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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 7

I The First 100 Years 1788-1888

II Railways

III Motorised Vehicles

IV Aviation

V Modern Shipping

VI Innovative Small Craft

VII Conclusion

VIII Acknowledgements

IX Contributors



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The First 100 Years 1788-1888

The arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 represents the beginning of the history of transport in Australia. Historians such as Geoffrey Blainey[1] and M. G. Lay[2] have been quick to point out that aborigines had for centuries used paths and bush tracks when moving within their tribal areas, however for a history of technical innovation in transport this fact is not significant. Transport, in the conventional sense of a permanent and mapped road system, established seaways and regular shipping, navigable river routes and eventually modern rail and air transport, only began in Australia with the arrival of the technology and engineering capability of the Old World. The early settlers were faced with an isolated continent which possessed within its immense borders a huge variety of physical and geographical conditions. In this wilderness a transport system, as they knew it, was often difficult to establish, but was of fundamental importance to the survival and prosperity of the colony. As the movement of people and goods became increasingly more crucial so, too, did it become essential to solve the problems presented by Australia's terrain. The evolution of technological skills and innovations is thus central to an understanding of the development of transport in Australia.

Transport is an immense subject and in the first century of Australian settlement it encompassed a wide range of elements. For the purpose of this paper the history has been divided into two categories. The first deals with water transport: the types of shipping which developed in Australia, the kinds of craft which emerged to suit the new environment and the important role that sailing craft have played in the discovery and settlement of the country. The second category deals with the movement of people on land. Thus it deals with road and rail, and the vehicles which used them.

There has been relatively little written about Australia's maritime history, and as John Bach has pointed out, there is an extraordinary lack of a maritime tradition in a country which is surrounded by water and which was colonised and supplied by sea.[3] The sea and the river systems are nevertheless of great importance in a history of transport. For example, with the exception of Adelaide, all the State capitals were founded on navigable rivers or inlets of the sea, and 'before the construction of bridges and good roads, the waters of Port Phillip, Hobart Harbour, and the Brisbane and Swan Rivers were all used extensively for communication'.[4] Furthermore, in the case of Western Australia, for decades the sea provided the only feasible link with the eastern half of the continent.

Initially, shipbuilding in the colonies was largely shaped by several adverse circumstances. The development of a shipbuilding industry was closely related to the possibility for trade. Not only was New South Wales separated from trade with Britain by thousands of miles of turbulent ocean, but the infant colony was also legally forbidden by the 'all embracing monopoly of the East India Company'[5] to develop new trade routes with its neighbours. With trading opportunities so severely restricted there was little incentive to build up a fleet, or develop seafaring expertise. As a penal settlement and an island, the sea represented to convicts and the authorities alike, the only real avenue of escape. Thus the possibility of convicts escaping by sea loomed large in the minds of the gaolers. According to John Bach, as a consequence of this 'a restrictive network of regulations' was implemented which were expressly designed to 'stifle all local maritime enterprise'.[6] Until 1813 in New South Wales, for example, the private construction of ships capable of sailing to the Pacific Islands and Asia was prohibited. All boats had to be registered, and the regulations of 1791 limited vessels to a length of fourteen feet. The situation thus was not conducive to a shipbuilding industry let alone the development of invention and innovation in the field. Despite these restrictions, local shipbuilding and a merchant maritime service did develop, but these were based on the river systems and the immediate coastline. The colony had few roads penetrating the dense scrub around Port Jackson, and as Blainey has observed 'The sea was more a line of communication than a barrier' and 'distance was more easily conquered on sea than on land'.[7] The necessity of moving people and food in the geographical location of Port Jackson led therefore to growth of the local transport industry. Thus Rose Hill (now Parramatta) and Windsor were settled by boat long before roads linked them with Sydney. As early as 1789 the ten ton Rose Hill Packet was built locally to carry stores and passengers along the Parramatta River to Rose Hill. Propelled by oar and sail, this awkward government vessel was nicknamed The Lump[8], yet to the colonists she provided a vital service.

People in Bright Sparcs - Bach, John; Blainey, G.; Inglis, Andrea; Lay, M. G.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 446 - 447, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher