Oldies at Large – A Road to the Past

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 7.29.04 amWe’ve been exploring the NSW hinterland up the remote regions of the Clarence Valley, part of the Great Dividing Range. There are some real gems to be found out here, both mineral and emotional. In Aus. there are some destinations where the road is the attraction, places such as The Great Ocean Road, The Daintree with the Bloomfield Track and the Nullabor which I have written about and many still to explore but I do love it when I come across roads, which are destinations in themselves.

We ventured along another of these hidden delights just recently and had an absolute ball exploring the meandering stretch for three days. The Old Grafton Road, between Grafton and Glen Innes is just such a road and it should be appreciated more often. This road has a history comparable to The Great Ocean Road and it too is an exceptional drive through beautiful country, so take a minute and let me tell you all about it.

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 7.53.13 amFirstly it has two excellent free camps along the way … always a plus! It is also a dirt road, even though it was once a major artery, which now sits idle while the Gwydir Highway takes the traffic. The Old Grafton Rd slips off the Gwydir at a lazy indistinguishable corner and snakes down into another world. Dropping down from the high plateau you slide into a beautiful valley down a steep and narrow road.

This road once hosted gunneries where during World War II when Aus. feared Japanese invasion they set up defence stations where the intent was to destroy the roads, hampering any military advance. These are now long gone, but the historical account remains. Travelling along this old colonial road is a special delight as you follow the river along with the ghosts of yesteryear.

This road was constructed during the mid 1800’s by what is believed to be civilian and convict labour. We no longer hear about the convict road gangs that carved out our major arterial links in the colonial era but the tasks they undertook were monumental. Here along the Old Grafton Road, or the Old Glen Innes Road (depending on you departure point) what was achieved is even today breathtaking.

Lucky DevilsThe historic rock tunnel along this road was carved from solid rock and even some of the graffiti is from the 1800’s is a link with our adventurous past opening the country to all Aussies. They had no pneumatic drills or the like in those days and the men worked with black powder and hand tools carving a track through the wilderness often tracing the narrow songlines and animal trails. They also worked knowing that the local Aboriginal tribes didn’t particularly welcome the intrusion into Country and weren’t too happy about the whole affair.

While there is some debate as to whether the tunnel was actually carved by convicts or contractors to me it is a mute point. Many old lags (convicts who are freemen) continued to work in road gangs even after the convict era had officially closed as this was all the labour they knew. It was a life they loved outside of the cities and they could enjoy the freedoms of the wild and the company of mates. They may have been contracted, they may have been still under sentence, the reality is that locals often know better than the far off officials who tell it as they think it should have been (to them).

None the less it is a breathtaking achievement of colonial manpower, which is still used today for its intended purpose. The long dirt road itself snakes alongside the Boyd and Mann Rivers and leads to the long deserted ghost town of Dalmorton.

Dalmorton was once a thriving gold town and gold panning is a prospect though Dalmorton was renown for its deep quartz reefs. Walking around the old ghost town is a good break. You can still find the old meat hooks in the small butchers shack and the remnant of the Police Station, operational until 1961. Both Mounted Police and Native Police were employed to maintain law and order in the valley and the lock up and stables still stand proud today.

It is a tour into yesteryear and one that is breathtakingly beautiful. Be warned though, that the convict tunnel is only 3.2 m high and it is a rough height… this has been carved out of solid stone so if you are towing a van, check your height. It is a long way to back the damn thing up! Check out the video clip at the end that I nicked from Youtube before you go.

It should be noted that there are no shops or service stations along the track. However the freecamps are beautiful and they have very basic amenities. You take out what you bring in, or don’t bother going. The road is also a TSR in parts and under the protectorate of the land councils, camping is not permitted along some sections and expect to find stock horses, cows, bulls (with big horns and some scrubbers) along with the occasional brumby grazing anywhere along the road. This is a shared space!

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 7.50.47 amWell worth a visit nearby is the Nymboida Coaching Station Inn and Museum, another example of colonial architecture. The kitchen is only open Thur-Sunday but happy hour runs to pub time.

One thing I have learnt to love on the wallaby, is pub grub. Healthy and hearty it beats Scrappa’s, Slappy Jacks and Tuckey Duck any day!

Happy Reading … catch you around the ridges.

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