Australia’s Bicycle Riding Shearers

Just came across this piece as I was investigating the Bicentennial National Trail.

Australia’s Bicycle Riding Shearers Of The Early Twentieth Century

JULY 31, 2013 BY 


After photographing the well presented shearer’s bicycle at Pushies Galore, I had to find out more about these men who rode bicycles thousands of kilometres across Australia’s harsh and unforgiving – unpaved interior, only to find more back breaking work when they arrived at the sheds of Australia’s vast sheep stations. Then there were the  games these pedaling shearers played, Thumbs Up and Birds Fly……

A LOT of amusement may be had from this game. One player is chosen as ‘He.’ He then calls out ‘Robins fly’ and makes his hands go as if they were flying. All the other players make their hands move likewise, but if ‘He’ had said ‘Dogs fly’ (or something else that doesn’t fly), though his hands would be moving in the same way, the other players must keep their hands quiet. Anyone who made his hands fly at the wrong time is either out of the game or pays a forfeit, whichever you all decide on before playing. At the end of the game the player with the least number of forfeits wins.

Australian shearer’s bicycles which came into use in the late 1890′s were more than a form of efficient transportation. When it caned hard with rain and the sheep were too wet to shear, work-horse bicycles became racing bikes, on other days races for shearers were organised events at local race tracks. The rim of one dispirited shearer’s bicycle became a place for him to scratch his epitaph. Traversing vast distances on dusty outback tracks over thousands of kilometres, sometimes across more than one state was the norm for many shearers. For others the bicycle was the means to get to the shearing shed nearest home and back each day.australian-shearer-and-bicycle

Bicycle riding shearers drew the attention of the small town of Wanaaring’s correspondent in north western New South Wales in 1899. Shearers choosing bikes as their chief mode of transport were becoming the majority over horse riding shearers, even in a town which is today considered “remote” – “I notice this season very few shearers with horses. The bicycle has superseded them. On a rough calculation I should say that over £2000 in bikes have been spent in the district this shearing, and consignments arrive by every coach from Bourke.” 1Some shearers had previously traveled by foot, here the bicycle was superseding the horse as the preferred mode of transport. The bike was cheaper, did not require feeding and could be leaned against a wall and left there without care while sheep were being shorn. When time came to move on the bicycle could be loaded up in much the same way as the randonneur bike of today. Instead of handmade bags, hessian or jute sacks were draped over the bars, frame and rear rack to hold the shearers possessions.

By 1902 the transition from horse to bike was complete at one shed on the Balonne River, Boombah station. The St George Standard reported that “It is very noticeable this year that the shearer’s steed is the bicycle.” 2  The same year galloping shearer squadrons disappeared from view replaced by legions of devoted shearer bicyclists.

Shearer on the move



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