The Rangeland Journal The Rangeland Journal Society
Rangeland ecology and management

Origins of Travelling Stock Routes. 1. Connections to Indigenous traditional pathways

P. G. Spooner A B , M. Firman A and Yalmambirra A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, PO Box 789, Albury, NSW 2640, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email:

The Rangeland Journal 32(3) 329-339
Submitted: 11 March 2010  Accepted: 16 August 2010   Published: 14 September 2010


Travelling Stock Routes (TSRs) are networks of grazing routes and reserves situated throughout much of south-eastern Australia, and thought to have originated from the informal tracks of early European explorers, pastoralists and settlers. However, the historic development of TSRs has been poorly documented, and mostly confined to the classic pastoral account. An alternative perspective is that many TSRs may have originated from previous Indigenous traditional pathways, which are known to have existed before European settlement. By examining available literature and maps, we found evidence which suggests that several TSRs, which follow the routes of early explorers, settlers or pastoralists, have developed from previous traditional pathways. Adoption of Indigenous pathways into the present-day stock route system has most likely occurred by (1) ‘passing on’ of knowledge of pathways by Indigenous guides and trackers, (2) observations of physical evidence of pathways by early Europeans, and their subsequent adoption, and (3) shared development of some TSRs as a result of Indigenous people working in the pastoral industry. These findings highlight the significant cultural heritage values of the TSR network, and the need to appropriately protect and manage this important national asset.

Additional keywords: drovers, historic roads, indigenous knowledge, settlement history, squatters.


The authors are grateful for the generous support provided by NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change, the Wiradjuri Council of Elders, the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, and NSW Mitchell and State Libraries. Many thanks to Jim Noble, Mal Ridges and James Cameron for their constructive comments and suggestions to improve an earlier draft of this manuscript. We are also grateful to Simon McDonald and Deanna Duffy (CSU Spatial Analysis Unit) for digitising maps and producing figures.


Ah Chee D. (2004). Kwatye (water) in the Great Artesian Basin. In: ‘Making Connections: A Journey Along Central Australian Aboriginal Trading Routes’. (Eds D. Wall and C. Wall.) pp. 65–69. (Arts Queensland: Brisbane.)

Anderson W. (1994). ‘Roads for the People.’ (Hyland House: South Melbourne.)

Andrews A. (1991). ‘Kosciusko: The Mountain History.’ (Table Top Press: Canberra.)

Ardler J. (2003). Rocks are rocks, mountains are mountains: aboriginal values of mountains. In: ‘Proceedings of International Year of Mountains Conference (2002)’. (Eds J. Mackay and Associates.) pp. 8–11. (Australian Alps Committee: Jindabyne.)

Baker D. (1993) John Piper: conqueror of the interior. Journal of Aboriginal History 17, 17–37.

Baker D. (1997). ‘The Civilised Surveyor: Thomas Mitchell and the Australian Aborigines.’ (Melbourne University Press: Carlton.)

Baker D. (1998) Exploring with aborigines: Thomas Mitchell and his aboriginal guides. Journal of Aboriginal History 22, 37–50.

Berndt C. , and Berndt R. (1996). ‘The World of the First Australians: Aboriginal Traditional Life – Past and Present.’ (Aboriginal Studies Press: Canberra.)

Blainey G. (1982). ‘Triumph of the Nomads: a History of Ancient Australia.’ (MacMillan Co.: Melbourne.)

Blair S. (2000) Travel routes, dreaming tracks and cultural heritage: perspectives on Australian cultural routes. Journal of Historic Environment 14, 15–21.

Blay J. (2005). Report of the Bega Valley Shire Region Old Pathways and Trails Mapping Project. NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and Bega Shire Council. Available at: (accessed 1 March 2010).

Breckwoldt R. (1990). ‘Living Corridors: Conservation and Management of Roadside Vegetation.’ (Greening Australia: Canberra.)

Broome R. (2001). ‘Aboriginal Australians: Black Response to White Dominance, 1788–1980.’ (Allen and Unwin: Sydney.)

Buxton G. L. (1967). ‘The Riverina 1861–1891.’ (Melbourne University Press: Carlton.)

Byrne D. , and Nugent M. (2004). ‘Mapping Attachment: A Spatial Approach to Aboriginal Post-Contact Heritage.’ (NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change: Hurstville.)

Cale P. (1990) The value of road reserves to the avifauna of the central wheat belt of Western Australia. Proceedings of the Ecological Society of Australia 16, 359–367.

Cameron J. M. R., Spooner P. G. (2010) Origins of Travelling Stock Routes. 2. Early development, management and the growing embrace of the law (1830–70s). The Rangeland Journal 32, 341–351.

Campbell I. (1977) Social backgrounds and relations with the Aborigines of New England. Journal of the Armidale and Districts Historical Society 14, 1–11.

Carta F., Parsons R. (2005) Notes on the germination of the endangered species Sclerolaena napiformis (Chenopodiaceae). Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 9, 215–218.

Coghill L. , Ketchell J. , Martin K. , and Price K. (1997). ‘Footprints to Country, Kin and Cultures.’ (Curriculum Corporation: Carlton.)

Cowan J. (1992). ‘The Aboriginal Tradition.’ (Element Books: London.)

Cumpston J. (1951). ‘Charles Sturt: His Life and Journeys of Explorations.’ (Georgian House: Melbourne.)

Donovan V. , and Wall C. (2004). ‘Making Connections: A Journey along Central Australian Aboriginal Trading Routes.’ (Queensland Government: Brisbane.)

Edwards W. (1998). ‘Traditional Aboriginal Society.’ (Macmillan Education: South Yarra.)

Ellen L. (1953). ‘Some Facts about the History of the Upper Macleay.’ (L. Ellen: Sydney.)

English A. (2002). ‘The Sea and the Rock Gives us a Feed: Mapping and Managing Gumbaingirr Wild Resource Use Places.’ (NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service: Hurstville.)

Eyre E. J. (1845). Journals of Expeditions of Discovery into Central Australia and Overland from Adelaide to King George’s Sound in the Years 1840–1: Sent by the Colonists of South Australia, with the Sanction and Support of the Government: Including an Account of the Manners and Customs of the Aborigines and the State of their Relations with Europeans. Available at: (accessed 23 February 2010).

Flood J. (1980). ‘The Moth Hunters: Aboriginal Prehistory of the Australian Alps.’ (Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies: Canberra.)

Flood J. (1983). ‘Archaeology of the Dreamtime: The Story of Prehistoric Australia and its People.’ (National Library of Australia: Canberra.)

Freudenberger D. , and Drew A. (2001). ‘Bird Surveys in Travelling Stock Routes and Reserves on the Northwest Slopes and Plains: Perspectives on the Conservation Value of TSRs.’ (CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems: Canberra.)

Gammage B. (1986). ‘Narrandera Shire.’ (Bill Gammage for the Narrandera Shire Council: Narrandera.)

Gardner P. (1991). ‘Names on the Omeo Highway between Bairnsdale and Omeo: Their Origins, Meanings and History.’ (Ngarak Press: Ensay.)

Gardner P. (1997). ‘Some Notes on the Victorian Alpine Aborigines.’ (Ngarak Press: Ensay.)

Glasson W. (1977). ‘Yuranigh.’ (Alex Mills: Taree.)

Gregory A. C. , and Gregory F. T. (1884). Journals of Australian Explorations by A. and F. Gregory. Available at: (accessed 22 January 2010).

Grounds C. (1983). ‘The Natural History of the Dubbo Area: The Relationship between People and Natives in the Traditional Aboriginal Society of the Dubbo Area.’ (Field Naturalist and Conservation Society: Dubbo.)

Harrison R. (2004). ‘Shared Landscapes: Archaeologies of Attachment and the Pastoral Industry in New South Wales.’ (University of New South Wales Press: Sydney.)

Hemming S. (1984) Conflict between Aborigines and Europeans along the Murray River, the Darling to the Great South Bend (1830–1841). Anthropological Society of South Australia Journal 22, 3–21.

Hibberd J. K. (1978). ‘The Future of the Long Paddock: A Study of Travelling Stock Reserves, Routes and Roadside Verges in the Southern Tablelands of NSW.’ (Nature Conservation Council of NSW: Sydney.)

Hibberd J. K. , and Soutberg T. L. (1991). Roadside reserve condition 1977–89 in the southern Tablelands of New South Wales. In: ‘Nature Conservation 2: The Role of Corridors’. (Eds D. A. Saunders and R. J. Hobbs.) pp. 177–186. (Surrey Beatty and Sons: Chipping Norton.)

Horton D. (1994). ‘The Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History, Society and Culture.’ (Australian Institute of Australian and Torres Strait Islands Studies: Canberra.)

Hosking A. (1959) History broods in the Snowy Mountains. The Riverlander 1959(10), 8–9.

Hovell W. H. , and Hume H. (1825). Journey of Discovery to Port Phillip (1824–1825). Available at: (accessed 24 February 2010).

IMC (Integrated Marketing and Communications) (2008). ‘NSW Rural Lands Protection Board System Review: Final Report.’ (IMC: Sydney.)

John F., Cacho O., Marshall G. (2000) What price for the right to go a-droving: a derived demand approach. Agricultural and Resource Economics 1, 2–16.

Johnston T. H. (1941). Some Aboriginal routes in the western portion of South Australia. Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia: South Australian Branch 42, 33–65.

Jones P. (1984) Red ochre expeditions: an ethnographic and historical analysis of aboriginal trade in the Lake Eyre basin. Journal of the Anthropological Society of South Australia 22, 3–10.

Kabaila P. (2005). ‘High Country Footprints: Aboriginal Pathways and Movement in the High Country of South-Eastern Australia.’ (Prion Publishing: Canberra.)

Kain K. (1991). ‘The First Overlanders Hawdon and Bonney: Their Accounts of the First Cattle Drive from New South Wales to Adelaide 1838.’ (K. Kain and Gould Books: Ridgehaven.)

Kerwin D. (2006). Aboriginal Dreaming Tracks: The common ways. PhD Thesis, Griffith University, Southport, Queensland, Australia.

Kingston B. (2006). ‘A History of New South Wales.’ (Cambridge University Press: Sydney.)

Koetigg M. (1985). Assessment of Aboriginal Sites in the Dubbo City Area. Report for Dubbo City Council, Dubbo.

Lockwood D. (1962). ‘The Aboriginal.’ (Rigby Publishing: Sydney.)

Massola A. (1971). ‘The Aborigines of South-Eastern Australia: As They Were.’ (Heinemann Publishers: Melbourne.)

Massola A. (1973) An Avoca River-Wirrengren Plain Aboriginal trade route. Victorian Naturalist 90, 126–131.

McBryde I. (1997) The cultural landscapes of Aboriginal long distance exchange systems: can they be confined within our heritage registers? Journal of Historic Environment 14, 6–14.

McBryde I. (2000) Travellers in storied landscapes: a case study in exchanges and heritage. Aboriginal History 24, 152–174.

McCarthy F. (1939) Trade in Aboriginal Australia and trade relationships with Torres Strait, New Guinea and Malaya. Oceania 9, 405–438.

McConnell A. (1976). Aboriginal trade in Australia. PhD Thesis, Australian National University, Canberra.

McGrath A. (1987). ‘Born in the Cattle.’ (Allen and Unwin: Sydney.)

McKnight T. (1977). ‘The Long Paddock: Australia’s Travelling Stock Routes.’ (University of New England: Armidale.)

McLaren G., Cooper W. (1996) Aboriginal involvement in Australian exploration: the enduring myth. Northern Perspective 19, 32–40.

Memmott P., Long S. (2002) Place theory and place maintenance in Indigenous Australia. Urban Policy and Research 20, 39–56.
CrossRef |

Micha F. (1959) Trade and change in Australian Aboriginal cultures: Australian Aboriginal trade as an expression of close culture contact and as a mediator of culture change. American Antiquity 37, 266–268.

Mitchell T. L. (1838). ‘Three Expeditions into the Interior of Eastern Australia, with Descriptions of the Recently Explored Regions of Australia Felix, and the Colony of New South Wales.’ (T. and W. Boone: London.)

Mitchell T. L. (1848). ‘Journal of an Expedition into the Interior of Tropical Australia: In Search of a Route from Sydney to the Gulf of Carpentaria.’ (T. and W. Boone: London.)

Morgan H. A. M. (1956). ‘Bell’s Line of Road: The North Grose Route.’ (D. S. Ford: Sydney.)

Mulvaney D. (1989). ‘Encounters in Place: Outsiders and Aboriginal Australians 1606–1985.’ (Queensland University Press: Brisbane.)

Mulvaney J. (2002) These Aboriginal lines of travel. Historic Environment 16, 4–7.

Myers F. R. (1982). Always ask: resource use and land ownership among Pintupi Aborigines of the Australian Western desert. In: ‘Resource Managers: North American and Australian Hunter-Gatherers’. (Eds N. M. Williams and E. S. Hunn.) pp. 173–195. (Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies: Canberra.)

Nicholson J. (2007). ‘Song-lines and Stone Axes: Transport, Trade and Travel in Australia.’ (Allen and Unwin: Crows Nest.)

Noble J. C., Kimber R. G. (1997) On the ethno-ecology of Mallee root-water. Aboriginal History 21, 170–202.

Noble J. C., Habermehl M. A., James C. D., Landsberg J., Langston A. C., Morton S. R. (1998) Biodiversity implications of water management in the Great Artesian Basin. The Rangeland Journal 20, 275–300.
CrossRef |

NSW DECC (Department of Environment and Climate Change) (2003). ‘Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation Management and Interpretation Plan.’ (NSW DECC: Hurstville.)

NSW DECC (Department of Environment and Climate Change) (2008). ‘High Country Heritage: Cultural Themes for the Great Eastern Ranges in NSW Initiative.’ (Umwelt Pty Ltd: Sydney.)

NSW DMR (Department of Main Roads) (1950) Historical roads of New South Wales; Bells line of road. Journal of the Department of Main Roads 9, 18–26.

NSW LPMA (Land and Property Management Authority) (2010). Parish and Historical. Available at: (accessed 3 August 2010).

NSW NPA (National Parks Association) (1991). ‘Environmental Values of Travelling Stock Routes and Reserves in the Armidale District.’ (NSW National Parks Association: Armidale.)

O’Bryan K. (2004) The appropriation of Indigenous ecological knowledge: recent Australian developments. Macquarie Journal of International and Comparative Environmental Law 1, 1–3.

O’Connor M. (2004) Mapping Australia’s transhumance: snow lease and stock route maps of NSW. Globe 56, 13–24.

Oxley J. (1820). Journals of Two Expeditions into the Interior of New South Wales, by Order of the British Government in the Years 1817–18. Available at: (accessed 22 January 2010).

Parris H. S. (1949) From Melbourne to the Murray in 1839: extracts from the diary of a pioneer and naturalist, Dr. Edmund Charles Hobson. Victorian Naturalist 66, 183–190.

Pepper P. (1985). ‘The Kurnai of Gippsland.’ (Hyland House: Melbourne.)

Peterson N. , and Long I. (1986). ‘Australian Territorial Organisation: A Band Perspective.’ Oceania Monograph 30. (University of Sydney: Sydney.)

Pickering M. (1994) The physical landscape as a social landscape: a Garawa example. Archaeology in Oceania 29, 149–161.

Poynter J. (1987). ‘Major Mitchell and the Australian Felix.’ (Dunkeld and District Historical Museum: Dunkeld.)

Priestley S. (1984). ‘The Victorians: Making Their Mark.’ (Fairfax, Syme and Weldon Associates: McMahons Point.)

Queensland DNRW (Department of Natural Resources and Water) (2007). ‘Queensland Stock Route Network Management Strategy.’ (DNRW: Brisbane.)

Ramsay C. (2007). ‘Threatened species located on Travelling Stock Routes in south-east NSW.’ (NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change: Parramatta.)

Reynolds H. (1990 a). ‘The Other Side of the Frontier: Aboriginal Resistance to the European Invasion.’ (Penguin: Ringwood.)

Reynolds H. (1990 b). ‘With the White People.’ (Penguin: Ringwood.)

RLPB (Rural Lands Protection Board) (2004). ‘Travelling Stock Reserves Management.’ (Southern Tablelands RLPB: Braidwood.)

Roberts S. H. (1935). ‘The Squatting Age in Australia, 1835–1847.’ (Melbourne University Press: Melbourne.)

Rose D. (1996). ‘Nourishing Terrains: Australian Aboriginal Views of Landscape and Wilderness.’ (Australian Heritage Commission: Canberra.)

Roth W. E. (1897). ‘Ethnological studies among the North-West Central Queensland Aborigines.’ (Government Printer: Brisbane.)

Russell P. (2002). ‘This Errant Lady: Jane Franklin’s Overland Journey to Port Phillip and Sydney in 1839.’ (National Library of Australia: Canberra.)

Scougall B. (1992). ‘Cultural Heritage of the Australian Alps: Proceedings of the 1991 Symposium.’ (Australian Alps Liaison Committee: Canberra.)

Sharp I. , and Tatz C. (1966). ‘Aborigines and the Economy.’ (Jacaranda Press: Melbourne.)

Spooner P. G. (2005) On squatters, settlers and early surveyors: historical development of country road reserves in southern New South Wales. The Australian Geographer 36, 55–73.
CrossRef |

Spooner P. G., Lunt I. D. (2004) The influence of land-use history on roadside conservation values in an Australian agricultural landscape. Australian Journal of Botany 52, 445–458.
CrossRef |

Steele J. (1983). ‘Aboriginal Pathways in Southeast Queensland and the Richmond River.’ (University of Queensland Press: Brisbane.)

Sturt C. (1833). Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia During the Years 1828, 1829, 1830 and 1831; with Observations on the Soil, Climate and General Resources of the Colony of New South Wales. Available at: (accessed 22 January 2010).

Tindale N. , and Lindsay H. (1963). ‘Aboriginal Australians.’ (Jacaranda Press: Brisbane.)

Tolcher H. (2003). ‘Seed of the Coolibah: A History of the Yandruwandha and Yawarrawarrka People.’ (Open Book Print: Linden Park.)

Tucker S. (1985). ‘Aboriginal History of the Murray Basin Region.’ (Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies: Canberra.)

Turnbull D. (1989). ‘Maps and Territories, Science is an Atlas: Portfolio of Exhibit.’ (Deakin University Press: Geelong.)

Turnbull P. (2000) Learning to understand western and Indigenous sciences. Journal of Humanities Research 1, 7–20.

Watson C. (2000). ‘Ngantalarra: on the Nakarra Nakarra Dreaming Track.’ (Oxford University Press: Melbourne.)

Wesson S. (2000). ‘An Historical Atlas of the Aborigines.’ (Monash University: Melbourne.)

Wilderness Society (2008a). NSW Drovers Rally to Save Historic Travelling Stock Routes. Available at: (accessed 22 January 2010).

Wilderness Society (2008b). The Long Paddock: Statement by Scientists. Available at: (accessed 22 January 2010).

Williams N. M. , and Hunn E. S. (1982). ‘Resource Managers: North American and Australian Hunter-Gatherers.’ (Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies: Canberra.)

Export Citation Cited By (8)

View Altmetrics