There is a lovely bush camp on the outskirts of Surat we had heard about. It sits besides the river Balonne. The town started in 1849 and is said to be named after Sir Thomas Mitchell’s residence in Madras Province in India (he explored the area.) The town became very popular, just a year later there was a ‘Court of Petty Sessions’. Why is this important? The court could grant land leases and licenses to local business. The area quickly boomed with agricultural production and even today the area is still known for it’s wool and beef.
Agriculture isn’t the only item of interest for the town. You can wonder for a brief moment, back in history with a visit to the local Cobb and Co Changing station museum. We had been told it was well worth the visit. Not over large but packed with memories of the past. In 1854 the Cobb and Co Coach service operated from Melbourne to the Gold Fields of Victoria. The company expanded into Queensland and by 1887 Coach service ‘no 177’ started traveling from St Gorge to Surat a distant of 116km and then on to Yuleba another 77kms (north east of Surat.) In 1924 the fare from Surat to Yuleba was £1 (about 2 days wages.) For an extra 2/6 a man could ride on the box seat beside the driver (women were not aloud.) The simple service made a massive impact on the local communities. The isolation seemed to disappear with every arrival of a coach. It wasn’t long before the locals started to hear about the new inventions like motorcars and aeroplanes. Then it wasn’t long before they started to see the fantastic new machines. By 1924 Cobb and Co made its last service to Surat and Yuleba then slipped into history as those new inventions (motorcars) took over. The old coach route is still in use as to this day the mailman delivers and collects mail along the route twice a week. (The last coach from Surat to Yuleba, left without passengers.)
The museum was on our list of things to do but by the time we had set up camp it was too late to venture into the museum, instead I took a walk along the river. Several people were fishing but it didn’t look like they were having much luck. I wandered on until I hit a fence, which wasn’t that far from the campgrounds. I turn to start to walk back when I noticed something flying. I quickly pulled out my camera hoping to get a great action shot of the bird. There were several of the birds but they looked strange to me. I took some shots and then had a better look. Bats. I looked up and they were bats everywhere. I took several steps closer and all hell broke loose. They have a high pitched cry on them, it almost made me think twice about staying. They were bigger than the ones we had encountered at Elliot in the Northern Territory but still as ugly. With the sun going down it reflected through the bat’s wings as they flew around me, they looked almost human. I don’t like bats but that bit was interesting. I slowly backed away and they settled down. I did expect to hear them in the middle of the night but not a peep.
The next day it was off to the Cobb and Co Museum. The Museum is not just about Cobb and Co, it has been set up to reflect the life of Surat. It holds one of the first wool press invented. The press was use for about 80 years.
I spent about 2 hours just looking and reading.
There was even an old bottle of 4711 cologne. My Grandmother always had a bottle sitting on her dressing table to be used for special occasions.
The coach was in a room on it’s own at the back of the museum. It made an impact on me. I never thought it would be so big, which is silly I know. It was a good thing no one was in the room to wittiness my blunder. “Whoo that is big” is not something you generally say to strangers.
The coach drivers were highly skilled and were paid for the skill. A good driver could earn around £14 a month with meals and accommodation. They could also earn a little extra by doing favours for the local farmers. The story goes a good driver could flick a lizard off the road while the coach travelled along.
One passenger is quoted as saying “There were no harder worked men than the Cobb and Co drivers as they had to drive half broken horses over half made tracks, cutting in and out of the bush with nerve and wrist of iron.”
Most sets of horses were bread for the purpose of pulling the coach and were often saddle/draught cross. Later the Arab line was introduced. It must have been a hard life for the poor horse. They would start their training before they were 2 and most horses worked for about 8 years. They would travel at about 6 km per hour and in a push they could reach up to 13 km per hour. They would work in groups of 5 or 7. The Surat to Yuleba run alone required 40 to 50 horses. That many horses took a lot of looking after and there was a Cobb and Co groom at each change out stop to look after them.
Adrian had left me to wander and read while he went back to the car to sit down. He was still having big issues with his back. We talked about staying for another night to give his back a break but we decided to move on. The quicker we get down to Maitland the quicker we could get it fixed.