Horror Highway, 1974

 Bronwyn Barnett

Christmas drivers taking the coast road out of Canberra in 1974 had to face the rapidly deteriorating ‘horror highway’.

Every year for the Christmas holidays, thousands of Australians head to our beautiful beaches for some well-earned rest and relaxation. For Canberrans, not having a beach can mean a two-hour drive down the Clyde Mountain to the South Coast of New South Wales.

It’s a ritual that’s been performed every year for decades, including in the time before compulsory seatbelts, air conditioning, ABS brakes, or DVD players in the back seat to keep the children entertained.

Imagine packing the car with over-excited kids, surfboards, buckets and spades, fishing gear, tents, sleeping bags, sandwiches, thermos and red cordial (for the picnic at Braidwood), and then settling into the long drive, only to face roads like this…

Courtesy of Southern Cross Austereo. NFSA: 54387

While local councils battled with state and federal governments over funding for the Kings Highway, users began to protest its poor condition. Kevin Watson of Ainslie had his letter to The Canberra Times published on 2 November 1974 under the title ‘Horror highway’. In describing his bad experience in riding to Batemans Bay on his motorbike, he also implies that the use of the word ‘highway’ does not reflect the actual status of the road.

This story by CTC-TV reporter Jenny Hill was included in a compilation film reel of news stories that she made for the station around 1974. The black-and-white reversal 16mm film with mag stripe has been preserved by the NFSA.