The Lost Causeway

A little over 20 years ago I found myself in the position of photographically recording the rapidly deteriorating infrastructure that once belonged to the Department of Forestry in North Queensland. I was given a small amount of money to travel around and record what was left of bridges, roads and causeways that were built to allow trucks and workers in to log the timber in the rainforests and wet sclerophyll forests mainly around the Tablelands. As this was post World Heritage Listing, logging had ceased quite a few years earlier, and roads were already quickly being swallowed up by the revegetating forests. I had a pretty good idea where to start, but by no means was my knowledge comprehensive. I made some appointments with staff at offices in Cairns, Atherton and South Johnstone to pick the brains, so to speak, of remaining staff that had knowledge of what was built where. I was chatting to some fellows in the Atherton office when someone mentioned “the lost causeway”. This got me excited. For right or wrong, there was a considerable push to get on with logging before the World Heritage Listing came down, and access ceased. In a far corner of the upper reaches of a South Johnstone River tributary an “x” was placed on a map for me. Apparently, a road was pushed in and a large concrete causeway was built just as everything had to stop. Hence, the road never continued beyond the undoubtedly expensive causeway.

Now, I know where this causeway is as I tried to find it then, just as I have tried to find it now, and it is as remote as remote gets. I suspect I will never lay eyes on this lost cause(way). However, this little project gave me some appreciation of the efforts and engineering that went in to building major works in difficult terrain and conditions. Now the idea of bulldozing pristine native forests to access timber is unthinkable, but priorities and pressures were different at that time and so these things happened. Concrete and heavy timber remains. I catalogued quite a number of massive timber bridges and sizeable causeways on roads that were built wide, on good grades, and to high standards.

Here are some of the most interesting places I discovered that are still accessible:

Bridges don’t last like causeways, but the bigger ones do in some form and they age well, being encrusted with fern, lichen, and moss. The bridges on the Old Culpa Road are great examples. There are three bridges that finish at a big one on the Tully River. None are recommended to drive over, but you can walk or ride to, and over, these. The big bridge on the Tully has deteriorated quite a bit since I last photographed it a few years ago. You might notice the turn-off to this road a couple of kilometres before Koombooloomba Dam. Walk or ride down Culpa Road, and just before you get to the big Culpa Bridge look for an overgrown road leading north-east (left). Follow this for a few kilometres to reach a downstream crossing of the Tully River, and a big causeway that has withstood many floods. As artificial as they are, causeways create large picturesque pools of water which make great platypus habitat. I have seen many platypuses at this location.

The Misty Mountains Trails are a great repository of old causeways. The Gorrell Track down to Mena Creek has a number of good crossings, and the one across Downey Creek is another good example. Cannabullen Creek on the Misty Mountains Cardwell Range Track south-east of Ravenshoe has a major causeway with a beautiful rainforest pool upstream. The highlight of the drive along Maple Creek Road past the South Johnstone campground and up to Maalan are the causeway crossings over Maple and Charappa Creeks.

These crossings are often taken for granted by travelers on foot or by car but spare a thought for the effort to put these in place and the decades they have lasted without maintenance. Apart from maintaining access to good places they stop crossings from washing out and usually present peaceful pools above, and the sounds of cascading water below.

Thinking about these images and journeys, I feel regret that I didn’t spend more time with the the fellows in the Atherton office who were doubtlessly feeling redundant now that their industry had closed. I would have liked to have spoken to them more about their recollections of those days, and the many stories that would have been associated with constructing roads and crossings in these difficult locations.

If anyone knows Tablelanders, directly or indirectly, who might like to spin some yarns for me to record please contact me. I’m sure there are some interesting stories to be told to go along with the images.

Paul Curtis is a local tour guide, photographer, author and nature enthusiast. Contact him on 0408 835 160 or go to

A wooden bridge over a stream

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