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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 (continued)

Gradually, bullocks and horses were imported into the colonies from India and the Cape of Good Hope. The first imported were ordinary domestic animals, but later bullocks were crossed with water buffalo, while great pains were taken to maintain colour, uniformity in size, strength and willingness to work. By 1800 bullock wagons and horse-drawn carts were common sights in the streets of Sydney Town. Bullocks were particularly useful, for drays proved to be the best form of heavy transport in the early years, particularly in the bush. They went, for example, with explorers such as Charles Sturt in 1829, carrying food and equipment. To the overlanders they were similarly invaluable, for when roads were either very rough, or did not exist at all, the strong, patient and reliable bullocks were of much greater use than horses. Following the line of least resistance, the slow moving cumbersome drays carried settlers and their belongings to the outlying districts. All over the continent, from the tropical mountains of Queensland, the blistering heat of the Mallee, to the dry lands north of Adelaide and west to Perth, bullocks laboured with their heavy loads. They were floated across rivers and hauled across mountain ranges. Often the strength of two teams was needed to pull the drays out of thick mud or through difficult terrain.[58]

Once areas were settled, bullock drays continued in service, carrying wool, skins, grain and other produce to market, returning with stores. Their progress was slow, about three to three and a half miles an hour and less in rough country. During the gold rushes, bullock drays were used extensively, carrying miners, goods and stores to the diggings. The main routes were thronged with drays, and as Blainey has observed 'on any given day several thousand drays were possibly travelling or camped along the roads between ports and the goldfields'.[59]

The number of bullocks used depended on the load and the terrain. For a short journey on 'made roads' a single bullock was all that was required. On longer journeys a team was needed. A team usually consisted of six to ten bullocks, yoked in pairs. Some teams, however, were very large, with up to forty-two bullocks straining together, but these were usually confined to the interior, hauling tons of wheat and wool. Such a team hauled two and a half tons of wool over The Gap in southern Queensland in the 1860s.[60]

Various types of drays were developed to meet particular needs. The most common vehicle in the early days was the flexible two-wheeled dray, with a centre pole and narrow 3 inch iron tyres. It was difficult to load, but its value came from the fact that it could be manoeuvred in rough country with relative ease. It could, for example, be steered around obstacles on the road, dragged sideways out of boggy ground or swivelled about to face the opposite direction instead of negotiating a precarious turning circle on narrow tracks. These two-wheeled vehicles usually carried from one or two tons, and were drawn by up to eight bullocks. According to McGregor 'the old two-wheeled bullock dray was a huge unwieldy mass of wood and iron, clumsy in construction it consisted mainly of a solid wooden floor mounted on wheels: sides were a later development'.[61]

The four wheeled dray or box wagon came into use after about 1860 for loads of 6-8 tons and was drawn by 16-18 bullocks. It was much more difficult to manage on rough roads, and it required the aid of various ingenious methods to cope with its problems. There were no brakes, for example, on drays or wagons until some driver discovered the use of chains to block the wheels. Instead of brakes 'drags' were used or the wheels were 'spragged'. The most common form of dragging a steep hill was to chain a felled log to the back of the wagon which acted to slow the descent. Gordon Howitt recorded a drag at Pretty Sally Hill on his way to Bendigo in 1853. He wrote 'At this moment appeared two bullock drays loftily laden with wool, in the very act of descending. They were coming on, dragging huge trees behind them by their drag chains, to prevent the ponderous loads rushing precipitously down the declivity, carrying bullock and all before them'.[62] To cope with steep descents some wagons had their wheels 'spragged'. George Somerville described such an event in 1839 on his way from Sydney to Melbourne. 'At Mount Tabletop the men 'spragged the wheels' -that is they thrust a sapling between the spokes of each pair of wheels so that it jammed against the wagon floor'.[63]

People in Bright Sparcs - Blainey, G.; Howitt, Gordon; Inglis, Andrea; Somerville, George; Sturt, Charles

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 455 - 456, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher