The wool dray was a very important road vehicle in the economic development of the Australian colonies in the mid. decades of the nineteenth century. Few full size examples survive of this type of horse or bullock-drawn vehicle, so a model was commissioned by the Museum in the mid-1980s and built by model makers Alan Bianchini and Michel Laroche in 1988.
The models represents the heavy two-wheeled drays used from the 1820s in colonial Australia to transport thousands of bales of wool from inland sheep stations to Sydney. They were locally made of Australian hardwoods, probably blue gum, grey gum, spotted gum and ironbark and the design was based on crudely-built versions of English brewery and carrier's drays of the 18th and early 19th century. Similar drays were used in Spain and South America and the basic design of a central pole, platform body and centrally located axle on which the load pivoted, can be traced back to Mesopotamia in the 3rd century BC and the Indus Valley of 2000 BC.
Each Australian dray could carry 12 to 20 wool bales depending on the size, with two loose ones on top which were used to balance the load. The usual capacity was about half a ton (0.5 tonne) but sometimes the load would be up to 2 tons requiring six horses or eight bullocks. The vehicle was described in 1872 as "open, capacious, and low, without sides, but with iron pins and guards, to which the bulky load is securely fastened by ropes, while in wet weather a tarpaulin securely covers the whole". They were easily loaded and unloaded, strong, and not likely to overturn. However, they did not descend hills as easily as the four-wheeled wagons because of their relative instability when loaded. Considerable skill was needed in balancing the pivoting load on the dray to avoid breaking a bullock's neck by transmitting the weight through the animal's yoke. Early drays had no brakes and their downhill progress was checked by a drag, usually a sapling or branch, being run through the spokes of a wheel under the body. Nevertheless, more than a few teams slipped from the track and disappeared down steep mountain gorges. However, drays were more manoeuvrable than wagons negotiating sand drifts, boulders and mud bogs.
Drays travelled from 8 to 12 miles (13-19 km) a day and the establishment of a viable rural economy in the 1820s depended on the high market value of wool. At 200 pounds a ton, it was ten times the value of wheat, and was so cost effective to be worthwhile to transport from up to 250km inland to the NSW coast in the 1820s. Despite the limits of settlement applied by the government, the price of wool and the dray helped the rapid spread of settlement in the colony. Drays were used until about the 1870s when heavy wagons, which could carry twice the load, were used.
Grant, Andrew R., "An analysis of selected aspects of horse drawn vehicles and coach building in south-eastern mainland Australia from colonisation to the present", M.Sc. thesis, University of New South Wales, 1984.
Curator, Science, Technology & Industry