Teams on the Mt York Roads.

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Two bullock teams on a mountain pass  similar terrain to  Cox's road,  although this image was from early 1900 on the Cann River Road in south Gippsland the process and difficulties were the same.

So intimidating was the slope and the plunging depth to the valley below, that even after Major Lockyer's improved cuttings of 1826, some riders still dismounted and walked to the bottom.  

The ascent normally took a long day of toil with two or even three teams laboring to drag one dray to the top. The bullocks were unhitched and joined together to provide enough power to pull  the load up the steep road. The sharp bends provided a major problem.

While some improvements were made to the road during the 1820's, it still remained a severe test of endurance. Drays carrying up to two tons moved little more than five to seven miles in a very hard working day.

The mountain range with its sharp drop down the side and narrow, crumbling roads meant many a bullock team went over the side with dire consequences.


Elizabeth Hawkins recounts her experience in 1822....

We again set off, and for the last two miles it was perfectly dark, attended by heavy rain. You can suppose the danger and misery we rode in, not being able to see where we went. We were obliged to go on until we came to water. There our tent was pitched in the road, and was dark, damp, and dirty. We were obliged to remain in the cart until the bedding was put in the tent. Of course we again lay down in our clothes. This very fatiguing day’s journey we had only accomplished eight miles.  For fear I should tire you with a repetition of the same scenes, I will now tell you that every day on the journey from Emu to Bathurst we were subject to the same things, such as our bullocks lying down constantly; the others, not able to draw their load, compelled to have the assistance of the horses, which caused great delay.

She went to say when the group got to Mount York

The following morning, the 18th, a morning never to be forgotten, for to all my complaints about the road I was continually silenced by, ‘Say nothing about it until you get to the big hill.’ We were now within eleven miles of it... I can’t see much of the road, but I can see the valley you are to reach. It is dreadful.’ Our courage began to fail by the time we reached the top...The descent is about a mile. It is four thousand feet above the level of the sea, all rocks and cavities, awfully grand to behold, but from it being impossible to make some parts of the road safe from the projecting pieces of rock, we were rendered very uneasy about our luggage. It was about three o’clock when we seated ourselves on some trees. It was extremely hot.

About nine, two drays arrived, but to stand and listen as I had previously done to the noise of the men endeavouring to cheer the cattle, and the dreadful rumbling with which they descended, was enough to create a sensation of terror in a very stout heart; to see them was impossible until they got close to us.

Hawkins was still at the top of the hill, remaining with the last drays, which from the darkness and the fatigue of the horses and men it was found could not be got down that night. They had now to get water and put the tea-kettle on, and some were obliged to walk up the hill and bring down our provisions, and many things which we could not do without, and two men to remain and watch the dray. Hawkins came down with the others, very much fatigued. We now had our supper and the tent pitched. It was eleven o’clock when it was ready for us. We got the children from the ground and cart into it, and laid ourselves down....

 One man in particular, who was the head driver of our cart, a Folkstone man, a countryman of our own, behaved uncommonly well when the dray overturned.

Nothing saved the lives of the horses and our property but the stump of a tree by the roadside. It was suspended over an immense precipice. This man was the first who got on top, and, hanging by the ropes, laboured hard to lighten the dray..

We now had reached Cox’s River, which has a bridge over it, but a very steep bank to descend, and when there has been much rain on the mountains it is rendered impassable from its overflowing the bridge. Fortunately we got safe over.

Cox and other pastoralists on the Bathurst Plains were faced with two to three months work in hauling their wool clips from Bathurst to the Nepean River. Cereal's like wheat were of too little value to be hauled to Sydney and were normally on grown for local consumption.

For many years, livestock herds outnumbered drays as users of the road. Teamsters had to take the trouble to drive their loads on a line to avoid the risk of overturning their days.

Horse, drays   steep  declines off mountain tracks resulted in catastrophic results/.Accident on Clyde Mountain c. 1903.  National Library of Australia.


 Trips of thirty miles  from Sydney involved two or three stops  at inns  and stables or at suitable streams  and pasture to  refuel  the teams.. Where such natural facilities were unavailable they faced the problem of carrying their teams fodder.  To carry fodder and water for more than one or two days consumption removed the viability of hauling a cargo.

In building roads, the needs of draught animals and the routes preferred by teamsters sometimes clashed with aims of the surveyors who sought the shortest distance between two points.  Teamsters staged their journeys to ensure the midday halt and evening camp were made near water and fodder.  Light harness vehicles and horse with riders could cover ground more quickly, so their camps were at every second or third teamster halt.

They could also force their horses on to the further water point knowing that a day of rest on good fodder and water would restore their animals.

The teamster had to be more careful;.  In high temperatures and without water, bullocks could dehydrate rapidly and die. 

William Cox understood the requirements of teams and deliberately staged the Bathurst Road.  Each stage, of about five or six miles, provided opportunities for teams to get to water and available grass patches.

The bullock teams produced the heavy traction required for road building back in 1814. They were used in hauling the equipment, timer and large rocks, while seven horse-carts provided a shuttle service along the advancing road carrying food, tools water and broken and crushed stone for filling and surfacing the softer patches of the road.

Cox checked the quality of the surface by driving his horses and chaise back and forth over the completed sections


Bullock teams were not reliant upon towns for fodder supplies as were the hard worked coaching horses. 

The grassy banks of streams provided essential summer supplied of grass and water.

Rivers and creeks presented  formidable barriers  which were overcome by wrapping drays as makeshift punts for larger rivers.  

Wheel timbers often became swollen and they buckled and collapsed. Cutting and rejoining a rim was a complex and extremely difficult  task that only  a skilled blacksmith was able to accomplish in the field.

The early squatters made sure that the blacksmiths were in the local vicinity  as they were essential  for the horses to be  shod, the  wheels on vehicles  chains, links all sorts of sundries plus  shovels and spades, picks and axes.

Mr Petit  Little Hartley 1870 Wheelwright and Blacksmith at Little Hartley











When Macquarie  and his party of officials supported by eight - drawn carts loaded with camping equipment and fodder for the horses on the more barren section, covered the 100 miles in eight days.