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John Cyril Anderson (1904–1983)

by M. French

This article was published:

John Cyril Anderson (1904-1983), road haulier and businessman, was born on 13 January 1904 at Toowoomba, Queensland, sixth of nine children of Queensland-born parents John Anderson, storekeeper, and his wife Clara Jane, née Harrold. Educated at Toowoomba South State School, Cyril worked in the family’s grocery store before opening a motorcycle repair shop in the 1920s and becoming a successful speedway competitor (1929-32). On 16 December 1929 at the Presbyterian manse, Toowoomba, he married Doris Isabel Nairne, a clerk. In 1934 he acquired a Studebaker truck to fetch supplies from Brisbane for the grocery; the enterprise soon expanded into a general carrying business, later named Western Transport Pty Ltd.

On 4 June 1941 Anderson enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Posted to the 2/5th Armoured Regiment, he served in New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland before being discharged as a sergeant on 20 April 1945. In 1950 he added a rival company, Maranoa Transport Pty Ltd, to his trucking business. Within ten years, with about five hundred trucks, and depots in all mainland capitals and fifty-three Queensland towns, the enterprise had become reputedly the largest road haulage company in Australia. It was closely challenged by two other Toowoomba hauliers: Bill Bolton’s [q.v.Supp.] Cobb & Co. Ltd and (E. S.) Brown’s Transport Pty Ltd.

From the early 1950s Anderson, Bolton and Brown argued about road taxes and licences with successive Queensland ministers for transport who had to deal with claims that they and other operators practised illegal discounting, avoidance of road tax (by `border-hopping’) and political patronage. A Privy Council decision in 1954 ruled that the system of licensing road transport contravened section 92 of the Australian Constitution. When the Liberal minister for transport, (Sir) Gordon Chalk, introduced a new Act in 1957-58, designed not only to comply with s.92 but also to protect Queensland Railways, the `Toowoomba trio’ launched a `cataract of contumely’ against Chalk and each other, and challenged the new legislation in the courts. Anderson’s company, Western Interstate Pty Ltd, lost several cases in the State Supreme Court and the High Court of Australia, and failed in a subsequent appeal (1964) to the Privy Council.

After the war Cyril had established Anderson Agencies Pty Ltd (1947) and Westco Motors (1950) to import and distribute motorcycles and motorcars. At Westco Motors he added the Mazda franchise for Queensland in 1963, subsequently acquiring those of other States; by 1980 the company was said to be Australia’s largest importer of fully assembled motor vehicles. He ran (1963-79) Mack Trucks Australia Pty Ltd, which had an assembly line in Brisbane, and manufactured (1972-84) Leader trucks at Toowoomba. All the businesses were controlled by a family holding company, Great Western Pty Ltd, in which Anderson held 60 per cent of shares. He sold the haulage enterprise in 1972 and next year established Great Western Australasia Ltd to invest in mining shares and to provide funds for the Mazda franchises.

Appointed CBE in 1975, Anderson retired as chairman of the board in 1978. He then concentrated on running a pastoral property, Lakeland Downs, near Cooktown. In 1980 the company was reconstituted as GWA Ltd and thereafter focused increasingly on manufacturing; in 1982 it reported a turnover of $465 million. Anderson gave generously to churches, hospitals and charitable organisations, as well as to employees and business associates. Survived by his wife, and their three sons and three daughters, he died on 3 December 1983 in South Brisbane, and was cremated.

Cyril’s brother, Mervyn John John Reginald Anderson (1909-1971), was born on 4 April 1909 at Toowoomba. `Curly’ was also a champion speedway rider. He lost a leg in an accident in 1936. During World War II he man­aged Western Transport, which ferried troops between Toowoomba and Brisbane. Manager of the Maranoa and Western Transport companies to 1971, he was mayor of Toowoomba (1952-58) and, as a Liberal, represented Toowoomba (1957-60) and Toowoomba East (1960-66) in the Legislative Assembly. He was active in many local associations and was appointed OBE in 1970. Chosen Queensland Father of the Year in 1971, he died of myocardial infarction on 14 November that year at Toowoomba and was buried with Presbyterian forms in Toowoomba Garden of Remembrance. He was survived by his wife Ethel Roberts, née Nairne (the sister of Cyril’s wife), and their daughter and two sons.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Hazlehurst, Gordon Chalk (1987)
  • Great Western Australasia Ltd, Annual Report, 1974-80
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 15 Nov 1971, p 3, 20 Dec 1983, p 23
  • Chronicle (Toowoomba), 23 Feb 1984, p 1, 24 Feb 1984, p 15
  • Truckin’ Life, July 1990, p 36.

Citation details

M. French, 'Anderson, John Cyril (1904–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 27 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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