Building new roads
In the early years of the colony, simple roads and tracks were built to connect people to new towns. Sometimes these were built over existing Aboriginal walking tracks.1
During the 1800s the road network grew and inns opened along the way to provide places for travellers to rest.
But travelling by foot, horse, or horse and carriage was exhausting and slow; and it could also be dangerous.
For example, trying to cross a river that did not have a bridge could easily become fatal.
As more and more people headed to the goldfields, the government invested money and labour to improve the roads.
By 1860 the length of 'good quality' roads in NSW had tripled to a total of 1450 kilometres4.
Sturdy bridges had also been built across most rivers and creeks along these roads.
The colony's roads remained an important means of transport throughout the gold rush - especially with the introduction of the Cobb & Co coach service in 1863.
Travel by road was now faster than before, but dangers - such as bushrangers - still existed.
What came next, however, would have a significant impact.
- 4. Internal Communication of New South Wales, 4th report, 1860, NSW State Records.
The advent of rail
It was a slow process, and took years of preparation.8
- land often had to be purchased from private citizens - although, the traditional Aboriginal owners, whose lands were being crossed, were not compensated;
- the proposed route had to be surveyed (mapped) and marked out with wooden stakes;
- the government then had to allocate money to the project;
- finally, a company had to be contracted to build it.
Construction took years and could be held up for numerous reasons.
- 8. Internal Communication of New South Wales, 4th report, 1860, NSW State Records.
Once built, however, the railways dramatically shortened travel times. A journey that took 24 hours by horse and cart, might take six to nine hours by train.
This helped to boost the colony's economy, as goods and materials (farm animals, wool, or crops and machinery) could be transported over long distances, very quickly.
Impact of expansion
For Aboriginal communities, who had already been affected by decades of pastoral expansion, the railways brought a new wave of dispossession.9
Towns and settlements quickly sprang up along the routes, spreading the colony's population further Sydney.
Combined with increased migration, this meant that more and more Aboriginal land was turned into farmland and towns.
- 9. Convict Sydney Part 3 ‘Back to Business’ (sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/convict-sydney/back-business).
How did railways affect bushrangers?
People could now use the train to transport gold, mail and valuables. Instead of coaches, which were easy for bushrangers to 'bail up'.
Also, if police needed to send reinforcements from Sydney to regional areas, to pursue bushrangers, they could do so more quickly than before.
Activities for students:
Stage 3 | The Australian Colonies
English | Mathematics | History
Mathematics: Data and Graphs
History: Impact on Aboriginal peoples and Country
Expansion, but at what cost?