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History Resource Centre
“Good roads are the best test of civilisation”
Roads play a vital part in the functioning of almost every society. Soon after the first British colonists settled in South Australia in 1836, it became apparent that an efficient road system was needed to transport agricultural produce, ore from mines, and residents and labourers around the rapidly expanding colony. In spite of this need, rough unmade roads, a lack of bridges, floods and rain, made travel a hazardous undertaking for at least the first forty years of the colony. Today our life style remains dependent upon a suitable road network.
Colonel William Light surveyed Adelaide’s first roads in 1837, but it was largely left to the colonists to initiate early roadworks. The first bridge, built by Alfred Hardy over the River Torrens near the present Morphett Street Bridge in 1839, was funded by public donations. The South Australian Company paid for the construction of the first major roadwork in the colony – an extension of the existing roadway near the port to the Company’s new wharf further north. And the road through the Glen Osmond gorge was funded by trustees after Governor Grey cut back all public expenditure in 1841.
At the time of original surveys most roads were placed on a regular pattern following the land surveys without thought for the terrain. Bullock and horse drawn drays often faced steep inclines making travel a difficult and dangerous undertaking. Once the district of Mount Barker was settled the road leading into the hills at Glen Osmond had to be realigned to allow for the increased traffic and it continued to develop until 1952 when it was widened to four lanes.
From 1843 the Government began allocating money for road building. The Central Board of Main Roads was formed in 1849 and consisted of six members nominated by the Governor. District Road Boards were also established and the local landholders elected members. Taxes were introduced to pay for the road-works, but were withdrawn when the colonists objected.
The Central Roads Board was very effective in quickly establishing the main roads near Adelaide, and many of the main roads in use today originated during the Board’s early years. By 1872 there were 2008 miles of declared main roads. However, as the length of roads increased so did the recurring cost of maintenance, leaving less money each year for the construction and metalling of new roads.
The amount of funding the Board received depended on the Government of the time. Despite this difficulty the Board managed to construct 4000 miles of roads, half of this with a metal surface, spending four million pounds by 1887. In less than 50 years there had been five changes in road administration reflecting the growth of the colony in all districts.
The growth of the railway network in South Australia provided a faster more economical transport than bullocks or horses and the Government reduced road-building funding. The Road Boards were abolished in 1887 and responsibility for roads was given to District Councils, with a Government contribution via a main roads grant. Mr C.T. Hargrave was appointed the first Inspector of Main Roads.
Charles Townshend Hargrave, 1825-1905, arrived in Australia in 1853. He was appointed as Engineer for Southern Division of the Central Board of Main Roads in 1861, Superintending Surveyor for North-West District in 1869 and became Inspector-General and Engineer for Roads and Bridges. He designed and supervised construction of over 500 miles of main roads and bridges made of timber, iron and masonry. His main role was to provide advice to councils who lacked expertise in road-making and to oversee the expenditure of funds.
From 1897 home-made motor vehicles appeared on South Australian roads. The first imported car arrived in 1901 and in 1904 the first South Australian Act regulating the speed of motor vehicles was passed. Within twenty-five years the motor vehicle had almost completely replaced the horse-drawn vehicle as road transport. Existing road-making methods were proving unsuitable for motor traffic.
The Government recognised the need for complete road reconstruction and the introduction of new techniques and materials. One of the first reconstruction projects undertaken was the remaking of Port Road, an important arterial road.
In 1917 formation of the Local Government Department brought together the departments of Roads and Bridges, and Crown Lands. This was one of the predecessors to the present Transport SA, and Mr D.V. Fleming was appointed Senior Professional Officer .
As new road-making techniques became available the Highways and Local Government Department gradually developed new types of pavement and introduced bridge construction methods suitable for local conditions. By 1931 most major population centres within 150 kms of Adelaide were connected with sealed bitumen highways. Towards the end of this period 550 kilometres were being sealed annually, totalling 3000 kilometres by 1939.
From 1926 the Federal Government recognised the national importance of road transport and began providing funding for roads outside of metropolitan areas.
At commencement of war in 1939 the need for serviceable roads linking the States became imperative. The Duke’s Highway was improved between Moorlands and Bordertown en route to Melbourne.
Although there had been unformed roads for intrepid travellers between South Australia and Western Australia, the first formed road of 300 miles across the Nullarbor was a military road costing 250,000 pounds ($500 000). It took six months to complete in 1941, with a workforce of 150 men who were too old to serve in the armed forces. Named after early Western Australian pioneer John Forrest, it remained the Forrest Highway until 1945 when it was renamed the Eyre Highway.
The South Australian Highways Department worked with road divisions from Queensland and New South Wales in constructing a road between Alice Springs and Darwin. Under contract to the Department, Eyre Peninsula contractor, Carlo (Charlie) Ferraro and his road gang, also constructed a runway at Alice Springs airport.
The Commonwealth Government funded most of the work done during the war years. The State Government continued to fund many of the internal roads connected to camps, aerodromes and munition works throughout the State.
The Boom Years
Following the war years the economy boomed in South Australia. Road transport increased and with this the need for stronger, more durable roads. The Highways Department took advantage of the advancements in technology and replaced much of the ageing road-making equipment.
New district offices and depots were established and staff numbers increased. Playford appointed a Government Minister and the Government pressed to have more work undertaken by contractors who provided their own machinery, reducing costs.
To facilitate comprehensive development of the road system country South Australia was divided into five Districts. Traffic surveys were undertaken in metropolitan areas to measure traffic patterns, and the need for realignment and re-construction of roads.
Re-construction work began on some of the major roads to improve traffic flow and in metropolitan areas land was acquired for road widening. The South Eastern Main Road between Eagle on the Hill and Crafers was the first section of divided road through the Adelaide Hills. The Duke’s Highway and other South East roads needed to be upgraded due to wear by heavy interstate haulage.
In 1941 the Highways Department had moved to new premises at Keswick, but soon moved to a larger site (thirty-eight acres) at Northfield (now known as Walkley Heights), which allowed space for a new asphalt plant to be installed. Ted Newman was contracted in 1956 to supervise this operation. The new plant bought from Armstrong-Holland Pty Ltd Sydney, produced up to 400 tonnes of ‘hotmix’ per day and required only one man to handle all operations. This was the major ‘hotmix’ plant in South Australia until 1966 when another plant was established at Marino.
Workshops and laboratories were installed at Northfield over the next few years to continue the high standards of technological advancement and workmanship expected from the Highways Department.
Throughout the 1960s the Highways Department continued to expand. Engineers were pivotal in road design, construction, and safety aspects of all the roads throughout the State. The construction of freeways was considered the most efficient way to address many of the problems associated with the growth of road traffic. The South Eastern Freeway through the Adelaide Hills was considered to be Adelaide’s major arterial road. However, it also had the most challenging alignment problems. Jack Holton as Assistant Chief Engineer (Design) was specifically responsible for the design and planning of the freeway.
Work was continuing across the State with major highways and roads undergoing re-construction. This included the Torrens Gorge Main Road, first opened in 1924, main roads to the south and north of Adelaide, and Highways on the Eyre and Yorke Peninsulas.
Also during the 1960s ideas were circulated regarding the modernisation of metropolitan road networks. Adelaide did not yet have the same traffic problems experienced in many of the eastern states, but, in 1965 work began on the Metropolitan Adelaide Transportation Study (MATS). This major undertaking involved all transport departments and recommended the construction of freeways, expressways, road widening, bridge construction and upgrades of intersections and rail crossings. It also involved the acquisition of large portions of residential and industrial properties. The plan caused enormous controversy, both public and political, and after many heated debates in Parliament it was shelved and finally abandoned in 1969.
The MATS plan served to alert the Department to the importance of community concerns. This has continued to be an important consideration in all road-making procedures undertaken by the Highways Department over the past 30 years. Changes since the early 20th century have resulted in more than the construction of road-ways. Community consultation by the Department and an understanding of environmental concerns is as paramount as the on-going development and maintenance of an effective network of roads.