Bill Cousins – a road transport pioneer
Bill Cousins was one of many men from humble beginnings who, with the aid of good business acumen, established an interstate transport business in the mid-20th Century.
It was during The Great Depression, in 1932-33 that Bill Cousins was hawking fruit and vegetables around Sydney’s Surry Hills. It was his first commercial venture, for which his transport equipment was one horse and one cart.
Bill wanted to expand, so in 1934 he started a wholesale fruit and vegetables business, transporting produce from the Sydney Markets to the NSW South Coast with one small truck.
During 1936 he added a two-tonner and a three-tonner, then in 1938 his first five-tonner. By this time, he was delivering as far south as Nowra and beyond, and he’d organised back-loading of fish, peas and other South Coast other produce.
During World War II, a fuel shortage caused by rationing became a real problem, so he fitted gas-producers to four of the trucks, which alleviated the pressure somewhat, but then found difficulty getting enough charcoal along the road. Bill came close to giving the game away, but not a man to throw in the towel, he battled on.
Fast forward to 1944 and Bill Cousins was operating six trucks from a depot he’d set up at Kogarah Bay in Sydney, at the rear of his house.
There were widespread rail strikes at this time, which gave Bill an opportunity he wasn’t slow to grasp. He realised that his fruit and vegetable market could now extend as far south as Melbourne, so he purchased truck and trailer units, enabling him to carry larger loads over longer distances.
Although the trailers were only 20 feet (6.1m) long, they were considered big in their day.
He was able to obtain backloading of new vehicles and parts from Ford in Geelong and also International Harvester in Dandenong, carting farm implements and tractor equipment. The die was cast for the start of a burgeoning interstate transport operation.
In 1952 Bill constructed a purpose-built transport and storage depot in Sydney at Blakehurst. By this time the fleet had increased to 19 units, with International being the preferred brand and a few R190s were his fleet’s flagships. These then-burly International prime movers were the ‘Kings of the Highway’ back in the 50s. Although originally powered by throaty six-cylinder, petrol engines, in many instances they were later repowered with Cummins and Detroit Diesels.
Hi Ho Silver
Alan ‘Silver’ Rouse worked for Cousins Transport for over 20 years and was Bill Cousins’ leading-hand driver and, later, depot operations foreman.
Alan got the nickname of ‘Silver’ because of his passion for keeping all the trucks looking first-class, in particular the spider-hub wheel rims glistening with silver paint.
He kept several photo albums in which he recorded the plethora of incidents he came across on the Hume Highway, during his many trips (adventures), behind the wheels of Cousins’ trucks. We’ve added a string of these pics at the end of this story.
Bill Cousins was fanatical about the presentation of his fleet: employing drivers who took pride in not only their jobs, but the cleanliness of their trucks.
Bill’s policy was one truck/one driver. If a driver was off sick or for any other reason, his truck didn’t leave the yard. Bill also had their name painted on the door beside the Cousins’ logo, giving not only the driver pride in his ‘own’ truck, but also recognition when he arrived at a customer’s premises.
The interstate cartage grew because of Bill’s connections with the Sydney Markets. He was contacted by fruit growers from Renmark, Mildura and Berri, who were disappointed with the transit times the railways offered, taking up to seven days to deliver to the Sydney Markets.
During warm and humid weather that length of transit time had a dramatic effect on the condition of their fruit. In contrast, Cousins’ trucks could load on Friday and deliver in Sydney on Sunday evening, with fresh fruit, ready for sale in the Markets on Monday morning.
The following pictorial collection has been copied from Silver’s photograph albums. These are a first-hand records, taken during the late 1940s and 1950s, offering a look back at the condition of the Hume Highway, in particular.
Hillas Creek Bridge carried Hume Highway traffic until 1986 and was widely known as The Little Harbour Bridge. It was only 20-feet wide (6.1 metres) between the kerbs, with an additional 10 inches (250mm) at mirror height.
Oldsmobile roll-over on the Hume at Broadford Vic
Pile-up on the Hume – 1948
Flood in Wagga March 1950
Alan Rouse (left) on top of Razorback with a mate – 1949
The Hume, flooded near Wagaratta
Just another day on the Hume in the late 1940s