In his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of the traveller, Get Up & Go guest writer, David Ellis says that while many a conversation may turn to our wondrously time-saving – and coincidentally revenue raising – toll roads, there’s nothing quite new about them in Australia.
For soon after arriving in Sydney Town back in 1810, Governor Lachlan Macquarie was charging folk to use major roads, bridges and ferries, and within 50 years some 34 toll gates were in operation across the colony.
Around a third were on the Great Southern Road from Sydney to the village of Bowral in the NSW Southern Highlands, and from there onwards to Goulburn and ultimately Albury on the Murray River.
Early toll gate on Sydney’s George Street South in 1836; next to it is GovernorMacquarie’s Benevolent Asylum “for the relief of the poor, aged and infirm.” (State
Library of NSW)
Charges were based on the type of animals being herded on roads, bridges or ferries, starting from a penny per head per toll sector for sheep and pigs, to two pence per horse or mule. Farm vehicles were charged by their number of wheels and horses pulling them, and stage-coaches up to one shilling and sixpence per sector – a pricey way to get to Goulburn which could take up to 30 hours and a near-dozen toll gates.And pedestrians were charged a penny just to walk across a toll bridge.
Road users were anything but happy, for although some roads were given gravel surfaces, on others stage-coaches, drays, carts, and horses and livestock floundered axle- and shin-deep in mud after heavy rains.
After years of public protests, Macquarie’s toll roads were eventually abandoned in 1877.