Its a scenic trip from Williamtown to Karuah. For just over 30 kilometres, the road winds past the pristine waters of Grahamstown Dam and the hamlets of Campvale and Swan Bay.
But to the 50 past and present residents of Williamtowns Cabbage Tree Road whose lives have been blighted by cancer, Karuah may as well be on another planet when it comes to determining if a cluster exists in their rural neighbourhood.
There were a mixture of emotions anger, frustration, despair among those who spoke to the Newcastle Herald on Thursday, in the wake of a NSW Health study which dismissed suggestions of a cancer cluster on the heavily contaminated stretch.
But above all, there was confusion as to why the department had chosen to cast its net as far as Karuah and Swan Bay, including more than 12,000 people in its statistical analysis.
Its simple stuff, said former Cabbage Tree Road resident Brian Russell, whose wife, Raeleen, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. She was not included in the study, which only looked at cancer incidences between 2005 and 2014.
You go in and do the test in Williamtown. You dont go to Karuah you go to Karuah to get fish and chips and crabs, Mr Russell said.
Cabbage Tree Road resident John Hill, who won his battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma six years ago, was equally perplexed.
Its rubbish, I dont rate it, whatever they say, he said.
As far as Karuah goes, it doesnt have anything to do with them. Weve got a little pocket here and thats what its about.
Last year, a six-month Newcastle Herald investigation uncovered 50 cancer cases in 15 years, among people who had lived or spent sigificant amounts of time on a five-kilometre section of Cabbage Tree Road.
Open drains snake through the roads hobby farms and acreages, brimming with toxic per- and poly-fluoroalkyl chemicals [PFAS] that continue to spill off the adjacent RAAF base.
Cabbage Tree Road has been the site of the highest levels of contamination found anywhere in the so-called red zone.
Kim-Leeanne King lives on a Cabbage Tree Road property that has recorded PFAS at more than five hundred times the safe limit. Her father, Leslie Tex Facer, died of bowel cancer in his sixties.
She slammed the NSW Health study as hideous.
Its not even worth the paper its written on, thats how big a farce it is, she said.
Its an insult to everyones intelligence. Its just to limit their liability and cover their own rear ends because they were part of the deceit in the first place.
The study which has not been released to the public crunched the statistics for an SA2 Census area, taking in Medowie, Karuah and Williamtown.
It only covers part of the red zone, leaving out Fullerton Cove, while around 80 per cent of the statistical area is free from PFAS contamination.
In emails to a community representative seen by the Herald, a senior health bureaucrat conceded the study had obvious limitations, but stressed it had followed standard practice for investigating cancer clusters.
The bureaucrat provided a link to a guidance statement from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), describing it as an important abbreviated resource.
The statement made no mention of relying on SA2 statistical areas, only advising that researchers look at the number of cases, cancer types, the population where the cancers arise, dates of diagnoses and what broader population could be used to provide a contrasting expected number of cases.
It also suggests the cancer groups potential exposure to hazards be investigated.
Throughout the assessment the investigating agency should maintain communication with the concerned party and informants about the inquiry, it said.
The findings of the NSW Health study were released to the Herald around 24 hours after Labor MPs were made aware of its existence.
Three recent cancer clusters confirmed in Australia all followed studies on groups smaller than 1000 people, with the same environmental or occupational exposures, including at Fiskville in Victoria, Kooragang Island and the Brisbane ABC studios.
Liane Ryan formerly lived on Cabbage Tree Road with her father, Brian Davison. She developed breast cancer in 2016, while Mr Davison was diagnosed with liver cancer four years ago.
Ms Ryan was frustrated she wasnt included in the study because she now lives in Raymond Terrace.
They'll just keep pushing it under a rug and under a rug and under a rug, she said.
In State Parliament on Thursday, Port Stephens MP Kate Washington grilled Premier Gladys Berejiklian on whether she stood by the NSW Health study.
The Premier did not answer directly, but pointed out she visited the red zone in December and made an undertaking she would raise residents concerns with the Prime Minister.
Which Ive done, she said. I want to assure the community of Port Stephens whove raised those issues with myself and my colleagues that we appreciate the stress they feel, we appreciate what they are going through and we will continue to support them in every way that we can.
Robyn Miles lost both her parents to cancer, while she suffered cervical cancer in her 20s and her brother, Ted, has battled prostate cancer. All of them swam in the creeks at the family farm on Cabbage Tree Road.
She was skeptical that any government agency would ever admit to elevated rates of cancer on the road, because the financial consequences of paying out victims would be huge.
Its bigger than Ben-Hur for them, to be honest.
Ms Miles described it as a very sad situation to see people sick and trapped on worthless properties.
These people are trying to fight for their rights and theyre fighting for their lives as well, she said.