Straight as a gunbarrel — the highway in central Australia covers more than 1,300 kilometres. (Wikimedia Commons: gazjo/CC0)
The Gunbarrel Highway is a rough desert track that stretches 1,300 kilometres from Carnegie Station in Western Australia to Victory Downs in the Northern Territory.
It was the first road built to go from west to east through the centre of the continent and created access to sites needed for weapons testing at Woomera and Maralinga.
Led by Len Beadell, the Gunbarrel road construction party worked tirelessly over four years and completed the ambitious project in 1958.
The working conditions were harsh, in the searing desert heat, and all their supplies had to be carried in.
Sixty years on, Connie Beadell is determined to keep her father’s extraordinary creation up and running.
Ms Beadell told ABC Radio Perth her father was uniquely suited to the work.
“As a boy he was a fairly shy character and being in the remote desert was something that suited him,” she said.
“It turned out that he had a real aptitude for surveying.
“After serving in Papua New Guinea in the war with the survey corps, the Woomera project came up and he was in the right place at the right time.
“He used to say that he would have paid them to let him do the work.”
The Gunbarrel Highway was so named because Beadell aspired to create roads “as straight as a gun barrel”; he dubbed it a highway simply because he found it amusing.
“The conditions he came across, the weather and difficulties with the vehicles and pushing roads through the scrub and the flat tyres, they didn’t worry him,” Ms Beadell said.
“He had a job to do which he felt was important, that was all part and parcel of it.”
At home in the desert
Altogether, Beadell and his crew spent eight years pushing roads through the bush.
“Len spent a lot of time on his own bashing through the scrub doing solo reconnaissance as a forward survey for where he wanted to put the roads,” Ms Beadell said.
“Then the graders and bulldozers had to come behind him.
“He had a little party of fellows; that were all extremely good at their jobs and equally at home in the desert.”
The Gunbarrel road construction party at work. Breakdowns could take months to repair while parts were retrieved. (Supplied: Connie Beadell)
Beadell went on to build a number of other tracks, including two he named after his wife and daughter — the Anne Beadell Highway and the Connie Sue Highway.
Later children’s names were given to the Gary Highway and Jackie Junction.
Len Beadell’s plaques record the date and location that section of highway was built. (Flickr: theextramile/CC0)
These days, Ms Beadell and her partner Mick Hutton run outback tours that take adventurous tourists along parts of the Gunbarrel Highway.
Along the way she replaces the distinctive plaques that her father left along the track.
The plaques are stamped aluminium and record the location, distances to other points and when he was there.
Over time, the plaques have been regularly damaged by fire or souvenired by travellers on the track.
Until his death in 1995, Beadell would replace them.
“That’s a job that I took over after he died,” his daughter said.
“I have been stamping plaques for 20-odd years since Len died and we continue with maintenance.”
Connie Beadell and her partner Mick Hutton replace plaques that are regularly souvenired by travellers. (Supplied: Connie Beadell)
These days, parts of the Gunbarrel Highway have been superseded by the Great Central Road and is only used by the hardiest four-wheel drive enthusiasts keen to follow in his footsteps.
Ms Beadell is immensely proud of her father’s achievements and continues to share the story of what he did with the people who come on her bush trips.
“Around the campfire every night we talk about the history,” she said.
The Gunbarrel is an officially recognised highway.
“A lot of the others like the Connie Sue are not, they are just what people know them as.”