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From Bullock Dray to Tin Lizzie

The huge area of Australia, writes R.J. Unstead, has been served by a remarkable variety of transport since the foundation of the British colonies in a new continent.

‘In Australia, everyone keeps horses; every squatter keeps horses by the dozen and a buggy is as necessary a part of his establishment as a dinner table,’ observed Anthony Trollope in 1873.

Yet, in 1788, Australia possessed exactly seven horses, purchased by Arthur Phillip, the first Governor of New South Wales, on the voyage out, and the difficulties of the infant colony, so ill-equipped in every respect save for the character of the Governor, were magnified by the total lack of draught animals.

Even if it had been possible to bring in large numbers of horses, the settlers, barely able to feed themselves, could not have afforded the fodder to feed them.

Lacking horses, the early colonists walked. As late as 1835, Thomas Standfield, one of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, was sent 150 miles on foot and James Loveless trudged 300 miles to work at Strathallan.

It seemed as if half the population was on the move, for ever tramping along to some distant farm or fall of timber, their loneliness relieved by the universal hospitality of Australia.

So strong was this tradition that, years later, some outback inn-keepers made no charge for food: ‘eating and drinking (that is, tea) they did not count upon; a man must have that, and they were not going to take advantage of a poor devil who had to carry his bundle through the world, but if a gentleman travelled on horseback, that was another thing.’

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