Activities to Date
The Convict Trail Project originally began with the quest to retain and restore the Great North Road engineering, stories of its beginnings and visual appeal. In the 1960s it was possible to drive an ordinary car along the 42 km closed section north of Wisemans Ferry. Now it is impassable even in a 4WD, and vehicular traffic has been excluded to preserve the road. Until the early 1990s, when the Bucketty and Wollombi communities began to look after sites in their area, little had been done to preserve the Great North Road. Since the Convict Trail Project became active several years ago, much has been happening:
The Convict Trail Project has been looking after a number of sites along the road with the assistance of a team of prisoners who visit several times a year and undertake maintenance. The prisoners have helped with conservation activities at the St Albans Road Ramp, the Bucketty Precinct, Fernances Crossing causeway and culvert, the Circuit Flat bridge, at Sawyers Gully and on sections of the Old Great North Road. The Convict Trail Project, assisted by the team of prisoners worked with the NPWS and Gosford Council to restore a damaged section of the Circuit Flat bridge, and to prevent further erosion. The prisoners take a great interest and pride in their work, just like the convicts of 130 year ago.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service has rebuilt a collapsed wall at Clares Bridge, and installed drainage modifications. On Devines Hill a collapsed culvert has been reconstructed; the culverts have been cleaned out to ensure they are operational; a protective layer of crushed sandstone has been placed over the original road surface; a new entranceway has been constructed; and additional interpretation it has been installed. Trees growing on the road surface along Finchs Line have been felled and encroaching vegetation removed.
The RTA have investigated the convict gravesites at Forest Glen, to ensure road re-alignments do not disturb them.
Cessnock Council has provided assistance to community groups at Bucketty and Wollombi and to the Convict Trail Project to assist in looking after sites in the Cessnock LGA.
As the Convict Trail Project celebrates 20 years of work in 2014, we are planning for the future of the organisation and for the Convict Trail. The Convict Trail Project is ensuring we place “The Great North Road in its proper place in history”. This takes the activities that have been done previously in research and conservation and now ensures that the significance of the road, the stories, its assets are seen to be a great achievement for its time as well as being hugely influential for the creation of the towns that now reside in this area today.
Eleven years ago the organisation became a not-for-profit Incorporated Association which continues today under the guidance of strategic board and executive committee. The strategic purpose identified at this time was “The Convict Trail Project – Caring for the Great North Road”. Relationships and membership was built and today, the relationships are strong between asset owners in the locations where substantial visual assets of the road’s construction remain.
Some of the other achievements of the Convict Trail Project to date include:
- The conservation ofthe central section of the southern abutment of Clares Bridge
- Funding for work plans for conservation of other sites
- Partial Reconstruction of Bucketty culvert
- Installation of interpretative singage
- Discovery of additional sections and sites
- Designing a display of Convict Tools used in road building and displaying it at the Newcastle Regional Museum and at the Wine Tourist information Centre Cessnock.
- Conservation and restoration projects at Murrays Run culvert near Wollombi, the Bucketty convict wall, Fernances Crossing culvert, Circuit Flat Bridge, St Albans Rd ramp, the Sawyers Gully precinct.
- Preparation of a Conservation Management Plan for the entire length of the Great North Road
- Gaining participation of the key organisations with a responsibility for the interest in the conservation, management and promotion of the Great north Road.
- Publication of the annual journal The Pick of the Great North Road
- Publication of a series of monographs about aspects of the Great North Road; a book based on interviews with "Road Scholars"; the production of a video; and a range of other publications and products
- Publications of a monograph about the convict gang system 'Convict Road Gangs 1826 - 1836' by Ian Webb
- A well respected Internet Web Site
- Prepartion of a business plan, a tourism plan, and an interpretation plan
- Participlation of teams of prisoners in conservation and maintenance projects
- Development of a house style
- Development of a database of information, materials and reports relating to the Great North Road
- Establishing a data base of the names of the men who actually worked on the Road, and finding out about them by encouraging people to "adopt" them and research their background
- Production of brochures and a full colour information leaflet on the Road and the Project
- Production of self-guide tour information Exploring the Convict Trail - great North Road the booklet and reprinting it
- Obtaining publicity about the Convict Trail through numerous television and radio appearances, newspapers and magazine articles, and talks to community groups
- Transcription to computer format of 900 page thesis on the Great North Road, by historical archaeologist Grace Karskens
- Organising various seminars, forums, workshops, site excursions, exhibitions