A driver’s experience delivering horse mail from Busselton to Cape Leeuwin

In 1915, Busselton resident Arthur Breeden would start a 14-hour journey to Augusta delivering mail by horse and cart. Mr Breeden, who was 18 years old at the time, was employed by Phil Mouchemore who took over the horse mail contract from the well known Chris Abbey.

Mr Breeden had worked for the Mouchemore brothers delivering fresh fish from Augusta to Busselton in time for it to be transported to Perth via rail, before he took on the mail delivery. He drove the Busselton to Cape Leeuwin horse mail along the inland Millars Track, which today roughly approximates the Bussell Highway. Millars Track had a bridge at Carbunup and Margaret River but was suitable only for horses and bullocks. The coastal Caves track was used by motor vehicles.

His son Sid Breeden recalled that the official start time of 8am made it impossible to reach Cape Leeuwin in time so an unofficial 6am started the 14 hour journey. "Mostly alone he set off in a two horse buggy from the Busselton Queen Street Livery Stables, in behind what is now Albies, carrying five mail bags and passing the time memorising Masonic Lodge rituals," he said.

"His first stop was the Margaret River Post Office then Tom Higgins Livery Stables for a change of horses and a sulky for the trip onto Augusta. "Bullock teams gave way to the Royal Mail, but today the mind boggles imagining the commotion of bullocks pulling off the track then the mail horse cart maneuvering past.

"From Augusta the journey to the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse settlement required another change of horse to either horseback or spring cart, typically arriving at 8pm for an overnight stay."

At 4am the next morning Arthur Breeden would leave Leeuwin for the reverse journey back to Busselton arriving 14 hours later at 6pm. "The first stop was the Augusta Post Office before it opened, so a key hidden under a piece of bark allowed him inside to take the mailbag on board," Sid said.

"This continued until Arthur left for the Western Front in France and Belgium with WA's famous 16th Battalion.

"There are many other insights into our historic southwest corner of WA. "Suffice to say, the horse mail days were long and hard and likely teenagers today would not consider."

This story by Emma Kirk was first published in the Busselton Mail on the 29th of June 2020