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Evans, Peter
Paving the way: Steam roller manufacture in Victoria 1890-1940
17th Engineering Heritage Conference: Canberra 100 - Building the Capital, Building the Nation
Engineers Australia, Barton, Australian Capital Territory, 2013, pp. 180-189

In newly-Federated Australia the focus of civil engineering turned gradually away from railways and towards roads. In 1908 J. M. and H. E. Coane published Australasian Roads, the first truly Australian text on road construction. This book ran to a number of editions and was updated and heavily revised by B. M. Coutie in 1927. A theme of every edition was the introduction of mechanisation in road making. As William Calder (M.Inst.C.E.) wrote in the preface to the fourth edition: ... we are now in the midst of a new era in Road Transportation - an era as far reaching in its effects, commercially and socially, as that brought about by the invention of the steam engine. Protective measures introduced by the new Commonwealth government in 1907 encouraged the manufacture of local equipment to build new roads for the young nation. This paper examines steam roller manufacture in Victoria from 1890 to 1940, with up to 36 steam rollers built by five Victorian firms during this period. These steam rollers were used by the Victorian Country Roads Board as well as Shires and Cities throughout Victoria in the creation and maintenance of a modern road network. (One of these Victorian-built steam rollers was purchased by the Department of Home Affairs in 1913 specifically for the construction of the Federal Capital, and is preserved there today). The five firms concerned were the Phoenix Foundry of Ballarat, Austral Otis of South Melbourne, Jaques Brothers of Richmond, Thompsons of Castlemaine, and Cowley's Eureka Ironworks of Ballarat. Of these, Cowley's produced almost half of the total output of Victorian-built steam rollers. In a revolution paralleling that of the civil engineers as they turned their focus from railways to roads, these mechanical engineering firms were turning their focus from the support of gold mining to general engineering. The paper will give a brief history of each firm with the emphasis on Cowley's as the principal producer of steam rollers in Victoria and, indeed, Australia.

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