30 November 2011

The Bicycle and the Bush - Man and Machine in Rural Australia

I'm reading an amazing book at the moment, after a correspondence with a reader.. It's called The Bicycle and the Bush - Man and Machine in Rural Australia. The author is Jim Fitzpatrick

Books about the historical role of the bicycle are always a fascinating read for me. Just when you think that everything has been uncovered, nuggets of historical goodness are dug up, cleaned and polished for all the world to see.

At first glance, the title seems a bit optimistic. Surely there can't be THAT much to write about on the subject. The Bicycle and the Bush, however, is filled with brilliant stories, anecdotes and historical references. Australia is in no way a shining light for bicycle culture in a modern context but what an astonishing role the bicycle played in building the nation between 1890-1920.

It never ceases to amaze me when writers produce a work that requires so much research. In addition to a constant flow of nuggets, the book is richly illustrated.

Australian Bicycle History: Bicycle Messengers Australian Bicycle History: Bicycle Ambulance St Johns 1904 Cobar Wrightville NSW
At left: An advert from 1895 for a bicycle messenger company serving the towns in the goldfields of Western Australia. We're not talking about the Village to Madison Avenue here. This is REAL bicycle messenger stuff. Pony Express go home.
At right: A bicycle ambulance that ran between Cobar and Wrightville in New South Wales. This photo is from 1904.

Australian Bicycle History: Rabbit Fence Maintenance
Here's a map of the rabbit fences in Western Australia. The maintenance was done on bicycles along the routes.

Australian Bicycle History: Bicycle Strawberry Picking Australian Bicycle History: Outback 1910 Queensland Northern Territory border
At left: Strawberry pickers on an early version of the recumbent. This version actually had a purpose.
At right: A bicycle on the border between Queensland and Northern Territory in 1910. Workers, including sheep shearers, used the bicycle to travel around.

Australian Bicycle History: Cargo Bike Electra Australian Bicycle History: Accident Insurance 1890s
At left: An early cargo bike in Australia.
At right: The insurance industry - just like today - was keen to shock people into buying insurance. An early Culture of Fear advert for bicycle insurance.

Here's the description of the e-book from the Amazon site:

The Bicycle and the Bush looks at the bicycle’s use in rural Australia from 1890-1920. It is one of the most unusual, innovative explorations ever undertaken into the role of a transport device and its relationship with a society and its environment. This book surveys the machine's introduction, manufacturing, sales and distribution in Australia, and its broader social impact upon urban society, women, the Australian language, and racing, among other things.

Australia is the size of the continental United States. In 1890, beyond the few inland towns of note, it was mostly the province of sparsely distributed agriculturalists, pastoralists, miners, and keepers of isolated telegraph stations and government outposts. There was a need for travel between the widely spaced settlements and isolated homesteads, and the distances travelled were large by world standards; in few other countries did people move so far as part of their regular work routines.

The machine's use ranged from rabbit fence patrols and telegraph line repairmen, to nearly all shearers being mounted on them for nearly 2 decades. On the Western Australian goldfields, in particular (an area the size of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah combined), the remoteness of early settlements led to the most unusual and extensive network of bicycle paths in the world at that time, based upon camel tracks used to supply mining settlements.


The Bicycle and the Bush - Man and Machine in Rural Australia is a must read for Australians suffering from short memory loss. It shows how the bicycle built the land and will hopefully help change the modern perception of the bicycle as being merely a toy for some men in tight-fitting man-made fibres on the weekend. It is also perfect for anyone interested in bicycle history.

It's an e-book and it's available at Amazon. At $8.00, you can't afford not to.

Don't forget the Subversive Bicycle Photos series from here at Copenhagenize.com. We have photos from Canberra, New South Wales and Queensland.

11 comments:

Shining Raven said...

"Strawberry pickers on an early version of the recumbent. This version actually had a purpose."

Is this your caption? I am not sure what this is supposed to mean. Do you think recumbents do not have a purpose?

Robert Hoehne said...

a great book, enjoyed it.

Frits B said...

@shining raven: a recumbent is lower to the ground. Try picking strawberries from a high saddle. Wonderful exercise but very tiring.

Anonymous said...

"In 1890, beyond the few inland towns of note, it was mostly the province of sparsely distributed agriculturalists, pastoralists, miners, and keepers of isolated telegraph stations and government outposts."
As an Australian I find this quote quite offensive. It totally ignores the indigenous population of Australia!

Ἀντισθένης said...

'Shining Raven' has once reminded me why I will never ride a 'bent: I have a sense of humour.

Frits B said...

Shining Raven has a point in that technically this is not a recumbent. People lay face down so as to pick the strawberries - won't work when you lie on your back. I wonder, did this contraption have pedals or was it just pulled or pushed forward when necessary?

Garryw said...

Hi Mikael,

Paper copies of the book, and two other very interesting titles he has written are available from the author. I am told the photos don't view very well on the digital version.
http://www.starhillstudio.com.au/books

David J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David J said...

I can't wait to get my hands on this book.

For those interested in Australian Overland cycling history, check out Kris Larson's book Bicycle Dreaming. I believe he only printed a hundred or so in the first printing but will have some more soon. You'll have to order direct from the author his details are at the bottom of his webpage.

It's possible the price has increased since his webpage was last updated. The cost of producing a book under your own means is quite expensive.

http://www.monsoondervish.com/

kfg said...

Ἀντισθένης - Oddly enough, I've ridden a 'bent because I do have a sense of humor.

Frits B - "People lay face down"

That would be "recombing" in the prone position, but I think if you look at the photo again you'll find he's feet forward.

Frits B said...

@kfg
Found the enlarged photo on Flicker: people sat very deep in the frame, feet on the ground, no recumbent at all. And no pedals, too, if I'm not (again) mistaken :-).