Stories from the past

Read stories about our past from the people who worked on our roads.

A commemorative magazine featuring stories from our past through to our present with a glance to the future!

Includes stories on:

  • the original 'Songlines' of Victoria
  • the histories of the Great Ocean Road, the Hume Highway, the Calder Freeway and more
  • wartime efforts
  • international achievements
  • our history of road safety
  • connecting Victorians through Registration and licensing.


Man standing next to a dogRead memories from the people who helped design, build and maintain Victoria's structures and roads - and those who helped Victorians get their licences and register their cars.

Bob Baade remembers all culverts were timber at one stage

On the Bonang Highway, all the culverts were timber at one stage of the game. They have all been replaced by now with concrete pipes. But they were a problem because the fills were very deep there (about 20 to 30 feet) and, of course, if the decking rotted the culvert collapsed. It was a different job to get them cleaned out or do anything with them.

Men shovelling asphaltThere was one culvert that I had a lot trouble with until a wombat decided to make his home in it. The culvert had collapsed by he would keep all the earth scratched out. He always went in on the bottom side and he lived more in the top end of the culvert, the upstream side, so that he would always scratch the dirt down and clean it out. One day I had done a trip of the inspection up through the Buchan, Gelantipy, Deddick and Bonang, and on the way home I noticed this dead wombat, on the shoulder of the road, by the culvert. I said to whoever was with me, ‘That’s the end of that culvert’, and he said ‘Why?’ and I said, ‘Well that wombat has kept this culvert open now for about three years.’

The next heavy rain, as sure as anything, the culvert blocked and here was 20 feet of water along the highway. It meant that we had to replace it with a reinforced concrete pipe.

Bruce Grayling remembers taking care of roads after floods and fires

The Board got involved in all sorts of things apart from road construction. It was our job to look after the roads, so if there was a flood we had to recover what was left of our road afterwards; we also had to clear the roads after bushfires.

I remember one occasion we had some very bad fires in Bairnsdale. I had been down there for some days and was driving out the Omeo Road and I stopped to look at a partly burnt out building. As I got out of the car I heard a police siren and coming up the hill was a police car escorting a CRB Engineer. About 200 years in form of the police car was Pat Doyle in a fitter’s ute going like stink. He was actually leading the police car as he knew where they had to go.

Pat had a couple of narrow escapes during the fires. One section he came to was virtually closed in form of him and, while he was looking around, he heard two trees go over behind him. Fortunately, he was able to attach the burnt trees by cable to his ute and drag them off the road so he could get through.

Athol Thomas - taken from Reminiscences of Life in the Country Roads Board

As far as the men in the camps were concerned, the Board provided a tent, firewood and water, and they had to find the rest. They would go away on a Monday morning or Sunday night stacked up with corned beef and some loaves of bread and they would rough it for the week. They would have to provide their own food and meals. There were no showing facilities; conditions were really rough compared with nowadays.

Board members in old carFrom my point of view it was quite all right. We had an A model Ford Roadster for the use of the Assistant Divisional Engineers and the survey party. The Roadster had a rack on the running board and one on the mud-guard to which we used to strap the tripods and other equipment. We would load up the back with pegs etc and away we would go. Being a Roadster we could cop a bit of the weather and we could get 60MPH out of it with the hand throttle; 58 MPH with the foot throttle. If we were coming home at night in the dark, we would have her going flat out, as rough as the roads were. We would look down through the floor boards where the clutch and the brake were and could see that the exhaust was red hot. If it was red hot we knew we were going all right.

Ray McMahon remembers being a cadet and unusual forms of documentation by 'bushie' engineers.

I was the first Cadet Engineer to be appointed at the CRB Denmark Street, Kew address on the 12th of December 1960.

Surveyor in the snow on skisMy interview had previously taken place at the old Exhibition Building in Carlton with Harry Townley, who was then in charge of the Plans & Survey Section.

I was also present at the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the CRB in 1963 where a grand ball was held to celebrate the occasion.

January 2013 also holds a special significance for me as at that time I was a Sapper in the CRB 104 Construction Squadron, RAE (SR) and was one of the select group engaged to relieve the regular army engineers at Cape Moem barracks in New Guinea.

During this time in New Guinea I was initially involved in the construction of a timber bridge erected to replace an earlier concrete one that was damaged by a small earthquake in 1962, but due to a severe case of sunburn I was transferred into the drafting office (the only CRB Sapper to be appointed to this position), followed by being attached to assist RAE surveyors involved in pegging out the advanced jungle clearing traverses for the lead dozers. This was in connection with the construction of the Wewak to Maprik road, to open up the Highlands coffee plantations, thus providing an easier access by road to the port of Wewak.

At this time, computers and CAD (design tool) was in its infancy, although Jack Ross, a draftsman in P&S, was given the job of looking into getting the CRB into the ''computer age'' using punch cards. Computers back then were about the size of two toilet cubicles put together. At that time all designs (longitudinales and cross-sections) were traced onto linen using steel-knib pens dipped into Indian Ink, as well as bow-pens, and Staedler compasses.

Calculations were done using a Faber-Castell slide-rule, and field level-book entries were reduced to meaningful levels using the ‘Facit’ calculator. I can remember one of my first jobs was reducing levels for the Kimbolton Forest Road.

Why I remember this job quite clearly was that there were over 30 level-books put on my desk to reduce. I also remember this well as the field surveyor ran out of field books near the end of the survey. Being a bit of an ''old bushie'' he finished his work by writing up the last bit of information in the dust on the sides, and the back doors of his van.

All was well until he came back to Denmark Street, parked the van downstairs, went upstairs to collect a field book to transfer the information into, only to find when he returned downstairs the van was half-washed!

I've now retired after being a State Manager for a Queensland property development company for some 20 years. I always look back to those days with the CRB as rewarding, and character building that favoured me in later life.

1972 – from a ‘Notice of Injuries’

Particulars of Cause of Injury “Confronted by large Emu. While backing away, I tripped over bank and while on ground the Emu kicked at me hitting my leg”.

What have you done to prevent a similar accident? “Chased Emu away.”

Man standing with emuWhat further steps do you recommend be taken to prevent a similar accident? “Carry large stick”.


About sprayed bituminous surfacing

Men and truck pouring asphaltSpraying bituminous surfacing onto roads was adopted in Victoria in the 1930s. It changed the way roads were made and it became easier to transport people and goods, improving the quality of life for many Victorians. The audio recordings below feature stories from the men who worked on the roads over the last sixty years. These oral histories document the changes in how roads are made but also provide a sense of what life was like 'on the road'.

Oral history interviewees

Geoff Allen, Bob Duffy, John Oliver, Andrew Bethune, Bruce Grayling, John Rebbechi, John Bethune, Walter Holtrop, Tom Russell, Kevin Cooper, Joe Klopfer, Peter Ryall, Paul Donovan, Barry Mulholland, Robert Swift.

Before you listen...

Before the many aspects of the history and development of sprayed seal surfacing in Victoria are explored, it is important to understand some of the fundamentals behind this road surfacing technique. A sprayed bituminous seal, or a sprayed seal as it is often called, is a simple and effective way of sealing a road. One of its most significant functions is to provide a waterproof surface on which cars can safely drive.

A sprayed seal is formed by a single application of binder – which is mostly made up of bitumen – followed immediately by a single layer of aggregate or loose stones, which is rolled into the binder. The result is a watertight and, thanks to the aggregate, skid resistant surface. Over the years a number of different types of sprayed seal surfaces involving multiple applications of binder and aggregate have been developed to adapt to different conditions across the state and to maximise safety for road users.

A sprayed seal can be used either as an initial surface on a compacted gravel pavement, or to reseal an existing surface, such as an older sprayed seal or in some cases asphalt. It is important to note that a sprayed seal is exactly that – a seal. It has no structural properties and relies on the composition and structure of the road that it seals.

A sprayed seal has many benefits. As well as being low cost and flexible, a sprayed seal provides a durable, safe and dust free surface. The gaps between the aggregate provide superior drainage and safety during wet weather. This type of surfacing minimises the rate of pavement wear and keeps maintenance costs as low as possible. In addition, a sprayed seal protects the underlying road or granular pavement base from the damaging effects of traffic and moisture. A sprayed seal improves safety for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike as it is skid resistant and can be upgraded and improved as necessary.

To order a CD of the recordings

Please email [email protected]

Download the recordings

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