by Jim Fitzpatrick
Oxford University Press
Australia, the size of the continental United States, but comparatively arid, had been basically explored by 1890. However, beyond the few inland towns of note, it was mostly the province of sparsely distributed agriculturalists, pastoralists, miners, and keepers of isolated telegraph stations and government outposts. As a result, there was a need for travel between the widely spaced settlements and isolated homesteads, and the distances travelled were large by world standards; in few other countries did people move so far as part of their regular work routines.
In great breadth and depth The Bicycle and the Bush looks at the machine's introduction, manufacturing, sales and distribution in Australia, and its broader social impact upon urban society, women, the Australian language, and racing, among other things.
The machine's use ranged from rabbit fence and telephone line patrols, to being the main form of transport for shearers for nearly two decades. On the Western Australian gold fields in particular (an area the size of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah combined), the remoteness of early settlements led to the most unusual and extensive network of bicycle paths in the world at that time, based upon camel tracks used to supply mining settlements. Travellers and regularly scheduled cycle messenger services and 'special' mail service cyclists routinely rode 100 miles or more a day.