Great North Road DriveColonial Sydney was saved from starvation many times by the farming communities which sprung up along the Hawkesbury River around the turn of the 19th century. This tour travels north to the Hawkesbury along almost the full length of the first road built to the Central Hawkesbury River region, the Great North Road (1826 to 1836).
It returns via the original road to Windsor (1792), taking in the many historic farm buildings and settlements which dot the Upper and Middle Hawkesbury valley. Numerous museums and information centres are passed on the way where historical and general interest information is available. On the way roadside stalls offer a variety of local farm and orchard produce. The tour commences from and finishes at Sydney CBD.
Depart Sydney via Parramatta Rd. Right into Gt North Road, Five Dock. This is the only section of the original 1820s road which retains its original name. Proceed to Werrell Reserve at the tip of the Abbotsford Peninsula. It is site of the jetty used by the punt connecting Abbotsford Point with Bedlam Point.
Return via Gt North Road, left into Hampden Rd, left into Lyons Rd, left into Victoria Rd and cross Gladesville Bridge, keeping left towards Gladesville. Left into Punt Rd. This is part of the original Gt North Road. Park at reserve near waterfront and observe convict built cutting and jetty. Interesting harbourside walk commences here.
Remains of the convict built punt wharf, Bedlam Point
Return to Victoria Rd, turn left. At Ryde, right into Blaxland Rd, right into Devlin St, left into Blaxland Rd. To following the line of the original Gt North Rd, right into North Road, cross Balaclava Rd into Corunna Rd, left at Vimiera Rd. At this intersection the Gt North Rd continued through what is now Forester Park and along the line of Essex St to Old Beecroft Rd. Alternatively, follow Blaxland Rd to Epping. Turn right into Blaxland Rd. At Epping, cross railway and keeping right, enter Beecroft Rd. Below the Busway overpass on right between Epping and Cheltenham stations is the convict built causeway where the road forded Devlins Creek. Right at Pennant Hills Rd then immediately left into Boundary Rd. Note: In the 1850s the section of Old Northern Rd between Dural and Parramatta via Baulkham Hills gradually replaced this section of the Great North Rd. Right into New Line Road and follow it to Dural where it becomes Old Northern Rd. Continue north on Old Northern Rd to Wiseman's Ferry.
Detours: Kenthurst (shops, galleries, Tropical Butterfly House) follow signs from Round Corner. Berowra Waters (scenic drive, ferry crossing) via Galson Rd (90 mins. return) Marramarra National Park (bushwalks, wildlife, scenic views) right at Canoelands Rd (allow 1 - 6 hrs) Laughtondale Gully (Devil's Rock Aboriginal carvings, historic Wiseman s Ferry Cemetery, scenic valley and riverside drive) right at Laughtondale Gully Rd, then follow Singleton Rd into Wisemans Ferry. At Wisemans Ferry, take ferry and proceed north along Settlers Rd through the extremely picturesque MacDonald River Valley.
Devine's Hill section of Old North Road is on the right. A walk up this section to view the convict built culverts etc. is highly recommended. Proceed alon g Settlers Rd to St Albans (old inn, wattle and daub cottages) via a section of road built in the 1830s to by-pass the Devine s Hill section. It passes old slab cottages and a convict cemetery with graves of first fleeters. The historic inn is the perfect stopping place for lunch. Return to Wiseman s Ferry via St Albans Rd, then follow River Rd. Right into Sackville Rd at Sackville North or detour by turning left into Sackville Rd to Riverside Oaks (30 min. detour to golf and leisure resort) and Cattai National Park (convict-built homestead, walks). Return along Sackville Rd. Follow Sackville Rd/Sackville Ferry Rd through Sackville (historic headstones, winery), Ebenezer (Australia s oldest church) and Wilberforce (Pioneer village, butterfly farm) which were all 19th century pioneer settlements on the Hawkesbury. Left into Wilberforce Rd and town of Windsor. Tourist and history information available from Museum on right in Thomson Square after crossing Hawkesbury River.
Leave Windsor via Windsor Rd, the majority of which was laid out in 1792. This road passes through one of Sydney s oldest agricultaral areas including Vineyard (the site of Sydney s government-run vineyard, established 1803), Riverstone and Rouse Hill. A 2 storey sandstone residence is the centrepiece of Rouse Hill Estate. The site of the Vinegar Hill convict uprising of 1804 is passed before entering Kellyville.
A memorial to the event is located within Castlebrook Lawn Cemetery on right. Keep right into Old Windsor Rd (originally called Hawkesbury Road) which follows the original line of road dating from 1792. Cnr Seven Hills Rd is family cemetery of Matthew Pearce. The Pearce s called the location was called Seven Hills as seven hills could be seen from it. Pearce was a pioneer settler who was granted land which he called Kings Langley estate in 1795. We follow the line of the original road to where it becomes Briens Rd (the original Windsor Rd continued across Toongabbie Creek to Parramatta Park, which was known to the early settlers as The Crescent). Follow James Ruse Dr to Parramatta Rd, turn left and return to Sydney.
Extending north from Sydney to the Hunter Valley, the 240 km Great North Road was built between 1826 and 1836 by re-offending convicts stationed at Newcastle. In the early 1820s settlers began taking up land in the fertile Hunter Valley. They petitioned for a decent road and in 1825 Assistant Surveyor Heneage Finch was sent to survey a suitable route. By following a number of Aboriginal tracks along the ridge-tops he achieved success. Gov. Ralph Darling assigned convict road gangs to start building the road and it was progressively brought into use. As the road passed along remote and desolate ridges where there was little food or water for travelling stock, the isolated sections of it were unpopular and travellers quickly found it preferable to use alternative routes. The Glenorie to Maroota section was abandoned shortly after its completion in favour of a more hospitable route through Pitt Town. It returned to use after motor vehicles were introduced.
The Great North Rd originally branched from Windsor Rd at Baulkham Hills along what is now called Old Northern Road to Wisemans Ferry. In 1829 Surveyor General Thomas Mitchell developed a shorter route which branched north from the Parramatta Rd at Five Dock. A ferry crossed the Parramatta River from Abbotsford to Bedlam Point at Gladesville where part of the convict-built ferry landing remains. The original road then followed the present line of Victoria Rd to St Annes church at Ryde and then roughly followed the line of Blaxland Rd, the North Rd, Corunna Rd, Vimiera Rd, Essex St and Old Beecroft Rd.
New Line Rd passes north of the original line of road into Dural where it joins Old Northen Rd, the road to the Hawkesbury from Parramatta via Castle Hill. In 1832, steamships began servicing the Hawkesbury and fifty years later, railways entered the area, leading to the road falling into further disuse and a poor state of repair.
Most of this road at the Hawkesbury end remains today, offering an alternative, slower paced scenic route between Sydney and the Hunter and access to some of 19th century Australia s greatest engineering feats created by hundreds of convicts many working in leg-irons. These include stone retaining walls, wharves, culverts, bridges and buttresses in Sydney suburbs like Epping and Gladesville, at Wisemans Ferry, Wollombi, Bucketty and Broke, and on walks in Dharug and Yengo National Parks. Much of this quality construction was carried out under the supervision of Assistant Surveyor Percy Simpson who was based at Wisemans Ferry between 1828 and 1832, and Heneage Finch, who was in charge of construction around Bucketty and Laguna in 1830-31.
Simpson was an engineer who had sound knowledge of road construction techniques being developed in Europe and was given the most difficult sections to build. Much of the high quality work created by convicts under his command remains intact today a tribute to his ability to lead an unskilled and unwilling labour force and get the best out of them. Up to 700 convicts worked on the road at any one time clearing timber, digging drains, blasting and shaping stone, and shifting it into position. Some of the blocks weighed up to 660 kg.
Originally 33 bridges were built, their timber decks often supported by elaborate stone foundations. The few which remain are the oldest bridges on mainland Australia. Construction required highly skilled stonemasonry as stone walls were often needed to support the road where it climbed steep hillsides and crossed gullies and watercourses. One wall on Devines Hill just north of Wisemans Ferry reaches almost 10 metres, and is supported by 5 massive buttresses.
Convict inscription, Bedlam Point
The Great North Road, Abbotsford: The only section of the Great North Rd to retain its original name heads north from Parramatta Rd, Five Dock for a short distance before abruptly stopping at the Parramatta River. No evidence of the original roadway remains today except its line which follows the original and very first section built in 1829.
The Great North Road, Gladesville: Bedlam Point was chosen as the place where The Great North Rd would cross the Parramatta River. A punt service which took travellers across the river at Bedlam Pt was established in 1832. Remains of the convict built landing and the cutting through which the road climbed the river bank are still visible at the end of Punt Road along with grooves and initials cut into the rock by the convict road gang which built it. Nearby in Banjo Paterson Park is Rockend cottage. Once thought to have been the puntman s cottage or an inn, it appears to have been built in the 1850s after the land around Looking Glass Bay was subdivided. UBD Map 214 Ref D 14
The Great North Road, Epping: A convict built causeway across Devlins Creek is visible between Beecroft Rd and the railway underneath the bus flyover of the M2 Tollway. UBD Map 251 Ref B 12 The Great North Road Cherrybrook/Dural The small masonry abutments of Pyes Creek Bridge (circa 1830) are in a reserve in Woodlark Pl, Castle Hill (UBD Map 151 Ref M 11). Convict hewn rock faces and stone gutters remain on the original line of New Line Rd off Daintree Pl, Dural. UBD Map 151 Ref L 3
The Great North Road, Wisemans Ferry area: Well-preserved sections of the original road can be seen on what is known today as the Convict Trail. These include a 43 km section immediately north of Wisemans Ferry which goes through very steep and rugged country. Devines Hill, beginning 500m west of the Wisemans Ferry landing on the northern side of the Hawkesbury River, contains fine examples of high walling with massive buttresses, drainage systems and quarries.
These include Clares Bridge, near Ten Mile Hollow; the Circuit Flat Bridge, near Mt Manning; the descent into Wisemans Ferry from the south; the Bucketty Wall, Mt McQuoid, at the intersection of George Downes Drive and the St Albans Rd; Ramsays Leap and the Murrays Run Culvert between Bucketty and Laguna.
Ebenezer Uniting Church, on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, is the oldest standing church building in Australia. It was originally a Presbyterian chapel. The area was settled in 1803 by a number of free settler families who sailed to Australia on the Coromandel in 1802. These settlers worshipped under a local gum tree, which still exists on the opposite side of the road from the church. James Mein, an elder of Galashiels Kirk started holding informal services in his house at Portland and from these meetings grew a desire to build the church at Ebenezer.
One of the important families in the area was the Grono family, early boat builders who built boats up to 200 tons on the Hawkesbury. They and other local families. mostly Scots who had emigrated from London, assisted in building a simple sandstone church, which was cut from sandstone along the banks of the river. The church was built in 1808-09 but not finally fitted out until 1817. Its restoration has been done with recognition of the church's importance and is still used for Sunday services. More like a crofter's cottage than a church, the stone entrance porch was added in 1929 and the eastern vestry in 1966. The cedar bookcase in the porch belonged to the first minister, Dr John McGarvie, who lived in Ebenezer from 1826-1831.
The first burial in 1812 was in the churchyard cemetery. Coffins were brought to the church by the river, with boatloads of mourners joining the funeral procession as it was rowed along the Hawkesbury. The cemetery is one of the most important in Australia with six generations buried in its grounds, including some of the first free settlers in the colony.