Tracks and roads
Dreaming tracks
Great Northern Highway
Dalgary Road
Wanarra East Rd
Mt Gibson Goldmine Road
Goodlands Rd
Run- throughs, gates and grids
Air traffic

Great Northern Highway

Once a quiet piece of country that was difficult to reach, Charles Darwin Reserve now has its south-east corner cut by one of the country’s major transport arteries. With increased traffic and modern roadbuilding machinery and technology, the Great Northern Highway has superseded the meandering tracks that once led from Wubin to Ninghan. It has become a heavy transport route to the Murchison goldfields, the Pilbara mining region and on through the Kimberley to Darwin.


The Great Northern Highway at Mt Gibson, at the turn-off to Charles Darwin Reserve, in 2006.
Photo courtesy C. Nicholson

The Wubin to Paynes Find Road, which became a section of the Great Northern Highway, was first cleared and graded in 1927.

In the 1920s and into the 1930s, the problem of developing an efficient, serviceable road out of a track that was used by horse and camel wagons had to be tackled. There was a need to link waterholes to mines and sheep and cattle stations to centres of population. Men with axes carved a path for nintety-two miles from Wubin to Payne’s Find, clearing the way through timber and scrub.The road alignment was fixed by compass and smoke signals sent up from burning tyres on clear days. These provided the guide lines for the horse-drawn graders. Main Roads Department, Western Australia Highway to the Murchison 1970

Mick Perry did the mail run from Wubin to Thundelarra in 1928-29.

On the survey of the Mt Magnet to Wubin road there was a camel team hauling a large lump of iron. Camels won’t walk straight unless they have a mark or line to follow. Mick drove down the cut for them to follow. They had about 20 camels in team.

Notes by Alex Palmer from interview with Mick Perry 12 October 1986


First constructed in 1927, the reserve for the two-chain-wide Great Northern Highway , road no. 8576, was not added to the lease plan of White Wells Station until 6th August 1937. It crossed the south-eastern corner of what was then pastoral lease 392/506.

Plan from Department of Lands and Surveys, file 2369/64 Whitewells Station. State Records Office of Western Australia, Cons 3685

Hugh Barnes started driving the mail truck in 1946 when he was 16. His father Eric owned the Wubin Transport Company. The road was dirt and crossed by numerous sheep fences the gates on which had to be opened and closed on the return trip every week. Stock grids eventually replaced the gates.

The road was a shocker before the War. When the War finished, Main Roads were rebuilding the road. They couldn’t do anything while the War was on. The 1948 cyclone dropped twelve inches on Paynes Find in one night, an ocean of water came down. The road had been ripped up and re-formed. I was in the Diamond T open cab semi. I broke through and sank and had to be towed eight miles by the MRD bulldozer. Dad was coming along behind in the other truck. He followed in my wheel ruts - he got through.

I couldn’t take the full ten ton load to Paynes Find. The truck couldn’t climb the hill near Ninghan, especially if it was a bit wet. On average I had about three or four passengers to Paynes Find. We’d lurch and log our way up the hill. Otherwise we would unload, all the passengers would push and we had to carry the load up the hill to the truck. Hugh Barnes, March 2006, interview by C. Nicholson


The Diamond T semi-trailer bogged by Hugh Barnes on the Great Northern Highway, 1948. Hugh’s father’s truck can be seen in the distance.
Photo courtesy Hugh Barnes

In 1950, the sealed road finished just north of Miling, about 140 km south of Charles Darwin Reserve. The old graded dirt highway was formed up and sealed as a single lane ‘blacktop’ from Wubin to Ninghan and Paynes Find in the 1960s.

By the 1990s, the increase in heavy haulage to the Pilbara and its role as a National Highway justified the widening of the road. The 1991 project proposal report noted the annual average daily traffic in 1988/89 as 339 vehicles per day, 28 per cent of which were heavy commercial vehicles.

The section of road from Wubin to Mt Gibson was upgraded to National Highway Standards between 1990 and 1992. It had a minimum design speed of 110 km/hour and an eight metre sealed pavement. It cost about $5 million. By then, the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 required that the Main Roads Department survey the alignment for Aboriginal sites, and an environmental assessment and management report was prepared under the Environmental Protection Act.

The existing Rest Areas and parking bays were upgraded to provide regular stopping places for travellers. One of these was the White Well, the well north of Jibberding which was in the original 1919 White Wells pastoral lease and from which the station took its name. White Well had long been an overnight camping site for camel teams and then people driving from Mt Magnet or Meekatharra to Perth on the old gravel road.

Road construction requires gravel and water. A now overgrown gravel pit and two dams which hold water after good rains are legacies of construction of the Great Northern Highway.

Now with sheep no longer being grazed on Charles Darwin Reserve, the dams have become a liability. Theyattract and provide water for feral goats. The dams and the graded road verges also provide a habitat for weeds.

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