Walcha history: The road to Port Macquarie

Bullock drays were the vehicles of choice for taking wool from New England to Port Macquarie along the road that was declared open for drays in July 1842. Drays were much more maneuverable than four-wheeled wagons and could negotiate bends which were difficult, if not impossible, for wagons.

A bullock dray loaded with wool – from S.T. Gill’s Australian Sketchbook of 1865.

A bullock dray loaded with wool – from S.T. Gill’s Australian Sketchbook of 1865.

Going down some of the steeper hills was difficult with a fully laden dray and it was common practice for bullockies to chain a felled log to the rear of the dray as a “drag” to help slow the descent.

At times the wheels were locked up by passing a stout sapling through the spokes so that it jammed on the underside of the dray.

In June 1840 the two convict gangs building the road from Port Macquarie to the New England tablelands had reached the head of the Ellenborough River and had then cleared a bridle trail for horsemen from there to a point several miles short of Yarrowitch.

The road was still unfinished when first used by bullock drays travelling to Port Macquarie as mentioned in a report in The Australian of March 15, 1842, which said: “We have the pleasure of announcing the safe arrival of the first bales of the golden fleece from the tablelands.

On March 10 two drays with 16 bales of wool from Kentucky arrived in town and their load was immediately transferred onto the steamer Maitland, bound for Sydney. The trip from Kentucky took eleven days.”

The Armidale Express of September 29, 1933, in writing about the early teamsters, said: “Wool came from as far away as Inverell as well as from Armidale and Walcha.

The fastest journey to the seaboard and back was recorded from Tiara, 22 days for the return journey of some 200 miles. The longest trip, from Waterloo (an extra 20 miles), took six months and five days, due to bad weather.”

“Flooded rivers and creeks proved a bugbear and one team, for example, was forced to camp for seven weeks between the Hastings River and Leahy’s Creek, waiting for flood waters to subside. The average load of wool was eight bales while the heaviest load weighed two tons.”