The Convict Trail Project has been in existence since the early 1990's. It was initiated by the Bucketty and Wollombi communities (population 150 and 300 respectively) because of their concern about the degradation which was occurring to relics of the convict built Great North Road in their areas. The degradation resulted from a combination of neglect, vandalism, lack of awareness of the significance of the relics, and a lack of an overall management or conservation plan.
Frustrated by attempts to find an organisation or agency which was responsible for managing the Road, the local communities took the initiative in their own areas, and began restoring damaged sites under the guidance of a historical archaeologist and with the assistance of their local council. Realising that similar situations were probably happening elsewhere along the 240 km Road, in 1994 the groups began to involve other organisations with an interest in, or responsibility for conservation, management and promotion of the Great North Road. To date over 30 groups have joined the Convict Trail Project, ranging from councils, community groups, regional tourist organisations, government agencies, academic institutions and heritage organisations. The image above was taken during the Bucketty wall working bee.
The Great North Road goes through over a dozen local government areas, each with a responsibility for managing heritage sites in their area. Parts of the Road also come under the jurisdiction of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority. By bringing together all these organisations with a responsibility for managing the Great North Road, and a range of community groups with an interest in its conservation and promotion the Convict Trail Project provides a unique forum for the long term management of one of Australia's national treasures.
How the Convict Trail Operates
After operating as an unincorporated organisation for a number of years for insurances purposes the Convict Trail Project incorporated as a non profit organisation in 2002. Membership of the Convict Trail Project is open to all organisations and individuals with an interest in, or responsibility for the conservation and management of the Great North Road. These organizations can each nominate a representative to the CTP board, while the individual members elect a representative to the board. The constitution allows for two subgroups to operate under the board, a History Group and a Heritage group. The board meets at least twice a year. The board elects an executive. The executive is responsible for the oversight of the Convict Trail Project.
Organizational Members of the Convict Trail
The Convict Trail Project is sponsored by the New South Wales Heritage Office and Baulkham Hills Shire Council, Cessnock City Council, Gosford City Council, Hawkesbury City Council, Hornsby Shire Council and Wyong Shire Council. It is supported by Department of Corrective Services, the NPWS, the R T A and Tourism NSW as well as Bucketty Tidy Bush Community, Wollombi/Laguna Tidy Valley Committee, Abermain Heritage Preservation Society, Brisbane Water Historical Society, Broke Fordwich Tourism Association, Castle Hill Historic Site Community Committee, Central Coast Tourism, Cessnock & District Historical Society, Coalfields Heritage Group, Dharug & Lower Hawkesbury Historical Society, Dural & District Historical Society, Hawkesbury Family History Group, Hawkesbury Historical Society, Hornsby Shire Historical Society, Hunters Hill Historical Society, Hunter Valley Wine Country Tourism, Institute of Engineers (Aust), Maitland Historical Society, Maitland Family History Circle, National Trust of Australia, Royal Australian Historical Society, Ryde Historical Society, Singleton Historical Society, Singleton Tourism, The Hills Historical Society, Wat Buddha Dharma, Wyong Family History Society and Wyong Museum & Historical Society.
Past and current resourcing
Since November 1996 The Heritage Office of NSW has supported the Convict Trail Project with an annual grant of $20,000. In July 2002 the Heritage Office of NSW promised ongoing funding of $20,000 per year for three years. This allows for forward planning. Currently Baulkham Hills, Cessnock, Gosford, Hawkesbury, Hornsby and Wyong Councils provide funding of $5,000 each per year. With this $50 000 the Project employs a part executive officer, runs a motor vehicle and an office.
A 2004-2006 NSW Heritage Incentives Program Grant of $20 000 to prepare conservation work plans for sites identified in the CMP.
A 2004 Heritage Grant award of $400 for research into the Bridge Decking of Clares Bridge.
An 2002 Environment Australia Cultural Heritage Projects program Grant of $ 56,000 of funds made available by the Commonwealth of Australia supplemented by funding from Gosford City Council of $7700 to pay for external engineering advice and tests and $13 500 worth of staff work in removal of the 1965 decking plus a donation of $40 000 from TransGrid. This funding paid for the conservation of the central portion of Clare Bridge, a project that cost $120 000. Some of the TransGrid funds remain, they will to be used to design a replacement decking.
The Department of Corrective Services provides support in the form of labour to support on going conservation and maintenance and for the in-kind contribution to special purpose grants. The Metropolitan Periodic Detention Centre Sydney support the project. The soon to be released prisoners at St Heliers Correctional Centre Muswellbrook MOP (Mobile Outreach Program) provided support for many years, with the untimely death of the supervisor the structure and area the group can work in has changed.
A 2002-2004 NSW Heritage Incentives Program Grant of $21 000 for the reconstruction of Bucketty Culvert a project costing $57 000.
A grant of $28,330 for Environment Australia in the form of a 1999/2000 Cultural Heritage Projects program grant of funds made available by the Commonwealth of Australia was used to install interpretive signage along the length of the road at sites indicated in the Conservation Management Plan.
A grant of $10,000 from the NSW Centenary of Federation Committee History Grants enabled the publication of the Adopt a Convict as a searchable web based database.
The Heritage Office of NSW has supported the Convict Trail Project with a yearly grant of $20,000 since November 1996. In the first years it also provided $4000 for works and $20,000 for the Conservation Management Plan.
Membership: The History Group is chaired by Mari Metzke of the Royal Australian Historical Society, and comprises members of participating historical societies and heritage organisations, as well as interested individuals. Participation is open to all interested people, and all contributions are voluntary.
Role: The History group meets about three times a year to share information and research ideas, and usually inspects a nearby section of the Road or other related site after the meeting. Meetings are alternately hosted by various member groups.
Some of the activities of the History Group include:
- Collecting and cataloguing all known documentation relating to the Road and its construction.
- Researching various historical aspects of the Great North Road, the people who built it, and the communities and infrastructure which developed along it.
- Supplying articles based on original research for the journal "The Pick".
- Encouraging and supporting publication of material relating to the Road. To date this has included a book, a video, a series of monographs, and articles in many papers and journals.
- Developing a list of all the men who worked on the Road. Most of these men are convicts about whom little is known. An "Adopt-a-convict" project was implemented whereby people "adopted" one or more Great North road convicts and researched his background, to provide information for our convict data-base.
- Documenting and identifying relics along the Road
- Sharing information
- Providing talks to other groups about the Great North Road and the Project
- Inviting guest speakers with relevant expert knowledge to talk at meetings
The Heritage Group chaired by Clare James, Heritage Adviser for Maitland City Council oversaw the preparation of a Conservation Management Plan for the entire Great North Road. This plan, prepared by historical archaeologists Siobhan Lavelle and Dr Grace Karskens, and surveyor William Evans was completed in 1999. It has been adopted or endorsed by the majority of the councils along the Road, the NSW Heritage Office, the RTA and the NPWS. Detailed Conservation plans and management strategies for individual sites are being developed. At present the Heritage Group is in recess but it is planned to regenerate this group. This stage one plan identified the site where conservation work was needed but did not provide plans for this work.