Australia: Our national stories
By Dr Robert Lee of the University of Western Sydney
Australian Heritage Commission, 2003
Chapter 10: Mobility Culture in mid-twentieth century Australia
- Car Ownership and Road Building
- The Mid-Twentieth Century Australian Railway
- The Car Triumphant in Post War-Australia
- Deregulation and the New Transport Culture
Hampden Bridge, Kangaroo Valley NSW.
Photo: M O'Brien/Australian Heritage Photographic Library
During the early twentieth century, there emerged in Australia a cult of mobility which closely mirrored that emerging simultaneously in the United States. Mobility had always been part of Australian society, and the horse culture of the nineteenth century and the railway boom mentality of 1880s had been major expressions of this culture. The coming of the motor vehicle at the very beginning of the twentieth century was an important factor contributing to the growth of this culture. Car ownership, though, remained very much an elite affair until the 1950s; and poor rural roads and the total absence of interstate highways meant that the railway remained a major focus of mobility throughout the period.
Most of Australia's rural roads were in poor shape in the early twentieth century. The best were in New South Wales, but even there earthworks were limited and surfaces fairly rough. The bridges and vehicular ferries of New South Wales, though, were undoubtedly very numerous and of high quality, as indeed they needed to be in view of the relatively sparse rail network and the quantity of large rivers and creeks, many of which were navigable. In much of Queensland and Western Australia, many roads were still 'natural roads', meaning that there were no earthworks or drainage at all, and the only improvements were the odd culvert or (more rarely) bridge. South Australia and Tasmania had some adequate rural roads, and their situation approached that of New South Wales but on a smaller scale. Finally, Victoria, the richest state with the best railways, certainly had the worst roads relative to its density of population and wealth, because so much had been invested in its railways. Rural roads' main transport functions were confined to local needs, taking produce to the nearest railway station or port. The beginnings of the motor age changed all that dramatically.
In fact, the motor age was anticipated by a decade by a new form of transportation which in many ways had similar (if more modest) requirements. This was the bicycle, which came to Australia in the 1870s and was extremely popular in the 1890s and thereafter. Early bicycles were not cheap, although prices fell rapidly, but they were almost free to run and sufficiently simple for their owners to maintain them. These were big advantages compared to the saddle horse. Moreover, in cities, a bicycle could be put in a shed between usage, requiring none of the space, feed and attention required by a saddle horse. For these reasons, bicycles have always been more popular in cities than in the countryside. Indeed, to this day (and for precisely the same reasons as in the 1890s) the bicycle remains the favoured means of personal transport for most urban adolescent boys, just as the saddle horse does for many of their country cousins.
Bicycles, though, had two disadvantages compared to the saddle horse - they demanded human effort, and they needed relatively good, smooth roads or streets. The human effort factor was a matter of choice, and, in sport-crazy fin-de-siècle Australia, was in many ways a positive advantage. The popularity of cycling, though, increased the pressure on municipal authorities in particular to improve the quality of streets, especially in suburban areas where cycling was most popular. At that time, most suburban roads were every bit as bad as rural roads, and in many respects worse because they were used more intensively. Most were dusty in dry weather and muddy in wet, many degenerating into quagmires in prolonged wet periods. Equestrians could be a touch disdainful of these conditions (or at least could affect to be); cyclists could not. Often the best-paved streets were those with tramlines, since the tramway authority was responsible for paving the roadway between the tramlines. Cyclists naturally enough tended to use these parts of these streets, which made for smooth if not particularly safe cycling.
Cyclists were numerous enough to have some political clout, and their demands for improved street paving were vociferous. Melbourne's first cycling club even included a clarion call for better streets in its name. This was the Melbourne Boneshakers Club, which held its first race meeting in 1878.1 Early bicycles were the extremely cumbersome penny-farthings, which were harder to mount and every bit as nasty as a horse from which to fall. The development of the safety cycle, essentially the modern design with equal-sized wheels and a chain drive, made cycling safer than riding a saddle horse and far more accessible to women. The rigour of Victorian dress codes in late colonial Australia perhaps has been exaggerated, but there is no doubt that riding a penny-farthing certainly would have constituted a violation of notions of female decency. This is not to say that there were no women willing to commit such violations, or that the community was genuinely outraged as a consequence. The safety cycle, however, posed no such sartorial dilemmas.
The motor age began in Australia, as elsewhere in the world, at the very beginning of the twentieth century. The first Australian experiments in car construction were in the late 1890s. These involved both steam and internal combustion experiments, both of which were successful, although it soon became clear that, for light purposes such a cars, internal combustion had considerable advantages over steam. Steam remained favoured, though, for early buses and trucks (called steam wagons) and of course for mobile machinery such as traction engines and steamrollers (as we still call them). Australia's first petrol car was made in Melbourne by Colonel Harry Tarrant in 1897. It was purely experimental, but Tarrant learnt enough to begin manufacture on a commercial basis in 1901. In a technology transfer pattern typical of the times, he was joined in the enterprise by a Melbourne bicycle maker, Howard Lewis. By 1909 Tarrant was a manufacturer, importer and distributor, building his own cars as well as acquiring the Ford franchise. This was the very year that Henry Ford began production of his famous T Model, the world's first mass-produced car, so it was an astute business move on Tarrant's part. Tarrant also had the Melbourne dealership for more exotic marques such as Rover, Sunbeam and Mercedes.2
Initial public reaction to the motor car was far from universally favourable. Conservative people tended to dislike it. Young men with money naturally enough loved the speed and freedom it gave, and of course were resented by many other elements in society for their (admittedly at times rather selfish) pleasures. Doctors soon found cars to be superior to horses, and their early extensive use of cars to make house calls did much to make cars respectable. Doctors on duty, after all, could hardly be considered irresponsible speed-maniacs selfishly out on a spree frightening horses and old ladies. Speed certainly did enable people, including doctors, to lead more productive lives. The railway and the tram already had proved that, but since they were for public use, they seemed less self-indulgent than the car, which was very much the preserve of the rich in its early years. Nonetheless, all but the very poor could enjoy a short car ride from as early as 1904 when three licensed motor cabs began to ply Sydney's streets, and where meter taxis were introduced as early as 1909.3
Even though car numbers were very low in the first decade of the twentieth century, their impact was considerable. No observer, though, could doubt that their numbers were likely to increase. The Australian Constitution, framed just before the motor age, was silent on the topic so regulatory responsibility lay with the states. Not surprisingly, it was the state with the most emphasis on moral improvement, South Australia, where the car was first regulated. In 1904 the South Australian parliament legislated for the registration of cars, and speed limits in towns and cities varying between four and twelve miles per hour (6 and 19km/h).4 These reflected the rules under which trains travelled along Adelaide's streets. (Adelaide was the only Australian city with a significant number of railways laid along its suburban streets.) The requirement of a man with a red flag to precede the vehicle (which did apply to trains in some situations) was never applied to motor cars in Australia - not even in Adelaide, not even during Church Hours.
In other states, initial regulation was by local councils, which imposed a wide range of speed limits. For instance, in Sydney the limit was 8mph, in Parramatta 6mph and in Hunter's Hill 10mph. Very early in motoring history, Australian police regularly fined motorists for excessive speed. Often, though, the police tended to ignore the local limits and instead rely on the old common-law charge of furious driving. This infuriated motorists, since it was so arbitrary - it was easy to see from its condition if a horse had been driven furiously, but very much more difficult to make such a judgement about a motor car. In New South Wales, the Motor Traffic Act of 1909 removed these anomalies and laid the foundation for statewide regulation, licensing of drivers and registration of vehicles (for a fee), and standardised speed limits (at 15mph within five miles of Sydney GPO).5 The Act has been much modified since, but the principles it enshrined remain the basis of traffic regulation in all Australian states. Seeing their pleasures threatened by moral improvers, motorists began to organise. Led by Sydney theatrical entrepreneur Harry Skinner, they established the Australian Motoring Association in 1903, later the Automobile Club of Australia and from 1920 the Royal Automobile Club of Australia. This was a national body from the beginning, with New South Wales, Victorian and South Australian branches. The flashy Skinner was all too typical of early motorists, and was just the kind of person moral improvers wanted kept in his place!
The new Commonwealth Parliament, too, was soon aware of the importance of the new technology, and in 1902 imposed customs duties on imported motor bodies to encourage local manufacture. At this time (and indeed until the introduction of the Ford Model T), all cars were handmade, and most motor bodies were built by firms which also built horse-drawn vehicles. Just as there were varying qualities of horse vehicles, from a simple buggy through the surrey to broughams, victorias and such splendid vehicles, so motor bodies were available with many different, indeed individual levels of finish and appointments. This meant that carriage builders could easily adapt to the new technology which, indeed, so far as they were concerned, was not new at all. Only the means of traction and the details of design had changed. Most chassis continued to be imported.
This prompted a short-lived revival of the carriage-making trade which had gone into decline in the 1890s with the popularity of the sulky, which needed no body. In 1917 the government banned motor-body imports, a year later eased to a restriction of one import allowed per two local bodies built. The following decade was the heyday of the medium-sized motor-body builder, mostly former horse carriage builders, or firms like Smith and Waddington in Sydney who also built timber trams and railway carriages.6 Motor body production reached about 90,000 by 1926. Of these, some 36,171 were produced by one firm, Holden Motor Body Builders, which had been founded in 1920 by the Adelaide carriage builders, Holden and Frost. They had produced their first motor body in 1917 and by the mid 1920s dominated the Australian motor-body industry.7
Car numbers, though, remained small. There were, for instance, only 3,978 motor vehicles in all of New South Wales as late as 1911, just as the flood of Model Ts would begin to surge. They quickly replaced the horse-drawn carriage as the preferred means of city transport of the urban elite, as clearly illustrated in photographs of Australian cities during the first decade of the twentieth century. The saddle horse too quickly disappeared from city streets. It had always been an affectation of the wealthy urban male, so a motor car was an excellent substitute. Horsepower remained preferred, though, for deliveries and short-distance cabs. Hansom cabs remained part of the scene in Australian cities right up till the 1930s. In 1911 there were just three motor vans in Sydney, compared with 1,303 horse vans. A decade later horses still predominated, with 1,603 horse vans and just 376 motor vans. By 1927, though, these proportions were just about reversed, with 2,016 motor vans but only 379 horse vans. A survey of Sydney traffic in July 1923 revealed that 39.2 percent of vehicle movements were by horse-drawn vehicles, 33.8 percent by car and 27 percent by motor van or lorry.8 Of course, most people out and about in Sydney on that day were travelling on trams.
It was the introduction of the Model T Ford and the rapid improvement of motor technology during World War I which led to the explosion on motor car use. In the five years from 1911 to 1916 motor vehicle numbers in New South Wales almost quadrupled from 3,978 to 14,973. They then more than doubled in the next five years (when markets were interrupted by the War) to 33,214 in 1921; and quadrupled again to 127,160 in 1926.9 American imports dominated the market. For instance, in 1917, the very worse year of the War, there were 15,000 cars brought into the country, of which 10,000 were Model T Fords, 2,300 Dodges, 1,500 Buicks and 1,200 were other makes. The Model T had been designed with US conditions in mind. These were not so different from those in Australia, with muddy or dusty roads and long distances. The Model T had simple, robust components, an austere but sturdy body, and high clearances, and so was ideal for rural conditions in both countries.
With the growth of the Australian car market, and given the high duties on imports, big manufacturers decided to establish plants in Australia during the mid 1920s. Ford set up a factory near Geelong in 1925. The next year, the other American giant, General Motors also established itself in Victoria, at Fishermen's Bend near Melbourne. General Motors made this a joint venture with Holden's of Adelaide, thus establishing the distinctively Australian, and long-lived marque of General Motors Holden (GMH). Both Ford and GMH assembled imported chassis at the works and built local bodies to fit on them. Almost immediately, the old timber carriage-building tradition began to die out, as these factories had metal presses. Body designs changed rapidly as metal bodies requiring steel pressings became the norm. Timber was still used for some features, but in 1937 the first all-steel car was produced, anticipating the shape of the post-war industry.
During the 1920s, the motor car became a feature of everyday life for a large proportion of the population for the first time. In 1920 there was one car for every 55 people in Australia; by 1929 this had increased to one for every eleven people, compared with one car for about every four people in the 1970s. What these figures indicate is that in 1920 a car was a rare luxury, but that a decade later it had penetrated most middle class households and was quite widespread. By 1970, most people in Australia who wanted a car enough could have one, although a quarter of all households continued to choose not to have a car. Paradoxically, proportions of car ownership per head rose more strongly in poorer outer suburbs after 1950 compared with where initially they had been higher, in the richer inner suburbs. This, of course, reflected the greater need for private mobility in outer compared to inner suburbs, with their dense networks of tram and/or bus routes and railways.
During the crucial decade of the 1920s, car prices fell sharply while wages were rising. A new Chevrolet, for instance, cost 545 in 1920 but only 210 in 1926. The cars were constantly getting better too - most notably more comfortable and safer - with pneumatic tyres, all-wheel brakes and enclosed bodies making them far more convenient than early models, which were only marginally more comfortable than a buggy.10 The twenties also saw the growth of motor sport, with speedways mushrooming all over the country and motorists' organisations running all sorts of bizarre races and trials (including 'top-gear' trials, where the aim was to go as far as possible without changing out of top gear). With these activities, the motor car really was starting to replace the horse, not just for transport but in the imagination and human psyche as well. As with the horse (especially the saddle horse), car ownership was an opportunity to demonstrate taste (and, regrettably, sometimes its absence), affluence and masculinity, while having the practical advantage of affording personal mobility.
This increased use of cars of course required improved roads. Early motorists were rich and influential and, moreover, it soon became clear that motor transport was more than a hobby but an effective means of transport in many situations. The 1909 New South Wales Act provided the precedent for raising money for road improvements through vehicle registration, although this was not the Act's primary purpose. In 1921 the National Roads Association was established in Sydney to agitate for the formation of a well-funded board of roads for the state. Municipally maintained roads were often in a poor condition, especially if there were no tramlines in them. Two main Sydney roads (neither with trams) were rebuilt in 1921 and 1922 through special arrangements. An eight-mile length of Parramatta Road west from Ashfield was funded by the state government, while an inter-council trust was set up to rebuild Botany Road. Both these projects laid concrete road, and so set the standard for future new road building. These were I measures, but showed what could be done, so in 1924 the government established the Main Roads Board to build and maintain the state's main roads.
All roads and bridges previously the responsibility of the Public Works Department came under the new Board. Metropolitan roads were classified as either local council or Main Roads Board responsibility by the government. Soon after it was established, it was given a huge and unexpected responsibility: the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This was being built by contractors, and the local engineers working on it were either from the PWD or the Railways. It was expected that it would be a NSWGR responsibility after completion, with the Railways maintaining the roadway with revenue raised from tolls. However, in 1928 the decision was taken to transfer the Bridge from the Railways to the Main Roads Board, in order to improve railway finances by transferring a lot of Bridge construction expenses elsewhere. Thus, after acceptance, the Sydney Harbour Bridge became (and has remained) the jewel in the crown not of the NSWGR, which initiated its construction, but the Main Roads Board or the Department of Main Roads as it became in 1932.11 The new arrangements proved to be such a success that in 1937 the Sydney Mail actually asserted that 'with very few exceptions all our main roads are now wonderfully good.'12 This was in a city where 'the execrable state of the roads' had been (and remains) a staple of public and press complaint since 1788!
There was a similar, although not nearly as systematic, program in Victoria. As early as 1913 the Victorian government set up the Country Roads Board. Its aim, though, was very different from the later New South Wales Main Roads Board. It had no responsibilities at all in Melbourne, where roads and bridges would remain municipal concerns (except, of course, those parts of streets between tramlines which were the responsibility of the tram operator). Its main aim was to build rural roads to ensure that farmers could have ready access to the state's railway stations. For its first decade, it only built local roads in areas where shire councils were unable to do so. Then, in 1925, it became responsible for Victoria's first State Highway. Bizarrely enough, this ran from the East Gippsland town of Bairnsdale to the small town of Omeo. The reason was that there had been agitation for a railway on this route, which clearly could never pay. Turning the road into a State Highway and upgrading it was the way the government placated the advocates of the Omeo railway. Thereafter, more roads in Victoria became state highways, funded directly from Melbourne, but the government was reluctant to allow too much improvement to roads. The investment in the state's railway infrastructure was just too great to allow that to happen. Strangely enough, the Railways Minister who so ardently and successfully defended the railways from road competition through the 1930s (and was reviled as a Communist by some Victorians for doing so!) was the same Robert Gordon Menzies who as Prime Minister would abolish petrol rationing in 1950 and so begin the mass motor age in Australian history.13
Thus, the 1920s saw the beginnings of state government funding of roads in a modern and systematic way, as the New South Wales and Victorian precedents were followed elsewhere in the country. In addition, the Commonwealth began to fund road projects as well, even though it was in no way obliged to do so under the Constitution. The Commonwealth passed a Main Roads Development Act in 1923, under which it could offer funding to states to assist with road building; and in 1926 the Commonwealth and States signed the Federal Aid Roads Agreement, which regularised the process. Thus, by 1930 Commonwealth revenue, which included the lucrative excise on imported petrol, was being used to build and rebuild roads. By this period too the technology of road building had much improved, and the reinforced concrete highway, often with an asphalt layer on top, had become the norm, replacing earlier and more expensive Telford and Macadam roads.
The Great Depression and then World War II affected motoring as much as other activities in the economy. Indeed the fall in car registrations shows that the Australian middle class certainly did feel the impact of the Depression and had to cut back on luxuries, of which cars were a notable example. Car registrations in New South Wales, for example, fell from a pre-Depression 1929 peak of 170,039 to 144,749 in 1931. Thereafter they recovered, passing the 1929 level in 1935 and peaking again at 207,446 in 1940. Registrations fell again to 172,028 in 1942, and were still at only 188,412 in 1945. Petrol rationing through the 1940s kept car demand low, and as late as 1950 there were still only 269,250 cars on New South Wales roads, less than 100,000 more than the 1929 figure.14 So, for the twenty years after 1929, the impact of the motor car was actually quite limited. This, of course, was the period when Sydney's tram traffic was at such phenomenally high levels.
During the 1920s Australia's railways began serious responses to the growth in mobility afforded by growing car ownership. They no longer held a monopoly of medium and long-distance land travel, and had to fight to maintain their share of traffic, especially the more lucrative first class traffic. Responses were of two kinds. First there was the negative response of regulation by state governments to try and preserve as much of their railways' traffic as possible. Secondly, and more positively, there were serious attempts by all railway administrations to provide their passengers with ever-greater speed and comfort. Naturally enough, New South Wales and Victoria led the way. Victoria was particularly concerned about the situation, because its railways were the most highly capitalised in the country, and also the only state railway which claimed to serve virtually the entire population of the state.
Victorian Railways had in Harold Clapp an aggressive Chairman of Railway Commissioners who was determined to keep VR's finances buoyant. He was American-educated (although Melbourne-born) and had a clear grasp of what competition could mean. He took road transport on its own terms, and began operating VR's own coach services from 1925, some running directly parallel with mainline railways, for instance from Melbourne to Geelong. However, he could see that VR could not maintain profitability if private road services were permitted to proliferate and run in competition, each undercutting the other and going progressively bankrupt. Thus, in December 1927 the Victorian parliament passed the Motor Omnibus (Urban and Country) Act, which provided for the licensing of all bus routes worked by vehicles carrying more than six passengers. Essentially, no licence would be issued for a route competing directly with a railway.15 The most aggressive Victorian bus proprietor, though, Reginald Ansett from Hamilton, kept working at every loophole in the law to try to maintain a bus service from his hometown of Hamilton to Melbourne, a route over which the railway was less direct than the road. This brought Ansett into constant and bitter conflict with Victorian Railways Minister Robert Gordon Menzies. This pair would later move their sparring to a larger stage, as the one became a redoubtable aviation entrepreneur and the other Prime Minister.
The situation in New South Wales was more complex. Since distances were longer and the roads out of Sydney had to cross the same mountainous terrain as the railways but around even sharper curves, bus competition as not such a serious issue on the main lines. Indeed, as late as 1940 the main competition on the NSWGR's northern lines was provided by the very efficient and comfortable ships of the Hunter River Steamship Company and the North Coast Steam Navigation Company. However, there was enormous bus competition with Sydney's trams and some suburban trains as well. There were also concerns about truck transport eating into rail freight revenue, although the NSWGR and the shipping companies seemed to be able to live comfortably enough with each other's competition in the north. New South Wales politics were more volatile than Victoria's in the late 1920s and 1930s, with changes of government at every election for much of the period. The first of many Transport Acts was passed by a conservative government in 1930, but there was a whole series over the next few years, as power and policies fluctuated. Their overall effect, though, was to limit competition and establish a licensing arrangement similar to Victoria's. Much the same kind of regulation occurred in the other states, for instance with South Australia's Road and Railways Transport Act of 1930.
To meet the growing demands for increased mobility, rail services improved dramatically during the first half of the twentieth century. They also became much more efficient and, relative to incomes, much cheaper. Train travel went from being a slow and inconvenient luxury to an experience almost everyone could afford. Moreover, even though few could afford a car, the relative speed of car travel raised the entire community's expectations, and railways responded by increasing their speeds as well. The same technology which made possible the motor car, the internal combustion engine, began to have an impact on rail operations remarkably early. The first application of the new technology on rails came in Victoria, which in 1911 ordered two railcars from the McKeen Motor Car Company of Omaha, Nebraska (an unlikely cradle of technological innovation, until it is understood that the Union Pacific Railroad had its operational headquarters there). These were astoundingly modern in appearance, streamlined with porthole windows, but they were no great success in service and lasted only three years. The technology was premature. A year later, Queensland also ordered five of them, the only narrow-gauge McKeen cars ever built, with only marginally better results.16
The McKeen cars may have been failures in operation, but the theory behind them was not. The idea was that an internal-combustion powered railcar could operate with small loads at relatively high speeds. In this way, trains could be operated at a fraction of the cost of larger steam trains and at much higher speeds. Railcars in general would replace mixed trains, which conveyed freight as well as (normally) a single passenger car, and were a notoriously, fabulously slow means of transport. Railcars were all about bringing modern mobility to the bush. As such they were harbingers of the future.
The NSWGR and VR both built experimental railcars based on petrol truck chassis in 1919 and 1922 respectively. The Victorian cars were the first of a series of nineteen, while in New South Wales there was further design development culminating in the introduction of the celebrated 42-foot railmotors. The first of these entered service in 1923 and with it the age of experimentation came to an end. This design, classified as CPH in 1937, was so successful that a total of 37 were built over the next seven years. Most had a working life of over sixty years, and significant numbers remain in use for excursion purposes at eighty years of age. Four similar cars were built in Victoria, while South Australia imported steel railcars (known as Barwell Bulls after the state premier who ordered them) from the United States. These cars also lasted about fifty years in service, and VR built ten similar steel petrol-electric cars between 1928 and 1931. Meanwhile, Queensland too developed a series of rather flimsy but effective and very cheap homegrown designs in the late 1920s, all based on truck technology. By 1930, then, the pattern of rural rail services in most of Australia was changing, as slow mixed trains averaging perhaps 10mph (16km/h) were replaced by moderately speedy railmotors, which could average 30mph (50km/h) and more even over rough rural tracks.
While rail motors were adequate for light traffic, they could not provide a solution to the pressures for higher speeds and greater comfort, all at lower costs, on mainline services. South Australia, where rail finances were more parlous than elsewhere, took the most drastic action the earliest, and in 1922 appointed an American, William Alfred Webb, as its railways commissioner. Within a few years Webb had transformed the system, turning from a rather antiquated British style railway into a modern if compact US-style railroad. Webb believed that only using larger locomotives to operate larger trains of high-capacity wagons could improve the South Australian Railways' productivity. He bought new equipment, including some truly massive locomotives the likes of which had never been seen in Australia before, and also tried to minimise the number of break of gauge stations. The new locomotives, of the 500, 600 and 700 classes, were built in England but were thoroughly North American in conception and began to arrive from 1926. They revolutionised train working and introduced real economies as well as providing faster services. Webb started using road delivery vehicles to provide a door-to-door service more competitive with road transport, and also built Adelaide's fine new terminal station. No other Australian railway went through such a revolutionary transformation in its operations or culture as South Australia's during the 1920s. None needed it more.
In New South Wales, which had kept more up-to-date than South Australia, there was also a big leap forward at the same time in freight haulage capacity. Once again the principles were thoroughly North American, and it was an important step in the gradual shift in Australian railways from British to North American technical standards which occurred throughout the twentieth century. In 1929 the NSWGR took delivery of the first of its 25 massive three-cylinder 57 class freight locomotives. These were the largest and most powerful locomotives ever delivered to an Australian railway, and remained so for more than a decade. They were also among the first locomotives in the world ever to have a one-piece cast-steel bed (cast in Granite City, Illinois) and were generally based on a series designed for the Union Pacific Railroad. Victoria had no need for such large power, since its lines did not have the same heavy grades that South Australia's and New South Wales's did. Instead of heavy freight locomotives, the Victorian Railway's prime power of the 1920s was a small series of four heavy Pacifics of the S class built for working the Sydney Express between Albury and Melbourne. This was Australia's fastest train, a well as one of its heaviest. The Victorian S class were also three-cylinder locomotives, although their overall design was far more English than the very North American style machines built for South Australia and New South Wales.
While new and more powerful locomotives could reduce transit times for passengers and freight and, more importantly, make for more efficient operations and so help the railways retain their competitive edge, they had little direct appeal to passengers. They looked for comfort, and railway administrations knew that they had to provide it if they were to retain the business, since by the 1930s the best motor cars were quite comfortable and roads were always improving. Trains, though, could offer their passengers space and certain touches no other form of land transport can match. Dining cars, where passengers eat a restaurant meal as the countryside slips by, made their debut in Victoria, on the Sydney and Adelaide expresses leaving Melbourne in the evenings. They were soon followed by others on Commonwealth Railways. Victoria also was the first state to offer its passengers the comforts of air-conditioning, putting its first air-conditioned car into service as early as 1935. By 1939 much of Commonwealth Railway's first class fleet used on transcontinental trains had been air-conditioned. Meanwhile, in New South Wales the railways put the emphasis on accelerating journey times and improving the presentation of existing trains with refurbished and brightly painted rolling stock with refreshment services, hauled by some of the most colourfully painted locomotives the country had ever seen. It was not all just bright paint, though, as speed records were constantly being broken, and by the late 1930s trains between Sydney and Newcastle were faster than they have ever been since. These innovations were all consciously proclaiming the fact that the Depression finally was over, and style was back in vogue.
Late 1937 brought a bumper crop of rail innovation, beginning when in September New South Wales introduced a new fully air-conditioned diesel-powered lightweight aluminium train between Parkes and Broken Hill. Called the Silver City Comet, it was based on German and US high-speed trains of the mid-1930s, and was wildly new technology for Australia, and indeed for the British Empire as a whole. The strange, wonderful and compelling thing about the Comet was its use in the outback. Then in November an even more impressive (if less technically innovative) train went into service between Albury and Melbourne, replacing the old Sydney Express. This was all-steel, all air-conditioned, and regally painted in the royal blue and gold which thereafter would become the proud livery of the Victorian Railways. Its precedent was the American streamlined flyers of the same period, and, like many of them, it used new and luxurious carriages hauled by decade-old steam locomotives freshly shrouded in extravagantly art deco streamlining. The train's name said it all, for it was called the Spirit of Progress.
War conditions delayed any further improvements, and, it must be admitted, meant that none was really needed. Petrol was so severely rationed that the main problem was keeping too many passengers off trains rather than trying to lure people onto them. However, railway planners knew well that such conditions would not last long after the War, and so planned through the War for massive improvements thereafter. Nowhere was this planning more aggressive than in New South Wales, which even during the War introduced a new series of express passenger steam locomotives, unquestionably the finest ever to run in Australia, the 38 class. New South Wales planning involved the creation of a network of fast air-conditioned steel trains (generally similar to the pre-war Victorian Spirit of Progress) which would serve almost all the state, using the new faster and more powerful 38 class locomotives to bring most of the sate within a day trip from Sydney. At that time, most long-distance journeys in the state still involved an overnight journey.
So, with victory in sight, New South Wales began building not one Spirit of Progress, but a fleet of a dozen or so of them. By 1953 the plan had been realised, and the NSWGR boasted, accurately, that it had the largest network of all air-conditioned trains in the world. As well as air-conditioning, these daylight express trains featured flushing toilets, reclining seats, wall-to-wall carpets, buffet cars, and finely detailed timber interiors. So, for the price of a second-class ticket, passengers could enjoy such luxuries on a train at a time when very few Australian homes (especially in rural areas) or motor cars had anything like these amenities. To step into the cool calm ambiance of a daylight express on a hot day in Wagga Wagga or Dubbo or Tamworth or Grafton in the 1950s was like stepping into a vision of a barely imaginable luxurious future. They made their passengers feel as though they were on the set of a Hollywood movie. These trains, all leaving Sydney in a stately procession around eight every morning (Sundays excepted!), made the state smaller and more accessible, as it had never been before. They were also rail's last hurrah as the prime transport mode in the state, not that anyone was aware of it at the time.
While nowhere else in Australia could quite match the brilliant New South Wales daylight express trains, all Australian railways introduced new and high quality passenger equipment in the 1950s. Victoria and South Australia built individual air-conditioned carriages which they added to existing trains. This meant that, except in the busiest periods, most passengers could enjoy this comfort, although there was nothing like the same psychological and marketing impact of the New South Wales trains. Queensland and Commonwealth Railways matched the New South Wales precedent in their different ways, Queensland building a series of long-distance air-conditioned trains to take over major through services on the coastal route from Brisbane to Cairns, and on the inland routes into the interior from Brisbane, Rockhampton and Townsville. The coastal train was called the Sunlander, a name which has stuck, and soon the other trains had similar names. Daringly, Queensland Railways painted these trains in ivory, which was effective against the tropical heat but meant that there could no longer be much tolerance for dirty carriages. Commonwealth Railways also acquired air-conditioned steel trains for its transcontinental services, although these came from a most unusual source. The New South Wales and Queensland trains were locally built, but the Commonwealth turned to Germany for its new transcontinental streamliners, their interiors incongruously decorated with marquetry pictures of German castles. All these trains were in service by 1951, which meant that post-war rail travel was certainly more comfortable and stylish than it had been before the War, let alone during it.
Innovation at this time was not confined to passenger cars, as it was in the early 1950s that Australia's railways first starting using diesel traction on a large scale. Commonwealth Railways, with its long hauls through arid country, found that the new traction offered enormous benefits, and dieselised its main services with its first order in 1951. For other operators, the financial and operational benefits were less clear-cut, since the new technology was much more expensive than the old, and the infrastructure and resources existed for a steam railway. Nonetheless, by the mid 1950s all Australia's railways were committed to phasing out steam power, which was achieved by 1973. New South Wales and Western Australia, which had the finest steam fleets and the best coal, were the last states to use steam locomotives on regular traffic. During the 1950s there was also some mainline electrification in both New South Wales and Victoria, beginning with Victoria's Gippsland line, electrified through to Traralgon in stages between 1954 and 1956. Then in 1957 the pioneering transmontane railway from Sydney to Lithgow (and Australia's steepest main line) was electrified followed in 1960 by the difficult main northern line out of Sydney as far as Gosford. There electrification stalled, and no further progress was made until the 1980s.
The final important post-war development in Australian railway history was that at last the problems caused by break of gauge were addressed. The breaks in gauge had been disastrous during the War and made handling the heavy military traffic from the factories and bases of Victoria and New South Wales to the island front off Queensland a logistical nightmare. The Allied Commander of the war sector, General Douglas McArthur, was scathing in his condemnation of Australia's multiple railway gauges, and was all too well aware of the difficulties they created for supplying his military operations. In March 1945 Sir Harold Clapp, who had been Chairman of Commissioners of the Victorian Railways for most of the inter-war period, presented a report to the Commonwealth proposing the conversion to standard gauge of the entire Victorian and most of the South Australian Railways. In 1946 the three governments plus the New South Wales government signed an agreement providing for funding this work, estimated to cost no less than 73,434,000. New South Wales, however, refused to ratify the agreement, since none of the money would be spent in that state, and the proposal lapsed. In 1956 a more modest Commonwealth proposal for mainline standardisation from Albury to Melbourne, from Broken Hill to Port Pirie, and from Kalgoorlie to Perth and Fremantle met with a warmer response from the states, especially since the Commonwealth would foot 70 percent of the costs. The latter two sections would enable through running on one gauge from Sydney to Fremantle. W.C. Wentworth was the federal politician whose perseverance ensured the adoption of the plan, and Prime Minister Menzies, as a former Railways Minister, was always receptive to ideas of rail transport improvement, as long as they were affordable.
The Victorian section, easily the most urgent, was the first implemented, opening in early 1962. It was not so much a case of gauge standardisation as duplication, since a new standard gauge line was laid beside the broad gauge tracks from the Murray to Melbourne. The main benefits were of course for goods traffic between Australia's two largest cities, or at least what was left of it following the deregulation of road hauliers in 1954. No longer did freight need to be transferred between wagons of different gauges at Albury, as had been the case since 1883.
However, the innovations were not confined to that. The NSWGR and Victorian Railways had built a new all-sleeping car stainless steel streamlined train to run every night between the two cities in just thirteen hours. Christened the Southern Aurora, this began operation in April 1962 to great acclaim. Some claimed it was the finest sleeping car train in the world, and it certainly had its claims in terms of the quality of its appointments. It was modelled on the North American long-distance streamliners built between the late 1930s and the 1950s, and by the time it was introduced its progenitors in North America were running into real difficulties because of air competition. Travel in a train like that, more a hotel on wheels, could never be cheap, and to launch such a service at the dawn of the jet age was courageous indeed. The Southern Aurora, of course, really had been needed back in the 1930s, so it was a case of better late than never. Air travel in Australia was still rather expensive, and there were no long-distance freeways until the 1970s, so the 1960s were the last decade of rail's dominance of the interstate market. The Southern Aurora was a symbol of that, but an unsustainable symbol which would last just 21 years.
Meanwhile, the 1960s also saw work completed on the other two standardisation projects the Commonwealth had offered to fund back in 1956; and in 1969 freight traffic began to begin to flow across the continent from Fremantle to Sydney on one gauge. Such hauls were where rail was really competitive, especially since the transcontinental road was still unsealed through the Nullarbor. As a result, the investment in standardisation was well rewarded with increased freight traffic. Finally, and years after it would have made a real impact on mobility, a passenger train began crossing the continent from Sydney to Perth twice a week from February 1970. It was basically a slightly updated version of the earlier Southern Aurora, and was very much a dinosaur when introduced. It has always been more of a tourist affair than real transport, but its introduction was an important symbol of the at least partial resolution of the gauge problem bedevilling Australian rail transport for a century.
Even before World War II, there was ample evidence that the car would play an ever-increasing role in Australia's transport tasks. Railway administrations were well aware of it, which is why they performed so well in making their services more attractive during the late 1930s, and planned for such thorough improvements throughout the war years. For the railways, of course, the growth of the motor industry was a threat, but for many others it was a great opportunity. This was at all sorts of levels in the economy, from the local motor mechanic to service station proprietor to the multi-national corporation. These were themselves a phenomenon largely spawned by the oil and motor industries, which seemed to be ever more concentrated in a handful of companies in a few of the world's richest countries.
For the wartime and post-war Commonwealth Labor Governments, the motor industry seemed to provide solutions to two great problems. The first was the need to create employment in the post-war economy. Labor politicians of the era had been scarified by their experiences of the Great Depression, and full employment was their top priority. The second was their desire to offer workers improved living standards, including better housing and mobility. New suburbs on the fringes of cities could solve, they believed the social problems of the slums, as what fifty years later is the most expensive real estate in the country was then considered. Such suburbs could only be pleasant places to live if householders had a car, or at least the prospect of owning one, for their low densities meant they spread for considerable distances around the outer suburban railway stations. Locally made cars for a mass market could raise living standards, create employment, not just in their manufacture but also in the servicing and distribution they required, and so contribute to Labor's social as well as economic aims.
The government therefore invited motor manufacturers to submit plans for manufacture in Australia in return for tariff and quota protection. Motor and steel industry figures such as John Storey of Repco and Essington Lewis of BHP had been important figures in organising wartime production for the Labor governments, so there was a level of co-operation and mutual regard between these very different sorts of individuals born of the common wartime struggle which made the enterprise possible. Interestingly enough, they had worked beside important railway administrators such as Harold Clapp and Harold Young, the NSWGR's Chief Mechanical Engineer, in these wartime positions, so there was also plenty of flow of expertise from the well-established railway workshops into the new industries.
General Motors Holden, which was already a sizeable motor manufacturing business near Melbourne took up the offer and the first 'Australian' Holden (as opposed to the GM cars built by Holden's to US designs with largely US components) was manufactured in 1948. Holden's plant included the first use of mass production techniques in Australia, featuring dedicated continuous production lines. There was a delicate balance struck between mechanisation and the employment aims of the plant. The Holden car was an immediate success and a powerful symbol of the growing maturity of Australian manufacturing. Its price was reasonable, and throughout the 1950s and 1960s fell in real terms. It was robust, parts and service were available everywhere, and it even enjoyed considerable export success. Model revamps every year or two kept it looking up-to-date. It was generally smaller than comparable US cars, but larger, more robust and far better in the heat than British cars of the same price. Not surprisingly, it became popular in British colonies in Africa and southeast Asia.
The success of the Holden spawned imitators and competitors. Ford, Chrysler, Volkswagen and later the British Motor Corporation decided to produce cars in Australia. The market was growing rapidly: new registrations of passenger vehicles averaged 74,000 in the three years from 1948 to 1950; increasing to 160,000 between 1955 and 1957; and to 302,000 over the period from 1962 to 1964. Between 1954-55 and 1964-65 employment in the industry grew from 48,000 to 81,000 - an increase of 68 per cent, compared with 23 per cent for manufacturing as a whole.17 From 1950 on, car numbers increased dramatically. In New South Wales, for example, motor car registrations only increased from 170,039 to 269,250 over the more than twenty years from 1929 to 1950, or by just 58.3 percent. Over the following ten years, though, to 1960, they increased to 623,467, or by 131.6 percent. Then over the next ten years to 1970, registrations increased again to 1,110,652 or by a further 78 percent.18 In other words, car numbers were increasing at a rate where they doubled every decade in the post-war period. The increase was at its fastest during the 1950s, off a rather low base, but was sustained thereafter.
As an economic and social policy, the succouring of the motor industry was a great success, but it had unintended and undesirable side effects. A lot more cars, in short, meant a lot more congestion, and it soon became clear that, in cities at least, the spread of the car had its limits. The installation of the country's first traffic lights on the corner of Market and Kent Streets in Sydney in October 1933 was a harbinger of things to come. Indeed, as early as 1914 congestion had led to the introduction of one-way streets in inner Sydney. Admittedly this was because Australia's busiest city also had its narrowest streets, and the one-way system (on Pitt and Castlereagh Streets) was based on existing one-way single-track tramlines in both streets. In more spacious Melbourne and Adelaide, one-way streets are still virtually unknown nearly a century later.
The motor age was to have an enormous impact on the shape and structure of Australia's cities. This was most evident in the planning for Australia's first motor-age city, Canberra. Its American designer, Walter Burleigh Griffin (1876-1937), was influenced by the ideas of the Chicago architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959). Wright envisaged new cities, where the population lived in bungalows and could use the freedom afforded by the car to have far more space and light around them than had been the case in cities hitherto. Griffin's design for Canberra included railways and tramways. However, only a fraction of the railways was ever built, and none of the tramways, although their reservations remain in the centre of the city's streets, ready for such use should its population ever justify the investment. In practice, Canberra became a city dependent on the car, and so was a model for new suburbs built on the outskirts of older Australian cities. Griffin also designed two new suburbs in the 1920s at Mount Eliza outside Melbourne and Castlecrag on Sydney's North Shore. Both incorporated Wright's urban planning principles.
They were expensive suburbs, but there was experimentation with the concept for working-class housing in the second decade of the twentieth century with the construction of 'garden suburbs' by various state governments. Daceyville in southern Sydney is the best example. It was built adjacent to a busy but under-utilised tramline, however, such transport planning was absent when the idea was generalised after 1945. At this time urban construction resumed after a long hiatus during the Depression and World War II. The post-war suburbs, both private developments and public housing alike, tended to have far larger blocks than had been the case previously. Although urbanisation continued to follow railway lines, their inhabitants needed cars for most purposes other than visits to the city centre. Such suburbs encouraged the proliferation of trips on diverse routes, trips for which public transport was ill-suited in areas of low population density.
The relationship between urban planning and the motor car, thus, was symbiotic. Suburbs were built which would have been inconceivable without the car, and life in these suburbs required a car (or two or more) in each household. An unintended consequence was the crowding of the streets of inner suburbs with cars from beyond, leading to congestion and delays to tram traffic. This became acute in the 1950s, especially in Sydney. The motor age also led to a proliferation of new sorts of structures, such as service stations and, especially in the 1950s, drive-in theatres. Most service stations were owned by or associated with one of the big American, British or Dutch international oil companies, but there were some Australian brands such as Golden Fleece and Ampol. By the 1970s there were even drive-in bottle shops and food outlets in most Australian suburbs.
Car parks had been built in city centres as early as the 1930s, but they proliferated after 1950. In addition, the motor age made possible the development of the suburban shopping centre or shopping mall, surrounded by vast quantities of free parking. One of the first was developed in the early 1960s at Roselands, in Sydney's southwestern suburbs. This was nowhere near a railway station or tramline, unlike most previous shopping centres. Similar developments followed in all of Australia's capital cities and also in larger country towns. Smaller shopping centres declined or specialised. The most disastrous impact has been in Newcastle, where the formerly large and busy city centre, well served by trams (after 1950 by buses) and trains, has gone into decline, while most of the city's shoppers drive to large shopping malls on its fringes. Sensible urban planning never would have allowed these malls to be built.
Attempts to ameliorate the dire transport situation in new suburbs sometimes have been as destructive as the problems they have sought to address. Australia's experience of Radburn style housing in the 1960s and 1970s is an instructive story in urban failure. Based on a system developed near New York to separate pedestrian and motor traffic in new housing estates, Radburn estates were built in a number of Australian cities, especially Sydney and Canberra. However, their pedestrian walkways led nowhere, since not one single Radburn estate had a viable destination for pedestrians. What such estates needed to work was a compact urban centre where good shopping facilities were located around a railway station, and all the estate was within a 15-minute walk of this centre. Without such a destination, the walkways were little used except by the desperate, which can be defined in such places as people without a car. Their concrete underpasses became places for groping sex (sometimes consensual, sometimes not); the quick ecstasy (and sometimes quick oblivion) of heroin; and simple use as a public urinal. The disastrous social consequences of building Radburn estates with inadequate transport has since led to their widespread demolition, although state governments remain reluctant to invest the large sums needed to provide adequate transport infrastructure on the fringes of Australia's largest cities.
In the bush the motor age did not have the same destructive social consequences as it did on city fringes. More cars and increased mobility increased pressures for improved roads in the countryside. Happily, in post-war Australia the economy was buoyant most of the time and revenues existed for this purpose, even if the state railways were not quite the money-spinners they once had been. Even during World War II, inadequate roads as much as inadequate railways had been recognised as a serious problem. While there was no attempt to use roads for heavy wartime haulage where a parallel railway existed, there was always the concern that this might be necessary if enemy bombing had destroyed rail links. This never did happen, but the consequences would have been dire, especially if the Japanese had managed to bomb something as critical as, for instance, the 1889-built Hawkesbury River railway bridge just north of Sydney. During the War years, a road bridge was built at Peat's Ferry, just upstream from the railway bridge, which was itself being replaced. The new road bridge, replacing the ferry, opened in 1945 and the new railway bridge in 1946. The efforts of both the NSWGR and the New South Wales Department of Main Roads in building these two bridges, which rested on some of the deepest caissons in the world, were extraordinary, especially considering that both Departments' resources were severely stressed by other demands of War.19
However, the main wartime road-building effort was far from the coast and the centres of population in the southeast. This was the construction of the Stuart Highway from the railhead at Alice Springs to Darwin, completed after a year's work in 1943. Prior to this there was only a sandy track between the two places, as most traffic to Darwin went by sea. For more than a year, this was no longer a safe option. Japanese domination of the waters to Australia's north was brief, but real enough to make this strip of bitumen through the inland an absolute necessity. During the War other missing link roads were built to connect the railheads in western Queensland with the Northern Territory, and an inland sealed road was built parallel with the Queensland coast from Ipswich to Charters Towers, in case enemy action disrupted traffic on the coastal railway from Brisbane to Cairns.
After the War, there was a rapid process of sealing the surfaces of main roads in at least the more densely populated southeast of Australia. Indeed rural areas were the main focus of the various state main road authorities. In Victoria it was even called the Country Roads Board, while in New South Wales the Department of Main Roads over the thirty years from 1926 to 1955 spent 91,372,997 outside Sydney and only 23,911,473 in the greater Sydney area, even though this was where half the population lived and more than half the cars were registered.20 In rural areas, road improvements often involved merely the resurfacing and improved drainage of existing roads, but in cities something more radical was required. Melbourne and Adelaide, with their wide streets and spacious air, did not need to invest early in urban freeways, but for cramped Sydney, with its extremely difficult topography, increased car use required new urban roads quickly. Brisbane had much the same problem as Sydney, although on a much smaller scale.
Not surprisingly under these circumstances, Sydney was the first Australian city to prepare a plan for urban freeways on the model established in the 1930s in the United States and above all in Los Angeles. Planning Sydney's urban freeways began as early as 1943. This was about the same time as the NSWGR was planning its magnificent post-war express trains. Wartime Australian transport planners were always absolutely confident of victory, and their plans always expected an affluent post-war world. In this they proved to be right, but their confidence does at times seem a touch arrogant. The Department of Main Roads planners assumed that Sydney's population would reach about four million by the end of the century (they were absolutely right) and that car ownerships would rise to about one car for every two adults (once again right). The plans envisage construction of ninety miles (145km) of freeway in greater Sydney and 870 miles (1,400km) of main roads. These freeway plans were the equivalent of Bradfield's plan for Sydney's public transport during World War I. Once again, no other Australian city thought in such planning terms, or indeed needed to.
The first freeway in Australia was short but crucial. It was built in the heart of Sydney, indeed at the very spot where European settlement of the continent began, across the head of Circular Quay. This Cahill Expressway, named after the quondam tramways fitter, latterly Premier Joe Cahill, opened in March 1962 and was associated with two other transport decisions. It was built (as planned) across the top of the recently completed Circular Quay railway station of 1956, and its approaches were built on the formation of the Harbour Bridge tramlines abandoned in 1958.21 The next important urban freeway was the Warringah Freeway leading to the Harbour Bridge from the north. This required the demolition of the tramway arch on the northern approaches to the Bridge and opened in 1968. In an absolutely literal sense, Australia's first urban freeways were built on the ruins of its greatest tramway system.
Before 1970, no other Australian city invested in urban freeways as Sydney did, for the simple reason that none other was as congested. Surprisingly perhaps, Perth was the other city to build roads of this standard, but these were associated with the building of the Narrows Bridge across the Swan River. Brisbane too began planning freeways and, as in Sydney, these required the destruction first of its trams, to build the new Victoria Bridge and the Riverside Expressway beneath it. During the 1960s, then, the age of the urban freeway came to Australia, albeit tentatively. The technological achievements, even in the first decade of freeway construction, were impressive, especially those immediately around the Sydney Harbour Bridge, always the cynosure for Australia's finest transportation engineering. Whether they represented the best solution to the problems of increasingly crowded cities, and to those of one increasingly crowded city in particular, is another issue altogether.
As roads and the vehicles using them improved after 1950, they began to become capable of taking loads and speeds previously only possible on rail. Road transport had some advantages over rail, both technical and cultural. Its main technical advantage was flexibility, as reflected in its abilities to achieve door-to-door delivery with the one vehicle, to take alternative routes during surface maintenance, and to stop more frequently with less loss of time. Culturally, post-war road transport was dominated by small entrepreneurs, just like the bullockies and teamsters before them. Such individuals had a sharp sense of customer focus, and were price and time competitive. The railways had developed a bureaucratic culture which, while very good on matters such as safety and reliability, was not so responsive to customers' needs. The railways in all states (and especially in Victoria) also laboured under a heavy capital debt burden which was never repaid, and working conditions where union rules meant that productivity was less than it could have been.
All states protected their railways from road competition by legislation, mostly introduced around 1930. The New South Wales legislation had been challenged unsuccessfully in the High Court as early as 1933, so this regime remained in force until the mid-1950s. Then, in 1954 another challenge was launched in the Hughes and Vale case. Once again, the High Court upheld the legislation, but Hughes and Vale took the case to the Privy Council in London, which declared it invalid. With that precedent, the High Court subsequently declared similar legislation in other States invalid. Suddenly the interstate road transport industry exploded. At this stage, rail traffic between the two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, still suffered from the break of gauge at the Murray, so it was a great opportunity for the trucking companies. Similarly, interstate bus services began to operate for the first time. Interstate highways were still fairly poor, so journey times were not yet competitive with rail, but at least a passenger could travel from Sydney to Melbourne by bus without needing to change trains at Albury at 6am.
The road hauliers' victory in Hughes and Vale and the cases following it only applied to interstate transport. Traffic within state borders remained subject to the anti-competitive restrictions of the 1930s legislation. However, political pressure for its removal became intense. Even groups which had benefited enormously from the construction of loss-making railways (especially farmers and Country Party voters) turned against these same railways they had wheedled out of the tax-payer, since there was now a potentially cheaper and more efficient service on offer. In addition, railway lines were not always built to take the shortest line between two points, whereas often there was a road which did. This meant that buses in many cases could offer faster transit times than trains could achieve, so there was pressure for deregulation from passengers as well as shippers.
All these factors added up to a political push to repeal the restrictions on road transport operation within a state. South Australia was the first to move, when in 1963 it repealed its 1930 Road and Railways Transport Act. Other states soon followed. Most importantly, New South Wales removed its restrictions on road freight in 1973. It was no coincidence that in 1972-3 the NSWGR (in the very last year of its corporate existence after a life of 118 years) was worked at a loss for the first time ever in its long history as Australia's most financially secure railway.22
Thus, in the early 1970s, a new era of Australian transport history was beginning. The details of the shape it would take were not yet clear, although the broad outlines were. The huge state enterprises, above all the state railways, which had dominated Australia's land transport investment and functions for a century, would no longer enjoy the same commanding role. Changing technology, increased road investment, and a new regulatory environment would ensure that patterns in Australian transport in the last decades of the twentieth century would be very different from what they had been up till about 1970. Indeed, it was in transport that the first salvos of the neo-liberal movement in Australian public life were being fired - and the state railways were the targets. Neo-liberalism, of course, would intensify in the 1980s and triumph in the 1990s, so this was a highly significant development. So, at the end of the period of this study, as at its beginning, problems of distance and the need to move people and goods across them remained at the heart of Australian social, economic and political discourse.
1 Max Colwell, Australian Transport: an Illustrated History, Sydney, Paul Hamlyn, 1972, p 123.
2 S. A. Cheney, Horses to Horse Power, Adelaide, Rigby, 1965, pp36-37.
3 Lester Hovenden, 'The Impact of the Motor Vehicle' in Gary Wotherspoon (ed), Sydney's Transport: Studies in Urban History, Sydney, Hale and Iremonger, 1983, p 143.
4 Colwell, Australian Transport, p 131.
5 Hovenden, 'The Impact of the Motor Vehicle', p 146.
6 Ibid., p 144.
7 The Australian Encyclopaedia, The Grolier Society of Australia, Vol. 7, 1983 p. 50.
8 Peter Spearritt, Sydney since the Twenties, Sydney, Hale and Iremonger, 1978, p 159.
10 Hovenden, 'The Impact of the Motor Vehicle', p 140.
11 Richard Raxworthy, The Unreasonable Man, the life and works of J.J.C. Bradfield, Sydney, Hale and Iremonger, 1989, pp 92-94.
12 Quoted in Don Fraser (ed), Sydney from Settlement to City, an engineering history of Sydney, Sydney, Institution of Engineers Australia, 1989, p 61.
13 National Trust of Victoria, Timber Bridges Study, Melbourne, The National Trust, 1997, pp 18-19.
14 Spearritt, Sydney since the Twenties, p 163.
15 Leo J. Harrigan, Victorian Railways to '62, Melbourne, Victorian Railways Public Relations and Betterment Board, 1962, pp 257-58.
16 John Knowles, 'The McKeen Cars of Queensland', ARHS Bulletin 53, 780, October 2002, 363-371.
17 The Australian Encyclopaedia, The Grolier Society of Australia, Vol. 7, 1983, p. 50.
18 Calculated from figures in Spearritt, Sydney since the Twenties, p 163.
19 Fraser (ed), Sydney from Settlement to City, p 119.
20 Spearritt, Sydney since the Twenties, p 163.
21 Fraser (ed), Sydney from Settlement to City, p 61.
22 John Gunn, Along Parallel Lines, a History of the Railways of New South Wales, 1850-1986 , Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1989, pp 477-79.