'Fake Uluru' near Karuah goes up in flames

The 'Harbour Bridge' and 'Uluru' in 1990
The 'Harbour Bridge' and 'Uluru' in 1990

THE fire that raced through the famous Uluru model on the side of the highway past Karuah on Tuesday night marks the end of one of the more curious episodes in Australian television and tourism history.

While insurance usually means that most buildings destroyed by fire can be rebuilt, it is almost impossible to imagine another monolith, with a roadhouse inside, rising in its place.

The Great Aussie Bush Camp, which operates next to the roadside Rock Roadhouse, is undamaged by the fire and is continuing to trade, but the remains of the 1/40th scale model of Uluru, built more than 30 years by two of Newcastle’s most famous ambassadors, Mike and Mal Leyland, will surely soon be pushed to the ground by demolishers. 

History shows the project – created as Leyland Brothers World – was a troubled one from the start. In the 1980s, after almost a decade of fame from their outback travel shows, the Novocastrian Leyland duo bought a 40-hectare site at North Arm Cove. The intention, they said, was to give the public the chance to “visit and experience some of the remote parts of Australia, but in a civilised atmosphere just a stone's throw up the Pacific Highway from Newcastle”.

Unfortunately, however, the project never lived up to the hopes that the Leyland Brothers had held for it. Construction delays led to cost blowouts and the brothers lost control of the venture in mid-1992 after less than two years of operation. It was the end of their association with the tourist resort of their dreams. Having poured millions of dollars into the construction, it sold for just $800,000, with all of the money going to pay off debts.

Since then, the service station has struggled along, doing better business in recent years after the opening of the Karuah bypass in 2004 left motorists with fewer options to fill up on the highway between Newcastle and Bulahdelah. The bush camp has also had a new lease of life in the past decade, with about 45,000 students a year staying on school excursions there and at a second bush camp at Kincumber, opened in 2012.

But for the constant streams of traffic driving past, the site was synonymous with one thing – The Rock Roadhouse – or the “fake Uluru” as news reports were describing it, a touch unkindly perhaps, on Wednesday.

The Rock will soon disappear, but the memories, for many, will remain.

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