Go back to the very early days of Australian settlement when intrepid explorers ventured across thousands of miles of rugged wasteland and desert. Some may say foolishly and impossibly, but it was John McDouall Stuart who successfully made the trip from Adelaide to the Timor Sea. And back! It was he who had the vision and the fortitude to have the Overland Telegraph Line laid along the 3000 kilometres from south to north to provide a key communications link to the outside world. And ‘The Track’ was built along the route, to cart the bullock teams, the workers, animals for food, posts, wire etc. It would have been harrowing to say the least, especially during the wet season when the track became waterlogged and supply carts bogged in the mud.
For 70 years or so, The Track was the only way south. Then, in 1943, when it became apparent that Darwin was going to play a significant and strategic role in the war, it was very quickly upgraded to become the Stuart Highway, a reliable transport and supply line.
The Track has many other stories to tell. Back in the 1870s, prospectors and pastoralists endured the incredibly harsh conditions in their attempt to find gold. During the war, the side of the road was cleared to create airstrips and even nowadays, The Royal Flying Doctor uses the highway as an emergency landing strip.
Last week on our way to Katherine we explored the circular route back to Darwin via The Old Stuart Highway. It is signposted to Daly River and is delightful. It’s narrow but sealed and winds around the hills decorated with trees, palms and lush grasses. Now and again the escarpment rears up in the distance as the road follows the valley, crossing a few floodways to reach Robin Falls just short of Adelaide River.