Borne largely out of necessity given its equidistance between the major ports of Adelaide and Darwin, Alice Springs, boasts an extensive road transport history.
From the ‘Afghan’ camel drivers who used these hardy beasts to transport passengers, supplies and mail from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs and every construction camp along the way, to the birth of Kurt Johansen’s modern road train and its ongoing story, Australia’s geographical heart saw it all.
This makes Alice Springs the ideal home of the National Road Transport Hall of Fame, an initiative of the Road Transport Historical Society Inc.
Officially opened in 1995 by a group of hardworking volunteers intent on honouring the region’s transport history, the National Road Transport Hall of Fame, more than two decades on, remains a time capsule of the individuals who built Australia from behind the wheel.
The National Road Transport Hall of Fame differs from most other road transport memorials in that it isn’t seeking to only preserve the machines in pristine, off-the-production-line condition, but instead also prides itself on showing the vehicles as they were in their working lives. Each crude modification and adaptation made to these vehicles gives us an insight into the harsh environment, the isolation, and the unrivalled skill of their operators to simply make it work when there was no other option.
The National Road Transport Hall of Fame, through its displays, allows visitors to follow a visual timeline of the transport industry, starting in the 1930s with the Associated Equipment Company’s road train.
Also housed at the National Road Transport Hall of Fame is Kurt Johansen’s Diamond-T road train, ‘Bertha’. Kurt, having grown up around and, later, in Alice Springs, epitomises innovation and pioneering in the transport industry. He is credited with the development of the first modern road train, used for cattle haulage. Using surplus equipment from WWII, such as a Diamond T980 and bren gun carriers, and taking inspiration from the self-tracking trailers seen on the AEC road train, Kurt revolutionised haulage as we know it today. Following its careful restoration by Road Transport Historical Society members, Bertha has returned to its 1942, driveable glory.
Located at the National Road Transport Hall of Fame is the Kenworth Dealer Hall of Fame, dedicated to capturing and sharing the Kenworth story and that of the individuals who have carried the Kenworth name throughout Australia, from suppliers to customers.
The evolution of Kenworth in Australia begins with George Blomfield and Ed Cameron, who, on a trip to America, identify the Kenworth as a worthy opponent to the harsh conditions of road transport post-WWII. In the 1960s, the first Kenworth arrived in Australia. By 1971, the first Australian-made Kenworth sees its way onto Australian roads.
The cabover K125CR, aptly named the Grey Ghost, forms part of the display in Alice Springs, along with the first Australian-built chassis. Contrasted against the T909 Director Series Kenworth and tri-drive C509 also on display, the Grey Ghost is an impressive memento of the growth of the Kenworth brand in its 60 plus years in Australia.
The range of vehicles on display is a reminder of the reality that the machinery tends to outlive its driver, equally as sad as it is a testament to the fact that these vehicles were maintained as the pride and joy of their operators. In the same way it honours the vehicles, the National Road Transport Hall of Fame recognises the industry’s pioneers and game changers through its Shell Rimula Wall of Fame.
The Wall of Fame highlights the contributions of individuals, blue and white collar alike, to the industry that keeps Australia moving economically, industrially, and literally. Since 2000, the National Road Transport Hall of Fame has acknowledged well over 1500 individuals from many different facets of the transport industry as inductees into the Wall of Fame.
For many inductees and their families, the Wall of Fame serves as the sole recognition of the sacrifices made for the sake of the industry and for Australia generally – the long hours away from the comforts of home to open mines in the most remote parts of the country, moving cattle and sheep thousands of kilometres to market, hauling produce from the tropical north to the southern states or transporting building materials to ensure safe housing in cities and towns across the nation.
The Shell Rimula Hall of Fame guarantees that the stories and contributions of these otherwise unsung heroes are preserved as part of our rich transport history.
The National Road Transport Hall of Fame aims to show the importance of heritage in our industry. Understanding where the industry started and its evolution to the present day allows us to appreciate the far-reaching efforts made by those who came before us and the impact they made.
In the forward-looking industry that is transport, heritage is an irreplaceable part of the future we intend to build, showing potential industry members that a career in transport is not only a pay cheque, but an opportunity to be part of a legacy.
However, maintaining the National Road Transport Hall of Fame and the history within it is not without challenges. The tense social climate of its home, Alice Springs, an aging and under-resourced transport industry and an ever-increasing cost of living all put strain on the National Road Transport Hall of Fame.
We encourage those interested to consider membership, visit our website and Facebook page, and engage with our upcoming events, including the Transport Women Unite Red Ball held in collaboration with Transport Women Australia and our annual Festival of Transport.
We urge you to nominate industry members who you believe deserve to be recognised by the Shell Rimula Wall of Fame.
With continued support, the National Road Transport Hall of Fame will maintain its preservation and celebration of the transport history.
- Ainsleigh Bilato is the advisory committee member at the National Road Transport Museum in Alice Springs