One of Australia’s top-rated junior cycling road races follows an unlikely course. The Goulburn Workers Junior 2 Day Cycling Tour is held on the once deadly section of the Old Hume Highway, between Breadalbane and Gunning, west of Goulburn.
Low-volume traffic helps race officials safeguard the cyclists in the race, who are aged from under-8s to under-17s. Years ago, such an event would have been unthinkable on this section of highway. Older readers will remember the notorious Cullerin Range and horrific truck fatalities leading up to the highway bypass in 1993.
On the eve of the new dual-lanes bypass, a sign at Breadalbane told the grim story: “37 people killed since December 1988 – please take care”.
In the late 1980s, a spike in road freight, speeding on winding, undivided roads and drivers’ inattention were blamed for shocking accidents. Around one of Cullerin’s vicious bends, a truck’s load rolled onto the cab of an oncoming truck, triggering mayhem.
In those days, district farmers filled sheds on their properties with aspirin, Weet-Bix and boxes of Champagne, among many products left strewn across the highway in the wake of accidents.
Fast-forward to early May 2021 and safely into those same winding bends rode bunches of slick, young cyclists. The Goulburn Workers Junior 2 Day Cycling Tour attracted 145 riders from all across Australia. Previous tours have attracted 220 riders.
Tour organiser Graeme Northey says the old highway course is excellent. Fields can start from either Breadalbane or Gunning for uphill or flat finishes.
“The road and terrain is very safe due to the low volume of traffic,” he says.
“It is popular with parents because they know their children are safe. We are so lucky to have that road – we are the envy of a lot of other clubs. Some clubs do not have many places where they can race; they’re being built out.
“The Breadalbane Public School has run a canteen for our events. We are very respectful of this little community. We know everyone there enjoys the quiet surroundings. We want to cause as little disruption as possible – we are insistent about that.”
For almost 50 years, sheep graziers Tony and Sue Morrison’s property, ‘South Raeburn’, was at the centre of Breadalbane’s community life. School prize-giving nights and energetic fundraising were held in their magnificent shearing shed. Their two sons and daughter either walked or rode their horses to the local school, which had 30 pupils.
The Morrisons remember the highway traffic which thundered past their front gate. In the early days before truck numbers leapt into the thousands, Tony used hand signals to stop the heavy beasts of vehicles on the highway before driving mobs of sheep to the other side of the bitumen.
In time, the drivers took no notice of him and their powerful transports roared onwards to Sydney and Melbourne destinations so he took up the offer of lollipop ‘stop-go’ signs.
“They worked like a charm,” he said.
In their paddocks one morning, the Morrisons saw a man come off the highway. He called out that he was looking around in the grass for ram head skeletons for his children. Accustomed to unexpected travellers, Sue said: “We’re about to have a barbecue, why not join us?”
They threw a couple more chops on their hot plate.
The Old Hume Highway traffic supported a service station and pub in Breadalbane. Sue remembers everyone calling the publican’s wife ‘Mother’. She sat a jar on the bar for coins from every driver who failed to take a bend on the highway. It was never empty.
A descendant of the Chisholm pioneering families, Tony gave land for a community hall several years ago. Now it is the settlement’s meeting place.
Former Upper Lachlan Shire general manager John Bell, who has lived with his family in their restored and renovated two-storey home at Breadalbane since 1993, says most new arrivals in the area commute to Goulburn or Canberra for work.
“Once a small block becomes available it is quickly sold off,” he says. “Quite a few of our population want a few acres, a horse, a couple of cattle or sheep. They aren’t looking to be a farmer, they’re looking for that rural/residential lifestyle.”
John loves the quiet and friendliness of Breadalbane.
“You know your neighbours; we have an excellent neighbourhood,” he says. “All the people are ‘countrified’, everyone loves a chat, they’ll talk over fences – it is just that easy lifestyle, not the hustle and bustle you would find even in a place the size of Goulburn.”