Australia and America, share a number of historical similarities.
Apart from their common beginnings as penal colonies of England,
they both experienced much of their early growth and development
directly as a consequence of improvements in their transport
The survival and prosperity of the colony depended on the
movement of people, and the transportation of goods, but establishing
an effective transport system in an immense island continent,
with a seemingly endless variety of geographic conditions,
proved difficult for the first settlers. Initially, the scarcity
of draught animals meant that people moved about on foot,
and, chained together in groups, convicts were used to haul
carts loaded with all manner of goods.
Sea and river transport played a vital role in the early
development of the colony. All of the state capitals, except
Adelaide, were established on navigable rivers and sea inlets.
But because this was a penal colony, and the sea was the only
possible escape route, regulations in 1791 restricted the
size of vessels to 14 feet, and private construction of ships
that could sail the Pacific to Asia was prohibited until 1813.
Gradually, ports developed along rivers to serve the many
steamers and barges that brought people, goods and prosperity
to the outback.
By the mid 1800s, the introduction of clippers from America
reduced the average sea passage from England to Australia
from 140 days, to under 70 days. Both the British-built Cutty
Sark, and her rival Thermopylae were frequently employed on
the Australian run.
At around the same period, bullock wagons and horse-drawn
carts became a common form of transport. In the interior,
large teams of up to 42 bullocks, yolked in pairs, were sometimes
used to haul tons of wool, wheat and timber. English coaches
and gigs for passenger transport were largely replaced by
the rugged Concord Coach from North America, used by American
settlers on their westward migration. They were imported by
Freeman Cobb, an American who had worked for Wells Fargo and
The Adams Express Company during the California gold rush.
Together with fellow Americans John Murray Peck, James Swanton
and John Lamber, Cobb started Cobb & Co in 1853, which
opened up a new era in transport that lasted for 70 years.
Along the way, the design of the American Concord coaches
were substantially modified to suit local conditions, both
in the shape of the cab and in the treatment of the timber
to withstand the extreme heat of outback Australia.
Camels were naturally suited to the arid conditions of the
colony and were introduced in 1860. Used by many explorers,
camels became an important means of transport in the outback.
The first steam railway in Australia opened in 1854, between
Flinders Street in Melbourne to Sandridge (now Port Melbourne).
By Federation in 1901, a vast railway network had been established
linking capital cities, ports and the inland, with much of
the equipment and technology imported from England. In this
Victorian era, steam locomotives ruled supreme up until 1919.
In the cities, cable tram networks that spread rapidly was
based largely on American technology. By 1923 Melbourne's
tram network was considered to be the world's largest.
Whereas the adaptation and improvisation of imported transport
technologies was common, Australian inventors were often at
the leading edge of international developments in the early
days of both the automobile and aeroplane.
In 1897, David Shearer from Mannum, South Australia was driving
around in the steam car he built with differential inside
left rear wheel hub, and rack and pinion steering. He used
the car to drive the 100 miles to Adelaide - where he needed
permission from the Mayor before entering the city, led by
a man carrying a red flag.
Lawrence Hargrave, who arrived in Sydney from England in
1865, pioneered flight with his models of kites and planes.
In 1894 he achieved Australia's first heavier-than-air flight
on the beach at Stanwell Park, south of Sydney, by flying
4.9 metres (16 feet) above the ground attached to one of his
elaborate box kites. Although he failed to achieve free flight,
and was beaten into the air by the Wright brothers in 1903,
his research and experiments laid the groundwork for the development
of powered flight. The radial rotary engine he developed in
1889, was the forerunner of the type of engine later used
in many early aeroplanes.
In later years the country spawned a number of pioneering
aviators. Brothers Sir Keith Smith and Sir Ross Smith won
the England-Australia race in 1919 in a Vickers-Vimy. The
following year, with financial backing from grazier Fergus
McMaster, ex Flying Corps lieutenants, Hudson Fysh and Paul
McGinness founded the Queensland and Northern Territory Air
Services Limited in November 1920. Now known simply as Qantas
Airways Ltd, next to KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, it is the second
oldest airline in the world.
Sir Charles Kingsford Smith circumnavigated Australia in
1926 with fellow pilot C T P Ulm in 10 days 5 hours, halving
the previous record. The following year, they made the first
crossing of the Pacific Ocean, from Oakland, California to
Brisbane in the Southern Cross. In 1928, Bert Hinkler
made the first solo flight from England to Australia, and
in 1930, Smith completed a round-the-world flight.
Pilot Arthur Affleck and Dr Kenyon Welsh began operating
a DH50A air ambulance equipped with two stretchers out of
Cloncurry in Queensland on 17 May 1928, and started the Royal
Flying Doctor Service. In their first year they attended to
255 patients. Today, Flying Doctors travel more than 7 million
kilometres a year and attend to more than 150,000 patients.
One innovation in the history of the automobile, was the
idea of a farmer's wife, who wrote to the Ford motor company
in Geelong, Victoria in 1932, asking why they could not make
a vehicle suitable for taking the family to church on Sunday
and the pigs to market on Monday. The company's only designer,
22 year old Lewis Brandt, designed an adaptation of the company's
range of passenger cars with a strengthened open air load
carrying space behind the enclosed front cab. The resulting
utility vehicle with a front like a car and a rear like a
truck, was commercialised in 1934.
Perhaps the best known Australian world first was the 'black
box' voice and instrument data recorder constructed to survive
a crash and document the last moments of a flight. In 1953
David Warren joined a team investigating Comet jet airliner
crashes at the Aeronautical Research Laboratories in Melbourne.
There he conceived and produced the first prototype of the
'black box' in 1958. It could record aircraft speed, altitude,
pitch and roll, as well as the flight crew's dialogue for
up to four hours on an assortment of stainless steel wire
immune to fire damage. The Australian authorities dismissed
the recorder as unnecessary, but fortunately the innovation
was capitalised on by a British company and has since been
installed in nearly every large aircraft in the world.
The inflatable aircraft escape slide which doubles as a raft
in emergency situations, was invented by Jack Grant at Australia's
international carrier Qantas Airways Ltd in 1965. Today, aircraft
slide rafts are standard safety equipment on board all major
In the early 1970s, the need to haul large amounts of coal
and iron ore by rail over long distances, led to the development
of Locotrol which remotely controls a second group of locomotives
in the train by radio, and made 2 kilometre long trains possible.
Physicist Bill McDowell and his team at Dunlop (now Pacific
Dunlop Limited) developed the multi award winning Pulsar automotive
battery in the late 1970s with a reserve power source which
could start a car even when the main battery was dead. The
lightweight fully sealed battery has been further developed
and is now sold in the United States as the Switch battery,
by GNB International, a division of Pacific Dunlop.
The interscan microwave landing system (MLS) developed by
the CSIRO in the 1970s used a computer on board the aircraft
to read a fine three-dimensional horizontal and vertical grid
transmitted by microwave radio from an antenna on the runway.
Another radio beacon gave distance measurements. Using the
three signals, aircraft could pinpoint the runway from 30
kilometres away. The system allowed aircraft to approach the
runway at a steeper angle and on a curved path. It also enabled
aircraft to be guided into airports in bad weather conditions,
including in zero visibility.
Engineers and scientists from the Department of Civil Aviation
and the CSIRO researched and developed a radically new system
of airport approach lighting known as T-VASIS - visual approach
slope indicator system - with groups of lights which appear
to the pilot on final approach as an upright 'T' if he is
below, and an inverted 'T' if he is above, the correct glide
slope. If dangerously low the pilot sees red warning lights.
T-VASIS has been adopted as a standard at airports all around
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