Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Cobb and Co. coaches in western Queensland

Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton), Thursday 23 March 1950, page 26

Reminiscences of Coaching Days

In 1880 Cobb and Co. bought a number of mail services throughout Western Queensland, and the general regularity and convenience of their coaches served to open up the country. Their coaches are now of the past, but the time was when Cobb and Co.'s name was a synonym for efficiency and, when humanly possible, for punctuality.

Time marched on and the motor vehicle displaced the coach. The coach drivers left the West for fresh fields. As years passed the ranks of the drivers dwindled. Today there are few left. However, here and there one meets either an old coach driver or a passenger who had experienced the thrills of coach travelling.

Two old drivers for Cobb and Co. reside in Rockhampton - Harry Hickson and Lou Sheraton. They were mates for some years. They shared a room at a Winton hotel. Both of them well remembered one of their passengers who also lives in Rockhampton - Sid May.

Harry Hickson drove the coach from Longreach to Winton in 1911 and the following year took over the Winton to Kynuna run. A year later he went to Boulia and after 12 months there went to Jundah, where he stayed 18 months.

In the middle of the big drought of 1915 Mr Hickson, to use his own words, "got sick of the job." Securing a couple of horse teams he entered into partnership with his brother, and they engaged in carrying in the West. Produce was carried to the stations and wool was carried on the return trip. After three years in this business Mr Hickson left it to go droving, purchasing a plant of his own. In 1926 he returned to Alpha, "Back to where I was born," he said. He put in four years working round the Alpha district, and then came to Rockhampton where he engaged in general work till 1941 when he secured employment with CQME Co. at Lakes Creek, and at present is train drover for the company.

Mr Hickson said that when Tom Golligher retired as travelling manager, the business of Cobb and Co. was declining on account of the advent of motor vehicles. When the coaches went off the road T. Uhl and Sons, of Brisbane, were the biggest shareholders. The last coach run was from Thallon to Dirranbandi.

Speaking of the days of the coach, Mr Hickson said that drivers had many thrilling experiences. They were a good team of men.

One of the drivers that Harry Hickson remembered well was Steve Wall, father of Bill Wall, who owns the racehorse Auction. Bill now conducts an hotel at Winton.

It was unusual to hear of a driver who was not familiar with all the embellishments of the English language. Mr Hickson said there was one driver - Alex McMullen - who was never known to swear at his horses, but on special occasions he could perform brilliantly on any human objective which seemed to need it.


On one occasion in 1913 during a flood Mr Hickson and his eight passengers were stranded at the Girlie mail change. They were stuck for eight days and ran out of rations. Hickson and two shearers named Whitbread and Currie swam the Diamantina to get relief. It was a nightmare swim. By swimming from tree to tree they eventually reached the other side, where the boat was moored. After a short rest on the eastern bank the trio set out to walk to Elderslie station, managed by Mr C. J. Brabazon.

Mr Brabazon sent a buckboard loaded with rations to the stranded passengers. Mr Hickson secured a horse from the station and rode into Winton where he secured a coach and brought out another load of mail and passengers. The passengers were boated across the river.

There was one horse worth its weight in gold, said Mr Hickson. When a boat was loaded with goods, passengers or mail the horse would swim with the boat tied to its tail. "And It could pull a good weight," added Mr Hickson.

Some coach-trips were risky on account of the road - or the absence of roads. On one trip, from Win ton to Muckunda, Mr Hickson warned the passengers that there was a possibility of the coach turning over on account of the washouts. He advised them that in their own interests it would be better for them to get out of the coach. However, one woman refused to budge. The coach did turn over. The openings of the coach were narrow. Investigations showed the woman to be uninjured. In attempting to get the woman out of the overturned coach it was found that she could not be pulled through the opening on account of her size. So she was left there. The horses were unyoked and the coach unloaded of mail and goods. With the aid of ropes the coach was pulled back on to the road. The woman squeezed herself out, and in reply to the other passengers' "It was a wonder you were not killed," she replied "It would take more than that to kill Mother Muckunda" (which was the nickname of the licensee of the hotel at Muckunda).

But all trips were not over flooded country. Times out of number the roads were dry and dusty. On the road from Winton to Boulia there were a number of hotels, including the 20-Mile, 40-Mile. Britcher's Creek, Middleton's, Muckunda, Min Min, and Hamilton's. They all did a good trade. From Winton to Boulia was 260 miles, and on a dusty summer day the halt at each hotel was a welcome break. It was a four day journey and it was a prosperous run for Cobb and Co., who received £1500 a year for the contract.


Mr Hickson said there was one person in the West whose name he would never forget; that was C. J. Brabazon, manager of Elderslie station. Mr Brabazon was a friend to all drivers, and many passengers in the bygone days had expressed their thanks to him for his great help. Mr Brabazon was always on the spot to help coaches in difficulties. Drivers were always sure of the loan of a horse to ride for help when they were near Mr Brabazon's property.

Mr Hickson said that one who did quite a lot of travelling by coach was Sid May.

"Sid was in his prime in those days," said Mr Hickson.

On one occasion the mail was being brought from Muttaburra to Longreach by packhorse. Sid May was mounted on a black horse which was bred at Weewondilla. When he leaned from the horse to pick up a mailbag from one of the letterboxes the horse put on an excellent exhibition of bucking. Sid, not being skilled in the art, soon parted company with his mount and was sprawled in the mud.

"Sid was no Skuthorpe," added Mr Hickson.

On another occasion Sid May and another commercial traveller met two bewhiskered woodchoppers (Irwin brothers) at the Ernestina Hotel, 14 miles below Longreach. Sid and his mate tried to convince the Irwin brothers that they were woodchoppers from Tasmania. The argument went on for a considerable time. Finally, one of the woodchoppers, in disgust, grabbed hold of the lilywhite hands of Sid and his mate and exclaimed, "I don't think either of you ever chopped a bit of wood in your lives."

Two other commercial travellers, Mr Hickson remembered, were Paul Hollander (a German Jew) and Bill Neale. With his brother, Bill was interested in a foot runner named Anderson who defeated Buxton and Postle in a final in Charters Towers.


"Those were the good old days," said Mr L. Sheraton yesterday when referring to his employment as a coach driver with Cobb and Co.

Lou Sheraton took up coach driving at 16 years of age and was the youngest driver ever to be employed by the company. His first run was from Win ton to Longreach, a three-day Journey. There were five passengers on the coach and the travelling manager of Cobb and Co. (Mr Tom Golligher). The first trip was Mr Sheraton's first encounter with wet weather as a driver. Later he became accustomed to it.

"Wet or fine the mails had to get through," he added.

Western roads in the old days were not the best, said Mr Sheraton; in fact, "they are not much better today." On his first trip it rained and as the coach chugged along the wheels collected heaps of black soil. At various stops the driver would have to "debus" - to scrape the mud from the wheels.

After four or five months on the Longreach-Winton run, Mr Sheraton took over the Boulia to Muckunda trip. A coach ran from Winton to Muckunda, and Mr Sheraton's coach picked up passengers and mail and transported them to Boulia.

All western trips were similar during the wet weather, said Mr Sheraton. Black soil roads had to be traversed and swollen rivers crossed. He recalled a man named Spencer who was groom for Cobb and Co. and camped at the Girley mail change. Spencer had plenty of pluck and he had no fear of flooded creeks. When the Diamantina was in flood Spencer used to swim the river with a rope in his mouth attached to which was a tub. First taking the mails across he would return for the passengers.

After seven months travelling between Boulia and Muckunda Mr Sheraton, with his brother, decided on a holiday in Rockhampton. After two months' enjoying of the highlights of the city- it was a small place in the early part of the century- Mr Sheraton returned to the West. While In Rockhampton he attended the carnival.

Longreach was Mr Sheraton's base after the Rockhampton holiday, and he drove to Muttaburra. The coach left Longreach at 6 a.m. and was due at Muttaburra at 4 p.m. - 79 miles.

"And we were always on time," he added. "They were strict in those days. If the mail was late there were 'please explain' forms to be filled in."

Mr Sheraton did a lot of relief driving, shifting from one run to another. He then went to Kynuna, driving from there to Winton. The road was heavy, and there were 108 miles of it. Leaving Winton at 6 a.m. a stop was made at Whitewood and the Journey resumed at an early hour the following morning. Kynuna was reached at 9 a.m. At 2 o'clock in the afternoon the return trip was started.

"It was the most strenuous of the company's Western runs," added Mr Sheraton. "It was a six-days-a-week trip, Saturday being the only day off. And most of that day was spent getting things ready for the next trip."

It was a relief to get away from that run to take over that from Longreach to Jundah, for it meant only driving for 4 and a half days of the week.


The pay was poor for a coach driver, said Mr Sheraton. Starting at £10 a calendar month, the salary rose to £12, then £14, and when he finally left the pay was £16. The groom's salary was much smaller, and he had to be content with £6 per calendar month.

At times Mr Sheraton would become tired of his job as a driver and resigned, but he always went back, and he did the last trip for Cobb and Co. from Kynuna to Winton. Cobb and Co. gave up their contract, and the plant was sold to Ted Palmer, who took the coaches to Charleville for the Charleville - Augathella - Tambo mail run.

Mr Sheraton had learned a bit about electricity and secured employment in a garage at Winton, round about 39 years ago. From Winton he went to Longreach to work for Longreach Motors.

Mr Sheraton eventually did a bit on his own. He bought lorries and demonstrated throughout the West. Townsville claimed his attention and he demonstrated lorries for Rees and Tice, of that city. He drove the first lorry to Maxwelton and up through the Gulf country Including Mt Isa. This lorry took a baker's oven and bricks from Kuridala to Mt Isa. The baker's shop was the first building to be erected at Mt Isa.

The lorry was christened "Red Wings," and Mr Sheraton's final long trip with it was to come from Julia Creek to Rockhampton, where he engaged in general carting, eventually disposing of the lorry to Fitzroy Motors.

Ever since Mr Sheraton has resided in Rockhampton, except during the war years, when he worked for the Americans as a refrigeration mechanic. This gave him fresh experience for it entailed much flying from base to base checking up refrigeration units. The work extended through New Guinea and the islands of the Pacific.

Mr Sheraton smiled when he mentioned that one of his passengers in his coaching days was Mr Sid May, father of the present well-known boot merchant Mr May was traveller for Davis and McDougal, and Mr Sheraton said there were many good stories told on the trips. Young Sid often accompanied his father on the trips.

Mr Sheraton's father was an early settler In Rockhampton. He opened the first cafe in the city, which was known as the London Cafe, and was situated where the New Star Cafe now stands. He introduced the small goods section to Lakes Creek, in later years he opened up a butchering business in Mt Morgan. He carried the first piano from Rockhampton over Razorback to Mt Morgan. In searching for cattle in the Calliungal district Mr Sheraton, sen., became lost. After 10 days and 12 nights in the bush he was found. He contracted pneumonia and died in the Rockhampton Hospital.

When Mr Sid May was asked If he remembered travelling with Harry Hickson and Lou Sheraton on Cobb and Co.’s coaches, he said he had made many journeys with them. He remembered Harry Hickson particularly well because he was an excellent billiards player-one well above the average.

Other drivers Mr May remembered were Bill White, Mick Egan, Alf Lewis and the Richardson brothers (2). White was on the run from Longreach to Winton. Mick Egan was on the "down the river" run (down the Thomson River from Longreach to Jundah). Alf Lewis drove from Blackall to Tambo. Alf Lewis used to harness up a team of seven greys.

"Believe me," said Mr May, "it was a great sight to see this team stepping out from Northampton Downs to the Northampton Hotel. This hotel was kept by the Russells, but it has now vanished. The Russells went to Townsville. One of them I met In Townsville; he owns a good racing performer In Attu."


Mr May said travellers were great company on the coaches. The coaches had flaps which could be dropped. These were supposed to keep out the dust, but in dry weather one could always bet on arriving at his destination weighed down with a thick layer of dust. In wet weather there were many rough experiences. The coaches had leather braces Instead of steel springs. With mails, parcels and passengers aboard, the coach swayed like a ship on a choppy sea. There was always competition for the box seat, for which an extra 6/- had to be paid.

In those days Sid May travelled for David Halliday Co. Ltd, boot manufacturers. Other knights of the road Mr May remembered were Joe Edgley (who travelled for Walter Reid), Bill Minnie (for Headricks), Arthur Dearman (for Denhams), Billy Badger (for Robert Reid and Co.), Harry May (for David Storey and Co., Sydney).

"They were a happy crowd," said Mr May. "Early morning starts were a feature of Cobb -and Co.s service; In winter time it would be dark. We carried our own waterbags. When the destination was reached everyone would be tired, sunburnt and as red as a lobster."

"But in those good old days we had no rationing, there was plenty of beer, plenty of butter and there was no need to worry about petrol," he added.

Mr May related an incident which cost him 25/-. Not desiring to spend Christmas out in the Never Never, he decided to make his way home to Rockhampton. So he took a horse at Muttaburra and rode to Longreach, a distance of 78 miles. Cobb and Co. charged him 25/- for the use of the horse.

Asked if it was a fact that he had bought all the Vaseline in Longreach after his ride, Mr May. said it took considerable application; before his flesh was back to normal.

Reminded of his episode when he was thrown from a horse, Mr May said the incident occurred at Fairfield. The mail box consisted of a kerosene tin nailed on to a stick.

He reached forward to lift the bag from the tin, intending to throw the bag over his shoulder. However, the horse had other Ideas with dire consequences to Sid. He added that collecting the mails by horse was not easy for an amateur. It meant carrying a bag slung over the shoulder for sometimes 16 miles.

Mr May told the story of a Jew who wanted to get from Muttaburra to Longreach. He had patronised an opposition coach, so Cobb and Co. refused to take him and his baggage to Longreach. The Jew, not to be beaten, bought a reel of brown paper. He packed his samples In 1 lb. parcels and posted them. Cobb . and Co. carried them without even knowing that they belonged to the Jew, who was a traveller for Hertzbergs, of Brisbane.