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Australian Highways (New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory, South Australia, Queensland)

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Much like my ripping yarn on Italy, my Australian highways page is more a storage site for holiday snaps, but there's enough here to make it veritably part of my roadgeek collection. A few acknowledgements; I am indebted to my "dear mum" for knowing whom to call and helping me set the initial 2003 trip all up. I'm also very greatly indebted to her friend Rosetta for taking the time to show me the sights in Sydney, to her other friend Robin W. for putting me up and driving me around Canberra (and tolerating me photographing all those silly signs) and from Canberra back to Sydney, and to my wonderful aunt Marie and wonderful uncle Dennis, who put me up in their hotel in Merriwa, had delicious dinners and a lovely time, and particularly since uncle Dennis drove me all the way from the Sydney airport to Merriwa, then to Dubbo, and then to Canberra, all in his indefatigable Land Rover with his nutty nephew photographing just about everything out the passenger window. Thank you all for showing me the sights and I had a wonderful time!

In the fall of 2008 (well, technically the spring in Australia), my folks went to Australia again and did some sightseeing in the interior and northern coast. Thanks to their diligence in taking locator shots, I can now supplement this exhibit with some additional photographs of roads and highways many native Australians themselves haven't traveled.

Australia is an important country to me since I'm dual American and Australian citizenship (my mother grew up in Ashfield, in Sydney NSW), and obviously my mother's side of the family still lives there. The pictures in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory were taken in April 2003, and the pictures in South Australia, Northern Territory and (a little bit of) Queensland were taken in September 2008.

American roadgeeks and Australian roadgeeks will find many similarities between their respective highway signage systems. Most of them use typefaces very similar to the American MUTCD standard fonts, and signage colours and guidelines are likewise reminiscent of each other. There are even some interesting analogies in the broad divisions of highway types (including a startling historical use of American Interstate-like signage, now defunct), which include(d):

Paul Rands, who has sent me several glowing E-mails about the remainder of Roadgap (please! I'm blushing!), maintains Expressway, which focuses specifically on road signs and photographs of these types of routes. You can also get MUTCD-like sign samples there too.

Historically, roads were a function of local state governments only. The concept of a federal highway system did not enter the field until the 1950s, after a domestic expansionist policy during WW2 had yielded significant amounts of improved road infrastructure originally for facilitating wartime transport. To test the concept, Australia's first National Route was signed in 1954, the Hume Hwy (NR, now NH, 31), as a field trial using wooden trailblazers with button copy. This was so well received that three more routes after that were signed, including NR 1 (the Pacific Hwy and the Princes Hwy) from Adelaide to Brisbane, NR 15 (New England Hwy) from Hexham to Brisbane, and NR 20 (Sturt Hwy) from the Hume Hwy to Adelaide. All numbers in the National Route system (and thus National Highway system, more in a moment) are two-digit; although intended to be a grid system with odd numbers N-S and even numbers W-E, this went by the wayside rapidly and the numbers in use now do not in general reflect this rule.

During the rise of the National Route system, John Renshaw, NSW's minister of highways, would propose an even greater augmented national arterial network in 1956, facilitating fast linkages between major centres. By 1974, Renshaw's plan was fleshed out into the 10,500-mile National Highway system, adopting existing National Routes and other highways into a nationally maintained infrastructure plan. Not just any route qualified; National Highways have strict standards, including a) being sealed minimum one-lane-per-direction all weather roads 20-24' wide with 6' shoulders; b) minimal length of "low-speed" sections; c) safety standards for visibility and passing; and d) having termini at a capital city (Cairns and Burnie were given specific exception), or allowing linkages from Canberra into the system. In the years following, a rapid expansion plan commenced to bring up the highways so designated to the standards set for them. The peak of the National Highway system came in 1986, when the last portion of the Great Northern Hwy was sealed and thus inaugurated Australia's first circumcontinental all-weather route, NH/NR 1. (Highway 1 is also the world's longest continuous-designation route, coming in at over 8,700 miles [14523km], but it may lose this title because of urban gaps introduced subsequently such as A21 in Adelaide -- more on that in a moment.)

Many cities have their own specific networks. Melbourne's is probably the most famous, its "Metro" system being the first major freeway network (legislated in 1969). Freeway planners from the USA advised the Victorian government and Victorian civil engineers went to the USA to study the American system, yielding freeway architecture that many American drivers would find familiar, and would set the standards for other urban freeway networks to come. For their respective parts, Sydney and Brisbane have Metroads, derived from partial local routings of state and national routes, consisting of city-specific beltway and radial highways and freeways designed to facilitate easy destination-oriented navigation; Canberra and ACT have coloured Tourist Route signage that allows designated access to popular termini. Part of this may have had to do with an early policy that denied federal funding to freeways within five miles of a city centre.

As with everything else in life, however, this signing system is shortly due to change. In 1997, a meeting of state and federal ministers of transportation yielded a new uniform numbering system loosely modeled on the alphanumeric format used in Europe and the UK (see the Italy page for a few brief examples of the European highway network). This new signing system, however, has had an uneven transition. While Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria have already done the conversion, New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory are still only just in progress and/or planning stages, and there was some question over whether Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory would do so at all (although it seems they will eventually based on the language of the council resolution, the process does not seem imminent). These routes will carry a single letter ("M"ain, indicating dual-carriageway freeways, and highways forming principal links between key cities; or A, B or C, indicating, in order, routes of greater to lesser prominence consisting of non-freeway through-routes), and then the route number, preserving where possible any National Highway and Route numbers replaced, and, in many cases, any applicable state route number. Guidelines for continuity across state borders are also part of the standard.

Even the mighty National Highway system now has had its legs kicked out from under it; as of June 2005, it ceased to be the federal highway system of Australia and was replaced by a new system known as Auslink. In some ways its distinctiveness has already been lost, as the new alphanumeric highway shields in many areas use the National Highway colour scheme and obliterate the contrast between the glorified National Highways and other National Routes; moreover, when New South Wales does its conversion in the future, it will not be using National Highway shields at all, and probably others will follow suit thus condemning the National Route and Highway systems to historical obscurity. When I return to my other home country in the future, it will be very fascinating to note these and other changes that have occurred since.

I have also included various touristy snaps I enjoyed, so put up with them too, if you would.


New South Wales (2003)

Let's start in New South Wales first. This is the "formal" state boundary sign at major crossings; minors just have a smaller, purely perfunctory, sign instead. And if you start in NSW, you should really start in Sydney, Australia's largest city at over 4 million within the metro area.

Sydney is named for Sydney Cove where the colony (and, it must be acknowledged, British penal colony) was first established after Arthur Phillip landed at Botany Bay in 1788. The cove, in turn, was named for Home Secretary Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney, who issued Phillip the charter to establish the colony.

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The Sydney Harbour Bridge makes a reasonable place to begin, as it is a thoroughly recognisable landmark and also has some examples of interesting signage. Crossings over the Sydney Harbour had been entertained for centuries, as early as 1815 when the concept of a bridge was first floated (pardon me) by Francis Greenway. However, it would not be until 1922 when a workable design (by Dr J. J. C. Bradfield and the NSW Department of Public Works) and significant bureaucratic momentum would unite to kick off the project. Construction commenced in 1924, costing 4.2 million pounds and the lives of sixteen construction labourers, and requiring nearly 53,000 metric tonnes of steel. Between the start of construction and its opening 19 March 1932, over six million rivets were hand-placed.

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We enter the bridge from the southern side; northbound traffic is not tolled. Note the overhead gantry indicating lanes of travel. In its original configuration, it carried six traffic lanes and four rail lines; when Sydney decommissioned its tram system in the 1950s, two of the rail lines were converted into the eastern traffic lanes. There is also a pedestrian and bicycle crossing.

The sign on the gantry reads, "BREAKDOWN: WAIT FOR ASSISTANCE. 24HR RTA [Roads and Traffic Authority] MONITORING."

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Nearing the middle of the bridge (apologies for the fuzz, as these pictures were photographed through the windshield). The Harbour Bridge has a clearance of 160' (49m) and a main span length of 1,650' (503m) with a peak of 440' (134m) above sea level, although the aircraft beacons are a bit higher at 463' (141m). The well-known flags of the Bridge can also be seen.

A group called BridgeClimb makes a sport of enticing otherwise intelligent and not a bit insane people (including locals) to climb the Harbour Bridge and risk life and limb in the pursuit of a great view. With all due respect to the BC folks, you couldn't pay me enough (but the state of NSW evidently did pay Paul Hogan ["Crocodile Dundee" to the Yanks who are unfamiliar with the name] enough to do so, as he worked as a rigger on the bridge repainting it before his TV days in the 1960s).

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How much of a job is it to paint? Compare with the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles; that total job, including all the coats, is about 3,000 gallons (11,340 litres), whereas the three-coat job for the Sydney Harbour Bridge requires a staggering 72,000 gallons (272,000 litres) despite similar span lengths. This is presumably due to the larger and more complex steel overhead infrastructure on the Harbour Bridge, which is not a suspension bridge like the Vincent Thomas is.

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Signs on the southern side at night, while I was walking on the bridge. (The southbound toll is currently A$3.30.) Note the interesting multiway signage using colours to indicate valid destinations for each lane. The blue shield in "Fwy 40" is a state shield, and actually indicates Metroad 2 (which becomes SR 40, more in a moment on Metroads). Also note the fonts, which American drivers will instantly note are nearly identical to the fonts used by the US MUTCD (in Australia, standards for signage devices are established by Austroads, formerly the Conference of State Road Authorities).

Traffic is now up to a whopping 160,000 vehicles daily. To cope with this load, the Sydney Harbour Tunnel was constructed running underground east of the Bridge with a length of 1.4 miles (2.3km) at a cost of A$554 million. Opened in August 1992, it presently carries 75,000 vehicles a day itself.

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Back to the northern side, as we exit the bridge. This is typical Sydney quasi-freeway/motorway gantry style. Named routes are usually given in black type on a white background, even routes that are not per se numbered (an example to come). The leftmost sign indicates a through route to the Pacific Hwy, for example.

[Metroads badge] On the rightmost sign is Metroad signage, in this case routes 1 and 2 (enlargement to the right). The Metroads are various designated routes in Sydney for point-to-point local transit, varying from full freeway to multi-lane traffic-light controlled expressway. Radial Metroads connect the city centre to the suburbs, and circumferential Metrods act as bypasses. As of this writing, there are nine Metroads, numbered 1-7 and 9-10 (8 being presently reserved and unconstructed). These were first signed in 1992 and in some cases replaced entire state routes within Sydney. The Sydney Harbour Tunnel is part of Metroad 1, but it is unclear to me if the Bridge itself is part of any Metroad routing on my maps. I am told, however, that it is part of Metroad 2.

Metroads also appear in Brisbane.

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The Sydney skyline (taken from a Circular Quay ferry) including the famous Sydney Opera House, designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon in 1957 (and by architects Peter Hall, Lionel Todd and David Littlemore who designed the interior after Utzon's resignation in 1966), built 1959-1973 at a cost of A$102 million, and opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II on 20 October 1973. The main concert hall seats 2,679.

Utzon's notable external "sail" design easily won the Opera House committee competition held to determine the building's architecture; in his words, "if you think of a Gothic church, you are closer to what I have been aiming at." More problematic was how to construct the "sails" -- prefabrication was severely hampered by what appeared to be a need for specific and different parameters of each and every roof shell, as they seemed to have no consistent pattern. By devising a "spherical solution" to the problem, viz., using discrete support ribs to compose segments of the roof shells and thus forming the superstructures stepwise rather than casting them whole, Utzon was able to overcome this significant technical hurdle and at the same time yield the distinctive pattern of the sails that is world-renowned.

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The beautiful Manly Beach, which actually I liked better than Bondi, to be honest.

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The first of our National Highways we will encounter is, of course, NH 1 itself. An oddity of National Highways is that they cease to be at the city limits of the capitals they interconnect; thus NH 1 does not start until we leave Sydney (in this case, via Metroad 1 [Pacific Hwy] and then north on NH 1 from Wahroonga). NH 1 replaces NR 1, which was also the Pacific Hwy and is now signed as various state routes, until its termination in Beresfield whereupon NH 1 reverts to NR 1 and its alignment as the Pacific Hwy. Between those points, NH 1 is officially the Sydney-Newcastle Fwy.

Here, we cross the Hawkesbury River Bridge, built 1973, northbound towards Newcastle.

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Distance sign along NH 1, with the National Highway gold/green shield. We'll see a better photograph of the shield later. The National Route shield is the same shape, but black on white (an example to come in the second half).

NH 1 is full freeway standard between Beresfield and Sydney, which is impressive when one considers the unforgiving territory it passes through. Naturally, it was not built in a day; the entire process took nearly 38 years from initial groundbreaking to complete elimination of at-grade intersections along its 80 mile span (128km). Construction started in 1960 with a temporary expressway between Calga and Ourimbah to relieve the large amount of traffic between Sydney and Newcastle that was snarling local towns. Furthermore, the winding alignment of the old Pacific Hwy was unsuitable for the traffic volume it was often bearing. The expressway proper was built starting in 1963, and multiple small segments were built, completed and opened in stepwise fashion. The bypass around Newcastle was completed in 1988, and the final gap filled (ironically, way back in Ourimbah) replacing the temporary alignment in December 1997. The full 128km length was completed in 1998. Although tolled at one point, it is now truly a "free way."

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Speaking of which, here's the old Pacific Hwy now. This is the Kariong Interchange, and shows a fairly typical format of advance signage on most Australian expressways, with a diagramme of the exit instead of, well, just saying "exit."

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Calga Interchange (note that many interchanges are named, even what Americans would call 'minor' exits; the interchange sign is also shown here). This sign is brown instead of stock green, indicating a Tourist Drive (here TD 33 to Wollombi and Cessnock). These are navigational aids for tourists showing points of local interest, and have some attributes not unlike Business Routes in the USA. Note how the fact that this a loop route is indicated graphically. The ACT has a different class of TDs, which we'll see when we get there. TDs are not unique to NSW and ACT, and appear in other states with the same brown shield.

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In this case, we take TD 33 and an unsigned local road as a shortcut towards SR 84, the Golden Hwy. SR 84 runs between NR 15 (New England Hwy), outside of Maitland, and Dubbo. TDs can be (and often are) cosigned with an official route; thus, SR 84 here is multiplexed with TD 27. We would like to thank their following sponsors, too.

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SR 84 Golden Hwy through Merriwa, where my aunt and uncle ran a local motel. This was taken standing just outside the shire council offices.

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An unfortunate and presumably inadvertent commentary on the nature of the Merriwa Community Technology Centre. The arrow signage style is ubiquitous.

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Back on the Golden Hwy, towards Dubbo.

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[National Highway marker] Much like the disorienting stacks of directional arrows in Italy, but more haphazardly laid out, is this mishmash of signage in Dubbo. Here, we have a good look at the National Highway shield (in this case NH 39 [Newell Hwy, named for the NSW Government Main Roads Department head]), an enlargement of which appears to the right. We also have a puzzling tangle of sign lengths and sizes and even mixing of direction groups. Nevertheless, do note the colour cueing for information types which does help faster parsing of something that would initially be very intimidating for a motorist to scan.

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Why fly back to the States when you can drive?

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Ulan Rd to Wellington. This is not a state route, but note how it still has distance signage, and the standard black on white road naming convention.

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It wouldn't be Australia if there weren't roos to watch for.

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Rather pretty traffic circle in Wellington, on our way to Parkes and the Parkes Radio Telescope.

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[Parkes Radio Telescope in the evening] Uncle Dennis put his Land Rover to the test -- rather than the legs of the right triangle (viz., NR 32 [Mitchell Hwy] and SR 90 to Parkes), he took the hypotenuse through the dirt roads in the back country since we were under the gun to get to Canberra and still make a few touristy stops. This brought us here in surprisingly short order, to the radio telescope at Parkes.

The Parkes Radio Observatory was borne of strange events. In the early 1950s, military and civilian scientists in Australia were frustrated by the need for improved large antennas for radiophysics, but a dearth of funds to build one. Around this same time, Australian radiophysicist E. G. Bowen discussed this problem with the Carnegie Corporation in the USA, and plans were made to build a 300' antenna at Caltech with Carnegie funds. By interesting machinations of fate, however, Carnegie would be required to dispose of US$250,000 in the British Commonwealth due to changes in non-profit foundation social emphasis. This was done in the form of an initial grant towards an *Australian* radiotelescope, along with similar grants from the Rockefeller Foundation (USA) and the Australian federal government. Parkes was selected in 1958, as its rural valley location made it well shielded from electrical interference, and design completed in 1959. Budget overruns would force its size to be cut to 210', but nevertheless, the Parkes Radio Telescope would be completed and officially opened 31 October 1961. Its sophisticated turret/hub assembly allows significant mobility to home in on signals, as the CSIRO picture at right shows. It is continuously being upgraded to improve its electronics, data quality and range.

Parkes remains an important observatory, particularly to NASA in the USA, and is routinely used for international astronomy research of all kinds. Its most celebrated achievement was broadcasting the Apollo 11 mission in 1968 and astronaut Neil Armstrong's famous words as he walked upon the face of the Moon. Because of NASA's intentional six second delay in case something happened to the crew, as well as a 300ms transmission delay, the Australian viewing public (having a live feed through an agreement between NASA and the Australian Broadcasting Commission) saw the moonwalk 6.3 seconds before the rest of the world did via NASA. The movie "The Dish" (2000), starring Sam Neill, made the Parkes scope a minor celebrity and tourism to the scientific curiosity has since doubled.

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Example of "fingerboard" signage, outside the road to the Parkes scope at its junction with NH 39. This is commonly seen on rural highways and is a clever and space-saving way of expressing both distance signage and trailblazer signage compactly together.

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[Tourist Drive trailblazer]Tourist Drive 1, to Henry Lawson (1867-1922)'s birthplace in Grenfell. Along with Banjo Patterson, he is considered one of Australia's greatest poets, and a deeply influential writer, despite his deafness, an unhappy marriage, and a life plagued by his battle with alcoholism and mental illness. After his death on 2 September 1922, he was honoured with a state funeral by order of PM W. M. Hughes. Many collections of his work appeared during his life and after, most notably While the Billy Boils (1896), available now in .pdf from the University of Sydney.

An enlargement of the TD shield is at right, including the integrated arrow of the trailblazer.

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Both the TD 1 photograph and this distance sign outside Grenfell were taken on Henry Lawson Way, one of the "Ways" functioning as link roads between numbered sign routes. Although the Henry Lawson Way does not have a route designation, some Ways do (Olympic Wy is signed as NR 41, and part of the Lachlan Vly Wy is SR 81).

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Australian Capital Territory (2003)

The Australian Capital Territory, which doesn't welcome us like NSW did. (Actually, both the NSW and ACT signs were taken at the same place, on NH 25 [Barton Hwy, named for Sir Edmund Barton, first Prime Minister of Australia] at the state border on our way to Canberra.)

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The next day after arrival; my host Robin's mailbox in Belconnen. I wonder if this sign will work for E-mail. ^_^

"But wait," I hear you say, "aren't you supposed to be in Canberra?" Canberra is a planned city, designed specifically for the function of being the Australian capital. After long dispute between Sydney and Melbourne over which would be the capital, a site midway between them was selected in 1908, and a planned community design was created by civil architect Walter Burley Griffin. (Canberra received control of the federal government with the opening of the Provisional [now Old] Parliament House on 9 May 1927. However, it would not be until December 1988 that the ACT would become a full body politic in its own right.) Burley Griffin's design directly manifests itself in two of the city's seven districts, North and South Canberra. The other five, being Woden, Gungahlin, Tuggeranong, Weston Creek and Belconnen, use a modified design each with a central shopping area, contoured terrain, and surrounding residential areas. Districts may be further subdivided into component suburbs.

The name Canberra hails from an Aboriginal (Ngabri/Ngunnawal) word for "meeting place," and was officially named by Lady Denman, wife of then-Governor-General Lord Denman, in 1913.

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View of (bottom to top) the War Memorial (first constructed in 1941 to honour Australian soldiers in the Great World War, with subsequent additions) and the ANZAC Parade, Lake Burley Griffin (named for Walter Burley Griffin), and the New Parliament House on Capital Hill, opened on 9 May 1988 -- 61 years after the original Parliament House. This was taken from Mt Ainslie, named for 19th century inhabitant James Ainslie, with its mountain lookout point for the city at 2,762' (842m).

It's no accident that everything is in a straight line with Mt Ainslie; Burley Griffin planned it that way. This axis is the "land axis" and is perpendicular to Lake Burley Griffin, which is the "water axis." Both New and Old Parliament House, as well as the War Memorial, were laid out across the land axis; furthermore, these two axes are the ones against which the rest of the city is laid out. A set of additional civic "plumb lines" and the Lake form the Parliamentary Triangle, which envelopes the high government offices.

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William Hovell Dr, a major route through northwestern Canberra. An interesting feature is that the city centre is always signed City instead of, say, Downtown or Capital District or some such.

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Blackened brush and signs indicating local demolition can only mean one thing, the devastating bush fires that gutted large portions of Canberra in January 2003. Lightning strikes in nearby Kosciuszko National Park had caused over 150 hotspots on 8 January which could not be controlled. By the 18th, strong winds and high temperatures caused the fires to spread in size to the point where they would reach outlying suburbs of the city itself. Firestorms raged in western Canberra, particularly in Duffy (where this picture was taken), Holder, Uriarra and Rivett. Great numbers of homes and buildings were destroyed; electrical power was unstable in many areas; hospitals were filling up with casualties (many overcome with smoke inhalation), and evacuation centres rapidly reached capacity with residents fleeing the flames. Although the bulk of the fire was extinguished by the 19th, massive cleanup and relief efforts were required in the weeks afterwards. Particularly costly was the damage to the Mt Stromlo Observatory and surrounding workshops, from which a third of Australian astronomical research is obtained. An insurance claim of A$75 million was sought by the Australian National University to rebuild the ruined facilities.

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This sign (Cotter Road, unsigned portion of Tourist Drive 5; more on the ACT TDs in a moment) tells the tale with a single glance. All told, 160,000 hectares -- nearly 70 percent -- of the ACT was charred by the bushfires, along with another 100,000 hectares in NSW; over five hundred houses were completely destroyed, and another 315 damaged. The fires had a human cost as well. A firefighter helicopter crashed into the Bendora Dam, severely injuring its pilot; four civilian residents would perish in all as a result of the conflagration.

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William Slim Dr towards Gungahlin, which along with Ginninderra Dr serves communities in northern Canberra. At the junction ahead is a diversion to ACT TD 4 (Owen Dixon Dr) and Evatt suburb. The ACT Tourist Drive system consists of seven "colours" -- TD 1 is yellow, TD 2 is brown, TD 3 is blue, TD 4 (here) is purple, TD 5 is orange, TD 6 is white and TD 7 is gold. Some of these are actual loops, although all are through routes, even the true radials. Although nominally tourist routes only, and not true highways, they do serve the purpose that state highways would do (only in the much smaller confines of the ACT).

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Advance signage for Barton Hwy NH 25 (and TD 4 again). The Barton Hwy and Federal Hwy NH 23 are the only National Highways that feed Canberra. There is also an ALT NR 23 that operates as a city centre bypass to the east; ALT routes are as unusual in Australia as they are in the United States.

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A beautiful cloud bordered tower, over Lake Burley Griffin.

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Leaving Canberra back to Sydney with Robin on the Federal Hwy NH 23.

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Crossing the Great Dividing Range on NH 23. The 740m (2,428') elevation reported at this pass should be kept in perspective; Australia's highest point is Mt Kosciuszko, also in the Range (specifically, the Australian Alps), at 7,310' (2228m).

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Junction Hume Hwy NH 31 in Goulburn, our last highway -- and, as we have mentioned, the first highway in the National system. The Hume Hwy runs between Sydney and (now as M31 past the Victoria state line) Melbourne, and is named for Hamilton Hume, who with William Hovell was the first European(s) to traverse the overland route between Sydney and Port Phillip.

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And, as all good things must end, so does NH 31 at the Sydney city limits -- becoming Metroad 5 -- along with the final leg of my trip into Sydney for a couple days before flying back to the States.

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Northern Territory and South Australia (2008)

(A note on the following pictures: these were taken with a camera with a slightly different aspect ratio, so I apologize for the vertical stretch in the thumbnails.)

My parents' trek through the outback took them largely along NH 87, the incarnation of the Stuart Highway in this segment which runs 2,834km (1,761 miles) from Darwin, NT to Adelaide, SA via Alice Springs, NT and Coober Pedy, SA. In the Northern Territory NH 87 is still NH 87, but across the South Australian border NH 87 now becomes route A87 (boo hiss). The Stuart Hwy also includes a portion of NH 1 in Darwin, and is named for John McDouall Stuart, the first European to cross Australia from south to north in 1862, along whose route the modern highway approximately follows.

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Turn-off to the famous Ayers Rock a/k/a Uluru, along SR 4 Lasseter Highway. This is essentially a feeder road from NH 87 to the Uluru-Katatjuta National Park, named for Lewis Hubert Lasseter who claimed to have found gold in the region.

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Uluru is an inselberg formation, literally, as the name implies, an "island mountain," which survived the other mountains it was probably formed with due to its remarkably homogeneous structure. Named by the Pitjantjatjara in antiquity, it has no particular meaning in their language, and is better known to outsiders as Ayers Rock, named after the then-Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers, by surveyor William Gosse in 1872. Its unique, almost otherworldly appearance is naturally a big reason why it remains a sacred site to the local Aboriginal peoples, let alone an object of fascination to tourists, causing a collision of two worlds between the Anangu who regard the rock as too sacred to climb yet a parade of visitors who do so (legally) on a daily basis. Certain portions of Uluru also may not be photographed; hopefully I don't have any of those here.

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Uluru from the air, which does it no justice, since the majority of its bulk is underground. The visible portion stands 348m high (1,142') and is 9.4km (6 miles) in circumference; the climb is steep but can be done without special equipment, along a marked trail approximately 800m long. The unusual rust orange colour is due to oxidation of the sandstone-type rock that makes up the inselberg, and is more grey when relatively newer. Uluru is near the Olgas (Kata Tjuta), a similar formation approximately 25km away and part of the same national park.

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Continuing south on NH 87. This shows both the standard MUTCD-like distance signage, along with the uniquely Australian "milepost" with kilometres to the next control city or point (here, the South Australia state line) and often a small reassurance shield. These trapezoidal "mileposts" are ubiquitous.

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Conventional junction signage, with the black-on-white highway name, trailblazer shield, and control cities.

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South Australia state line, and tourists.

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Northern Territory state line, and no tourists. We continue south.

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A triple "road train," technically an E-triple, a common sight on outback highways with quads even allowed in some areas and even some cities (!). Overtaking a long road train can be hazardous without a lot of clear road.

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On to Coober Pedy. That's a photoessay for another day.

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Queensland (2008)

On their return trip, my folks did a lot of noodling around the back roads along the Pacific coast like this little cliff highway near Cooktown (SR 81).

Cooktown is accessed using a Developmental Road, although it is signed as a state highway in this case. This was one of the five divisions of the QLD classified road system (i.e., freeway, state highway, developmental road, main road and secondary road), similar in nature to the American functional classification system, until they were revised in 2001. Here is a nice article on the QLD classified highway system. Developmental Roads generally become full-fledged state highways when constructed to that standard, although strictly speaking they are already a state-aid-type highway.

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Using the eastern route through unnumbered local roads, they found their way back to NR 1 -- not NH 1, because there is a surviving white reassurance shield here on the milepost. Although much of NR 1 is now converted to A1/M1 in these bitter and cold modern alphanumeric days, a fair bit of the old highway and designation remains.

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Common local hazard.

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Warning for common local hazard, after they had encountered said common local hazard.

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Beautiful little traffic circle in Daintree, north of Mossman and SR 44, where SR 44 terminates as the end of the Captain Cook Highway (the Captain Cook Hwy named, of course, for explorer James Cook, who made the first European contact on Australia's eastern shore in 1770).

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Heading south through the forests ...

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... to loop back around to Ring Road 1 and NH 1 coming up from the south, on the Bruce Highway, the major route from Brisbane to Cairns. Today it is entirely designated A1 and M1, but obviously the signage has not caught up with it yet. The Bruce Hwy runs 1652km (1,027 miles) in length, and is named for Henry Adam Bruce, the state minister of works at the time of its original construction in the 1930s.

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Cairns, where our journey ends. Named for then-Governor William Wellington Cairns, it is a major centre for tourism due to its close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and the nearby national parks, along with the sugarcane industry and the local mining operations the settlement was originally built to service. We leave you with this view of the Pacific as we swim back to California to avoid buying a round trip ticket.

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