Western Australia’s early settlers used boats for river and sea transport or travelled along roughly cleared streets in the town sites and on rugged narrow tracks between them. As the colony extended inland the initial streets and tracks became inadequate. Also the need for organisations to take responsibility for the construction and maintenance of good roads soon became apparent.
The early organisations lacked the practical knowledge to select suitable pavement materials. The clay, probably silty clay from the river, favoured by them for use on the streets of Perth soon became a problem during the winter rains. While information on construction methods is not available there is no evidence that compaction was considered. However tender documents in the 1850s suggest the realisation of the benefits of granular material in the pavements. On the coastal plain such material was quarried from limestone outcrops, in the inland areas the use of laterite gravel gradually became accepted. Early settlers, dissatisfied by the poor performance of the roads, soon made their feelings and needs known. The arrival of the Royal Engineers in the 1850s introduced civil engineering expertise to the significant benefit of the colony.
Material for this paper was gathered from contemporary reports and to a large extent from newspaper articles and editorials written by journalists. Nevertheless, they provide some clues as to the decisions about the availability and suitability of pavement materials in the early times of Western Australia (WA).