Proud family celebrates 50 years in business with big reunion

A lot has changed in the 50 years since Kelly Transport was founded, but one thing that has stayed the same is the family behind the business. 

The company’s story began in 1974, when John Kelly bought a truck to transport shop supplies from Brisbane to Toowoomba. 

Since then, Kelly Transport has grown from one to 34 employees, with 24 trucks operating across Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia. 

It offers linehaul services, bulk pallet freight, overnight and dangerous goods freight services.

John Kelly started his career in the transport industry when he was just 16 years old, driving for Western Transport.

The business is now managed by John’s grandson Mitch, and is still very much a family affair, with Mitch’s wife Jessika and mother Christine both working in the office. 

Mitch told Big Rigs that he tried to move away from the transport industry when he was younger, but it kept pulling him back in.

“I was a little whippersnapper behind the wheel, I’d be in the yard every school holiday,” he said.

“After I finished school, I tried to do something different, I went out and did a business course.

“But I just couldn’t step away and in the end they said ‘Well, if you’re going to drive trucks, we might as well teach you how to do it properly.’”

Kelly’s Store in Twoowoomba is still a local landmark.

He enjoys working with his family, and said it brings many advantages for their customers.

“Sometimes with big business, things can get complicated,” he said.

“It can be hard to track down who is accountable if there are any issues.

“With our business, just like any family business, it’s simplified.

“If anyone needs me, they have my number.” 

When Mitch Kelly took over the business, he changed the colour of the fleet back to its original bright yellow.

Mitch said the transport industry is “totally different” to how it was when his grandad did his first grocery run half a century ago.

“In some respects, it’s a lot harder, and in some respects it’s a lot easier. 

“There is a bigger focus on safety, which had to happen. 

“But that’s not an easy process, and there’s a lot more compliance involved now. 

“We’re just focused on making sure everyone is doing the right thing, and if anything does go wrong, we learn from it and try not to do it again.” 

He thanked all of Kelly Transport’s loyal customers for their business over the years. 

“We want to say a massive thanks for supporting us and giving us the opportunity to prove ourselves.” 

John and Pat went on to have four kids – Keith, Gary, Kathy and Chris.

A reunion to remember

Mitch Kelly and his family recently got to celebrate their major business milestone with a massive reunion at the Toowoomba Turf Club, attended by 190 current and former staff members.

“The reunion was fantastic,” Mitch said.

“Everyone was well-behaved, and they had a great time.

“It was great to see some people we hadn’t seen in years.

“Our first ever driver was there too, and my uncle Gary Kelly came from Adelaide.”

Doreen Helier, Jane Kelly, Pat Kelly, Mitch Kelly and Cathy Ford. Image: Lucy RC Photography

The reunion included a three-course meal, with live music, speeches and a video showing the evolution of the company through the years, followed by drinks.

“The bar shut around 11pm and then a few of us kicked on downtown.

“I called it at about 1.30am but I know there were a few of the boys who didn’t get home until 5am.

“There were a few sore heads the next day!”

Jack Wagner with Brown & Hurley salesman Richard Lilburne and Kelly Transport manager Mitch Kelly. Image: Lucy RC Photography

To mark the company’s gold anniversary, Kelly Transport also ordered a shiny new Kenworth C509, kitted out with a special logo and the custom number plate “KELLY 50”. 

The truck had its debut at the reunion party, much to everyone’s delight – and is now on the road with the rest of the fleet.

John Kelly sadly passed away in 1999, at the age of 67 – but his wife Pat said she hopes he would have been proud of how far his family and the business have come.

“John had a vision, and we can only hope he’s looking down on his family proudly with his characteristic smile,” she said.

Kelly Transport through the years


1970s: The first truck John ever bought, an old UD.

John Kelly retired from the road to help his wife Pat open a small general store in Toowoomba, which quickly became the landmark it is to this day – Kelly’s Store.

In 1974, John and Pat decided to buy a truck to help freight the shop supplies. Regular grocery runs to Brisbane in an old UD body truck paid off, as John also began picking up some customers along the way.


1980s: Ansett was an early customer of John Kelly Transport.

John and Pat continued to build their fleet, carting freight all over Australia for a variety of customers, including Ansett and NQX. With all three sons working in the family business – Keith, Gary and Chris – the fleet grew to 15 Macks and UDs.


1990s: John’s son Keith was the head of the business in the 90s, with his wife Christine working in the office.

The 1990s were a difficult time for the business. The recession made things challenging financially, and John’s health caused him to take a step back from work. His eldest son Keith took over day-to-day operations, as well as filling in behind the wheel where required. In 1999, after over a decade of battling health issues, John sadly passed away at the age of 67 in “true John Kelly style” – in the middle of telling his nurse a joke.


2000s: The John Kelly Transport Fleet in 2002.

Keith remained at the head of John Kelly & Sons, with his wife Christine working in the office. As the fleet continued to grow, Mitchell Kelly, the eldest grandson, began driving for the family business. and offer weekly services into Cairns, Townsville, Melbourne and Perth, and daily services to Sydney and Adelaide.


2010s: Mitch Kelly took over the business in 2016, and decided to change the colour of the fleet from white back to its original yellow.

The reins of the business were passed on to Mitchell in 2016. This brought about many changes, including reverting back to the original company colours of yellow, white and brown. They also moved away from Freightliners, into a predominantly Kenworth fleet.


50 years after it all began, Kelly Transport has 24 trucks in its striking fleet.

In the past five decades, Kelly Transport has grown from one man and his rig to 34 staff and 24 trucks. The company also boasts a second depot in Adelaide, and offer weekly services into Cairns, Townsville, Melbourne and Perth, and daily services to Sydney and Adelaide.




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