Brain Pickings

Stunning Vintage Photos of Early 1900s Australian Bike Culture

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What a handlebar koala has to do with skipping 1000 miles from Melbourne to Adelaide.

As a sworn bike lover, I remain fascinated by the evolution of bike culture and the bicycle as a cultural agent, from its design and engineering history to its beauty to its role in the emancipation of women (only after telling them not to cultivate ‘bicycle face’). While digging through the archive of the State Library of New South Wales, I came across these stunning public domain images of early 20th century bike culture in Australia, equal parts sweet (all those tandems!), inspirational (a record-breaking ride from Sydney to Melbourne in 3 days and 7 hours!), and scandalous (NB: Annie is wearing trousers!)

Brownie (Muriel Long) with bicycle decorated for street procession - Deniliquin, New South Wales

Man on a penny-farthing bicycle being chased by his sister (Maggie & Bob Spiers) - West Wyalong, New South Wales, c. 1900

Billie Samuels leaving to ride from Sydney to Melbourne, in hopes of breaking the women's record in 3 days and 7 hours, on a Malvern Star bicycle, 4 July 1934, by Sam Hood

Close-up of Billie Samuels on the Malvern Star bike showing her koala bear mascot before leaving for Melbourne, 4 July 1934, by Sam Hood

Studio photograph of Annie Dawson Wallace seated on a bicycle - Sydney, New South Wales, 1899

Man on bicycle pillioning boy - Bunaloo, New South Wales

Annie Dawson Wallace with her bicycle. NB: Annie is wearing trousers - Sydney, New South Wales, 1899

Man and woman on a Malvern Star abreast tandem bicycle, c. 1930s, by Sam Hood

Alfred Lee and penny farthing, Glen Street, North Sydney

School teacher (Miss Marley) at Narraburra School - Narraburra, New South Wales, no date, by Eden Photo Studios

Palace Emporium Bicycle Club. Century riders - Sydney area, New South Wales, July 1899

Cyclist Joyce Barry, celebrated throughout the 1930s for her many record-breaking time and distances rides, advertising for Milk Board, September 1939

A. H. Sheppard, Australian Champion, c. 1913

Champion Australian cyclist Reggie 'Iron Man' McNamara (1887-1971), no date

Line up of competitors at Goulburn, Goulburn to Sydney, Dunlop Road Race, c. 1930s

Hubert Opperman eating an ice cream next to a Peter's Ice Cream Reo truck,1936, by Sam Hood

Oppy (Hubert Opperman) and woman, possibly Edna Sayers, on tandem bicycle, by Sam Hood

Four cyclists on speed bicycles on rollers time trials to promote Malvern Star, by Sam Hood

Two men in plus-fours on a tandem, by Sam Hood

Boys of Hoyts Clovelly Theatre 'Spider's Web' Club ride their bikes while 'Spiderman' looks on, by Sam Hood

Skipping champion Tom Morris attempts to skip from Sydney to Brisbane via the Pacific Highway, 28 June 1937, by Sam Hood. He had already skipped from Melbourne to Adelaide and back (1000 miles) and from Melbourne to Sydney in 28 days.

Mr. Waterhouse had the first motorcycle that came to Singleton and he built the front carrier for passenger - Singleton, New South Wales, no date

For a related vintage bike culture treat, see this fantastic short documentary on how the Dutch got their bicycle paths (so they can have royalty ride in them), as well as the excellent Wheels of Change, one of the 11 best history books of 2011.

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