For more than 70 years, Cobb & Co. coaches clattered across millions of kilometres of unmade tracks to link the isolated early settlers - and became a symbol of Australia's pioneering spirit in the process.

Story and photos John Dunn

Freeman Cobb, the son of a Cape Cod sea captain, was only 23 when he and a senior official were sent from the United States to Melbourne in 1853 to investigate the possibility of setting up a branch of their transport enterprise, Adams Express Company. The business carried goods across the US and it was believed that it could do the same in Australia. The official decided the time wasn’t right, but the more adventurous Cobb thought otherwise. With so many people flooding in to join the gold rush, he thought the potential was so good that he would go it alone.
At that time, the gathering point for the young and ambitious in Melbourne was the Criterion Hotel, a rather plush establishment that boasted a long bar where drinks were served with ice – a rarity in those days – and patrons were seated at marble-topped tables. It was in this setting that Cobb enlisted the support of three other young Americans – John Peck, John Lamber and James Swanton – to form a transport company. They decided to import coaches from the renowned US builders of the day, Abbot-Downing Coaches, of Concord, New Hampshire. These splendid vehicles were painted bright red with yellow wheels, their undercarriages were decorated with gleaming gold scrollwork and the carriage interiors were upholstered in crimson plush, with straw on the floor to keep the passengers’ feet warm.

This story excerpt is from Issue #51

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2007