On the Camden Town Centre edges, there are two white concrete posts with numbers and letters. What are they, and what do the letters mean?
These white concrete posts are mileposts from when the Hume Highway ran up the centre of Camden along Argyle Street. The letters indicate destinations, and the numbers are distance in miles. These items are part of Camden’s engineering heritage.
The letters: M is Mittagong, S is Sydney, L is Liverpool and C is Camden. The distance is a mile: an imperial unit of measure from before the time of metric measurement. The mile here is a statute mile which is 5280 feet or 1.609 km, as opposed to a nautical mile used in air and sea transport and is different.
The English mile
Mileposts dated back to the Roman Empire and were placed alongside the Roman roads. Distances were measured from the city of Rome. The mile originated from the Roman mille passus, or “thousand paces,” which measured 5,000 Roman feet.
The first mileposts along English roads appeared in 1593 and were standardised in England under the reign of Elizabeth I. The English mile was a different length from the Scottish mile and the Irish mile. These measures were not standardised in the British Commonwealth and the US until 1959. (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 August 1935. https://www.britannica.com/science/mile)
In the colony of New South Wales, the first sandstone milestones were located on the Parramatta, Liverpool and South Head Roads from 1816 on the instructions of Governor Macquarie. Milestones provided accurate reference marks along with the expanding public road system for travellers on coaches. (Crofts and Crofts, 2013)
In the colonial period, Governor Macquarie’s Obelisk of Distances was erected in 1818 as the official starting point for all distances in NSW. It was located in what was then the centre of Sydney and is now Macquarie Place. The monument was also ‘a symbolic peg’ as the furthest extent of the British Empire in the early 1800s.
The placement of milestones in colonial NSW set a precedent. They were placed along the left hand or southern side of the roadway with the destination facing Sydney. The posts were meant to be seen by travellers coming from either direction for the benefit of stagecoach drivers to measure their distance from Sydney. They also ensured that the driver was on the correct road as many were just bush tracks. (Crofts and Crofts, 2013)
The two concrete mileposts in Camden were part of the road improvements by the NSW Department of Main Roads in 1934.
The decision to implement a programme of mileposting followed the first annual conference of state road authorities in February 1934 held in Melbourne. The meeting decided to adopt uniform national procedures for mileposting and road warning signs for roadworks, among other matters. It was felt that uniformity of services would help interstate travellers. (DMR, 1934)
In 1934 the department allocated £134 to the program in the Sydney area. (DMR, 1934)
The DMR Main Roads magazine stated that
In the days before the advent of the motor vehicle, when travel by road was slow and was done on foot, on horseback, or in horse-drawn carriage, few things gave greater service, or were more eagerly looked for, than the mileposts. (DMR, 1934a)
According to the Department of Main Roads, mileposting before 1934 provided signs that gave direction and the distance of important towns. Mileposts had lost their importance to the traveller because the car speedometer gave ‘progressive mileage’ stated a departmental report. (DMR, 1934a)
Mileposting in 1934 was implemented with one specific aim.
The purpose of the mileposts now is to provide a convenient system of reference marks along the road for the use of those whose responsibility is to maintain the roads in a proper state. (DMR, 1934a)
The stated purpose was for the milepost to be a reference point along the road to give a precise position for any roadwork that needed to be done. Information to travellers was only secondary. (DMR, 1934a)
Mileposting to 1934 had been haphazard, with much work generated at a local level and many gaps. Road maintenance was a secondary consideration, with information for travellers paramount. Much work was ‘incomplete’. Groups of mileposts were only based around important towns, sometimes following main roads and sometimes not. (DMR, 1934a)
The 1934 mileposting project was partly triggered by the 1928 classification of all roads in NSW into state highways, trunk roads and ordinary roads.
The 1928 changes saw The Great Southern Road through Camden renamed the Hume Highway in 1928. The 1929 Razorback Deviation shifted the highway to the east away from the former Great South Road (now Cawdor Road). (DMR, 1934a)
Different types of mileposts were used in 1934 for different purposes. Concrete posts were used in the Sydney area and country towns, like Camden, and elsewhere there were timber posts.
There was a strict protocol for the letters and numbers on the posts, with letters and numbers incised and painted black and distances measured from the post office, and sometimes not. Posts were placed on the left-hand side of roadways leading from Sydney or the coast, as they were in colonial times.
Posts were located with a clear view from the roadway of 200 feet with specific instruction on distances from roadways and locations for cuttings and embankments. On bridges, the mileposts were be clamped to the handrails.
In mid-1934, the NRMA suggested the mileposts on the different highways should be painted in a variety of colours. (Kiama Reporter and Illawarra Journal, 20 June 1934) The suggestion was not taken up.
One supplier of the concrete mileposts was the Hume Pipe Coy (Aust) Ltd. (Main Roads, August 1938)
In the Camden area, the Camden Heritage Inventory states there were wooden mileposts along Cawdor Road, formerly The Great South Road. They pre-date the concrete mileposts.
In a 2002 survey for the Heritage Inventory, the three Cawdor Road timber mileposts were intact.
The posts were local hardwood cut by a sawmill in Edward Street in the late 1920s and delivered to The Great South Road (Cawdor Road) site by Camden teamster Les Nixon. (NSWSHI)
In a recent search, I was only able to locate one intact timber milepost in a fairly poor condition.
CROFTS, R. & CROFTS, S. 2013. Discovering Australia’s Historical Milemarkers and Boundary Stones, Sydney, Roberts and Sandra Crofts.
DMR 1934. Department of Main Roads Ninth Annual Report for the year ending 30th June 1934. Sydney: NSW Legislative Assembly.
DMR 1934a. The Mileposting on Main Roads. Main Roads, 5.