In the early 1800's settlements were sparsely spread throughout the Monaro and the coastal plain. These early settlers moved between the Monaro and the coastal plain and when families grew, relatives spread over the two locations taking up land and starting their own places. Settlers from the Towamba Valley visited the doctor in Bombala because it was closer than Bega and as they had relatives there they could spend the night and come home the following day. Therefore, Rockton, Wangrabell, Bombala and Cathcart were 'close' neighbours.
Excerpt from 'Bygone Days of Cathcart' by Laurie Platts 1989
The importance of Cathcart, or 'Taylor's Flat' as it was known from the early 1830's to 1857, was its geographical position; it was the hub of bullock teams converging from Bombala, Delegate, Bibbenluke, Cooma and far beyond as well as from the Coast and Twofold Bay. It was 'Taylor's Flat' that all the teamsters had to pass through either before or after they ascended or descended the Big Jack Mountain with the dreaded 'Purgatory' or 'Cowbail' passes being the only mountain passes for teamsters linking the Monaro to the coast.
The Aborigines knew Cathcart area as Talaqueong. The first bridle track discovered to Talaqueong from Twofold Bay was about 1832. This trail meandered from the Coast via the Mataganah and Towamba Rivers to the Big Jack Mountains where it started the ascent on the Western side of the Towamba River, crossing and recrossing the river to Combloblumblo (Cole Hole) where it sidled the gorge on the Western side, reaching Talaqueong Gap, on Maneroo at Woolungubrah. This access to Monaro was referred to as the 'Bridle Track' and later sometimes called 'Mountain Hut Road' but was never an easy trail because of steep gullies to cross which were a bullocky's nightmare as well as the side cuttings up the precipitous sides of the Cole Hole.
A road for drays and wagons was of vital importance with the result that the 'Purgatory' - so named by teamsters - was constructed. this road from Eden and Merimbula followed the same route as the 'Bridle Track' except that instead of going up the western side of the Cole Hole it branched off coming up the eastern side, meeting the Big Jack Mountain Road of today about one mile from the top.
The earliest teamsters used this track with much difficulty, helping each other by double banking (using more than one team to pull the dray or wagon). They used block and tackle besides various other ingenious methods to negotiate the more difficult ascents and descents before easier grades were discovered.
It is thought that through stockmen mustering cattle that the 'Cowbail' (sometimes referred to as the 'Chimneys' ) was discovered and aligned. An unsubstantiated belief is that Ben Boyd (1845) was carried on a litter by his Kanaka servants up the 'Bridle Track' on Big Jack Mountain and stayed at an inn in Cathcart, whilst making an inspection of his Monaro holdings. It is believed that through this trip in 1846 Boyd spent three thousand pounds on the road from Boydtown. Three thousand pounds in those days was a lot of money, so Boyd's contribution to Cathcart and Monaro in general was quite significant for future settlement at that time.
A move in 1857-8 saw a push for another route to Merimbula, when Mr. Hebden who was at 'Mt Marshall' and 'Maharatta' Station approached William Went, a teamster from the coast, asking him if he could find a track down Tantawanglo. He would pay him handsomely to pull a log with his bullocks making the track. If successful, Hebden would have his German employees fall the trees, clearing the track. William Went was successful telling Hebden if he gave him his wool to cart to Merimbula that would be payment enough.
The majority of teams that traded with Monaro and the Coast were bullock teams because of their reliability in unnerving situations given they were temperamentally more placid. Horses in the same situation would panic which could cause a catastrophe.
Only under extreme circumstances did the teams attempt the assault on Big Jack Mountain alone, in these years before the road was made good enough to make the going easier. In the main they made small convoys of six to eight other teams (either bullock or horse) or work in small groups so that each team could help the others in case of bogs and accidents. Winter and summer, hail, rain and shine, he was subjected to the elements of nature and many a 'hairy' and 'scary' tale has been told of their exploits.
Teams had to pull straight to achieve maximum pulling power on sharp bends, the lead bullocks were kept out wide to avoid pulling the body bullocks into the cutting or over the bank. On steep grades going down the mountain, brakes made of iron plates that fitted the shape of the iron tyre wheel, were applied by a screw mechanism that applied pressure on the tyre. The incessant grind of grit picked up on the tyre being ground between tyres and brake shoes, made a noise that only a teamster would know. These brakes on a bullock wagon had to be applied on every down hill grade or the wagon would run over the bullocks. It was an art and a dangerous job with many a man going under the wheels causing death or serious injury.
Hundreds upon hundreds of teamsters worked these mountain passes. Big Jack, Tantawanglo and much later Brown Mountain, from the early 1830's until 1928, with scores travelling up and down every day. With the advent of the railway coming to Bombala in 1921, teamster cartage was severely reduced.
Mrs. Stove (then aged 101) a resident born at Beresford, could still remember over 30 teams of all descriptions being unyoked and turned out to graze on Beresford reserve and a similar number at Cathcart. With the average team comprising sixteen to eighteen animals, imagine gathering your team together next morning.
In this modern age the Sabbath does not hold the religious relevance it did 85 years ago, for on the 26th, March 1915 at the Police Court that morning before Mr. Gunn P.M. Patrick Elliot and Charles Peisley two Bombala teamsters were charged with driving their horse team through Cathcart on a Sunday. They pleaded guilty and were each fined five shillings and six shillings costs!
After the Imlay Brothers acquired McLeay's Flat, the Imlays soon traded their livestock from Cathcart and their other holdings as well as other settlers, transporting and supplying the free settler and convict alike to and from Hobart, Launceston and Port Arthur.
Both Tasmania and the Imlays relied upon this important market, making a ready market for meat from their stations, plus other pioneer's stock. It is interesting and worth quoting the amount of trade from Twofold Bay to Tasmania via the Imlays and after they became insolvent by drought, fires and real depression of the 1839s and 1840s. Ben Boyd carried on their interests for a short time. In 1833 the Schooner 'Friendship' with cattle from Twofold Bay went to Tasmania. In 1834 the 'Clarence' and 'John Charlotte' went with a similar cargo. In 1835 the Barque 'James' with sheep and cattle and in 1836 'Merope', 'Matchless', 'Brougham', 'Lady of the Lake', and 'Harlequin' all carried livestock from Twofold Bay to Tasmania. In the years 1834-5 over 1500 cattle and 12,000 sheep were loaded at the Cattle Bay, Eden and went live to Tasmania. These were all vital to the survival of Tasmania.