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Buntine, Noel Lyntton (1927–1994)

by Robyn Smith

This article was published online in 2018

Noel Lytton Buntine (1927-1994), cattle-transport entrepreneur, pastoralist, pastoral industry administrator, political party organiser, and horse-racing enthusiast, was born on 10 December 1927 at Stonehenge, south-west of Longreach, Queensland, second of three sons of Queensland-born parents Arthur Desmond Lone Buntine, stockman, and his wife Iris, née Wray, whose parents owned a nearby grazing property, Goon Goon. Agnes Buntine, an intrepid pastoralist and bullocky, was Noel’s great-great grandmother. Educated at Stonehenge State and Rockhampton Grammar schools, he obtained clerical work at Rockhampton and between December 1947 and January 1949 in Port Moresby. 

In 1950 Buntine was appointed as a temporary clerk in the Northern Territory Mines Branch. Accompanied by Monica Evans, née Allen (d. 1971), he moved to Alice Springs; the couple would be married in a Presbyterian ceremony at Norman Park, Brisbane, on 11 July 1956. Buntine left the public service in November 1952 and began a partnership (incorporated, 1958) at Alice Springs with John Ryan as mining and general agents. The Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society Ltd appointed Buntine its inspector for the Northern Territory in 1954.

About 1953 Ryan and Buntine had purchased Overland Transport and its one-tenth share in the Territory Transport Association’s road-rail contract with the Commonwealth Railways. In 1959 they started carrying cattle. That year, however, Buntine decided to move to Queensland. Ryan & Buntine Pty Ltd was wound up and he took a Commer prime mover and semi-trailer as part of the settlement. Based in Brisbane, he subcontracted with interstate hauliers but, within a few months, returned to Alice Springs.

Resuming the transport of cattle, by 1962 he was based at Katherine and operating as Buntine Roadways Pty Ltd. With a Mack B61 prime mover named High and Mighty, he carted cattle from Top End stations to the Wyndham Meatworks across the border in Western Australia. This was a time of fundamental change for Australia’s pastoral industry, as droving gave way to driving on an expanding network of beef roads. In 1964 Buntine bought Ryan’s interest in Overland Transport, one of a number of acquisitions, and established Buntine Freightways of Australia Pty Ltd, a general-carrying venture, to offset the seasonal nature of the cattle business.

On 3 August 1976 in Darwin Buntine married Patricia (Patty) Burnett. In that year he sold Buntine Freightways and purchased East Kimberley Transport Pty Ltd, which operated out of Wyndham. Katherine remained the home base of the enlarged Buntine Roadways group, which maintained depots at Wyndham, Tennant Creek, and Alice Springs, and in Queensland at Mount Isa, to service its operations in the Territory and adjoining States. By 1980 he employed 120 people. His fleet had grown to fifty road trains, capable of uploading three thousand head of fat cattle at any one time. The group’s turnover exceeded $6 million a year and was one of the largest road-haulage operations in Australia. It also had a contract to transport bulk lime from South Australia to the Ranger uranium mine, and six road trains were engaged exclusively in this undertaking.

In May 1981 Buntine sold his companies to Transport and Property Holdings Pty Ltd. Within two years the enterprise was bankrupt. Finding himself unwittingly responsible for some of its debts, he borrowed money, bought back most of the prime movers and trailers at auction, and established a profitable new firm, Road Trains of Australia Pty Ltd. By this time his eldest son, Denis, had started his own business, Victoria River Transport, which cross-fed with RTA to service the Western Australian, South Australian, and Queensland markets. On 30 November 1985 Noel sold RTA.

Buntine owned several grazing properties in Queensland and another on the Katherine River. He chaired the Land Board of the Northern Territory (1987–92) and its successor, the Pastoral Land Board (1992–94), ‘introducing modern land monitoring and management practices to the Territory pastoral industry’ (NT Parliament 1994, 11,412). Members from 1980 of the Country Liberal Party, he and his wife contributed to the Katherine branch’s ‘lively debate and progressive ideas’ (NT Parliament 1994, 11,417). Noel was an elected member of the party’s management committee (1988–91); he and Patty were made honorary life members of the CLP in 1993.

Tall and lanky, Buntine was a talented athlete, who in 1951 had won the Alice Springs Recreation Council’s Jubilee Sports Carnival Gift over 130 yards (119 m) in 13.4 seconds; he also played cricket and Australian Rules football. Later, he became ‘the biggest racehorse owner in the Territory’ (Swanson 1994, 13). He was a committee-member for twelve years and a life member (1988) of the Darwin Turf Club, the entry road to which was named in his honour. Appointed (1976) as a trustee of the Katherine Racecourse and Recreation Reserve and described as ‘the father of the Katherine Turf Club’ (NT Parliament 1994, 11,412), he was equally devoted to the country racing circuit.

With his business acumen, generosity, and understated wit, Buntine was popular and widely respected. On 11 January 1994 he died suddenly, of heart disease, while holidaying at Surfers Paradise, Queensland. Following an Anglican service, he was buried in Katherine cemetery. His wife survived him, as did their daughter and son and the two sons and one daughter of his first marriage. Members of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly eulogised him at length. The Buntine Pavilion opened that year in the Australian Road Transport Hall of Fame, Alice Springs, of which he had been a staunch supporter and benefactor. In 1996 the Buntine Highway—between Willeroo, Northern Territory, and Nicholson, Western Australia—was named in his honour; a granite monument at its eastern end was erected to commemorate him, the dedication being attended by 250 people.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Centralian Advocate (Alice Springs, NT). ‘First Round Ends All Square.’ 20 November 1953, 7
  • Centralian Advocate (Alice Springs, NT). ‘Football: Rovers Win with Late Run.’ 29 August 1952, 7
  • Centralian Advocate (Alice Springs, NT). ‘Local Man’s C.M.L. Appointment.’ 1 October 1954, 8
  • Centralian Advocate (Alice Springs, NT). ‘Wedding Anniversary.’ 5 December 1952, 12
  • Maddock, John. A History of Road Trains in the Northern Territory 1934-1988. Kenthurst, NSW: Kangaroo Press, 1988
  • Northern Standard (Darwin). ‘Alice Springs.’ 30 March 1951, 12
  • Northern Territory Parliament. Parliamentary Record, vol. 41, 26 February 1994, 11,075–77
  • Northern Territory. Parliamentary Record, 2 March 1994, 11,411–17, 11,421–22, 11,431–32
  • Northern Territory. Parliamentary Record, 3 March 1994, 11,596–17, 11,605–6, 11,609–10, 11,617–21, 11,624–25
  • Swanson, Gary. ‘Transport Magnate Never Lost the Common Touch.’ Australian, 17 January 1994, 13.    

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Citation details

Robyn Smith, 'Buntine, Noel Lyntton (1927–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/buntine-noel-lyntton-18618/text30254, published online 2018, accessed online 17 September 2019.

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