I wrote a 118-page book for the ACT Government on road infrastructure in the Australian capital and realised that even a story about building a freeway is about people. I interviewed engineers, landholders, landscape architects, road builders, bridge builders, ecologists, geologists, traffic planners, community group leaders and the list goes on.
These are some extracts from Majura Parkway – Gateway to a Capital. – Mark Koehler
When James Ainslie herded 710 sheep into the northern part of the Majura Valley in December 1825 he could not have envisaged some 200 years later, a modern day Parkway carrying 45,000 cars and trucks every day.
What Ainslie did see was a broad and pleasant grassy valley which was part of an area that came to be called the Limestone Plains (and) it would be another 90‑odd years before Canberra was conceived as the nation’s capital in 1913.
Ainslie may well have dismounted from his horse to take a break and water the sheep at a small creek that we now know as Woolshed Creek. It had been a hot journey from Bathurst where he’d collected the stock on behalf of his employer Robert Campbell, the wealthy Sydney merchant.
He is said to have been guided to the area by a young Aboriginal woman whom he later took to be his common law wife. At the top end of the valley Ainslie noted an imposing ridge to the west rising some 890 metres – Mount Majura, a mountain which was formed through volcanic activity more than 420 million years ago – at which time the peak would have reached an impressive height of five kilometres. . .
Ainslie’s task was to select and establish a large landholding for his superintendent, the Scot, Robert Campbell. Along with the sheep flock, Campbell had been granted 4,000 acres as compensation from the New South Wales government for the loss of his ship, the ‘Sydney’ which had been wrecked while under government charter to bring food from India. . .
As Campbell’s overseer, Ainslie built huts on the northern side of the Molonglo River and established a dairy. He commenced sheep breeding and planted wheat. In Ainslie’s hands the property began to prosper and in due course he delivered wool and wheat to Campbell’s own wharf in Sydney, Campbell’s Wharf. . .
. . . The Majura Valley is in a state of transformation. It has undergone marked development in recent years with the building of a Parkway. Travel times have shrunk dramatically, yet picturesque rural views still remain, a credit to the Parkway’s landscape designers.
Lives and livelihoods are changing as the valley transforms into a modern transport corridor with increased living and working populations. . .
Rural landholders are feeling the pinch of progress and the uncertainty it can bring. They are concerned about the panorama across farmlets continuing and the sustainability of land use on small landholdings – activities such as horse breeding, tourism, free-range egg production and mixed grazing. The valley is not the quiet sleepy place it used to be. Yet even with the major infrastructure development that the Majura Parkway represents, the area maintains its distinctive rural flavour and uncluttered visual experience. . .
Further into the past, Indigenous inhabitants and European settlers could not have possibly imagined the roar of a double-B truck and the fleeting line of traffic on its way to high-rise offices. Commuters are delighted with the quick travel times from Gungahlin and from Tuggeranong. Transport operators can skirt busy city traffic and access the industrial suburbs of Fyshwick and Hume more easily. It’s a similar story for skiers on their way to the Monaro and the ski fields. There is something else that sets this project apart from many other freeway projects. You do not have to pay to travel on the Majura Parkway. There is no toll.
Infrastructure for the nation and the modern and vibrant city of Canberra has been enhanced. A major gateway to the Capital has been created. The city and its people and the wider NSW region will receive the rewards for years to come as this gateway evolves.
Just like the traffic, the benefits will flow on.