Down Memory Lane: Remembering the sealing of the main road through Woonona Bulli

The sealing and forming of the main road through Woonona, 1926. Picture: Main Roads Department.

By Jack Devitt *

THE bitumen road, built by the Main Roads Department, reached Bulli from Sutherland in 1928.

Every road in the district at the time was either blue metal or a dirt track.

The sealing of the main road was a huge undertaking; men camped along the route on the top of the mountain, coming home at the weekend if at all possible. There was no public transport in the lonely areas, so they had to get to rail stations such as Heathcote, Waterfall or Helensburgh the best way they could.

A carriage-way of about 18 feet in width was dug out by pick and shovel to a depth of a couple of feet. The steam rollers had a ripping device at the rear of the vehicle that often did the initial opening-up of the ground.

The road was formed, true macadam style, with large, medium and small blue metal compacted by steam rollers then covered with boiling hot bitumen, melted in mobile tar boilers.

This bitumen came from South Australia in wooden barrels, which when spilt apart left a solid mass of glistening black bitumen, which was cut into chunks for the boilers. The wood was used in the fire boilers.

An Improvised bitumen plant, on the Princes Highway, Woonona, 1926. Picture: State Library of NSW.

The boiling bitumen was applied to the metal by men, carrying on a yoke, two large cans fitted with sprays. They bound old bags or Hessian around their legs and had leather spats over their boots to protect them from burns and heat.

Another crew followed the sprayers, spreading fine metal with the broad mouthed shovels with steam rollers bringing-up the rear to finish off the surface.

Most of the material was moved by horse-drawn tip drays, plus an old Vulcan or Thorncroft hard rubber tyred tip truck – the tip originally worked by a hand operated windlass.

The bitumen road was a God-send to motorists, eliminating a lot of those time consuming punctured tyres, common on the old corrugated dirt road.

Most cars carried a spare tyre, but when this was used the next puncture meant taking the tyre off the rim with tyre levers (one hell of a job!), pulling out the tube to find the puncture in water (id available, otherwise the dust beside the track) then mending it with a ‘burno vulcanising patch’ and replacing the tube after running your hand around the inside of the tyre for the odd tack or nail. But generally punctures were caused by sharp stones penetrating rather worn tyre rubber.

Such were some of the joys of motoring in the 1920s!

* First published in the Corrimal Post newspaper June 1998.

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