History of the Long Paddock
The modern Cobb Highway follows part of the great network of stock routes that became known as “The Long Paddock” – a historic web of tracks and trails linking stock-breeding areas of inland NSW and Queensland with emerging markets in Victoria.
It also provided an escape route from drought when the seasons failed. The Long Paddock is still a working stock route which provides us with a link to times and landscapes that are long since altered. Unlike the early travellers and drovers who traversed the often harsh and unforgiving plains of the Riverina on horseback, coach or bike, we now see the world from the comfort of air-conditioned cars.
We measure the trip in hours rather than days or weeks – in the early 1870’s the Hay cricket team took 13 hours to travel one way by Cobb & Co coach to play Deniliquin!
The History of The Long Paddock
As their flocks increased in numbers the early NSW graziers began looking for markets other than Sydney. In 1824 Hume and Hovell blazed a trail south to the eventual site of Melbourne which, by 1836 was growing rapidly. Adelaide was founded at about the same time and both settlements needed food while their agricultural industries were establishing.
The rivers were vital to the early overlanders. Travelling stock cannot go more than two days without water so the early stock routes followed the streams which were the only reliable water source. Those bound for Adelaide had several choices. The Darling rises in Queensland, joining the Murray near Mildura. The Lachlan, rising near Crookwell NSW, flows into the Murrumbidgee which could be followed from the Monaro region, beyond Canberra. In fact, most of the settled areas west of the Great Divide could easily access these western-flowing rivers.
The overlanders were looking for more than markets. Crossing the continent, they examined the potential of the vast areas of unsettled land through which they travelled. Many either relocated or expanded to places which had caught their eye. By 1840 most of the eastern Riverina was settled, squatters taking up vast runs which they stocked with sheep and cattle. The first station established on what is now the Cobb Highway was Moira, between Moama and Mathoura, taken up by Henry Sayer Lewes, in August 1842.
In 1851 gold was discovered in Victoria. Men (and a handful of women) flocked to the diggings from all over the world. Very few were vegetarians and the demand for fresh meat (there was no refrigeration then) sent stock prices soaring. Men like James Maiden, who had an inn and punt at what is now Moama, bought whole herds of stock and drove them to the goldfields.
Deniliquin, originally a station owned by Benjamin Boyd’s Royal Bank, became a natural congregating point for southbound stock. From 1847 it had a punt – vital for crossing sheep over the Edward River. It was not long before Deniliquin became an important livestock selling centre, eclipsing Moama. Mobs from as far away as northern NSW and even Queensland began streaming through the town, often changing hands for their final journey south. The legend of The Long Paddock had begun.