Eyre Highway

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Eyre Highway
Western Australia – South Australia
Map of South Australia and southern Western Australia with Eyre Highway highlighted in red
General information
Type Highway
Length 1,675 km (1,041 mi)
Opened 1941
Route number(s)
  • National Highway 1 (Norseman - SA/WA border)
  • National Highway A1 (SA/WA border - Port Augusta)
route number
National Highway 1 (SA/WA border - Port Augusta)
Major junctions
West end Coolgardie-Esperance Highway, (National Highway 94 / National Route 1), Norseman, Western Australia
East end Augusta Highway (National Highway A1), Port Augusta, South Australia
Major settlements Nullarbor Plain, Eucla, Ceduna, Kimba
Highway system
Highways in Australia
National HighwayFreeways in Australia
Highways in Western Australia
Highways in South Australia

The Eyre Highway is a highway linking Western Australia and South Australia via the Nullarbor Plain. Signed as National Highway 1/A1, it forms part of Highway 1 and the Australian National Highway network linking Perth and Adelaide. It was named after explorer Edward John Eyre, who was the first to cross the Nullarbor by land in 1840–1841. The Eyre Highway runs from Norseman in Western Australia, past Eucla, to the state border. Continuing to the South Australian town of Ceduna, it then skirts the northern boundary of the Eyre Peninsula before reaching the city of Port Augusta in South Australia.

The construction of the East–West Telegraph line in the 1870s, along Eyre's route, resulted in a hazardous trail that could be followed for interstate travel. A national highway was called for, but the federal government did not see the route as important enough until 1941, when a war in the Pacific seemed imminent. The highway was constructed between July 1941 and June 1942, but was trafficable by January 1942. Though originally named Forrest Highway, after John Forrest, by the war cabinet, it was officially named and gazetted Eyre Highway, a name agreed upon by the states' nomenclature committees. The finished road, while an improvement over the previous route, still wasn't much more than a track, and remained such throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Efforts to seal the highway began in Norseman in 1960, with the Western Australian section completed in 1969 and the South Australian section finished in 1976.

Route description[edit]

Western Australia[edit]

Royal Flying Doctor Service emergency airstrip

The Western Australian section of the Eyre Highway is on the western side of the Nullarbor Plain. The Nullarbor gets its name from Latin for 'no trees'. The typical view is that of a straight highway and practically unchanging flat saltbush-covered terrain, although some parts are located on ridges. The population on this stretch was estimated at 86 as of the 2006 census and, apart from Eucla, no towns exist along the route. Roadhouses providing basic services such as petrol, food and bottled water are approximately 200 km (124 mi) to 300 km (186 mi) apart, but not all are open 24 hours. Because of its remoteness, some sections of the Highway serve as emergency airstrips for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. These airstrips are signposted and have runway "piano keys" painted on the road, and turnaround bays for small aircraft.

This section of the highway includes what is regarded as the longest straight stretch of road in Australia and one of the longest in the world, between Balladonia and Caiguna; the road stretches for 145.6 kilometres (90.5 mi) without turning. The section is signposted and commonly known as the "90 Mile Straight".

Mundrabilla Roadhouse, a typical Nullarbor roadhouse

Eyre Highway begins at the town of Norseman, on the Coolgardie–Esperance Highway. Apart from Eucla, 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) from the South Australia border, roadhouses serving the highway are the only settlements on the 720-kilometre-long (450 mi) stretch through Western Australia. These are located at Balladonia, Caiguna, Cocklebiddy, Madura, and Mundrabilla.[1] Travelling east, the highway descends through the Madura Pass just before the Madura roadhouse from the Nullarbor Plain to the coastal Roe Plains. The highway skirts the bottom of the escarpment, climbing back through the Eucla Pass just before Eucla.[2]

South Australia[edit]

Warning signs on the highway at Nullarbor, South Australia

The South Australian section of the Eyre Highway crosses the eastern section of the Nullarbor Plain before arriving in the town of Ceduna. It then skirts the northern boundary of the Eyre Peninsula before reaching the city of Port Augusta. An alternative route between Ceduna and Port Augusta, formerly signed Alternate Route 1 and now signed B100, follows Flinders Highway and Lincoln Highway down the western and eastern sides of the peninsula respectively.

Driving north along the Eyre Highway between Iron Knob and Port Augusta.

Localities in this section include:



Eyre's expeditions, include along the coastline of the Great Australian Bight and the Nullarbor Plain

Edward John Eyre was the first European to traverse the coastline of the Great Australian Bight and the Nullarbor Plain by land in 1840–1841, on an almost 2000 mile trip to Albany, Western Australia. He had originally led the expedition with John Baxter and three aborigines. On 29 April 1841 two of the aborigines killed Baxter and left with most of the supplies, and Eyre and his remaining Aboriginal companion Wylie were only able to survive because they chanced to encounter, at a bay near Esperance, Western Australia, a French whaling ship Mississippi, under the command of an Englishman, Captain Thomas Rossiter, for whom Eyre named the location Rossiter Bay. After several days of recuperation and with replenished supplies, Eyre and Wylie continued on their journey, and arrived at Albany on 7 July 1841.[3]

Three decades later, the East–West Telegraph line was installed. It was constructed between 1875 and 1877, and followed the same route across the Nullarbor and along the Great Australian Bight, after John Forrest retraced Eyre's route in 1870 and confirmed its suitability. Repeater stations were installed at Port Lincoln, Streaky Bay, Smoky Bay, Fowlers Bay, Eucla, Israelite Bay, Esperance, and Bremer Bay. Stations were latter added at Franklin Harbour (Cowell) in 1885, Yardea in 1896, and Balladonia in 1897.[4]

An inland route across the Nullarbor was established with the 1912 to 1917 construction of the Trans-Australian Railway, from Port Augusta via Tarcoola to Kalgoorlie. With few roads or tracks encountering the line, most of it is only accessible by rail.[5]

Highway planning and construction[edit]

Madura Pass section in 1941, before (top) and after (bottom) construction

The construction of the telegraph had resulted in a trail that could be followed for interstate travel, but it was a haphazard route which only the more adventurous motorists would take.[6]:93 Many travellers were unprepared for the harsh conditions and lack of services; they would cause a nuisance for station owners and other travellers by scrounging petrol, contaminating water supplies, leaving gates open, and committing acts of vandalism.[7] In 1938 the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia (RAC) called for a national highway to be constructed by the federal government, as it would be a strategic defence road, provide another link between Western Australia and other states, and improve the tourist experience.[8] The federal government did not see the road as important enough for its involvement.[9]

In May 1941, following the construction of the central north–south road (Stuart Highway), the federal government announced its decision to build the east–west highway between Norseman and Port Augusta.[10] A northerly route, close to the Trans-Australian Railway, had been considered, but extensive limestone outcrops made it impractical. Taking a route east from Norseman, with some detours around limestone ridges, would allow a road to be formed quickly and easily. With a war in the Pacific seemingly imminent, construction soon began, in July 1941. The Army was responsible for fuel, food, and communications, while the state government departments of Main Roads (Western Australia) and Highways (South Australia) managed the actual construction.[6]:93–96

While initial estimates placed the construction cost at £125,000 over a period of four months, it actually cost twice as much, and wasn't completed until June 1942,[6]:95–96 though the road was sufficiently trafficable and in use by January 1942.[11] The finished road, while an improvement over the previous route, still wasn't much than a track. The only sections with a bitumen surface were the Madura and Eucla Passes. The formed width was 30 feet (9.1 m), with some sections[a] lightly gravelled over a 16-foot (4.9 m) width.[6]:96


In the 1930s and 1940s, the Western Australian Nomenclature Advisory Committee[b] had been choosing directional names for the state's main arterial roads (such as Great Eastern Highway),[13] while the South Australian Highways Department had been naming the major roads to other states after explorers (such as Flinders Highway, named after Matthew Flinders). The historical memorials committee of the Royal Geographical Society in South Australia was disappointed in 1938 that no road had been named after Eyre, despite its suggestion that the road from Port Augusta towards Perth should be Eyre Highway.[14] In the same year, the RAC suggested the proposed new highway be name Forrest Highway, after John Forrest, and the Minister for Commerce, Senator Macdonald, concurred.[8]

On 21 January 1942, Prime Minister John Curtin announced the war cabinet decision to name the newly constructed road Forrest Highway,[15] for military purposes.[16] Separately, the states' nomenclature committees were considering names for the road. A proposal for a single name to be used in both states was put by Western Australian committee to South Australian committe when the highway was completed. Two names were suggested, either Great Western Highway, in line with similar directional names in Western Australia, or Eyre Highway, after the explorer. After several communications between the committees, both decided to use the name Eyre Highway.[13] After a receiving a letter from the South Australian Premier in May 1943, supporting the nomenclature committee's recommendation, Prime Minister Curtin agreed to the name, subject to approval from the Western Australian government.[17]

Eyre Highway was gazetted in Western Australia on 11 June 1943, and included the road from Coolgardie to Norseman until Coolgardie–Esperance Highway was gazetted on 16 August 1957.[18][19]


The state of the Eyre Highway remained relatively unchanged throughout the 1940s and 1950s. The road received yearly maintenance, but further, more expensive works were not warranted due to the low traffic volume of approximately fourteen vehicles per day.[6]:152–153 However, the maintenance and grading was hindered by a lack of rainfall – the road was smoothed out each year, and small sections were gravelled, but the soil the road was made from was too weak to be an effective road surface.[6]:186–7 When it did rain, even in small amounts, the road would become boggy, from patches that had broken down into a powdery substance (known as "bulldust") during dry periods.[6]:223 Large numbers of vehicles travelling the highway in 1962, for the Commonwealth Games in Perth, damaged the road in numerous locations, and the lack of moisture required salt water had to be pumped from 350 feet (110 m) below the surface for use in repairs and maintenance.[6]:186–7

Work to seal Eyre Highway was undertaken in the 1960s and 1970s. As the federal government refused requests from Western Australia and South Australia for a special allocation to fund the sealed road, the work was left for the states to finance, over a number of years.[6]:223 Construction began in 1960, at the Norseman end. By the end of that year five miles (8.0 km) had been reconstructed, and was ready to be sealed over a 20-foot (6.1 m) width. fourteen miles (23 km) were sealed in 1961, another 67 miles (108 km) were completed by 1963, and in 1964 the seal reached 111 miles (179 km) out from Norseman.[6]:187 By the mid-1960s, approximately 60 miles (97 km) were being sealed each year. With increased priority given to the project from 1966, Western Australia's portion of the highway was completed in 1969, with a ceremony held a Eucla on 17 October 1969.[6]:223–225

The Great Australian Bight is a short detour away at several places along the highway

In South Australia, a decade long program to seal the highway began in the mid-1960s. The first section to be completed was the 462 km route between Port Augusta to Ceduna, in December 1967. In October 1972 the Ceduna to Penong seal was completed, and the final link to be sealed, between Penong and the state border, was completed with a ceremony held on 29 September 1976 near Wigunda Tank, South Australia.[20] Between Yalata and the state border, the highway was realigned and deviated considerably from the original unsealed route. In deciding the new alignment for the South Australian section of the highway between Yalata and the state border, long, straight, flat sections were purposely avoided in order to prevent driver boredom and consequent fatigue, as well as sun-glare and glare from oncoming headlights. The new alignment also took into consideration the potential tourism opportunities provided along the coast of the Great Australian Bight.[20]

There are two parts of the Nullarbor crossing that are now distinct and separate routes to the current Eyre Highway: on the Western Australian side is a mapped Old Coach Road that is further north towards the Trans Australia Railway line. On the South Australian side, the older highway route runs from Border Village to the Nullarbor Roadhouse, well away from the coast.

Major intersections[edit]

State LGA Location km[21] mi Destinations Notes
Western Australia Dundas Norseman 0 0 Coolgardie-Esperance Highway (National Highway 94 north / National Route 1 south) – Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, Perth, Esperance, Albany Western highway terminus
Eucla 720 447 Western Australia / South Australia border National Highway 1 eastern terminus
South Australia Outback Communities Authority Border Village National Highway A1 western terminus
Ceduna Ceduna 1204 748 Flinders Highway (B100) – Streaky Bay, Port Lincoln
Streaky Bay Poochera 1337 831 Streaky Bay Road  – Streaky Bay
Wudinna Kyancutta 1422 884 Tod Highway (B90) south – Lock, Port Lincoln T-Junction: Eyre Highway south-eastbound continues as Tod Highway
Outback Communities Authority Iron Knob 1598 993 Dickenson Street to Iron Knob Whyalla Road – Iron Knob, Whyalla
Port Augusta Port Augusta West 1640 1,019 Lincoln Highway (B100) south-west – Whyalla, Port Lincoln T-Junction: Eyre Highway south-westbound continues as Lincoln Highway
Port Augusta 1664 1,034 Stuart Highway (National Highway A87) – Coober Pedy, Alice Springs, Darwin Highway terminus: continues south east as Augusta Highway (Princes Highway, A1) towards Adelaide
  •       Route transition

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In Western Australia, approximately 280 out 452 miles (450 out of 727 km)[6]:96
  2. ^ Now the Geographic Names Committee[12]


  1. ^ Main Roads Western Australia (13 August 2013). Goldfields-Esperance Region map (PDF) (PDF). Version 1.0. Government of Western Australia. Archived from the original on 29 August 2013. Retrieved 22 September 2015. 
  2. ^ Waddell, PA; Gardner, AK; Hennig, P (December 2010). "An inventory and condition survey of the Western Australian part of the Nullarbor region" (PDF). Technical Bulletin (Western Australia: Department of Agriculture and Food). No. 97: 7. ISBN 978-0-9806315-2-4. Archived from the original on 1 October 2015.  Additional archives: 1 October 2015.
  3. ^ Dutton, Geoffrey (2006) [First published 1966]. "Eyre, Edward John (1815–1901)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 24 September 2015. 
  4. ^ South Australia and Western Australia Divisions, The Institute of Engineers, Australia (2 June 2001). "Nomination of the East-West Telegraph Line for a National Engineering Landmark" (PDF). The Institute of Engineers, Australia. Retrieved 24 September 2015. 
  5. ^ South Australia and Western Australia Divisions, The Institute of Engineers, Australia (May 2001). "The Trans-Australian Railway: Nomination For Award As A National Engineering Landmark" (PDF). The Institute of Engineers, Australia. Retrieved 24 September 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Edmonds, Leigh (1997). The Vital Link: A History of Main Roads Western Australia 1926–1996. Nedlands, WA: University of Western Australia Press. ISBN 1-875560-87-4. 
  7. ^ "Trouble on the East–West Road". Cootamundra Herald (NSW). 9 September 1938. p. 6. Retrieved 26 September 2015 – via Trove (National Library of Australia). 
  8. ^ a b "East–West Trans Road Urged". The Daily News (Fields Green ed.) (Perth, WA). 30 July 1938. p. 5. Retrieved 26 September 2015 – via Trove (National Library of Australia). 
  9. ^ "Australian Defence". Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 - 1950). 5 November 1938. p. 6. Retrieved 26 September 2015 – via Trove (National Library of Australia). 
  10. ^ "The East–West Road". The West Australian (Perth, WA). 22 May 1941. p. 8. Retrieved 26 September 2015 – via Trove (National Library of Australia). 
  11. ^ "Forrest-Highway". The West Australian (Perth, WA). 23 January 1942. p. 4. Retrieved 27 September 2015 – via Trove (National Library of Australia). 
  12. ^ Western Australian Land Information Authority. "Geographic Names Committee". Government of Western Australia. Archived from the original on 2 August 2013. Retrieved 22 March 2014. 
  13. ^ a b "Eyre Highway: Origin of Title". The West Australian (Perth, WA). 13 May 1943. p. 2. Retrieved 27 September 2015 – via Trove (National Library of Australia). 
  14. ^ "Eyre's Name Not Included". The News (Adelaide, SA). 17 June 1938. p. 5. Retrieved 27 September 2015 – via Trove (National Library of Australia). 
  15. ^ "East–West Road Named Forrest Highway". The Examiner (Late News ed.) (Launceston, Tas.). 22 January 1942. p. 5. Retrieved 27 September 2015 – via Trove (National Library of Australia). 
  16. ^ "Forrest Highway". The National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW). 22 January 1942. p. 3. Retrieved 27 September 2015 – via Trove (National Library of Australia). 
  17. ^ "News and Notes". The West Australian (Perth, WA). 12 May 1943. p. 2. Retrieved 27 September 2015 – via Trove (National Library of Australia). 
  18. ^ "Eyre Highway (per 798/42)" (PDF). Western Australia Government Gazette. 11 June 1943. p. 600. 
  19. ^ "Land Act, 1933-1956: Naming and Change of Name of Roads in the Coolgardie, Dundas and Esperance Road Districts (per 798/42)" (PDF). Western Australia Government Gazette. 16 August 1957. p. 2469. 
  20. ^ a b Eyre Highway (January 1977). Western Roads: official journal of the Main Roads Department, Western Australia, 2(1), p.2-6. Perth: Main Roads Department.
  21. ^ Google (28 March 2013). "Eyre Highway" (Map). Google Maps. Google. Retrieved 28 March 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Main Roads, Western Australia (2006) Distance book: distances to towns and localities in Western Australia East Perth, W.A. Main Roads ISBN 0-7309-7668-8
  • Western Australia. Dept. of Tourism. (1978) Eyre highway traveller survey, 1978 : a study of travellers prior and subsequent to sealing of the highway Perth: Western Australian Dept. of Tourism. ISBN 0-7244-7800-0 (Roads. Use. Australia. Eyre Highway. Reports, surveys (ANB/PRECIS SIN 0061603)

External links[edit]

Route map: Bing / Google