Glen Innes History Matters: Rum run for teamsters

En route: Bullock teams beside the Grafton Road in later years when there were bridges to assist in making the journey less arduous.
En route: Bullock teams beside the Grafton Road in later years when there were bridges to assist in making the journey less arduous.

Although the pioneers of this region lived a basic lifestyle by today’s standards, they still required a certain amount of goods and service during the 1800s.

One of the supply routes that developed through necessity was by costal steamer from Sydney to Grafton.

These vessels were able to negotiate the Clarence River as far as Grafton. Once berthed in Grafton, much-needed goods were loaded onto bullock wagons for the long and arduous journey up the “Big Hill” to the Tablelands; a haul of over 1000 metres above sea level, not to mention the distance involved.

On one particular instance, several teamsters were travelling in close proximity when their pathway was blocked by a large landslide. Options were limited, so the bullockies had to wait for the road to be cleared. At the time, earthmoving equipment was of limited capacity.

Oral history has it they were stranded for approximately three months while the road was being cleared by basic means. 

It happened that one of the wagons was carrying some rum.  To relieve the boredom, the teamsters decided to have a little taste – which turned out to be a big taste.

It happened that one of the wagons was carrying some rum. To relieve the boredom, the teamsters decided to have a little taste – which turned out to be a big taste.

When the supply route was finally cleared, the rum was gone. This created a problem for the men when they sobered up and were ready to move.

How would they explain to the owner of the rum that it was no more?

Collective ingenuity kicked in; the wagon and empties were pushed over the edge into a gully.

When the teamsters reached their destination, the hard-luck story of losing the wagon as well as the rum was related to the locals.

Country people have traditionally helped people in need and so hearing of the teamster’s misfortune in losing his wagon, they passed the hat around.

Generosity prevailed, enough money was raised for the bullocky to buy another wagon, and then regain his way of making a living.

It is not known if and when the story became public knowledge – but it was certainly not straight away.