Tributes flow for NT trucking legend Jim Cooper


Updated: February 10

The Australian Trucking Association has paid tribute to NT trucking legend James (Jim) Wilson Cooper, OAM, following news that he passed away in his native New Zealand on Friday, January 29, aged 81.

Cooper was the inaugural president of the Northern Territory Road Transport Association and served on the ATA board and council.

ATA chair David Smith said Cooper leaves a remarkable legacy.

“The name ‘Jim Cooper’ was synonymous with outback trucking in Australia,” Smith said.

“We will never forget all his help in the early days of the Australian Trucking Association. He was a true innovator and a tireless role model who did so much, not just for the NT trucking industry but the Australian trucking industry as a whole.

“This was because he truly believed our industry was stronger if we presented a united front.”

The ATA awarded Cooper the National Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Australian Trucking Industry in 1999. In 2008 he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in the Australia Day Honours for his service to the transport industry.

“We send our deepest condolences to his family and all who knew him,” added Smith.

The National Road Transport Hall of Fame also paid tribute to the Shell Rimula Wall of Fame inductee’s lasting legacy.

“Jim Cooper forged a formidable reputation in the road transport and mining industries in Australia and was a well known icon in the NT,” said the hall’s Facebook page.

“Jim started a business as a general carrier in NZ back in 1961 with a Leyland Comet truck. In February 1972, Jim [and late wife Jenny] moved to the NT and took over Gulf Transport which had two depots, one in Alice Springs and one in Darwin.

“He operated with a fleet of two AEC Mammoth Majors and a Volvo G88 along with a few worn trailers.

“Gulf Transport through a series of expansions, consolidations and acquisitions then became the Gulf RTA group operating well over 100 road trains across Australia.

“The RTA (Road trains of Australia) operation was sold in 2006 – an emotional moment for Jim Cooper – and in late 2010 the Gulf group of companies was sold to BIS (Brambles Industrial Services).

“The Cooper team at Powertrans, est. 2001, started designing and manufacturing a unique underground mine truck along with powered and non-powered trailers. Today, the above ground Pit Hauler is a perfect example of the expertise at Powertrans – a remarkable innovation.”

From the Queensland Trucking Association:

It is with great sadness that we heard of Jim Cooper’s passing on Friday 29 January 2022. There is no doubt that many people within the industry who knew Jim will wish to pay tribute him and celebrate his rich life. While Jim was well celebrated and recognised in many ways throughout his life both as a business leader and as a transport industry icon, I would like to acknowledge his extraordinary life and business career with some personal memories and recollections.

It was a great honour to know Jim and develop a great personal friendship over the years. I felt truly privileged when he rang to invite me to his 80th birthday in Wanaka on the South Island of New Zealand in 2020.  I was delighted to be going; however, his birthday celebrations were the first casualty of COVID-19 and travel restrictions prevented travel across the ditch. One of the many great memories that comes to mind was from April 2015 when Jim, Bill Baskett, myself, and many other industry people travelled on the World War 1 troop train re-enactment. This was a unique experience and etched in my memory as a great experience as it was a bit of time out from day-to-day life in the business world to spend time with great people. While it was a very enjoyable time, now that we are all a few years older, I don’t think many of us now would like to be doing 4 days in those wooden carriages again! Jim was a one-of-kind person to know in life, a great friend to me and a confidant with a wisdom that I found inspiring. He was a big thinker and he will be greatly missed. Rest in peace Jim. – Gary Mahon, CEO.

Bill Baskett I first met Jim when he was taking cars off the rail in Alice Springs to transport through to Darwin in his early days at Gulf Transport. We both drove a white 4000 with a 335 Cummins. Over the years since we developed a marvellous personal friendship with many memories and recollections with Jim and his wife Jenny. He gave us, what he called truck number 4 the ‘Autocar’ to the museum in Winton (images below) and I will remember his treasured Ford collection that he gave to Bill Richardson’s Transport World in New Zealand where many of us travelled to for the opening where Jim’s collection was added.  He was a great and loyal friend, and I would like to pass on our condolences to his family. It is unfortunate that many of us due to travel restrictions will be unable to pay our tribute in person.

On behalf of myself, Lyn and his many friends and colleagues who have worked through the western regions of Queensland and the Territory that knew him well it will be sad to say goodbye.

Ross Fraser OAM –  Jim Cooper is remembered as a force in the Australian transport industry, industry associations and his many other areas of interest and involvement over many years.  I considered Jim a great innovator, mentor, lateral thinker and someone of boundless energy in his many pursuits. Even when “retired” from his NT transport interests and returned to his native New Zealand, Jim was not content to leave it at that – establishing a model dairy operating multiple platforms on his highly improved Wanaka property that I was privileged to visit and where, in typical Cooper style, innovative technology was at the forefront.  Jim was awarded many well-deserved accolades during his long involvement with our industry, including a 2008 Medal of the Order of Australia.

While, sadly, Covid restrictions prevented many of his friends from travelling to New Zealand to celebrate Jim’s 80th birthday just over a year ago, his name will live long and proudly in the annals of the Australian transport industry. Vale Jim Cooper.

Cooper is survived by daughters Robyn, Erynne, Allison, and son Jamie, pictured above.

A service will be held in his home town of Wanaka in New Zealand, and live-streamed here.

Big Rigs will feature a more in-depth tribute to Jim Cooper in our next print issue, out February 18.

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