By Road & Track
Published in

By Road & Track

The outdoor museum…

What happens to the bypassed?

What happens to towns when new highways bypass them? That is what I wondered as I stood on the banks of the Karuah River on the NSW Mid-North Coast…

Close by the bridge over the wide brown river, the old wharf building suggests an Australia that once was, a time when pleasures were simpler.

Last time we came through, the old wharf building was being used as a men’s shed. It was a tackle store before that, a place for fishers. I knew it before it became a men’s shed, back in the time when I would make long road trips from the city to Byron Bay and back.

The town was a waypoint then, a stop for me, much as it still is for many a traveller. For decades, drivers and their road-weary passengers have stopped by for fuel and food at one of the greasy spoons in town or for a break in the riverside park, and then driven on across the bridge, northbound.

The old wharf building has a fresh coat of paint and new windows. The bridge is no longer the Pacific Highway. That has shifted some distance inland.

It is a big river that flows through the NSW Mid-North Coast town of Karuah as it makes its way to the nearby sea. The long bridge spanning the river carries the road traffic while, below, the oyster boats take their crews to tend and harvest their racks along the river. Oysters are a long-time industry here and are still important to the town.

An oyster processing shed among the riverbank mangroves.

Coastal life continues here more or less as it has done ever since the highway was put through. But, now that the highway bypasses Karuah, does the town miss the passing trade?

Last time, on our road trip along the coast just before Covid forced all of us inside and off the nation’s highways and dusty backroads, we stopped at the park by the bridge to stretch our legs and wander by the oyster processing sheds down by the river. Others were doing the same. The older man, a loneseome traveller chilling out in his chair, feet up and with his folding solar panels by his Coaster van, looked as though he had settled in for awhile.

Karuah reminds me of other east coast towns—not all that much to them, just a wide main street going straight through, old weatherboard houses with roofs of galvanised iron, one or two people on the street, a service station and a couple fast food shops—those towns seem to have missed the tourism boom to retain a vestige of the places they were. Now, we drive through. For travellers, they are waypoints, markers of distance and hours to go before they get to their destination.

Let me ask — do you sometimes stop in town here at Karuah to take a break or to relieve the monotony of the straight and wide modern highway that now ignores this little town and its story?

An oyster boat takes its crew to maintain or harvest the shellfish.

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Russ Grayson

Russ Grayson

I'm an independent online and photojournalist living on the Tasmanian coast after nine months on the road in a minivan.