Bullocks were a critical aspect of the colony’s development. For example by 1848 at the Burra mines alone they were employing 1200 bullock carts on the road, each carrying two and a half tons of ore.(http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/files/ece002bc-ae68-4af4-b7a4-9e2900d0137e/burra_smelts.pdf PDF 329kb download) Bullock teams travelled 9 miles per day, so, by taking the ore to Port Wakefield rather than Port Adelaide saved 50 miles and nearly 6 days.(Kennedy MJ, Hauling the Loads: A history of Australia’s working horses and bullocks, Central Queensland University Press, 2005) Prior to rail, bullock teams were to be seen moving goods and produce throughout the colony, each team consuming large volumes of fodder and water.
Little has been found about bullocks in South Australia but fleeting references identify their importance prior to rail and eventually motor transport. Malcolm J Kennedy in his book looks at their role in Australia.(Kennedy MJ, Hauling the Loads: A history of Australia’s working horses and bullocks, Central Queensland University Press, 2005) For instance in 1810 in Sydney there were 4853 cattle and 2914 oxen for draught and by 1820 of the 45,000 cattle, there were 4000 mature bullocks. One reason oxen were more popular in Australia was that they could be maintained on less food and in rougher country than draught horses because they are less fastidious foragers.
The initial cattle, imported to Sydney, were small black horned cattle with humped shoulders but later some came from India (Bombay) with buffalo infusion and these were large framed, heavy boned animals. They were good for draught work were imported. In the 1820’s in NSW cattle became more important than wool, NSW Governors were even criticised from England about building up a bullock herd rather than using them for meat. It was from these cattle that our first herds came when overlanded from NSW.
Some insights from Kennedy’s book(Kennedy MJ, Hauling the Loads: A history of Australia’s working horses and bullocks, Central Queensland University Press, 2005) include:
- As a result of their value the penalty for stealing cattle was hanging!
- Bullocks prefer to push rather than pull therefore the yokes were placed over the shoulders.
- Australia developed a unique yoke quite different to the European yoke.
- Breed debates occurred re Bengal type versus the more recently imported crosses of Durham, Shorthorn and Hereford which eventually prevailed.
- A bullock could haul about 0.5 tons where as a horse could pull up to one ton.
- 20 draught horses required 140 tons of fodder and 100,000 gallons of water per annum.