Legendary operator humbled by Wall of Fame honour

Spending his days tinkering with his pedal car, a seven-year-old Peter Hart began what would prove to be a life-long passion for anything mobile, mechanical and diesel-powered.

As a teenager, car-loving Peter completed his trade as a motor mechanic at his father’s Ford dealership in South Australia. 

This stood Peter in good stead when he was called up for national service and allocated to the transport division. 

Here, he was tasked with driving the range of vehicles that belonged to the Australian Army, including trucks, semi-trailers and buses, to all corners of the country. 

Upon his discharge, Peter returned home to manage the Ford dealership for his father who had become unwell. He would especially enjoy rescue jobs he undertook with the tow truck service that the dealership operated.  

In 1975, the decision was made to sell the business. Peter, with an interest in truck driving residual from his time in the Army and the promise of work from an acquaintance, bought a Ford Louisville and secondhand trailer. 

When that contract fell through on the second load, a “totally ignorant” Peter instead took up the offer of a load to Darwin. 

At 30, Peter was older than many of his fellow drivers and in for what he describes as “a pretty quick learning curve”, navigating the unsealed Stuart Highway. 

By 1979, Peter had secured the contract to transport goods to the Aboriginal communities in the APY Lands. The remoteness of these communities meant that they often went without fresh food.

Peter quickly recognised the importance of getting his loads of frozen and perishable goods out there by whatever means possible. 

A humbled Peter Hart at his 2015 Wall of Fame induction. Images: Peter Hart 

“Back then, the theory was if you thought your truck could carry it, you put it on,” Peter remembers, “We weren’t allowed to pull triples in those days, but we did regularly…It was pretty lawless, but we had a lot of fun.” 

As a “one-man show” in the early years, Peter would often find himself let down by unreliable refrigerated trucks. He spent his limited spare time earning his refrigeration ticket so he could repair his own fridges. 

“You just did it because you had to get the stuff out there,” he says, “There was nobody else to do it.” 

Although Peter was proud of “actually getting a load there in one piece every time”, a particular highlight was being awarded a commendation from the South Australia Health Department for his services to Aboriginal health. 

Peter’s provision of fresh food to the communities was said to have significantly improved the health and wellbeing of the people in the APY Lands.

 The secret to success in the industry, Peter advises, is “don’t say no to a load. Take everything you can get…I always found that the jobs that nobody else wanted to do were the jobs that paid the best.” 

That may just be how Peter Hart Transport earned its nickname – “Snot and Pus Transport”. 

Peter in full safety gear in the 1980s.

Peter carted everything from cement, building materials and cars to kangaroo tails, buffalo hides and coffins. “Anything that landed in my yard, I somehow put it on and took it out there.” 

A mechanic by trade, Peter was a welcome sight to those he came across broken down. Heading towards Docker River in the Northern Territory, Peter was waved down by two men. 

With traffic on the road in the mid-80s consisting of no more than five vehicles each week and noticing their ute off the road, Peter figured the men had been there for several days. 

Pulling out his jack and wheel spanner, Peter removed a flat tyre for them, only to find that their spare was shredded. Peter dismantled the tyre and removed the tube to find it had a 100mm split in it. 

Patching the tube, Peter then turned his attention to the tyre, which had a matching split. “After scavenging through the ute, I found an old rubber thong,” Peter recalls, “I removed the straps and plastered it with glue and stuck it inside, reassembled the tyre and inflated it with great trepidation. 

Then, of course, to complete the job, I refitted the wheel and removed the jack.” The men promptly packed their ute and headed on their way, leaving Peter stuck behind them for the next 100km to take care of all their tyre needs. “The next order we received from Docker River contained two boxes of rubber thongs!” 

Peter, reflecting on an evolving road transport industry, says “everyone is in a hurry these days.” 

“If you were going to Darwin and you got there in the right week, everyone was happy. Now, if you’re an hour late, they’re going crazy.” 

And it’s a good thing they were patient, on account of the time Peter spent repairing his own flat tyres or bogged on dirt tracks in the wet season. 

Peter tells of one trip, pulling a triple to Darwin, during which he clocked up 27 flat tyres. Loading heavy, split rims and tube tyres were to blame for this ordeal. 

Peter and his trusty Ford Louisville on a treacherous Old South Road. 

With the rattle gun and vulcanizing kit he always had handy put to work, Peter was able to complete the trip in an arduous 21 days. Although the arrival of tubeless tyres improved the situation, it would still be many years before the South Road was bituminised. This meant many a day idle in a bog hole. 

On one occasion, Peter spent six days bogged at a creek near Ernabella. He became such a familiar face in those six days that the local Indigenous people would call the creek Peter Hart Creek from then on. 

Peter cites lack of time with your family as one of the bigger challenges of the industry. With his children on the way, he decided it was time for a change and took up a role as Transport Manager for South Australia Brewing Company. 

Leaving behind a fleet of eight trucks and 20 staff, Peter says this new role was “like going on a holiday”. 

He eventually went back on the tools, working as an electrician, builder and refrigeration mechanic, before settling in Blanchetown where he runs the houseboat marina. 

“It’s the job I always wanted.” 

Nominated by his five children, Peter was inducted into the Shell Rimula Wall of Fame in 2015. 

“It was pretty tearful. You sort of always think, ‘Well, I’m only doing my job’. Do I deserve this? It was a very humbling moment.” 

Sharing the moment with his whole family, Peter committed to sharing more of his time in transport. 

“Once you’re gone, your stories are gone too.”  

1 Comment

  1. Really interesting ! My dad was a trucker from that vintage. To most of the men from that time there was no such thing as ” broke down, can’t make’ er” They ALLWAYS found a way to keep it going. My dad drove Macks for 27 years straight . Those old Macks were the most reliable trucks that have EVER been built !

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