13 September 2023

Original research into stagecoach travel delivers prestigious award to Eurobodalla historian

| Claire Sams
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A man standing and holding a framed horizontal award

Author Kevin Setter’s long-time interest in the history of south-east NSW has been recognised with an annual award from Eurobodalla Shire Council. Photo: Eurobodalla Shire Council.

Many of us take modern living – including parcel delivery and public transport – for granted, not appreciating the many decades it took for our lifestyles to become the way they are today.

One of the people studying that process is Eurobodalla resident Kevin Setter, who was presented with the 2023 Fergus Thompson OAM Heritage Award in September for his efforts.

The win, Mr Setter said, had come as a shock.

“I was surprised I was a finalist – I didn’t know whether I’d win or not,” he said.

“I was pleased to just be a finalist.”

The annual $1500 Fergus Thompson OAM Heritage Award is bestowed to groups or individuals who, over the past two years, have raised awareness of the Eurobodalla Shire’s history.

Mr Setter’s original research formed the basis of his book, Stage Coaches and Royal Mail Southern Eastern NSW 1841-1913, which looks at the use of stagecoaches, the development of the region’s postal service and how roads were built in the difficult-to-navigate terrain in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Stagecoaches were carriages that would take people and packages on journeys long enough to require a change of horses.

But before Mr Setter could publish his book or receive the award, long hours of research were ahead of him.

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He first became interested in stagecoaches in the 1990s while he was studying for a university degree.

“I was looking through records and found all these coaches that had been registered, at various stages, between 1892 and 1902, along with the names of the coaches and how many people they were licensed to carry,” he said.

“I put them aside until ’round about November last year, when I’d finished my last book on the Moruya RSL’s history and I had some more time.”

Mr Setter spent months examining microfilm versions of contemporary news articles and searching online database Trove for information.

“There were no records that I could find, so I had to compile the information myself,” he said.

“I had to go through the old newspapers from the time, from the Goulburn, Braidwood, Milton, Cobargo, Bega and Moruya areas.

“It has some of the accidents that took place in the coaches, including the fatal accident in Bega in 1902 and the accident with the Governor-General a few years later.”

Mr Setter’s work sheds light on the development of our modern public transport networks.

“The only way that the coaches were able to make any money whatsoever was through their passenger traffic,” he said.

“Passengers were charged at the rough rate of four pence a mile.”

The process of researching and writing his book came with a surprise twist.

“I thought it was going to be a simple thing, but it grew and grew until it finished up at 190-odd pages of information,” Mr Setter said.

“I was only going to look at the stagecoaches, but when I started it got more involved.

“As a result, the book now covers the mail system, in the early stages when there were no councils involved and it was done by horseback.”

The book was also indexed to help people researching their family history.

In September, Bronwen Harvey was also presented with the 2023 recognition award, for her work as chair of Tilba’s History and Culture Working Group.

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Mr Setter said his long-standing interest in local history tied in with his family’s story.

“My great-great-grandfather was a manager of a depo in Victoria and drove coaches between Ballarat and Gordon, and also two of his sons drove coaches in the Ballarat region,” he said.

“It’s probably something that goes back to there, that I have such an interest in stagecoaches.”

Despite the months of hard work that went into his latest book, Mr Setter isn’t planning on stepping away from local history any time soon.

“I am thinking and working on at present an account of the coaches in the area on the Monaro, and I’ve also been asked to do a history of the Moruya Catholic Church, which I’m working on at present,” he said.

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