The stories behind Australian highway names

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Most people are unaware of how great Australian roads like the Princes Highway or the Stuart Highway got their names. The fascinating origins of some of our highway names might surprise you!

Unlike countries such as the US and China, which rely on numbering systems alone to identify major roads, our highways also have names, many of which have interesting histories behind them. So, how exactly did our highways get their names? We look at the origins of some of our country's greatest highways - and a few lesser known ones, too.

There's always an interesting story behind great country roads like the Stuart Highway.

Stuart Highway

The infamous and rugged Stuart Highway cuts through Australia's heartland and runs from Port Augusta in South Australia to Darwin in the Northern Territory. It was named after famous Scottish explorer John McDouall Stuart, who in 1862 led the first expedition to successfully cross the country from south to north along a route similar to that of the current highwayi. Stuart was renowned for his unwavering determination, which saw him endure exhaustion, injury, scurvy and even near-blindness during his legendary expeditionsii.

Princes Highway

King Edward VIII was the unnamed Prince lucky enough to have the Princes Highway named after him to commemorate his visit to Australia in 1920 when he was still known as the Prince of Walesiii. Although he only reigned for less than a year, and is remembered as the only British monarch to voluntarily relinquish his positioniv, he'll always have a great stretch of road named after him in Australia's southeast.

Thunderbolt's Way

Thunderbolt's Way was not named after a great explorer or member of royalty, but rather surprisingly, a 19th century bushrangerv. This 290km road from Nelson Bay at Port Stephens, to Inverell in the New England tableland, was named after Frederick Ward, who also went by the alias 'Captain Thunderbolt'. Ward was notorious for his skills as a thief; he once stole 75 horses in Maitland, and also held up an inn, taking advantage of the 'free' alcohol. Ward was the last of the professional bushrangers in New South Wales, and is remembered for avoiding unnecessary violence during his escapadesvi.

Connie Sue Highway

This unsealed outback highway which runs through remote Western Australia was named after the daughter of Len Beadell, a respected explorer, surveyor and road builder. Beadell decided that the road known as the Warburton-Rawlinna Road would be renamed as the Connie Sue Highway after he observed his infant daughter of the same name standing for the first time near one of the road's junctionsvii.

Attributed to: Summerdrought. The Connie Sue and Gunbarrel Highways were built by legendary Aussie explorer Len Beadell.

Gunbarrel Highway

Aside from the Connie Sue Highway and the Anne Beadell Highway named after his wife, Beadell also built the Gunbarrel Highway. The straight and narrow road which runs through Western Australia, the Northern Territory and South Australia was aptly named Gunbarrel Highway, because Beadell was known for building his roads as straight as he possibly couldviii. He once said that he endeavoured to build all his roads straight to 'keep Australia looking tidy and neat'ix.

iGovernment of South Australia, 'John McDouall Stuart', Treasures of the State Library, viewed 30 May 2014,

iiAustralian National University, 'Stuart, John McDouall (1815-1866)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, viewed 30 May 2014,

iii'Prince's Highway: first section opened', The Argus, 11 August 1920, retrieved 30 May 2014,

ivBBC, 'Edward VIII (1894-1972)', Historic Figures, viewed 30 May 2014,

vWalcha Council, Thunderbolt's Way Map, viewed 30 May 2014,

viAustralian National University, 'Ward, Frederick (Fred) (1835-1870)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, viewed 30 May 2014,

viiWestern Australia for Everyone, 'Trails: Connie Sue Highway', viewed 30 May 2014,, 'Len Beadell: 1923-1995', viewed 30 May 2014,

ixLee, T., 2008, 'Storm Boys', ABC Landline, 15 June, viewed 30 May 2014,