History of Road Funding in N.S.W.

17 January 1942 The Northern Champion (Taree)

Mr. S. S. Sheppard presided at Wednesday's luncheon of the Taree Rotary Club, and introduced Mr. De B. L. Curtiss as a new member. 

The speaker for the day was the Engineer to the Manning Shire Council, Mr. J. H. Lipscombe, who gave the following address on road making in N.S.W.:-  

The history of road-making in New South Wales is simply a reflection of the history of the growth of the State itself.

From the time when the Great Dividing Range was considered impenetrable, and a journey from Sydney to as far as Parramatta was an accomplishment, until to-day when a trip by road from Sydney to Melbourne in one day is not considered any extraordinary feat, the extension of road communication by increase in mileage, and by improved width, location and surface, has proceeded side by side with the growth in population, commerce and industry. 

It will be of interest to trace briefly the various stages of improvement in tackling the problem of road building. 

There have been, so far, four fairly distinct eras.

The first covers the period from the inception of the colony to 1855, when responsible government was introduced; the second the period from 1855 to 1906, when the first Local Government Act was passed; the third the period from 1906 to 1924, when the Main Roads Act was passed, and we are now in the fourth.

It is proposed to outline in summary tho activities of each era separately.

 First Period 

The road first to receive consideration in the earliest days of settlement was that from Sydney to Parramatta, and thence to Windsor, on the Hawkesbury River.

As early as 1794, Lieutenant Governor Grose reported that he had caused a good road to be made from Sydney to the bank of the Hawkesbury, and in 1797 Governor Hunter issued an order that "all officers were to supply the labour of two men (convicts) for three days a week, and superintendents and 'persons of description,' as well as settlers wore to supply one man."

These men worked on the road in two sections; from Sydney to Duck River (near Granville), and from Duck River to Windsor, but despite the assistance of a public subscription to provide funds for the road construction, and bridges, such as Duck River bridge and Beckett's bridge (near Parramatta), the system did not apparently provide satisfactory results, for, in 1806, the "Sydney Gazette" published the following notice:-

"In consequence of the bad state of the road leading from Sydney to Parramatta, and the danger to horses being lamed in the deep ruts near Sydney, it is hereby decided that all public and private carts and waggons passing that road (not otherwise loaded) do take a load of brickbats from the brickfields and drop them in the places appointed, by the overseer of roads, provided it does not lie out of the way of the place to which the cart or waggon is going." 

This method did not bring about any material improvement, and in 1810 the energetic Governor Macquarie called tenders for the repair of the road and for the erection of toll bars.

The repairs were carried but with despatch, and the Governor reported that the new road was "proving a very material accommodation and benefit both to the inhabitants of Sydney and Parramatta, and to those of the surrounding country who were nearly secluded from all inter-course by the almost impassable state of the old road."

The cost of these re-pairs was met from the Police Fund (which derived its income mainly by a duty of 3s a gallon on spirits) on the understanding that the fund would be recouped by the receipts from tolls.

Two toll bars were erected; the first at the corner of Pitt and George streets, near the present Central Railway Station, and the other at Beckett's Creek, near Parramatta.   

None of these first attempts provided any lasting benefit because the work, which, was not of a permanent character, was mostly undone by subsequent heavy rains.

It was therefore decided in 1817 that the road should be properly cleared of tree stumps, the rough paved with stone, and covered with earth and gravel.

The work was under-taken under the guidance of the Chief Engineer (Major Druitt), with gangs of convicts working in from thirty to sixty in a gang.

These gangs were housed in huts along the road, and moved camp as each stage of the work was comleted.

The working week, as early as this, comprised only five days, since on Saturday each overseer was required to proceed either to Sydney or Parramatta to secure the week's rations.

In the distribution of labour, only the best behaved convicts were drafted to road work, because it was found that the more recalcitrant labourers were prone to devote the Saturday spell to the way- laying of settlers proceeding along the road, the rifling of nearby orchards and farms and the illicit exchange of issue blankets and clothing for rum and other acceptable commodities.

This diversion of the best class of labour to roads, however, is reported as being economical because of the developmental nature of the roads, which are now the main traffic arteries.

The settlers lost the direct help of the best men, but it provided them with easy and speedy conveyance of their produce to market.

Shortly after the completion of a satisfactory road to Parramatta, an impetus was given to the efforts to surmount the seemingly impossible task of crossing the Blue Mountains by the occurrence of a severe drought.

The drought made serious inroads into the live stock of the colony, and settlers recognised that the future depended largely upon the extension of the pastoral areas.

As a result, a successful, although extremely arduous, attempt was made to cross the range in 1813 by Messrs. Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth. Governor Macquarie followed this success quickly by despatching a survey party, under Surveyor Evans, to investigate the possibility of providing a road, and, upon receiving a favour able report, commenced the road work by enforced labour.

A road was opened for traffic as far west as Bathurst by 21st. January, 1815.    

In 1827, Major (afterwards Sir) T. L. Mitchell, who had been appointed Surveyor-General in the previous year, was commissioned by the Governor to divide the country into counties, to be as nearly as possible 40 miles square, and then into hundreds, which were to cover an area of about 100 square miles each, with a further subdivision into parishes of about 25 square miles each.

At the same time, he was requested to ascertain and report on the land which should be reserved for public roads or as sites for towns, villages, churches, etc.

For this purpose, he put in hand surveys having for their objective the determining of the main features of the country and became impressed with the urgent necessity of marking out and establishing in a scientifically located manner the roads which were to form the backbone of the colony's land transport system.

He thus introduced order into what had previously been a somewhat haphazard manner of locating the main roads, and gave to that science in the new colony, a depth of conception and breadth of vision which it had hitherto lacked and which is still worthy of emulation. 

In the financing of early roadwork, an Imperial Act made it lawful for the Governor of New South Wales to levy tolls for the purpose of providing fund's to repair roads, bridges, and ferries, and the rates to be paid were prescribed by the Statute.

The minimum rate for roads and bridges was set down at d for a sheep, pig, or goat, and the maximum at 1s 6d for a carriage and four. 

The rates for ferries varied from 2d for a foot passenger to 1s per head of cattle over ten in one mob.

The right to collect tolls was usually sold by public auction. 

In the next year, the first attempt at distinguishing, by legislation, main from minor roads was made.

An Act gazetted on 28th August, 1833, scheduled certain, roads which would be controlled by the State.

These were as follows:- South Head road, Western road to Bathurst, Southern to Goulburn, Liverpool-Campbelltown road, Northern road via Wiseman's Ferry to Muswellbrook, Wollombi to Maitland and Newcastle to Maitland. These will all be recognised as the ancestors of a number of present main roads and State highways.

Numerous other roads were subsequently proclaimed as public, roads under this Act. 

In order to assist the parishes in keeping their local roads in repair, authority was given in 1835 for the levying f tolls for this purpose.

Before the erection of a toll bar, at least one half the householders had to apply for repairs to a road or bridge to be carried out, and for a toll to be imposed.

If a court consisting of three justices found in favour of the proposal, the Governor could approve the work, and the levying of a toll.

The tolls were collected and repairs effected by each local Court of Petty Sessions.  

What represented the actual beginning of local government however was the passage of a Parish Roads Act in 1840.

Under this Act, landowners, were entitled to set up an organisation to control their local needs, principally the maintenance of local or parish roads.   

One-third of the proprietors of land through which or within 3 miles of which a parish road passed could requisition the Court of Petty Sessions to appoint trustees. Trustees, as to number and personnel, were elected at a public meeting at which one vote for each trustee was allowed any owner of land of a value of 200 or more.

The trustees were elected for three years and were empowered to levy a maximum rate of 6d per acre and to fix and collect tolls.

The tolls could be leased for a period of five years. 

The more important roads in the Metropolitan and Newcastle areas were, however, entrusted to the control of road trusts established under various Acts between 1848 and 1855.

These trusts took over the toll houses, gates, etc., and were vested with the responsibility, previously held by the Government, of maintaining and improving the roads in their areas.

The power to levy, collect, and lease tolls was also transferred to the trusts.       

Apart from these road trusts, the English Act, which established the Legislative Council in 1842, also provided for district councils.

These district councils had councillors in proportion to the population of each district, e.g., twelve councillors for a population of 7,000 to 10,000, and were authorised to make and maintain roads, establish schools, maintain a police force, and administer justice, etc.

The first district council included the districts of Campbelltown, Appin, Narellan, Cam- den, and Picton, and by 1844 the number of councils had increased to eight.

As the councils had difficulty in raising the amount required for police supervision, the system did not give very satisfactory results, and the portion of the Act relating to district councils was eventually repealed in 1858.

The Sydney Municipal Council was incorporated in the same year as the Legislative Council and the district councils, i.e., 1842.             

And so we complete the first cycle of road building in Australia - a modest beginning in feeling the way to the remoteness of Parramatta and the Hawkesbury River, followed by a more vigorous exploration of the inland areas.

The central authority, the Governor, laid out the principal routes radiating from the capital, whilst the control of contributory feeder roads, as they formed themselves, was entrusted to the care of local authorities, either locally elected or nominated by the central authority. In the matter of finance, the foundations were set by public funds, or public labour, shortly to be reinforced by the principle of the road users providing a substantial proportion of the costs of the primary roads by way of tolls, whilst the subsidiary road's were paid for partly by the road users through tolls, and partly by the owners of the properties adjacent to the roads through land taxation.

Second Period   

As mentioned previously, district councils were abolished in 1858, and in their stead the Municipalities Act of that year provided for the proclamation as a municipality of any rural or urban district upon the petition of fifty prospective ratepayers, unless a stronger counter petition was submitted.

These municipal councils were given the care of all public roads, bridges, ferries, etc., in their area, and were authorised to collect tolls or levy a rate not exceeding 1s in the .

The income of the council was subsidised by a Government endowment.

Under this Act there were thirty-five municipalities incorporated. 

In 1867, a further Municipalities Act was passed which largely followed the earlier Act of 1858, but classified municipalities, under boroughs and municipal districts.

The powers of councils were slightly extended, and now included authority to license vehicles as well as to borrow up to a maximum of five years' estimated revenue.

The incorporation of municipal areas increased fairly regularly up to about 1895, and by 1906 there were 194municipalities in the suburbs and country, which is thirteen greater than the number now functioning.

As distinct from this municipal system which, it has been seen, had become established before 1906, much as it is today, minor areas were controlled by the road trusts, previously described; but this still left the greater part of the State without any system of local government. 

For the major area of the State, the Government provided the money and carried, out directly such road improvements as funds permitted. In 1858 the Government passed a "Main Roads Management Act," which set out a list of main roads and transferred the responsibility for them to the Government.

The necessary funds for their upkeep were to be provided from consolidated revenue, aided by receipts from tolls; and any funds in the hands of trustees.

The roads which were set out in the schedule to the Act as main roads were:-

(i) The Great Western road - from Sydney via Parramatta, Penrith, Hartley, and Bathurst to Wellington,

(ii) The Great Southern road - from the Great Western road at the fifth milestone, from Sydney via Liverpool, Camden, Berrima, Goulburn, Yass and Gundagai to Albury.

(iii) The Great Northern road - from a point in Swan street in the town of Morpeth, 100 yards easterly from the junction of George street, via Maitland, Single ton, Muswellbrook, Scone, Murrurundi, and Tamworth to Armidale. 

In 1865 this Act was amended so as to include as main roads those:-

(i) From Grafton to the Tablelands;

(ii) From the South Coast to the Table lands;

(iii) From Molong to Wellington or Bourke.

(iv) From Wagga, Wagga via Deniliquin, Balranald, and Wentworth to the South Australian border. 

These roads, it will be noted, when taken in conjunction with those already classed as main roads, form the skeleton of the present State highway system. 

The funds for the upkeep of these roads, both main and minor, were provided from consolidated revenue on a system by which the individual requirements of the main roads were considered, and each of the minor roads was allotted to one of five (later increased to six), classes.

According to the class of road, the following annual votes per mile were passed:-

For roads of the 1st class .. .. 50 

For roads of tho 2nd class .... 25 

For roads of the 3rd class .... 15 

For roads of the 4th class .... 10 

For roads of the 5th class .... 7   

For roads of the 6th class ....5   

Apart from the classified roads or "scheduled'' roads which received regular annual assistance; a lump sum was also voted annually to the Department for expenditure on unclassified roads. 

Whilst the progress in the development of the roads of the States was steady and considerable during the period, it doubtless would have been greater had it not, been for the simultaneous expansion in rail transport. 

Third Period  

It has been seen that the incorporation, of local areas was purely a voluntary matter during the second era, and, consequently, a comparatively small section of the State was subject to any system of local government.

It would appear that, as a rule, local settlers were content to do without the management of their local affairs whilst the central Government provided the funds for local roads, and it was not until 1906 that a general, scheme of local government was accepted.    

In 1905, a Shires Act was passed, but was subsequently incorporated with the Local Government Act of 1906, which came into operation as from 1st July, 1907.

Under this Act the whole of the Eastern and Central Divisions of the State, outside existing municipalities, were divided into 134 shires (as compared with 138 today) and provision was made for the control of these shires by elected councils, which were clothed with the authority to levy rates on the unimproved value of land for the purpose of providing funds for road construction and other public works or services.

A minimum Government endowment of 150,000 per annum was provided for these new shires, and the Government retained the control and responsibility of the whole of the area of the Western Division outside municipalities.

At the same time, about 250 of the more important bridges (having a prime cost of over 2,000 each), as well as ten ferries, wore retained by the Government and proclaimed to be 'National' works.     

The immediate result of the passage of the Local Government Act was that the direct Government expenditure on roads, i.e., by the Public Works Department, rapidly diminished but was counter-balanced to some extent by the increase in grants and endowments distributed through the newly-established Local Government Department.

Under the Act the Minister was empowered to classify roads as main roads, and roads so classified were required to be kept in repair by the new council. 

The Minister was entitled to stipulate the minimum annual expenditure which should take place on any main road and could withhold endowment from any council not properly maintaining a main road, applying the amount withhold to its maintenance.

In January, 1924, a complete list of main roads was gazetted.

This list consisted of 219 roads and, with one or two minor amendments, constituted the main road system when the Main Roads Board was appointed in 1925. 

Towards the end of this period, i.e., in about 1920, the growth in motor transport, the introduction of which had practically coincided with the establishment of a general system of local government, had forced consideration of the building of roads more suited to heavy and fast-moving vehicles.

First to recognise the needs of the time, and to act, were a number of metropolitan municipal councils, which, either individually or in co-operation commenced the laying of pavements which would withstand the traffic demands. 

Fourth Period 

The Main Roads Act, 1924 provided for the establishment of a Board whose prime responsibility was to join with the local governing bodies in improving, where necessary, and maintaining the main roads of the State.

For this purpose, taxation was imposed on all motor vehicles to form funds from which assistance could be given to municipal and shire councils.

In the metropolitan area these funds are supplemented by statutory contributions by councils, whereas in the country the contributions are on a voluntary basis. In 1923, the Commonwealth Government commenced the system of giving Federal assistance to the States for road purposes by passing the Main Roads Development Act, 1923, under which a sum of 500,000 was made available from consolidated revenue for distribution among the States on a basis of three-fifths population and two-fifths area. 

In 1926, the Commonwealth decided to adopt a definite scheme of subsidy of the States extending over a period of ten years, for road purposes, from the duties collection on petrol and motor parts.

Under the Federal Aid Roads Agreement, which was thereupon en-acted, a sum of 2,000,000 per annum was made available, and divided between the States on the population area basis previously applying.

The New South Wales share of this annual grant was 552,000. This appropriation was maintained for five years.

In 1931 the agreement was amended to provide that as from 1st July 1931, the total amount made available should fluctuate according to petrol consumption, although the basis of distribution to the States, i.e., according to population and area, remained unchanged. 

The present method of obtaining the total annual sum to be disbursed by the Commonwealth is to take the yield of a duty of 2d per gallon on imported petrol, and a duty of 1d per gallon on locally refined petrol.

After the deduction of certain sinking fund payments, the remainder is distributed among the States for expenditure on roads.

In this State, the revenue obtained is devoted to metropolitan and country main roads in the same proportion as the income received from motor vehicle taxation. 

Apart from the scheme of Federal Aid assistance for roads just described there has been only one major alteration of road policy since 1924.

As from 1st July, 1928, the Main Roads Act was amended so that the Maim Roads Board became financially responsible for all work carried out on the main arterial roads of the State, or, as they are defined, State highways.

There are twenty-one of these State highways, having a total length of 5,183 miles, as compared with a length of main roads of 16,600 miles.

At the same time certain roads of secondary national importance were defined as trunk roads, and on these the minimum rate of assistance to be granted local authorities has been fixed at two-thirds of the total cost of work approved to be carried out.

There are 2,300 miles of this class of road.

On ordinary country main roads the Board provides one-half the cost of approved works. 

Expenditure on all roads in N.S.W. has increased from 1,000,000 in 1884 to 8,500,000 in 1929, and is probably over ,10,000,000 per annum to-day. 

Mr H. W. Cowan conveyed the thanks of those present to Mr. Lipscombe for his informative address.