Since its upgrade several years ago, the number of Canberrans heading to the coast along Main Road 92 via Nerriga for their annual dose of salt water therapy has been steadily increasing.
If last weekend is any indication, on any day this school holidays, hundreds of Y-plated vehicles with surf boards hanging out the windows, will journey along the unimaginatively named road, the most direct route between Canberra and Jervis Bay.
It’s a little known fact that rather than providing an escape route to the coast for sun-seeking Canberrans, the road’s original intention was much more commerce focussed.
In fact, the genesis for Main Road 92 dates back to the 1830s, not long after the first European settlers spread south from Sydney in search of pastures in the ‘New Country’, with many riding their luck on the sheep’s back.
It was a tortuous journey by bullock wagon along rutted tracks and washed-out crossings from the southern tablelands to Sydney Cove. As a result, in 1831 with the assistance of two unidentified Aboriginal guides, a group of surveyors explored an alternative route to bring agricultural produce, especially wool, from Braidwood and beyond via Nerriga to Jervis Bay, for shipping to Sydney.
Although it took more than a decade for the ambitious plans to gain the tick of approval, in less than a year after commencing construction, the calloused hands of 70 convicts completed the road from Nerriga to Jervis Bay. At the coastal end of the road, at South Huskisson, a wharf and a wool store were erected to enable wool shipments to Sydney and London.
Sadly, after just a handful of years of regular shipments from the wharf to Sydney, due to the trade monopoly of influential Sydney merchants wanting to export wool direct from Sydney, the volume of traffic on the Wool Road fell dramatically. According to some reports, by 1848 much of the freshly hacked route had been overgrown by bush.
However one Jervis Bay local keen to rekindle stories of the long-forgotten road is Jenny Robertson of Worrowing, a sprawling property located right alongside the historic route, near Old Erowal Bay.
Robertson is the brainchild behind ‘The Wool Road Project’, an artistic trail of site-specific artworks and innovative interpretative signage at a string of significant sites along the Wool Road, which she hopes will highlight both the colonial and the indigenous history of the road.
“The old road primarily follows an ancient indigenous songline from Nerriga to the coast,” explains Robertson, who hopes the development of such a trail will “shine the spotlight on the largely unknown story of how the Yuin people guided European settlers regarding the best place to establish the road from the mountain to the sea”.
She also hopes it will “encourage more cultural tourism into Jervis Bay, particularly from Canberra”.
Although Robertson’s tourist trail is in its embryonic stage due to planning and funding challenges, Peter Solness, a light artist, recently provided a snapshot of what the trail may entail when he crafted an eye-catching photo in one on Worrowing’s paddocks.
“The yellow wheels represent the mechanical process of carting wool down the escarpment, whilst the wave-like trail unifies the elements and is suggestive of the unbroken dreaming tracks created by the Indigenous people of this area,” explains Solness.
Although today’s Main Road 92 deviates in several places, there are several locations where you can follow the very surface of the old Wool Road, at least on foot.
One is a dirt track (beware: wear gum boots as it's boggy after rain) hidden on the fringes of suburbia linking Island Point Road to The Wool Lane in Sanctuary Point, but arguably the most spectacular stretch is at Bulee Gap, between Nerriga and Tianjara Falls.
Here, in sections barely wide enough to spread your arms, you get a real sense of the 1840s engineering effort and evidence that explosives were used to blast the way through this sandstone escarpment. It would have been a tight squeeze for the bullock wagons to negotiate through these narrow cuttings.
Not far past Bulee Gap, the original Wool Road followed an even more direct route down the escarpment which adventurous (and only experienced) 4WDers can follow by turning off at Jerrawangala Lookout and then following Wandean Road to Wandandian.
For everyone else, from Jerrawangala turn-off it’s an easy 27-kilometre stretch (keep to the speed limit, for the local constabulary are making a fortune out of Canberrans a little too desperate to dip their big toe in the briny) down to the Princes Highway at Tomerong and the beautiful Shoalhaven coast.
Once you’ve checked in to your holiday digs, if you are feeling peckish grab some fish n chips (try the Salty Crab Seafood Shack on Moona Creek Rd) and beat a path to the beach at Vincentia’s Holden Street boat ramp. From here, not only is it a great spot to watch dolphins frolicking in the bay, but if you look hard enough at low tide, you might notice some partly submerged sandstone blocks.
This is all that remains of the historic wharf built in 1840s, the official end of the historic Wool Road.
Main Road 92: A fully sealed alternative route from Canberra to Nowra. As the road traverses a number of local government areas, the route isn’t signposted as best as it could be and changes name several times from Nerriga Road to Braidwood Road to Turpentine Road . It appears on most GPS systems, but take a map just in case. From Canberra to Jervis Bay the 190km journey via Bungendore, Tarago and Nerriga takes about 2.5 hours (stops extra) — that’s about 30 minutes quicker than driving via the Hume and Illawarra highways and an hour quicker than via Batemans Bay.
Wool Road Highlights
Several landmarks along the historic Wool Road can still be visited. Here are my top 4:
Nerriga Hotel: Perched on the edge of the wilds of Morton National Park, this bush pub is open from 10am daily, with hearty lunches served noon–3pm daily, and traditional pub grub dished up Friday to Sunday from 6pm–8pm. Inside, the 165-year-old baltic pine that was once the floorboards is now the main feature of a polished wooden bar, and historic photos and maps hang from the corrugated iron walls.
There are no official parking spots, but if travelling towards the coast there is just enough room to safely pull off (take care) on the western (left) side of the road about 5.5 kilometres from the Nerriga Hotel. The original section of the Wool Road can be found by walking a couple of hundred metres to the west of here.
Tianjara Falls: Just metres from the side of Main Road 92, this 60-metre drop (28 km from the Nerriga Pub) can turn from barely a dribble to a cascading fury after a rain event.
Jerrawangala Lookout: From this lofty vantage spot (37km from the Nerriga Hotel), accessible down a short dirt (2WD accessible except after heavy rain)you can gasp at the view from Gerringong in the north to Ulladulla in the south. According to local lore, Aboriginal people used this lookout to send messages to others trekking in the labyrinth of deeply channelled gorges and swamps spread out below.
Did You Know? Despite being short-lived as an agricultural transport route, the accompanying settlement created by the historic Wool Road spawned the workforce for a future ship building industry which ensured Jervis Bay’s relative prosperity for many years to come.
Light photography: Using long exposures and hand-illuminating his chosen subjects using small torches, Peter Solness is a master at creating other-worldly effects, not usually associated with traditional photography. For more of his stunning photography, check out: www.illuminated-landscape.com
Stay: If you want to bunk down on the old Wool Road, there are several options including the Nerriga Hotel (they now have two one-bedroom cabins for rent) and Worrowing Estate where there is a selection of self-contained accommodation ranging from large farm houses to wilderness huts and boat shed studios. 81 The Wool Rd, Worrowing Heights (between Sanctuary Point and Vincentia). More: www.worrowing.com.au
Over the last few summers, readers of this column have been issued with various summer holiday challenges, including searching for the longest blue bottle tentacle (three metres was the winner) and the biggest cuttlebone (38cm long) on south coast beaches. This year’s challenge is to photograph the highest number of pelicans perched on buoys, logs, jetties or any coastal (or inland) feature. To kick things off, here is a pair of pelicans recently snapped by Phill Sledge pole-sitting below Wray Street, Batemans Bay.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all.
Contact Tim: Email: email@example.com or Twitter: @TimYowie or write c/- The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick.
Where in the region?
Clue: Don’t let the sign fool you, this is actually a popular coffee stop on the way to the coast.
Degree of difficulty: Medium
Congratulations to Roger Shelton of Spence who was the first reader to correctly identify last week’s photo as the church in Gipps Street, Bega, now home to a Holden dealer.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday 22 December, 2018 will win a double pass to Dendy - The Home of Quality Cinema.