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A photo collection of old Australian commercial trucks

Boban Docevski

Trucks have alway been a significant part of Australian history. Since the early days of the colonies (and even today), the transportation of goods across this vast land was both vital and challenging. This is why the appearance of trucks played such an important role in the development of the country, as it made transport much easier and much cheaper. The mighty, multi-trailered “road trains” were invented in Australia and immediately became a national symbol.

The following vintage trucks are not big and powerful as those amazing vehicles, but still, they played an important part in the history of early Australian transportation. All photos are obtained from the Flickr account of the State Library of New South Wales. These commercial vehicles were used for the delivery of products as well as for marketing, which is evident from their prominently displayed advertising graphics.

Kellogg’s van for A.H. Peters & Co. at Sydney University

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Minties van of H.Bear near the Conservatorium / W.A. Webber

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Loading tin drums into van of J.Gadsden Pty Ltd / Milton Kent

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During the early days of the Australian Federation, goods were moved from one place to another by a huge number of horses, camels, and oxen. It is estimated that 1.66 million horses, 6000 camels and 45,000 oxen were at work during that time. Only a small fleet of commercial transport vehicles existed in Australia at the beginning of the 20th century, with just 5000 vehicles registered in the country.

 

Enmore Theatre lorry advertising a free piece of Christmas cake for each child. (Photo Taken on December 24, 1938)

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A three-wheel tractor (a Scammel mechanical horse) of Australian Glass Manufacturers, with a promotional trailer (c. 1935)

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A Remington accounting machines van of Stott & Hoare & Chartres Ltd. photographed in the Botanic Gardens (c. 1925)

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The first petrol pumps in the country started to appear in 1916, but horses were still the primary means of transportation and most cargo was moved by them. It was estimated that in 1918, there were around 3 million working horses.

 

In the early 1920s, the truck industry around the world started to grow. In 1916, the Mack truck company introduced the famous AC model, and by the end of 1919, the first AC trucks arrived in Sydney. Other famous American truck companies were also founded around this time, like the Cummins Engine Company or Kenworth Motor Truck Corporation in Seattle.

This development was reflected in Australia; by the mid-1920s, there were 250,000 vehicles on the road in Australia. A crucial decision was made in the country in 1927, one that would make a huge difference for Australian trucking. The government decided that focus should be placed on trucks instead of railways as the primary means of moving freight in the country.

A Steelo [soappads] and Queen Bees Wax van (c. 1941)

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Australian National Airways Freighter Service van, 1946 model (c. 1946)

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Allen’s Irish Moss Gum Jubes delivery van (c. 1946)

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Slowly, the era of horses came to an end, but people were still inclined to use “horse and carriage” terminology. When the British company Scammell introduced their “100-tonner” truck in 1929, it was marketed as “The Scammell Mechanical Horse.”

 

Aeroplane Jelly advertising vans (21/5/1938)

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Arnotts’ Biscuits Albion van, Sydney (c. 1936)

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 Dairy Farmers van no.98 at Wentworth Park (c. 1937)5472525845_0818045a34_o

 

By 1939, the number of trucks in Australia reached 500,000 and one year later, there were 1.2 million vehicles and 1.2 million horses in the country. The Second World War brought a lot of tremendous changes in Australian trucking. The USA produced the first supersized trucks such as the Federal, International, NR Mack and Diamond T. This led the way for the development of the massive Australian road trains. By the end of the war, many surplus ex-military trucks were put to good use in the civilian economy. The transport industry in Australia had entered into a new era.