suburban streets or rural backroads, while some is preserved in national parks and protected from vehicular traffic.

Slight evidence of its past, such as bypassed bridgeworks or even convict rock carvings, survives within the Sydney metropolitan area; by contrast large stretches remain in original condition north of the Hawkesbury River. The first few kilometres, from Five Dock to the Parramatta River (at Abbotsford), pass through a local shopping centre and residential area. The historic name is retained for this section, the only reason anyone would think twice about this unremarkable piece of suburban road.


In 1990, the local communities of Bucketty and Wollombi established the 'Convict Trail Project', aiming to restore, maintain and promote the road as a museum of convict engineering. Original sections of the road which are on view have provided valuable insight into early road construction techniques in the colony of New South Wales, and how English road-building technology of the time was imported and adapted. Prisoners from facilities managed by Corrective Services NSW have been involved with maintenance.[6]

World Heritage Listing[edit]

In July 2010, at the 34th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, the Great North Road and ten other Australian sites with a significant association with convict transportation were inscribed as a group on the World Heritage List as the Australian Convict Sites.[7] The listing explains that the 11 sites present "the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts". Of the 11 sites the Hyde Park Barracks, Cockatoo Island, Old Government House at Parramatta are also within the Sydney region.


See also[edit]

Portal icon Australian Roads portal


External links[edit]