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When taking on the Bruce Highway required nerves of steel, great patience and a Thermos

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It was a time of narrow roads, slow cars, hitchhikers and the Friday night exodus of “Brissos” making their way up to the Sunshine Coast’s lifesaving clubs for the weekend.

For locals, a trip to Brisbane was a big day out as the drive took at least two hours – not because of traffic jams but because the Bruce Highway was a narrow two-lane road that wound through hinterland towns west of the current route.

And God help you if you got stuck behind a caravan as there were few opportunities for overtaking.

Caboolture was the halfway point. After a tiring day in the big smoke, the reward was to break the long journey with a stop at the Milky Way café (pictured above) attached to the Golden Fleece service station, for burgers and milkshakes.

Hitchhiking was an accepted form of transport and sticking the thumb out was a handy way to get around while saving up for a car.

Leaving the city, the Bruce Highway rolled north through the suburbs of Petrie and Strathpine to Caboolture, under the shadow of Tibrogargan and the tobacco kilns scattered around Glasshouse, and on to the log cabin at Caloundra turnoff, the first sign of home.

If Sippy Creek flooded, the highway could be cut. It continued past Seal Park at the Buderim turnoff, Maroochydore turnoff, then through Nambour, Yandina and Eumundi and over the range to Cooroy.

It was also deadly. Most old locals would be able to name at least one relative, school mate, neighbour or acquaintance who lost their life on the old highway at Glass House Mountains, Landsborough or Caloundra turnoffs, Yandina or Cooroy.

Drink driving wasn’t an offence until 1966 and it was another year before the breathalyser was introduced. New cars weren’t required to have seatbelts until 1970 and after that it was still years before the young and reckless began taking either seriously.

Every bit of roadwork was welcomed and made a difference. A 2.5km deviation bypassed Beerwah at the end of 1973, and a year later a 1.5km deviation bypassed Glasshouse Mountains.

The big one was at the end of 1985, when a 26.5km stretch between Beerburrum Creek and Caloundra Rd became four lanes.

Nambour, with “The Friendly Town” welcome signs on the highway at Panorama and Parklands, was the main commercial centre of the Sunshine Coast yet had huge semi-trailers rumbling through its main street until 1990.

Heavy vehicles were a hazard in the main street of Nambour.

Although a bypass had been on the drawing board since the late 1950s, the town had resisted fearing it would be bad for business, but by 1990 severe traffic congestion meant the 11.8km bypass was welcomed. It was estimated to carry about 8000 vehicles when it opened.

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At the same time the Tanawha deviation completed the “missing link” in the Bruce Highway from the motorway exit to Maroochydore turnoff, and the old highway became Tanawha Tourist Drive.

Bruce Highway traffic had to travel through Currie St. Nambour.

Cooroy bypass was built in 1994, the same year the new 110km/h speed limit was trialled on stretches from just north of the Caboolture-Bribie turnoff to the Keil Mountain overpass on the Nambour bypass, much to the consternation of the Traffic Accident Investigation Squad.

Today, zooming down the M1 that puts the Sunshine Coast within the Brisbane commuter zone, it’s hard to imagine that families once brought out the Thermos and had a cuppa while sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on two lanes of the Bruce on Sunday afternoons – or is it?

This flashback is brought to you by Sunshine Coast journalist and history writer Dot Whittington, also the editor of Your Time Magazine.

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