The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences acknowledges Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land and gives respect to the Elders – past and present – and through them to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that the MAAS website contains a range of Indigenous Cultural Material. This includes artworks, artifacts, images and recordings of people who may have passed away, and other objects which may be culturally sensitive.
2009/9/1 Bicycle, 'Royal', safety type, fitted out as a shearer's bicycle with a swag, billy, tucker bag and canvas roll, metal / hessian / leather / canvas, maker unknown, [used in Australia], 1910-1940. Click to enlarge.

Shearer’s bicycle

Made in Australia, Oceania, 1910-1940.
This safety bicycle is fitted out with the type of equipment which typically would have been used by Australian shearers, itinerant workers and prospectors riding out to their work in the bush during the first half of the twentieth century. These include a swag, for sleeping, secured to the front forks; a hessian 'tucker bag', for food, tied to the front handle bars; a billy can for collecting water and making tea; and a roll of canvas tied to the luggage carrier which would have contained the personal belongings of the rider.

The heyday of Australian bush cycling was between 1900 and 1920 when thousands of travellers, workers, shearers, rouseabouts, prospectors, miners, dentists, commercial travellers, ministers, boundary riders and others pedalled through the bush. The bicycle was used on stations for boundary riding and mustering as they saved walking to catch the horse. In times of drought bicycles were preferred to "save" the horses.

Bicycles were used to patrol the rabbit proof fence and the Kalgoorlie water pipeline in WA. Kangaroo shooters used them because they were quiet, allowing the shooters to creep up on their prey. In the Eastern States of Australia the bicycle was adopted by many shearers. Bourke residents wrote of the 'horse and bike days' of shearing when bicycles 'galore' were pedalled through the area. The bicycle made it possible for shearers to rapidly cover great distances for their work and to socialise at other sheds as well as easily travel to town. It kept them fit between jobs and was even said to be an effective antidote against back complaints from shearing.

A bicycle was very affordable and, unlike a horse or camel, it ate and drank nothing; you could travel three times faster than on foot and carry a lot of luggage. The bicycle also required little maintenance, most of which could be done by the rider with minimal equipment and experience. The smooth tracks worn by lines of pack camels could be extensively used by cyclists, as stones were swept away by the camels' feet or pressed into the ground. In sandy country the camels conveniently compressed the soil to provide a firm surface. The bicycle was so versatile it could be carried over rough areas and watercourses and lifted over fences. With the increasing availability, affordability, reliability and comfort of the motor car, the use of the bicycle declined by the 1930s. This trend was temporarily arrested during the Depression and petrol shortages during the Second World War.

This shearer's bicycle is a good representation of the bicycles used for rural transport in the early twentieth century. While the contribution of camel transport, bullock and horsedrawn wagons, Cobb & Co. coaches, railways and paddle steamers are all well documented, the use of the bicycle for inland travel was overlooked in contemporary literature and history. The author of "The Bicycle and the Bush", Jim Fitzpatrick, considers that Banjo Patterson and other authors deliberately ignored the bicycle as they felt it clearly did not fit with the heroic image of the Australian stockman and drover in the creation of the "Australian Legend".

Fitzpatrick, Jim, "The Bicycle and the Bush: Man and Machine in Rural Australia", Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1980.

Margaret Simpson
Assistant Curator, Science and Industry
November 2008

Summary

Object No.

2009/9/1

Object Statement

Bicycle, 'Royal', safety type, fitted out as a shearer's bicycle with a swag, billy, tucker bag and canvas roll, metal / hessian / leather / canvas, maker unknown, [used in Australia], 1910-1940

Physical Description

A safety bicycle fitted out with camping equipment of the type which would have been used by shearers in the early twentieth century to ride betweeen the sheds.

The bicycle is a diamond framed safety bicycle fitted with curved handle bars which have rubber hand grips fashioned from gas masks. It also has rat-trap pedals with serrated edges, and a blue-painted heavy-duty metal luggage carrier over the rear wheel. The seat is a wide sprung leather type, made by Brooks, with large coils springs front and rear. The bicycle is finished in red, with the remains of a transfer with the wording 'Royal'. It also has a back pedal brake, headlamp bracket and aftermarket securing lugs for a tyre pump.

The bicycle is fitted out with items which would have been used by a shearer or itinerant worker including a swag or bed roll placed over the top tube and tied down along the front forks with a leather strap and string. Tied to the handle bars is a twisted rope to which is attached a hessian bag which hangs quite low beside the front wheel. Another folded piece of canvas is tied onto the rear carrier with rope. A billy can is tied to the rear spring of the saddle.

Dimensions

Height

1035 mm

Width

430 mm

Production

Made

Australia, Oceania 1910-1940

Notes

Nothing is known about the production of the bicycle other than the name 'Royal' in a transfer on the frame.

History

Notes

This bicycle was the in collection of Jack Hepher. Mr Hepher was born in about 1915 and raced bicycles in the 1930s, competing six times in the famous Goulburn to Sydney race. He owned a bicycle shop in Campbelltown from the 1930s selling Carbine, and later, Speedwell bicycles. He sold his bicycle business in 1954 and, in 1976, bought Ye Olde Bicycle Shoppe in Bundanoon where he hired bicycles and restored pre-1940s bicycles. He retired to Mittagong and kept his collection of bicycles in a special garage/workshop next to his house. In 2003 an auction was held and most of his collection of over forty pre-1940s pedal bikes was sold. This bicycle was purchased at the auction by the donor who subsequently gave it to the Museum. It is thought that Mr Hepher set up the bicycle with the swag, billy and other equipment to show how it would have appeared when used by a shearer in the Australian bush.

The writer, C.E.W Bean, travelled around NSW in 1909 and noted the huge numbers of shearers on bicycles which he later described in his book "On the Wool Track". He said that "the 'safety' push-bike had spread through the country as fast as the rabbit. It is extraordinary in what unlikely places one found those tyre tracks. They straggled across the very centre of Australia. We crossed them in paddocks as lonely and bare as the Sahara. Bicycles were ridden or driven or ploughed or dragged wherever men could go, and not infrequently where men could not go with safety". "The shearer set out on these trips exactly as if he were going from Sydney to Parramatta. He asked the way, lit his pipe, put his leg over his bicycle, and shoved off. For precisely the same trip, at that period, the average European would probably requisition a whole colonial outfit, compasses, packhorses". Bean also commented on the swags tied to the bicycles, "on every one doubled and tied fast over the handles and front fork, and often over the carrier and back fork as well, as tight and snug and curly as a white garden grub was the conventional swag. ?It is always rolled and strapped in three places with particular care. The outside roll is usually a canvas tent fly or a length of American leather; sometimes a warm rug of possum skins, home-stitched and tanned, leather side outwards".

Bean, C.E.W., "On the Wool Track", Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1947, pp.112-117

Source

Credit Line

Gift of Torben Albaek, 2009

Acquisition Date

15 January 2009

Cite this Object

Harvard

Shearer's bicycle 2018, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 6 July 2020, <https://ma.as/390466>

Wikipedia

{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/390466 |title=Shearer's bicycle |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=6 July 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}
This object is currently on display in Collection Gallery 3 at the Museums Discovery Centre.

Know more about this object?

TELL US

Have a question about this object?

ASK US