Hertfordshire residents will be familiar with signs bearing the words Great North Road, the name given to the old coaching route leading from Smithfield in London to Edinburgh. The road went via Baldock, Stamford, Doncaster, Darlington, and Newcastle to the Scottish capital. Although the coaching route changed over the years and in places was superseded by the modern A1/A1M, there are still roads bearing the name Great North Road running through Barnet, Potters Bar, Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City, as well as places further north.
However, you probably won’t know that there is also a Great North Road in New South Wales, Australia, which runs for 150 miles from Sydney to Newcastle. At one point, near Wiseman’s Ferry north of Sydney, the route passes within a couple of miles of the settlement of St Albans, home to just 300 inhabitants.
The Australian Great North Road was built between 1826 and 1836 by convict labourers, sometimes working in leg-irons, and it is now a tourist route known as the Convict Trail. Most of the original road is still in use today, and many features such as retaining walls and bridges can still be seen along the route. See: http://greatnorthroad.com.au/visit-the-convict-trail
As for the St Albans in New South Wales, there doesn`t appear to be much to say. The settlement lies up a river valley about 75 miles north west of Sydney and has been largely by-passed by modern Australia. In fact the area is often referred to as the “forgotten valley” by locals, even though it was occupied by Europeans over 200 years ago.
The first settlers were freed convicts or their children, or escapees from the penal colonies along the coast, for whom the remoteness of the location was the main attraction. These settlers scratched out a living off the land and initially lived harmoniously alongside the local aboriginal people. However, the local tribes were gradually forced off their ancestral lands and conflict between the two groups became inevitable, as was the case in much of Australia. The village website reveals how harsh conditions on the other side of the world could be (http://www.saintalbans.org.au/):
“myself and eighteen others laid in a hollow tree for seventeen weeks and cooked out of a kettle with a wooden bottom; we used to stick it in a hole in the ground and make a fire around it. I was seven years in bondage, and then started working for a living where ever I could get it. There was plenty of hardship then, I have often taken grass, pounded it, and made soup from a native dog [Dingo]. I would eat anything then.”
If you`re ever in Sydney and need an excuse to get out and about, why not hire a car, drive the Great North Road, and swap stories with the locals at the Settlers Arms Inn, the historic village pub in St Albans, Australia (http://www.settlersarms.com.au/)?