Thursday, February 6, 2014

Vernelli Road, NSW - A Secret Public Road

Well it would be a secret if not for Google maps suggesting it as a route from Queanbeyan to Araluen. 

Not far from Canberra in NSW, Australia is an intersection of Gumms road and Vernelli road. Gumms road is a through road but from Vernelli road it is disguised as a gated farm entrance. It is a region where it seems easy to imagine that intergenerational incest could remain hidden among the "smaller farms, used increasingly as hobby farms or boltholes for those on the fringes of society".

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Coming from Gumms road, turning right on Vernelli road takes you to Harold's Cross road but turning left is more interesting, the route of a songline. A songline is a path across the land originating from the dreamtime known only to insiders, usually Indigenous Australians of past generations. To outsiders they are invisible and in my youth I'd found the concept difficult to grasp. What I couldn't see, didn't seem real but nowadays I find it fascinating that what people see is hugely influenced by their frame of reference. Traditional songlines are recorded in song and markings, noticeable only by the group, but modern day songlines, also  known only by insiders are recorded in apps like Strava and Google maps. They exist only within a context, can be overlapping and may have no physical indicators.

A GPS track along the almost secret 7 km section of Vernelli road. There are two wadable water crossings, numerous gates and some steep sections.

Turning left, the dirt road with many gates services only three houses. Vernelli road becomes impassable to normal vehicles as it approaches the  third house, 1.1 km from Gumms road. It is a lovely house, off the grid and secluded by trees just above Bourkes creek. It's as hidden as it is possible for a house to be and was only visible looking backward from the creek. Beyond the creek there is only some wheel ruts and after a while they fade as well. I was here on a bicycle, fortunately mountain style, because Google maps had suggested it as a route from Queanbeyan to Araluen.

However, without the GPS tracking live on a map as I rode I wouldn't have believed it was a road or been able to follow it. On the ground there is sometimes no indication which way to travel, though in places there is cuttings and grade smoothing, indicating it has been a substantial road in the past and in others there is a few metres of  trees separating the road from surrounding paddocks. These are the physical evidence confirming this songline, recorded in cyberspace.

A view down Vernelli road which passes between the trees in the centre of the image. It is taken from the location indicated in the GPS track image above. Grass growing in the wheel tracks indicates the absence of regular traffic.

There are two Strava sections labelled Vernelli (Road/Rd) Climb. The most popular with 20 riders starts in Gumms road, turns right into Vernelli Road and provides a route to Cooma road that is more substantial but longer than the route I followed which Strava records just 3 riders traversing. Without any physical evidence, an observer without Strava  would have no idea this songline exists, yet the creator (not me) and a few insiders know I'm the king of this mountain, probably the only one I'll ever rule.  These insiders can form a whole community that is invisible to non members. Another cyclist is recorded  coming this way, travelling from Wollongong to Melbourne in another instantiation of modern songlines; cycling routes. Perhaps Vernelli road also follows an Aboriginal songline as; being a short route meandering along ridge lines to the Shoalhaven river, it fits many of the criteria.

If you're passing through then Vernelli road, down to Cooma road, is an interesting path which you would never find without becoming an insider but for those on their own, don't get injured as it might be weeks before another insider comes by.


  1. I ended up on Vernelli Rd as a result of blindly following Google, which was a bit of a silly decision. Did you wade across the Shoalhaven at the end? We travelled this way as part of a journey from Canberra to Moruya.


    1. Yes. The Shoalhaven was knee deep and I carried the bike across. It was dark by then. I heard from another traveller who didn't want to go that way either but had been outvoted by her riding group. I thought it was a magic route.