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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Holzheimer, Thora Daphne (Toots) (1934–1992)

by Georgine Clarsen

This article was published online in 2020

Thora Daphne ‘Toots’ Holzheimer (1934–1992), truck driver, was born on 5 July 1934 at Bundamba, Ipswich, Queensland, fifth of six children of Welsh-born John Albert Bishop, ganger, and his Queensland-born wife Ethel Louisa, née Bavister (d. 1948), railway station mistress. Following a succession of Railway Department transfers, Jack was sent in 1939 to Aratula in the Fassifern district. The family lived at the railway station, where Ethel was in charge of the office. Toots attended Aratula State School (1939–48) then, moving to Brisbane, found work as a fruit picker and barmaid. Her father settled at Cairns and she joined him there in 1951. That year she gave birth to a son from a relationship in Brisbane.

Recording her occupation as domestic, on 3 January 1953 at the Central Methodist Church, Cairns, Bishop married Frederick Arthur Hipworth, a stockman; they had three daughters and a son; a second son was stillborn. The marriage failed in 1960 and Frederick Hipworth gained custody of the five children. Their mother struggled in vain to have them returned to her until her first son was able to join her at age sixteen; his half-siblings followed after their father died in 1972. On 11 August 1962, again at the Central Methodist Church, she had married Ronald Kenneth Holzheimer, a truck driver; they had two daughters and a son; another son died in infancy.

Ron Holzheimer’s brother John formed a trucking business in the early 1960s. Toots and Ron worked for him until they established their own firm, Northern Freighters, in 1975. They specialised in transport services to the tropical savannah country of Far North Queensland. She carried general freight—including food, beer, building materials, molasses for stock feed, diesel, and vehicles—to cattle stations, mines, Aboriginal missions, and small settlements. Her vehicles were noisy and hot, with heavy steering, and they quickly filled with bulldust in the dry seasons. When on the road, she slept under the truck’s flatbed, sometimes with the comfort of a hammock. The rough, unsealed roads and tracks caused mechanical damage and numerous flat tyres; bogging and breakdowns were common. She serviced and repaired her trucks and dug them out when they were stuck in mud. Rejecting offers of help, she insisted on loading heavy freight herself, including 44-gallon (200 l) drums of diesel, weighing about 410 pounds (185 kg).

Holzheimer’s regular run, sometimes in convoy with her husband and others, was from Cairns to Weipa, a return trip of approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 km). Renowned for being the first to bring a truck through at the end of the wet season and the last before the onset of the next, she reportedly made as many as twenty-five journeys each dry season. She covered about a million miles (1.6 million km) during her driving career. Until old enough to be left unattended, her younger children travelled with her; some became drivers themselves in the family business; eventually, she took her young grandchildren on the road. During the wet season (generally November to April), when trucking was impossible in the far north, she and her extended family regularly drove to Victoria, fruit-picking, camping, and holidaying near Shepparton.

Holzheimer had short, curly hair and a stocky, muscular figure. Photographs of her at work show her in a scruffy skirt and tube top or equally shabby dress, barefoot, and smeared with mud or grease. She said of her occupation: ‘It is a job, one I love and am grateful for’ (Vawdrey 2011, 243). In her spare time, she enjoyed parties and dancing and, a skilled seamstress, made clothes for her family. An admired local identity, she gained national fame in 1981 after featuring in an episode of the television documentary series, The Australians, hosted by Peter Luck. She was accidentally killed on 29 February 1992 at Evans Landing Wharf, Weipa, when she was crushed between a tyre of her truck and a heavy pylon swinging from a crane. A memorial service at Weipa and a Uniting Church funeral at Cairns were held simultaneously; a convoy of semi-trailer trucks, with air-horns blasting, accompanied her body to the Cairns crematorium. Her husband and children survived her.

The family firm went out of business not long after Holzheimer’s death. Her last and favourite truck, a German MAN that she had painted powder blue, was placed in the Diamantina Heritage Truck and Machinery Museum at Winton. A granite monument—roughly in the shape of Cape York Peninsula, with the route she travelled engraved on it—was erected near the Archer River Roadhouse, where she had often stopped; a plaque with an inscribed tribute to her was embedded in the stone. The album Makin’ a Mile (1997) by the country and western singer-songwriter Slim Dusty included ‘The Lady Is a Truckie’; it ends with the words:

From Cairns to Edward River
And on all the Cape York stations
Toots the lady trucker
Is a legend in the north.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Stephens, Tony, and Peter Luck, comps. The Australians. Dee Why West, NSW: Lansdowne Press, 1981
  • Vawdrey, Donna. Toots — Woman in a Man’s World. Self-published, 2011.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Georgine Clarsen, 'Holzheimer, Thora Daphne (Toots) (1934–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/holzheimer-thora-daphne-toots-29920/text37040, published online 2020, accessed online 30 September 2020.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Bishop, Thora Daphne
  • Hipworth, Thora Daphne
Birth

5 July 1934
Ipswich, Queensland, Australia

Death

29 February 1992
Weipa, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death

accident

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