Wheelbarrow mania hits Queensland

In June 1935, newspapers around Australia featured news of a wheelbarrow race from Beechworth to Mt Buffalo in Victoria. The result of a wager believed to have originated over a couple of beers at a Beechworth pub, the 51-mile (82km) distance was covered in eight days.

James Kelly and Alfred Williamson with their wheelbarrow at the start of the Toowoomba to Brisbane journey. Published in The Telegraph (Brisbane), June 25, 1935

In the spirit of "whatever Southerners can do Queenslanders can do better", it wasn't long before the wheelbarrow craze made its way to the Sunshine State. Alfred Williamson and James Kelly, with £25 at stake, proposed to travel by wheelbarrow from Toowoomba to Brisbane in ten-and-a-half days. The pair set out on June 25 from the Toowoomba Post Office. During the tedious and physically punishing journey, Kelly was pusher and Williamson the passenger.

"The Toowoomba to Brisbane 'barrowmen", James Kelly (pusher) and Alfred Williamson (in barrow) near Goodna at the end of their marathon yesterday" (The Telegraph, July 3, 1935)

Published in The Telegraph, July 4, 1935

James Kelly (left) and Alfred Williamson (right) after their wheelbarrow derby from Toowoomba to Brisbane. Published in Daily Standard (Brisbane). July 4, 1935

On July 4, a crowd of 2,000 waited outside the Brisbane GPO for the duo's arrival. Lacking a permit from the traffic branch, the pair had been stopped by police at Woolloongabba in the inner south. A sympathetic motorist offered to drive the men and their wheelbarrow to the finish line. Strangely, the identity of the man who had posed the original wager could not be established, so well-known former athlete Charles Bonham stepped in and presented Williamson and Kelly with the £25 reward.

Cartoon published in The Telegraph (Brisbane), July 4, 1935

In September that year Williamson travelled to Beechworth, intent on beating the original record. This time, he partnered with his wife and they completed the marathon in just two days and 22.5 hours. After smashing yet another record from Albury to Melbourne, Williamson confessed that the days of the wheelbarrow craze were numbered. "People ... are fed up with them," he admitted.

Myles Sinnamon - Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland


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Fantastic blog Myles. Perhaps the Olympics could introduce that as a competitive sport?

Do you know that Mareeba Shire Council hosts a yearly wheel barrow race from Mareeba to Chillagoe. An event that started 13 years ago. Check out their website for a full history on this popular event.