Works in the Herald 1934
How Roads Change the Bush

It was not until the other day, when a succession of motor cars engaged in a light car trial tore past my door on a perfectly good road at 50, perhaps 60, miles an hour, that I began to appreciate fully just how much a good road contributes to progress.

Civilisation surely began with inter-tribal communication and that winding foot-track though virgin growths of the early Eocene was the very great grandsire of the wide bitumen way and the latest and greatest of all man’s achievements.

"Look at ‘em," said my good bush crony, old George Jones. "Speed, nothin’ but speed. Tearin’ through the good green bush as if they hated the sight of it. In olden times men stood to look. Them was the days."

And later my mind went back to as much of those days as I had known and I clearly realised how times and conditions may change and yet make but faint impression upon our busy consciousness. Till, suddenly one day, stirred by some trivial incidence or chance remark, one awakes to the fact that an era has ended and we are living almost in another world.

More than 20 years ago, when I first came to this place in the forest, it was remote bush in almost every sense. One caught a train in Melbourne at eight in the morning, and after a leisurely journey to the nearest railway town, transferred to a sturdy waggonette for a two or three hour journey 14 miles uphill, mainly over deep-rutted tracks do steep in places that passengers got out to walk and relive the straining horses.

Five, sometimes six or seven hours were needed for the journey from town, and when the waggonette departed one was completely cut off from all communication with the outer world; for mails ran but thrice a week in those days, and there was no telephone or telegraph.

Today one steps into a car in the city and in less than two hours over a perfectly graded road one reaches this once deeply hidden section of Arcadia.

But to listen to old George Jones and his friends, its Arcadian qualities are fading as progress advances. When I venture to doubt they treat me as an upstart new-chum and talk of 50 years ago.

"Over fifty years ago," says old George Jones, "when I first came here as a bit of a young ‘un, I remember how the old folk laughed at me when I wrote back full of wonder an’ said it was just like livin’ in a great big beautiful garden. They told me I was goin’ soft. But there was nothin’ soft about life here then."

I can’t argue with old George about those far days of giant trees and forest belts uncluttered by bracken and tangling scrub; but I can yet find spots of incomparable beauty without far searching.

Twenty years ago, at the time of my advent, the last of the local mills was cutting out the last of the available timber, which lumbering bullock teams dragged down the mountain to the rail-head.

Paling-splitters were leading an idealistically independent life and earning good pay in the back bush, and we were a community apart, careless for the most part of city happenings and the lure of city ways.

More than ten years ago the last bullock team departed, the last paling-splitter made his last home-coming down the mountain, and the last annual picnic gave way to motor trips to town.

Men like my old friend George regret the change; and it is not until one skips the intervening years, with their march in evolution, and compares that olden day with this, that one realises how vast a change has come to this small corner of the world with the making of one reliable and adequate road.

And when one realises further that this sort of thing has been going on in a thousand other places in the State, one begins to appreciate fully the value of easy communication, and the enormous part that good roads play in the progress of a State. But –-

"Progress?" says old George Jones. "Comfort?" says he. "A hundred per cent. Progress we’ve had in this mountain. But, tell me, are we fifty per cent. The happier for it?"

Well, we must all have each his own point of view. Yet sometimes I find myself inclining to agree with old George.

Herald, 26 June 1934, p6

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2003-06