Bucketty and Wollombi
Bucketty & Wollombi Community Groups
The Convict Trail Project was initiated by community groups in the Bucketty and Wollombi areas who saw the local convict relics in their areas becoming degraded and vandalised, through lack of interest or awareness on the part of any government agency responsible for the management of our heritage. With the support of their local council, they organised themselves under the auspice of the Tidy Towns scheme, which provided dollar for dollar funding for community based projects.
The Bucketty Tidy Bush community, having been upset at the theft of over 100 convict stones from the Bucketty Wall precinct, organised a number of working bees, under the supervision of an archaeologist. They removed built-up silt and debris from the curved approaches to a former convict-built bridge at Bucketty and subsequently obtained stone from a demolished building at Maitland. They engaged Albert Kraan, a local stonemason, to rework the stones and replace the Bucketty Wall section which had been stolen. The picture above shows the wall before work was done by Albert Kraan.;The picture below was taken during the visit of the mobile crew, working in the distance.
The Murrays Run culvert had recently been bypassed by a realignment of the main road. From their observations, the Wollombi community had become concerned that some stones across the top of the culvert had collapsed. Under the auspices of the Wollombi/Laguna Tidy Valley Committee, they obtained professional advice. Albert Kraan was once more engaged to restore the collapsed section and make the culvert functional again. The Wollombi/Laguna Tidy Valley Committee, as did the Bucketty Tidy Bush Community, maintained the areas, put up signage, making the sites welcoming and clearly visible to the public. The Wollombi group also did some work on the Fernances Crossing Culvert, which had also been bypassed by the road re-alignment.
It was these neighbouring community's realisation that similar situations were probably happening elsewhere along the Great North Road that led them to encourage other community groups and agencies to form the Convict Trail Project. The Convict Trail Project has undertaken a number of conservation initiatives at various sites along the Great North Road. It has also encouraged and assisted other agencies and management authorities to under works for which they are responsible.
Overtures had already been made by these community groups to the Department of Corrective Services for the use of weekend detention labour to maintain the sites, but this proved difficult to organise. However, once the Project had developed a much broader base, and on-going work was clearly needed, discussion with the Minister for Corrective Services, Bob Debus, led to the involvement of a newly formed mobile prison crew, from the low security St Helliers Correctional Centre near Muswellbrook. There is more about the mobile crew and its operations in the next section.
Circuit Flat Bridge and Bucketty Culvert
The History of the Bridge
This bridge was built probably built in 1831-2 by Arnold Clares bridge Party, after they had completed the bridges at Sampsons Pass and near Ten Mile Hollow. It comprises two stone abutments originally 14.6 metres in length, 8.5 m wide, up to 2.7 m high and with a span of 2.75 metres. It is the most refined single span bridge on the Road. Projecting buttresses flank each corner and there are seven stone corbels which project from each abutment and would have supported struts for the original decking. The extensive flanking walls retain part of a coping course below a single course of capping stones. The bridge remained sufficiently intact to still be in use in the 1920s, as the accompanying photo suggests.
By the 1970s, however, the decking was gone, and only a few support timbers remained. In 1986 when this photo was taken, only one of the timbers remained. Bushfires may well have burned out the decking. During the decades of the 1970s and 80s traffic was using this section of the Road - it provided access to the western site of Mangrove Creek dam during its construction. 4WD enthusiasts were also exploring the great North Road through here, often using it as an "adventure road" to test the capabilities of their vehicles.
In the 1980s the NPWS removed some of the bridge stones from the creek gully and took them to the Bucketty Depot for safe keeping. During the 1990s the gully through and below the bridge became further eroded - the lack of vegetation meant that soil was washed away. By the mid 1990s, the soil level on the downstream side of the bridge was 60-75 mm lower than it had been 15 years earlier. Water was in danger of eroding the bridge walling. One downstream buttress had been severely damaged through removal of several layers of stone, and some stones had been removed from its opposite buttress. The capping stones and some of the coping from southern upstream walling had also been removed.
The continuing erosion on the downstream side of the bridge was threatening its foundations and the loss of the stones on the corner buttresses was allowing water into the bridge foundations. The buttresses were no longer able to provide adequate support for the bridge walling. Trees had established themselves in the road surface, and near the stone walls and as they grew they were starting to dislodge stones. Since the decking was no longer intact, vehicles developed a track immediately downstream of the bridge - the gully was not deep - but after rain, it became gradually more and more eroded.
Sometimes vehicles became stuck in the eroded creek-bed. People removed stones from the walling of the bridge to fill in the gully so they could traverse it. These stones were invariably crushed under the weight of heavy vehicles, as can be seen to the right of the wall buttress.
St Heliers Prison Crew and the Stonemason to the rescue
In February 1998 the Convict Trail Project organised the prison crew from St Heliers to do some work on the bridge. They removed tree growth from the bridge, and retrieved 16 stones from the creekbed below the bridge. Local stonemason Albert Kraan was then engaged by the Convict Trail Project to replace the missing stones on the bridge buttresses. As well as re-using as many of the retrieved stones (and those from the Bucketty depot) he obtained additional stones from the quarry where the original stone from the bridge had been quarried. The prisoners opened an access route along an old disused timber-logging track, so Albert could get his truck to the site. After he had sufficient stone, they closed off vehicular access to the quarry again.
The erosion problem remained, so the Convict Trail then negotiated with Gosford Council (who technically are responsible for the bridge) and the NPWS, (as the bridge adjoins Yengo National Park,) to undertake necessary and urgently required repairs to the eroded area on the downstream side of the bridge. Gosford Council provided the materials, the NPWS provided their works supervisor and equipment such as a truck and bulldozer, and the Convict Trail again obtained the services of the prison crew from St Heliers to undertake the heavy work. The work was done in February 1999, starting with the closure of the vehicular access alonside the bridge area. A detour route existed upstream of the bridge. This was tidied up with appropriate signs to indicate in an obvious fashion that traffic should not try to open the eroded downstream side.
Gabian baskets were installed in the creek gully about 4 metres away from the bridge, and the soil built up around them. The eroded areas between the bridge and the baskets were filled, and smoothed out, and additional erosion measures were installed. The following photographs show how the work was performed and what it looked like when it was finished.
Rye-grass seed was scattered, to encourage immediate revegetation of the rehabilitated area, as it would allow other seeds to settle and germinate, but would not seed itself and spread into the natural bush. Repair of the stone work is visible on both buttresses. Telegraph poles (top left of picture) were placed across the top of this section of the bridge road to stop vehicular access. There had always been an alternative access route upstream of the bridge. It has been made more obvious so that traffic would not need to try to re-open the eroded side. The area still looks a bit open in the picture taken in March 1999 but it is gradually regenerating.
The NPWS have now put additional interpretation plaque at this site.
The Culvert was constructed between 1830-31 by No. 29 Road Party who were stationed at Dennis Dog Kennel. Sometime after 1965 and before 1983 a large section of this culvert collapsed and stone was removed, possibly to fill in round the pipe that was put into the Bridge space a few hundred meters to the north of the culvert. In 2002 the Convict Trail Project received a dollar for dollar grant from the NSW Heritage Office for the restoration of this culvert. The labour from the St Heliers MOP provided the Convict Trail Project with their dollar contribution. The prisoners carefully deconstructed the culvert and hand excavated the area that had to be excavated and then worked with the stonemason Ken Fletcher of Wollombi Stonemasonary Sevices to reconstruct the culvert. The Newcastle Herald visited the site and ran a story about the Stonemason and prisoners work together. One of the outcomes of the project was one of the prisoners a young local man (who was due for release just after the project finished) worked casually for the stonemason as a labourer while waiting to get a job in his own trade. This was the last job where the St Heliers MOP worked with the Convict Trail Project. They were to come back to do the landscaping but unfortunately the overseer died before this happened. The local community rallied and in a large working bee completed the landscaping.
The Convict Trail Project with the help of the local community has installed a seat at Bucketty Culvert in memory of the overseer and in appreciation of his large contribution to Convict Trail Project. The seat was made from a 1830s convict hewn culvert capping stone. As the stone was flawed it could not be reused in the reconstruction.
Above the MOP Overseer and the Stone Mason Ken Fletcher watch the MOP carefully deconstruct the wing wall at Bucketty Culvert. Below St Heliers MOP excavating at Bucketty Culvert.
Below images:Stone mason and Prisoners work together at Bucketty culvert.Lower Image :Stonemasons Israel and Nehemiah Fletcher cutting new corner stones with hand tools.
Reconstruction before landscaping completed below. Drawing on interpretative signage installed at Bucketty Culvert showing original work in the new structure.
Laguna Barns - Repairs & Stabilisation
Following various changes in responsibility for the division of the districts between Castle Hill and the Hunter Valley for Great North Road construction, the work was subdivided into three sections: Wisemans District (Castle Hill to Mt Manning), Wollombi District (Mt Manning to Wollombi where the road divided, one line to Broke and the other to Maitland), and the third was the district covered to Broke and Maitland.
Heneage Finch took over as the assistant surveyor for the Wollombi District in February 1830. He had been granted 1000 acres of land after his 1825 survey for the Great North Road and had selected land near Wollombi on the line of road in 1827. He named the property Laguna . As the photograph shows Laguna was situated in beautiful country.
On Finch's original property was the camp site where Finch based the convicts under his charge. It was also the location where Finch had a blacksmith's shop, a store and a hospital. Having placed these on his land when convicts were doing work on the Great North Road, Finch faced difficulties with the Surveyor General's Department and the Governor. There was a demand from the Surveyor General that he not be the Assistant Surveyor in charge of the road gangs but should return to purely survey work. He departed further south, selling the land to Richard Wiseman.
The property has a group of buildings which include a feed shed and a corn barn. They are on the left in the above picture with Laguna House in the trees on the right. Although the barns were built slightly later than the convict period, possibly by Richard Wiseman, they are of typical 19th Century construction with mortised and dowelled joints and extensive use of round bush timber. They are listed on the National Estate. They were in imminent danger of collapse in 1999 and the required urgent repairs were beyond the resources of the owner of the property. The Convict Trail Project negotiated an arrangement whereby the Heritage Office provided funds for materials in the form of a loan against the property. A local heritage builder, Geoff Tomlinson, oversaw the stabilisation work with the Convict Trail Project overseeing and co-ordinating the entire project.
What is important for this community heritage project is that the mobile prison crew from St Helliers spent four weeks working on the two-storey Feed Shed and completed the stabilisation in August 2000. When the work on the Feed Shed was near completion, Prime TV News visited the property and filmed the mobile crew while they were working. An item was run in the evening news, much to the delight of the men who were proud to see themselves shown undertaking valuable community work. The Project was particularly fortunate to have a qualified builder in the crew, together with some very practical and competent assistants. The photographs which were taken during the Feed Shed operations are reproduced below.
The mobile prison crew were to return again in November 2000 for two weeks to carry out the stabilisation of the corn barn but work had to stop because of the amount of rain that fell at that time.
The extent of the repairs needed is rather obvious in the next photograph of the interior of the cornshed. There is certainly a requirement for stabilisation of the structure as well.