Former truckie reminisces on historic trip 60 years ago

Following the recent re-enactment of a legendary oil rig move that occurred 60 years ago, Big Rigs chats with one of the original drivers involved, Darrell Brown, who is now 86.

Back in 1962, a convoy of trucks was used for the mammoth task of transporting an oil rig approximately 1600 kilometres from Roma to Karumba, before it was put on a barge bound for Mornington Island.

The journey took over five weeks as the convoy got stuck and bogged between Cloncurry and Normanton, delaying the move by two weeks.

Western Oilfield Transport, which was a division of Western Transport, was tasked with the move and Brown was one of 12 drivers on the trip.

Brown worked for Western Transport for 17 years and had a long career as an interstate truck driver, only retiring from the job 12 years ago.

A snap of the people involved in the original journey.

“I drove a single drive B-model Mack. There were a couple of bogie drives on that trip too. There were 12 drivers on that trip, but I’m the only one left now,” Brown said.

“I was a pretty skinny and scruffy bugger back then. We got terribly bogged up there, but we didn’t go too bad. There was bugger-all bitumen in those days. Through Augathella, there was a lot of dirt and when we made it to Cloncurry, there was a lot of rain so we got bogged and were stuck there for two weeks,” he recalled.

Upon arriving at Karumba, Brown’s truck was unloaded. “I didn’t go across on the barge. In those days the barge would run across a chain. The operator was on the bank watching from the other side, but when they gave the barge a bit of a shake, she took off and he had to jump into the river to swim after it!”

Throughout his career, Brown spent many weeks at a time away from home. But at the time of the oil rig move, it was the longest trip he had been on. “After that though, I was away for 12-14 weeks at a time sometimes. I even did a stint in Indonesia for 12 weeks on the rigs. I was just a young bloke trying to make a quid.”

A 60-year old shot of the trucks all lined up.

Brown grew up on a dairy farm and has called Toowoomba home for well over 60 years. He left home at 16 and began working the wheat harvest, then moved onto farming before turning to trucks. “I got involved in trucks and stayed in trucks. I had a long career in trucking – it was a good one really,” he said.

After his long stint at Western Transport, Brown went on to work for Neil Mansell Transport. During a week’s long service leave, he wanted to work. “I knew Neil Mansell, so he gave me a week’s work, and then I ended up staying for 30 years, and then another 10 years doing casual work. I had a lot of years in trucking but I worked for the best people in the business in the form of the Anderson and Mansell families. You just couldn’t get any better.”

Brown was surprised on hearing there was a re-enactment of the trip planned but was glad he had the opportunity to come along for the ride.

“I was just a bloke at work and we were out there doing our job – and we busted our gut. I never thought 60 years down the track that someone would want to know what I did,” he said.

Two of the original trucks from the big move took part in the re-enactment, a B61 Mack and a Mack B615 V8, however the latter broke down and didn’t make it to its destination.

Owner operator Keegan Mulligan, who is among the founding members of the Diamantina Heritage Truck & Machinery Museum in Winton, Queensland, was given the honours of driving the B61 Mack.

“I really enjoyed the trip and Keegan did a bloody good job of taking the truck up,” Brown said.

The re-enactment was organised by Graham McVean. He and his father worked for Western Transport and he now owns the Western Transport exhibit in the Queensland Transport Museum at Gatton.

The re-enactment convoy set off after a gathering at the Roma Gun Club, where entertainment was provided by Australian country music singer Chad Morgan OAM, now aged 86.

Mulligan had the honours of driving the Western Oilfield Transport B61, six-cylinder Mack. This was one of two original trucks on the trip, however the second vehicle, a Mack B615 V8, didn’t make it.

“Only one truck made the whole journey, the B615 didn’t make it all the way. It broke down at Winton after having fuel pump problems and was towed back to Toowoomba,” said Mulligan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend