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John Francis (Jack) McCafferty (1914–1999)

by M. French

This article was published online in 2023

Jack McCafferty, in mayoral regalia, 1960s

Jack McCafferty, in mayoral regalia, 1960s

Toowoomba Regional Council and Libraries

John Francis McCafferty (1914–1999), bus and coach line proprietor and mayor, was born at Breakfast Creek, Brisbane, on 11 March 1914, elder child of Queensland-born parents James Gregory McCafferty, railway engine driver, and his wife Martha Jean, née Cherry. The family moved to Warwick in 1919 and Jack began his education at Warwick East State School (1920–24) before moving to live with his paternal grandfather and aunt on their dairy farm at Toowoomba in 1925. Returning to Warwick, he attended Christian Brothers’ College (1926–27) and Warwick State High School (1928–29) while working as a newsboy at the town's railway station and delivering weekend orders for the local butcher.

Unable to find work during the Depression, McCafferty returned to live with his grandfather and aunt at Toowoomba. Hardworking, with a flair for business, he was soon operating a successful horse and cart milk delivery service. When the family farm could no longer meet the growing demand, he purchased a Chevrolet utility truck and bought milk from farmers further out of town to sell at a premium. After a ‘bad patch’ (McCafferty 1995, 5) towards the beginning of World War II, he sold his delivery service and briefly worked at a local pasteurised milk factory before buying a suburban bus run in East Toowoomba in 1941­. On 13 January that year, despite some tension with his Catholic family, he married Lorna Myrtle Schultz, a Lutheran who had grown up in Queensland’s Darling Downs region, at the Salvation Army Headquarters in Brisbane. They would have six children.

The war years were difficult for McCafferty who struggled to support his young family with his fledgling business. The situation improved after the war and in 1946 McCafferty Bus Services, as it was then known, secured the licence for a coordinated bus-rail link between Toowoomba and Brisbane. The following year, he began operating excursions to regional tourist destinations and guided highway holiday tours to New South Wales, including the mid-north coast, Blue Mountains, and Sydney; the first tours to Central Australia ran in the 1960s. These were profitable years for the company which enabled it to make significant investments in vehicles, advertising, infrastructure, and staff. By the late 1950s the company was operating a fleet of taxis, buses, and coaches from a new Toowoomba terminal and service station.

Between 1953 and 1955 McCafferty thrice competed in the Redex Round Australia Reliability trials. The experience broadened his outlook and he continued to develop long-distance coach travel, particularly for domestic tourism. During these years he unsuccessfully contested the State seat of Cunningham (1956) for the Australian Labor Party, and later the Federal seat of Darling Downs (1958, 1961). He resigned from the ALP in July 1965 and failed in a bid to gain the State seat of East Toowoomba for the Country Party in 1966.

McCafferty was more successful in the sphere of local government. Elected to the Toowoomba City Council in April 1955, he served as mayor between 1958 and 1967. Capitalising on opportunities presented by postwar reconstruction, his tenure was one of considerable commercial and municipal progress. It included the construction of the Milne Bay Memorial Pool (1960), Perseverance Creek Dam (1965), and a new council administration building (1963). He also supported investments in parks, sewerage infrastructure, and roads; oversaw the installation of Toowoomba’s first traffic lights and parking meters; and presided over the city’s centenary celebrations in 1960. Pragmatic, talkative, and outspoken, he occasionally courted controversy, such as when he called for stiletto heels to be banned on public footpaths for the damage they caused to the asphalt.

After losing the 1967 mayoral election, partly as a result of his changed party affiliation and advocacy for the extension of the local airport runway, McCafferty focused on expanding his business, which by this time included a travel agency. In the 1970s the company dominated regional Queensland routes, opening an office and terminal in Brisbane (1973–74) and commencing a small charter flight service. Over the next decade it aggressively expanded long-distance inter-city express passenger services (especially for backpackers) to capital cities, emerging as one of Australia’s leading coach lines in competitive rivalry with companies such as Greyhound Coaches and Ansett Pioneer. Though McCafferty remained involved with the business, much of this later development was overseen by his eldest son, Tony. The company saw its darkest day on 22 December 1989 when, in one of the country’s worst road accidents, a McCafferty’s driver fell asleep at the wheel and collided head-on with a Trans City Express coach on the Pacific Highway near Kempsey in New South Wales. Both drivers and thirty-three passengers were killed.

In the early 1990s McCafferty collaborated with the Toowoomba writer Don Talbot on his autobiography which was published in 1995. Four years later, on 12 January 1999, after a two-and-a-half-year battle with cancer, he died in St Vincent’s Private Hospital, Toowoomba, and was buried at the Drayton and Toowoomba cemetery. He was survived by his wife, six children, and twelve grandchildren.

Tall and clean-shaven, with a receding hairline that he often hid under a trilby hat, McCafferty exuded the hospitable common-man touch and delighted in leading sing-a-longs on his coaches. Often known as ‘Mr Mac,’ he was a devout Catholic who had an empathetic relationship with staff and passengers, an impressive memory, and an infectious sense of humour. In recognition of the popularity and respect he earned as a local identity and mayor, the Toowoomba City Council opened McCafferty Park, located along his first bus run, in 1964. He was awarded the OAM in 1992 and the same year received the Queensland Tourism Award for most outstanding contribution by an individual (1992).

Research edited by Emily Gallagher

Select Bibliography

  • Chronicle (Toowoomba). ‘McCafferty’s—35 Years of Service.’ 14 March 1975
  • Elson-Green, Jacqui. ‘The Long Road to Prosperity.’ Australian Geographic, no. 44 (October–December 1996): 118–19
  • French, Maurice. Toowoomba: A Sense of History 1840–2008. Toowoomba, Qld: University of Southern Queensland, 2009
  • McCafferty, Jack, with Don Talbot. McCafferty: King of the Road. Brisbane: Boolarong Press, 1995
  • Niesche, Chris. Obituary. Australian, 20 January 1999, 13
  • O’Brien, Bill. ‘Farewell to the King of the Road—Eulogy.’ Chronicle (Toowoomba), 23 January 1999, 38–39
  • Local History and Robinson Collections, Toowoomba Region Libraries. LH/MCC, McCafferty Collection

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

M. French, 'McCafferty, John Francis (Jack) (1914–1999)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2023, accessed online 18 May 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Jack McCafferty, in mayoral regalia, 1960s

Jack McCafferty, in mayoral regalia, 1960s

Toowoomba Regional Council and Libraries

Life Summary [details]


11 March, 1914
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


12 January, 1999 (aged 84)
Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Political Activism