Old Hume Highway – Australia’s Route 66


The US states has made a virtue out of an old, by-passed highway – Route 66.  But in Australia we have tended to forget the great character and history that remains on the old roads.

The new Hume Highway is now a divided road from Sydney to Melbourne.

So what happened to the Old Hume Highway, those two lanes with occasional passing opportunities that went through towns and villages where the activities were more than just service stations and McDonalds.  Is the old highway still of interest.

One person who passionately thinks so is Frank Burke.


The Interview

The United States as made a virtue out of an old bypassed tie way route 66 but in Australia we have tended to forget the great character and history that remains on the old roads, the new Hume highway is now divided from Sydney to Melbourne, so what happened to the old Hume highway, those two lanes with the occasional passing opportunities that went through towns and villages where the activities where more than just a service station or a McDonalds, is the old highway still of interest, one person who passionately thinks so is Frank Burke and he joins us on the line now, Frank is there much of the old Hume highway left

Frank: certainly there is because all the towns bar one are all still there so the roads that ran through them, and we known as the Old Hume highway those roads are certainly there but interestingly now none of them have any reference to Hume or Old Hume highway at this stage and then there’s more of it which is. Whichever way you look at it is either under or on top of parts of the new freeway so one way or another the majority is the route that it takes is still there.

David Brown:  And so even if i tried to look up Old Hume highway they will change their name too Main street or something

Frank;  That’s right we are working Old Hume highway 31 which is now incorporated and set up and we are operating, we are currently having professionally prepared a map of the Old Hume highway from Sydney to Melbourne and to talk in imperial terms that map will be about 3 feet by 2 feet folds down to the normal size and you will actually be able to find it, the major road on that map will be the Old Hume highway, the freeway will be the secondary road, but then you come to the other problem that once you’re on it you can’t be sure if or when you are on it.

So we are having and we are talking with roads Victoria and New South wales about a standard sign to be erected at a suitable distance of gaps so that people will know that they are on the Old hume highway.

You say you’ve got a bit of a group together who are the sorts of people that are interested in revitalizing the old highway

Frank: basically the people of the Old Hume highway we had a meeting in Yass in July and 70 people attended two of whom were from Yass the rest of them was made up of Vic Roads came up from Victoria, Road mines services came down from NSW the Police was in attendance, the National Trust of New South Wales and Victoria, the chain of the Chambers of Commerce in the towns. Although in Victoria they go by a different name. The Historical Societies, we had mayors, we had chief executives, we had directors and we had councilors from the Old Hume Highway so all the interested parties on the Old Hume Highway.

David Brown: Now, who were the sorts of groups or even individuals that might be interested in exploring the old road? Have you had some interest in that already?

Frank: Absolutely. We’re working in that area. For a start, we all know the Grey Nomads with their caravans and camper vans but if you give it a little bit of thought, it’s not difficult to work out that only represents about 5% of that age group. So the people in that age group must have known as they grew up would have traveled probably on the Hume Highway or interested parts of it and consequently we’re looking at the Old Hume Highway as being a tourist destination where the journey is the destination.

David Brown: I remember going and stopping at a Jugiong just the other side of Yass, not far, oh, well as accessible up from side of Canberra even. It was a lovely opportunity. There was a lovely place. I had a glorious meal and I remember the old road going along then going up a steep climb and people, cars and trucks used to try and get a bit of a run up and so the police used to often catch them at the bottom of the hill trying to get a run up to go up the steeping climb. But it was a lovely little town in which the stop was a delight.

Frank: That’s right. And also not too far before that was a place called Bookham and they did believe me. But what you’re saying about Jugiong is right but that hasn’t changed. Jugiong is still a delightful place. You can get an excellent meal there. There are some wonderful facilities and the other thing is you can access the Murumbidgee with some beautiful beaches. If you want to have a picnic or something like that, it’s all there. Jugiong is still what it used to be and that’s what we’re trying to preserve. We’re not trying to make something that doesn’t exist. We have this and before we lose it, we should keep it and enjoy it the way it was.

David Brown: Have you been in contact with the Route 66 people in the United States?

Frank: Yes right from the word go and they have been very, very cooperative. I’ve often wondered about the friendship between Australia and America whether it was a lot of publicity or what, but the reception I received from day one has been absolutely stunning. They’ve given us a lot of information. They have a quarterly magazine that goes all over the world. We are in the current one. We’ve got a four page feature in that, that’s international publicity for the old human. The people who read that magazine, the people who like to drive on old roads from all over the world so maybe that will do some good. We also have an article, another one on Hamilton Hume coming up in their next issue and one in the issue after that. So, that’s nine months of the year covered and thankfully some of our suggestions have been original and we’ve been able to exchange information and it’s a wonderful relationship between the two of us.

David Brown: And so, you’ve actually been like you say a bit helpful to them?

Frank: We’ve come up with some ideas that hadn’t quite popped up on their radar and there’s one or two things that we are pioneering for them, pardon the expression, and as soon as we’ve completed that will be passing the information on and also there’s a website that we’re developing. Technology and things improve all the time. We’ll be passing on the developed website for them to use as they see fit as well.

David Brown: So, it’s a great tourist attraction for people from overseas, isn’t it? It works with the Route 66 but it could also work for us.

Frank: Well, the interesting thing is, David, there are no historic tours in Australia. You can go on the odd tour that visits a historic town but there’s no historic tourism Kakadoo that’s scenery, Great Ocean Road, that scenery, all these things are scenery and we are finding now but as we start to surface, we are getting commented time by time that international tourists who have come here wanting to do and see the history and culture of Australia and we are working on that for the Old Hume Highway.

David Brown: I think that’s a lovely idea. Now you mentioned Hamilton Hume, a great explorer. You think he’s a very significant person in our history?

Frank: Absolutely. If you look at Australia and somebody says to you: Who was Australia’s – the first Australian born hero? Everybody goes silent. There’s not a lot of, you know, they’ll come up with people 50, 100 a 150 years later but in the first 50 to 80 years, it’s very silent and pretty much that’s because at that time in the early part of Australia, if you were born in Australia, you where looked down on and the records and the information that the government officials and governors in Australia might send back to the colonial office tended not to mention the Australian borns. Now there’s a book coming out, it’s being started now by Robert Macklin and it will be called The First Australian Born Hero and it’s about Hamilton Hume. When you look at his background, we think for example that it was Frosbie who first went to the southern highlands etc. no, it wasn’t, it was Hamilton Hume when he was 17 years of age. He’s the one that penetrated the Bargo Brush and got out of there. We think about Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson going across the Blue Mountains, they only got most of the way but it was Hume who found the way down the other side.

David Brown: Is that right?

Frank: If we look at the exploration that went on, whether it would be on the Murrumbidgee, the Mitta Mitta, the Darling, all those sorts of explorations, Hume was there. He was with them. He also with the trip to Melbourne with Hovell, it took them 11 weeks to get to Melbourne. They had five weeks’ worth of supply when they got there to get back 11 weeks. He worked it out. It was inspired bushmanship, didn’t come back the way they went figured it out and kind back pretty much where the Hume Highway runs now and got them back in the five weeks. But the thing that goes with all of this was that his rapport with the Aborigines is brilliant. He would meet aboriginal people who had never met White people before. He was able to communicate with them, sit down with them, talk in their own language, and understand how they work. They would invite him back to their fires there kids and all that. And this man unbelievably, unrecognized and I believe certainly Australia’s, the first Australian born hero.

David Brown: I think you gave that title to the author of the book.

Frank: Yeah and he tells me, he’s going to get me covered in the front but Robert Macklin has a very strong history. He was editor of the Canberra Times. He worked with Jack Mackilan all those years ago. He’s an author and screenwriter. He’s got 24 books to his credit. The last one was the autobiography of Kevin Rudd and now we’re just about starting work on the Hamilton Hume book, obviously it’s going to take a while to get there. But when you read it and I’ve read the synopsis of it, when you read it, I just kept reading it and every time I read more about Hamilton Hume, I’m just thinking about that very, very famous Australian actor who played the part of Wolverine.

David Brown: You think he might be ideal for the movie?

Frank: He’s perfect whether as time goes by he’s interested in this pardon the expression but young enough to play the part one doesn’t know. But Hugh Jackman would personify Hamilton Hume and build personality the lot.

David Brown: And it’s all related particularly to how we put together a historical perspective on an old great road.

Frank: Well, there are a couple of things with that. Firstly we don’t recognize historical roads in Australia and that is about to happen for the Hume Highway. But I would say to your listening audience, next time you want a holiday, be like Dick Smith and do what he does. He said spend your money in Australia. Well, let’s do exactly the same. Go for a holiday on the Hume Highway. There’s every tourist resort with the exception of surf. We’ve got lovely beaches. We’ve got everything. But spend the money on the Hume Highway and in those towns because the money won’t go international. It will stay in the town. It will help preserve it and at the end of the day, the continued existence of any historical facility depends on its financial viability, its ability to be able to afford to be kept and stay there.

David Brown: That’s a lovely point. Frank, I appreciate your time greatly.

Frank: My pleasure, thank you.

David Brown: And that’s Frank Burke who is talking about the old Hume Highway Route No. 31 and his efforts to restore or to revitalize places along there as great historical places for us here in Australia and a longer interview can be heard on our website at


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