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To set the scene.......

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Author Topic: To set the scene.......  (Read 461 times)
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« on: October 28, 2008, 10:33:44 am »

Australia’s “Cinderella” Industry.

Why is the long distance transport industry Cinderella and the State Governments the ugly sisters?

How did it evolve from yesteryear to today?

Let’s look at history.

The Dutchman Tasman had a peek at Tasmania but good old Abe couldn’t smell any spice so gave it a miss.

Then Captain Jimmy Cook grabbed the larger hunk of land over the horizon from the non spice isle in 1770. Mind you he only claimed it to a longitude down about Darwin to Sth Australia.

Jimmy C had a look at New Caledonia and sailed on, the French decided to grabbed that one.

Arriving home in London the Poms were happy Jimmy C had plonked their flag on that elusive bit of land down in the South Seas. Every body had been looking for it for years, but now what to do with it? They had no ideas..

Best thing, file it away, something will pop up one day and we’ll dig it out and find a use for it.

Under fed kids were pinching silver buckles from shoes of the gentry and other such like thieving, to buy food. Even some of the grown ups were poaching ‘Mi lords” pheasants and rabbits for food. Some of the Irish were demanding self rule.

Really these people must learn to put up with things and keep their place in Society, was the general feeling.

Well the general feeling of those who were doing ok that is.

What to do? The prisons are full, the Royal navy ships not needed because we are not fighting the French, well not at the moment anyway, are being used as prisons and they are nearly full as well. It’s getting just too much. These people must stop breaking the law.

Then it was remembered, lost in the files that damned place Cook found years ago down in the South Seas somewhere. Its doing nothing but supply a home for those strange animals and dark people. Lets make use of it.

Ship all the nuisances down there and good riddance.

We’ll send that Arthur Phillip fellow with a few leaky ships, they might get there…..That’s it Done.

It happened, the leaky ships did arrive in 1788 and settled at Sydney. A mixed bag of prisoners, free settlers and some “black sheep” types needing to be hidden from society.”.

“Well “said the Poms a little later let’s use it all up we have people now in Sydney, Tasmania, Brisbane, Adelaide and you know the French are poking around the western coast again we had better plonk some of the wretches over there. That way we can claim the whole damn continent, and forget about them and they did. All this happened in 51 years. Each colony did their own thing and went their own way.

So they expanded into the interior from each toe hold on this huge hunk of land. Bullock drays and then railways, each snaking out into the interior to bring back grain and produce to their own capital city.

None of them had much to do with each other preferring their own little pommy type empire. Even a form of jealousy existed “we are better than them attitude.” And it still persists today regardless of what they say.

Anyway the 18th century rolled into the 19th century, everyone doing their own thing when it was decided that they had better get their act together as there was talk of the Russians coming. No not the Communists the RUSSIANS, Imperial Russia was thought to be eyeing off titbits to be had.

They each built forts with huge guns trained out to sea and waited. Nothing happened. The guns remained silent, some are still there.. But then it was thought by the four main colonies on the mainland that it would be advantageous to combine things as one country. Hooray. Oh and Tassie as well.

The dawn of the 20th century saw the birth of The Commonwealth of Australia. And about time too.

Some one said we might be joined in name but certainly in no practical sense.

How do you mean?

Well why did you use an Irish railway engineer to lay your rail system?

Well why did you engage a Scot?

None of your business. We didn’t have to answer to you

…and neither did we to you there.

The rail gauges were all different sizes, they didn’t match. What folly.

Was more like Europe’s different countries than five branches from the same family that started as a Pommy colony.

Perth was stuck way down in the south west corner it didn’t count.

Adelaide wasn’t that important, not a large population.

The two antagonists with the most to gain or loose were N.S.W. and Victoria.

Remember dear reader it was the years of the early 1900’s.

Trains on land and steamers around the coast were the only way to move people and freight interstate. Ships were slow and the state governments owned the railways. Horse and dray clipped clopped around the town.

NOW do you see where I’m coming from and where I’m taking you?

The 20th century saw the arrival and continual improvement of electricity, radio, telephones, aircraft, and the


1939- 1945 World War 2 escalated improvement in so many things including the motor lorry. The trucks were larger even semitrailers now, they could carry huge and heavy loads long distances.

But the rail system in Australia remained the same nothing had changed.

To send goods interstate by rail involved trucking the goods to the railhead ,then taken by that states rail system to the border, then transhipped onto a different rail system to the city of destination, and finally by truck to the customer.

How very modern!!

A better way would be to load the consignment onto a truck at origin and deliver it direct to the customer in that far city.

Why of course, how about that?

Industry was also looking for more efficient methods of handling their goods.

Ex servicemen returning from the war had money and were looking for opportunities and there was one staring at them in the face, lit up like a neon sign, shouting look at me,… look at me …and they did and the penny dropped.

Buy a truck and away we go…they thought….

OH no me boy… think again …not that easy.

The state government railways had the monopoly of transporting all goods over 50 miles. You truck fellers, they were told, can run around in the city and towns and bring the goods to the rail for us. The horse and dray are getting a little slow these days but don’t get any bright ideas to try and compete with us, its not allowed, we wont let you.

At the same time a few business and commercial people thought trucking goods all the way maybe the answer to their problems with damage and constant insurance claims with the railways.

It then eventuated that the state governments imposed a road tax for goods wanted to be carried by road in competition with their railways and what a horror tax that was.

The charge was, three pence for every ton, including the weight of the truck, multiplied, by each mile, for the whole journey. It was an enormous amount of money.

If it had been only for the freight, it probably was workable. The weight of the truck each trip penalised the truck owner .Cash up front pay before you go. Permit dated with allowance times for the trip in question and if a break down put the date out then a risk of a fine as well, unless it could be proved it was genuine without a shadow of a doubt. Guilty till proved innocent.

Mind you there were no super highways back then, just narrow bitumen roads that followed the original Cobb & Co. stagecoach routes that joined country towns.

By grinding from town to town, up and down mountains, over one way wooden bridges and the many gravel sections, always prepared to stop in a hurry, to allow the sheep and cattle to have right of way, the truck driver would finally reach his destination.

All this accomplished with antiquated, perhaps even primitive vehicles left over from another earlier era, made in another country based on models that belonged to the 1930’s. Underpowered. Yet able to carry heavy loads. The braking systems so inefficient to be notoriously dangerous.

These trucks the only ones available, were not suited for this hunk of land with blistering heat, long mountain climbs in low gear, and last but not least, the vast distances that sapped the strength of both truck and driver.

The state governments viewed this upstart industry as a real threat to their rail system…and yes it was.

The new breed were determined not to be kept chained to the old ways and thinking of governments that were blinkered in their attitude to progress.

Coupled with these hurdles was the ‘establishment’s’ fury at those interfering with the status quo.

Department Inspectors were given wide powers to intercept trucks at any time day or night any where.

Victoria banned all commercial vehicles of their roads from midnight Saturday to midnight Sunday.

N.S.W. decided that all trucks on Sunday were banned off the highway within 50 miles of Sydney between 10 am till 4pm. Why you ask??

Well all hotels were shut on Sundays but if you were a’ bonafide traveller’, that is, travelled more than 45 miles that Sunday then the traveller with his drivers license could demand a drink at an hotel. This meant the thirsty public could gallop out to their nearest hotel over 45 miles, get ‘sloshed’ and wander home again. No booze bus in those days.

On the north road was Gosford, the south was Narellan and the western road was Penrith.

It was difficult to find parking space for a truck on the way into Sydney during curfew hours and what better place to wait than a pub and all go home together. True.

A driver could drive for 24 hours if he could or wanted to no one cared. Inspectors were only interested in what goods were on the truck as some goods like refrigerators had a cheaper tax, the railways didn’t want them, too much damage. They also looked for mixed loads in case the correct tax hadn’t been paid etc etc.

The intent was obvious, if this interstate road transport industry could not be stopped then it would be ‘milked’ for all its worth. Hullo there what’s new.

Looking back now, the challenge was enormous.

And so began the ‘Great Game’ Interstate Transport verses State Governments.

I wish I could show the pictures now stored in my head of the things we did—and got away with—and the things we did—and didn’t get away with.

If only dear reader you could have met that determined breed of Aussie, with the attitude that there was no problem that could not be overcome …and there were many. They were rough, tough but could laugh at themselves.

What an adventurous time back then…over 50 years ago but the battle still goes on today.

The players are the same but the stakes are higher.

It seems the Ugly Sisters” are still giving “Cinderella” a hard time and will continue to do so.

Where the bloody hell, is a “Prince Charming?”                                         Copyright 13 March 2005 R.G.Gilleland
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