History of road planning in Australia | The Transcontinental
Humans have also lived and passed through the Australian continent for tens of thousands of years.
The first great routes through Australia were associated with song lines, or dream tracks, passed down from generation to generation from one Aboriginal Elder to another.
This knowledge – conveyed by songs and other expressive traditions – outlined the suitably navigable route from one distant location to another, using earth or sky as points of reference along the way.
These songs have traveled the country and some can be extremely long. An example was 3500 km from central Australia to what is now Byron Bay.
These songs also crossed the language barrier (there were around 250 indigenous languages at the time of the British invasion and 800 dialects), with different parts of the songs being in the local dialect of the country they crossed.
These songs also tell stories that go far beyond mere navigation and are in fact deeply rooted in Aboriginal culture.
Meanwhile, some of the Edgeline paths are now paved as main roads today, such as Adelaide to Perth or Darwin to the Kimberleys.
With the arrival of colonization, horses and then wheeled vehicles (cars and stagecoaches), the first European-style roads began to be built in 1788.
However, the very first efforts were not exactly Roman-type feats of engineering. They were just clear paths with no drainage or hard surface.
No system-wide planning was carried out either, until the arrival of Governor Macquarie in 1810. His tenure lasted until 1822, by which time there were three main roads, that heading west to the new wheat-growing colony of Bathurst considered the most important. .
The network has been very gradually expanded and improved since, with each new state and territory eventually doing its own planning, until there was finally a national road numbering network in 1955, and the federal government taking responsibility for finance the most important connections. , introducing the (now superseded) National Highway System in 1974 (although some remote sections at the time were still dirt roads).
In the beginning however, one such infrastructure improvement was the Lennox Bridge in Blaxland, NSW built from 1832-33. Listed as a heritage site in 1999 and still in use today, it was the first (and therefore oldest) stone arch bridge on the Australian mainland.
It was built to provide an alternative westward ascent that was not as steep, steep or dangerous as the perpetually damaged switchbacks of Bathurst Road (now Old Bathurst Road) between what is now Emu Heights and Blaxland.
Lennox Bridge seemed to be an exception to the general underfunding that plagued the system. This was greatly exacerbated as traffic increased, and this increase was dramatic during the gold rush of the mid-19and century.
Local governments (mainly councils today) were introduced to fund, build and maintain roads in their area. Most of these were formed in the 1860s and 1870s. As if to underline the fact that their primary function was roads, it was not until the 1970s under Gough Whitlam that local governments were able to receive grants federal for things other than roads.
Additionally, federal highway funding was not implemented until the 1920s. Even then, the Public Works Act passed in 1922 was conditional on states matching this funding pound-for-pound.
With the growing prevalence of motorized vehicles in Australia, state-based road authorities were established from 1913 to 1926. This is a system we know today, with states taking responsibility for major arteries and local governments still in charge of the other roads (non-federal).
Road rules are also the responsibility of states and territories, while design standards for new vehicles are left to federal law (Australian Design Rules).