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Connecting the nation

Connecting the nation

Explores how transport and communication networks have connected Australians.

The first routes across the Australian continent were pathways made by Indigenous people travelling for trade, ceremony and social exchange. As European settlement expanded, many of these became rough tracks and then road and rail networks carrying passengers and goods. Sea routes linking coastal ports developed and aeroplanes crossed the continent.

Technologies and services such as the mail, the telegraph and telephone, radio, cinema, television and the internet emerged, enabling Australians to share hopes, plans, interests and the latest news.

Liverpool Plains, New South Wales

Distant view of a township and surrounding area.
Gunnedah, one of the Liverpool Plains' major settlements. Photo: Laina Hall.

The Liverpool Plains is an extensive area of about 1.2 million acres in north-west NSW. The plains are bounded on the east by the Great Dividing Range, on the south by the Liverpool Range, and to the west the Warrumbungles.

The first white man to encounter this area was explorer John Oxley, who in 1818 approached from the west, and wrote in his journal that, 'Hills, dales, and plains of the richest description lay before us '

The region has been under permanent settlement since the 1820s.

Nowland's mail coach

Coach transport played a crucial role in providing regular passenger and mail transport to vast areas of New South Wales. This 'thoroughbrace' coach was possibly built by Cobb & Co., though with the absence of a maker's plate it is hard to know for certain.

Wooden, four-wheeled mail coach with front box seat
Nowland's mail coach. Photo: National Museum of Australia.

It may have been made by one of the many coachworks that proliferated in the latter part of the 19th century. It is known as a 'thoroughbrace coach' for the leather straps on which the carriage is slung. These straps helped to 'brace' the coach against the jolting of the road. It is modelled on the Concord coach, the first vehicle to use this method of suspension, which had evolved in the rough conditions of North America and was well suited to the rough Australian roads.

This coach was used by Robert John Nowland on his network of mail and passenger services in the Liverpool Plains region. From conservation evidence and curatorial research it seems likely that this coach was used on the Gunnedah to Coonabarabran run. Nowlands held the mail contract for this route periodically between 1878 and 1902 and continued to operate a passenger service until 1919.

The coach was later acquired by Carroll-Baker Australian Productions and used in the silent film The Man from Kangaroo (1920), which was partly filmed in Gunnedah. The coach also featured on the silver screen in the bushranger film Robbery Under Arms (1957).


Nowland's mail coach collection highlight

Read the 'It's not a Cobb & Co!' Landmarks blog entry

Collection database record

Liverpool Plains field trip Flickr images

Liverpool Plains slideshow

pdf Download the Nowland's mail coach object biography (PDF 219kb)

Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne, Victoria

The finishing post at Flemington Racecourse
Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne. Photo: Laina Hall.

Phar Lap's heart

Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne is Australia's largest racecourse. Though many Australians have never visited Flemington, it occupies a place in the national imagination through the annual running of the Melbourne Cup.

Media technology has played a key role in creating this connection, from the telegraphed race results of the mid-19th century to the radio race broadcasts of the 1930s, and the live streaming over the internet today.


Melbourne Cup 2009, Flemington Racecourse slideshow

audio_w15 Download 'The Melbourne Cup: 150 years of history' curator's talk

Flemington on Cup Day

This interactive explores the workings and wonders of Flemington Racecourse on Melbourne Cup Day – hear about the five vowels of broadcasting from veteran race caller Greg Miles, find out what the 'monkey crouch' is, see how fashions have changed over the years, and check out some of the objects that are on display in the Flemington exhibit.

Launch the Flemington on Cup Day interactive

Phar Lap's heart

A preserved heart belonging to race horse Phar Lap.
Phar Lap's heart. Photo: George Serras.

Phar Lap was one of Australia's most successful racehorses. Though he was regarded as ugly and ungainly early in his career, he soon found his form. Between 1928 and 1932 Phar Lap raced to victory in 37 of his 51 races, including the 1930 Melbourne Cup, when he won with ease. His image as a 'battler' who had beaten the odds was embraced by Australians enduring the Great Depression.

In 1932 Phar Lap travelled to America and claimed the prestigious Agua Caliente Handicap. Just 16 days later he died, having mysteriously ingested a large dose of arsenic.

Requests for parts of the 'wonder-horse' immediately followed. His 14-pound (6.35-kilogram) heart was sent to the University of Sydney for examination. The heart was then donated to the Australian Institute of Anatomy, where it became a popular display. The National Museum acquired the heart from the institute in the 1980s.


Phar Lap collection highlight

 Download the Phar Lap's heart object biography (PDF 71kb)

1866 Melbourne Cup collection highlight

1867 Melbourne Cup and Queen's Plate trophies collection highlight

Peter Pan's 1934 Melbourne Cup collection highlight

Read the 'Remembering Rising Fast' Landmarks blog entry

Trans-Australian Railway, Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie, south-western Australia

Black and white photograph of a straight section of railway line, surrounded by desert.
The Trans-Australian Railway line from Kalgoorlie to Port Pirie includes 477 kilometres without a curve – the longest straight stretch of track in the world.
Photo: Cliff Bottomley. National Library of Australia.
A carriage clock.
Sir John Forrest’s carriage clock, 19th century. Photo: Lannon Harley.

The southern Trans-Australian railway stretches 1770 kilometres between Port Augusta in South Australia to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, through some of country's driest and most isolated terrain.

Started in 1912 and completed in 1917, it was a major engineering feat. Its completion linked the eastern states with Western Australia by land for the first time and helped to give the Commonwealth a sense of national connection.

Sir John Forrest’s carriage clock

Sir John Forrest was Western Australia’s premier from 1890 to 1901 and a federal parliamentarian from 1901 to 1918.

A strong advocate for the building of the Trans-Australian line, he travelled aboard the inaugural passenger train that made the trip from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie in 1917.

He may have carried this carriage clock with him. Carriage clocks are designed so that their internal workings remain unaffected by the swaying motion of a train.