"Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze" is the opening line in one of Banjo Paterson's poems first published in the Sydney Mail on 25 July 1896.
That poem signals the arrival of one of the most important inventions of the late 19th century, the safety bike.
I was reminded of this a few weeks back. I had been doing some contract writing in the city. Each day I walked from the bus stop to the office past construction work underway for the Sydney metro.
There, suddenly, the side of a building was revealed through demolition carrying the words Bennett and Wood. I was at what had once been Sydney bike central, the home of the famous Speedwell brand.
Cycling had been popular for some time, although some of the early variants such as the velocipede or the later penny farthing are strange to modern eyes. They were heavy, expensive and could be dangerous.
There were three wheelers suitable for the ladies. Queen Victoria had one, although there is no record of her ever using it, but cycling was largely the domain of men.
The arrival of the safety bike changed all this. It had a diamond shaped frame, two equal sized wheels, pedals that provided drive to the back wheel by a chain.
Women with their bulky dresses could not easily ride the new bikes. They were accommodated with a step through frame with a guard over the chain to stop their dresses becoming caught.
Men and women could now ride together. The result was a cycling craze that swept the world.
In Sydney, Bennett and Wood had opened a cycle sale shop in 1882 in humble premises in Clarence Street, a single fronted two-storey warehouse. They were both cycling enthusiasts.
Initially they imported Penny Farthings, but then began importing the new safety bikes from England. In 1887, Bennett took full control of the business. As demand grew, he began local manufacture.
Demand continued to grow and the company bought premises in George Street and then Market Street. Meantime, down in Melbourne, a cycling enthusiast called Tom Finnigan had established a cycling business in the suburb of Malvern. The famous Malvern Star bike was born.
The cultural and social effects of these developments were quite profound. They formed a pattern of life that survived in Australia to the 1960s.
Next week, I will take you down memory lane with a particular focus on Armidale, bringing back a world in which kids could roam wild in a way that's no longer possible.