We stand on the shoulders of giants

In Aussie Angles, October 20228 MinutesBy Mike WilliamsNovember 14, 2022

From 26 to 28 August, many truckies, families and friends headed to Alice Springs and the National Road Transport Museum for the annual Festival of Transport and the Road Transport Hall of Fame inductions. And what a weekend it was…

Transport Women Australia kicked off the celebrations with a well-attended breakfast. Jacquelene Brotherton made the opening speech, welcoming one and all. Of course, the ‘Truckies Breakfast’ was the order of the day, and it seems you just can’t have too much bacon. This was my first taste of what would become an unforgettable weekend of humour, storytelling and education.

After breakfast, it’s time to walk around and take in the museum’s scale. It’s difficult to explain the variety and quality of the former kings of the road on display – everything from a Ford Model T to the latest Kenworth prime mover. I was lucky enough to find myself alone in the Kenworth pavilion and able to stand there and appreciate the history. The first K125 CR to roll off the production line in Bayswater, Victoria, in 1971 is there on display. To be able to stand beside it and touch history is a feeling I can’t really explain. As I walked around the site, it was hard not to be impressed by the variety and quality of the displays.

Then it was time for a moment’s silence to take in the memorial wall.

Entering the pavilion that will play host to the Saturday afternoon induction ceremony, and on the right is the Roger Goss Oshkosh cabover hooked up to a set of Cleveland trailers, looking every bit as if it’s about to head out the gate on a mission. It probably could, too. Over to the left is the Vestey Rotinoff ‘Julie’ powered by a massive Rolls- Royce engine. Its bonnet is longer than a 909, and it has sliding doors and more gear leavers than most blokes have ever seen. She’s reported to be the only remaining example in the world.

On the walls hang trailer curtains that many of us would recognise: Thompson promotional curtains and one from the original Rod Hannifey Transport Industry Vehicle, Cat, and Shell. There’s so much to take in.

The stage where the inductees will receive their medallions and the hundreds of seats for the guests are all ready and waiting.

Shell Rimula has had a 21-year partnership with the Hall of Fame.

After lunch, we headed over the road to the races to view the running of the Cummins Cup, race one on the card at the Alice Springs Turf Club. Fashions on the field were pretty casual, not what you’d expect to see at Flemington or Rose Hill. Wide-brimmed hats, comfortable shoes and a cold beverage made more sense on a warm day. Qualis, ridden by LJ Miller, was fastest over the distance and took home the trophy.

I arrived at the museum early after lunch on Saturday to spend some more time looking at the exhibits before the 3:30pm start. I spent some time looking at the original Joe O’Brien Diesel Dog cartoon panels – there has to be several hundred of them, and yet another trip down memory lane – old-school truckie humour at its best.

About 350 people packed the hall to witness the 31 inductees for 2022 collect their medallions, along with another 24 held over from the small ceremony last year. Some were well-known names and some not-so-well-known, but equally deserving and coming from all areas of the trucking industry. There were several posthumous inductions, which were quite emotional and brought a tear to more than one eye. Jim Cooper was named an icon of the industry.

Memorial wall.

A Jim Cooper-designed Powertrack prime mover was one of the six new additions to the collection. Shell donated its Grey Ghost, an Acco service truck that raced around in the darkness, repairing fuel pumps. Also notable were a Leyland Super Hippo with a drill rig mounted on its rigid body and a rare twin-steer UD that once carted eggs. The Gilbert’s T650 that sat behind the stage for the inductions and a magnificently restored Mack in Lloyds North livery in memory of Byron ‘Bonza’ Bonney really stole the show.

The Road Transport Hall of Fame has been through a bit of a rocky period in recent years. Covid-19 affected visitor numbers, just as with any other venue. Changes to the management team and concerns over the museum’s financial future have raised questions about the continued viability of the site. It seems we can be reassured the Road Transport Hall of Fame has a strong future.

Rex Mooney and Nick Prus have worked diligently to ensure this. The hall will be out of administration by the end of October, and a new management committee is due to take the reins in November. Plans for alterations and additions to the site, the addition of the Alice Springs RSL military collection and the Ghan Railway exhibits have expanded the scope and interest in the site and point towards a sustainable future.

Shell will continue highlighting the contributions the transport industry has made and honour Australia’s trucking heroes through the Wall of Fame. During the 21-year partnership, Shell Rimula has recognised more than 1700 distinguished members of the road transport community.

The management, sponsors, staff, volunteers and loyal supporters deserve a hearty round of applause for their efforts in 2022, which was a roaring success.

A huge thank you is also due to the donors of new additions to the collection of historic vehicles. As an industry, we must do what we can to preserve the memories and hand down the stories. We stand on the shoulders of giants. It’s been my privilege to see the hall and meet some true industry legends.