I first saw Brian Manning’s J Series Bedford in his backyard in the Darwin suburb of Stuart Park a decade ago. Vines and long grass grew in and around the truck. I was talking to Brian about another matter, but he told me something of the history of this little truck, a history that is rich and entwined into who we are as Territorians and Australians today. The Bedford played an integral role in the cultural and political landscape of the Territory today – no matter what your political or social point of view might be.
The Bedford, at the time of this post, is parked under a tree at the QANTAS hangar at Parap, in Darwin. Still owned by Brian Manning, it is under the care of the Motor Vehicle Enthusiasts Club (MVEC). MVEC member and Technical Editor of NT truck, Neil Bromley, made a very general, non-invasive preliminary assessment of the truck (see below). It must be stressed that the vehicle’s future is entirely in the hands of its owner, Brian Manning.
But why is this vehicle important to Australian history?
The Land Rights movement changed the face of the Northern Territory. Some consider it an essential part of social evolution as we work towards a more equitable future. Others may see Land Rights as the ‘undoing’ of the ‘old’ Northern Territory, the legislation that led to many of the social issues challenging Territorians of all cultural backgrounds today.
In the larger picture, not many people would disagree that in the Sixties the pastoral industry was faced by the union supported march towards equal wages for Aboriginal workers. Implementation of equal wages in turn led to large numbers of Aboriginal people being displaced from many pastoral holdings and the shift from large stock camps to helicopter mustering and bull catching – the industrialisation of the pastoral industry.
The displacement of former stock workers and their families led, directly and indirectly, to many ‘walk-offs’ and ‘sit-downs’ across the Territory. Most of these ‘strikes’ were broken by cutting supply chains. But when Vincent Lingiari led the Gurrindji stockmen and families of Wave Hill Station in a walk off to Wattie Creek, a group of Darwin supporters decided to help out. So the then-not-so-old Bedford was pressed into service and ran supplies to Wattie Creek to support the strikers (see Bob Gosford’s article).
The Bedford was used to maintain the supply chain. Then Frank Hardy’s book, “The Unlucky Australians” was published. Public sentiment swung towards the Gurrindji and Gough Whitlam was soon pouring earth into Vincent Lingiari’s hand. The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 was passed and life changed throughout the country as White Australia’s house-of-cards collapsed in the High Court of Australia.
An essential pinion in these developments is the little Bedford J series truck. A physical, touchable artifact that with the right research and interpretation can help Australians understand a little of this wild history that is already blowing away on the desert winds.
Saturday April 9, 2011. Parap markets for the traditional Saturday morning Laksa and coffee. As a member of MVEC, Neil Bromley is encouraged to take a brief look at the Bedford. This is what he found:
The future of the Bedford is up to its owner, Brian Manning. But should it become an operating, functional museum exhibit carrying the burdensome load of Land Rights history? I think so.
I know how I was once taken by the bull catcher (buffalo catcher actually) in the National Museum in Canberra. In a ton and a half of tired old steel it told so well the history of the pre-BTEC days of bull catching. I can easily imagine Brian’s banger in a similar position – this truck is symbolic of Australian history, more than transport history. I reckon this is one important damn truck!