Mutual Milestones - Paccar and Brown and Hurley

By: Steve Brooks

Paccar Australia has celebrated 50 years of truck manufacturing at its Bayswater (Vic) headquarters but notching an even bigger milestone, it’s now 75 years since two Army mates formed a company called Brown & Hurley. Today, of course, the two companies are synonymous for success.

The first half of 2021 has certainly been a memorable time for Paccar Australia and its leading dealer group, Brown & Hurley.

Grey Ghost. Fifty years ago, the K125 cab-over was the first truck fully built on Paccar’s Bayswater production line
Half a century later, Brown & Hurley’s 75th anniversary T659 becomes the 70,000th truck to roll out of the Paccar Australia factory

For Paccar, it’s now 50 years since a K125 cab-over affectionately known as the ‘Grey Ghost’ became the first Kenworth truck to roll off the Bayswater (Vic) production line.

For Brown & Hurley, this year notches 75 years since the fateful day in 1946 when Alan Brown and Jack Hurley cobbled their Army discharge pay to create a company bearing their surnames.

It was, however, in 1964 that Paccar and Brown & Hurley forged the first bonds that would glue the companies so intrinsically tight. After all, that was the year Brown & Hurley became Australia’s first Kenworth distributor and soon after sold its first Kenworth, a W923 model to Doug Wyton of Toowoomba.

Two years later, Paccar principals in the US announced that Kenworth trucks would be assembled in Australia from completely knocked-down kits but it wasn’t until 1969 that a big block of land at Bayswater, back then a largely rural suburb on Melbourne’s outer rim, was bought to build a factory to actually manufacture trucks in Australia. It was a boldly optimistic and exceedingly fortuitous decision.

In half a century of truck making, Paccar Australia has produced more than 70,000 trucks and around 30 percent of them have been sold through the Brown & Hurley Group. The 70,000th truck was, in fact, a T659 specifically ordered by Brown & Hurley as a commemorative unit for its 75th anniversary.

Celebrating its 50 years of truck manufacturing with a high-profile event at the Bayswater plant attended by Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and a number of government ministers and industry leaders, Paccar Australia chief Andrew Hadjikakou emphasised the critical contribution of past and present employees in securing the company’s success over such a long and sometimes demanding period.

Making a point. Paccar Australia chief Andrew Hadjikakou gets the ear of Federal Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg

"Today, the workforce behind each truck is measured in the thousands. An extended family of exceptional employees, dealers and suppliers that span the nation.

"The desire to build the world’s best trucks still inspires and unites us," he enthused in a statement."

Critically, the statement also cited Kenworth’s success despite ‘… the removal of import tariffs, soaring fuel costs, economic downturns, global recessions, dimensional changes, emissions reductions and most recently, a pandemic demanding changes to the production line to protect the workforce and maintain supply of trucks to the essential transport industry.’

As Andrew Hadjikakou commented, "2020 showed how important Australian manufacturing is to this country."

Likewise, a determined Hadjikakou didn’t miss any opportunity to make the same point as he led Josh Frydenberg and his political allies on a tour of the Bayswater plant. By any measure, it was a polished and highly professional performance by the Paccar Australia chief.

Equally, it wasn’t lost on a few guests that while all Australians have despaired at the widely publicised decimation of the country’s car making industry, the truck manufacturing sector has quietly continued to remain buoyant, productive and a significant employer despite ongoing corporate pressure to remain economically viable in a demanding, low volume market such as ours.

Farewell and funny business

Among several honoured guests at the 50th anniversary event were Manny Melkonian and the elder statesman of Brown & Hurley these days, Jim Hurley.

It was a deserving tribute for Manny in particular, announcing his retirement after a truly stellar career with Paccar Australia spanning more than 50 years. Indeed, Manny was selling Kenworths before the Bayswater plant produced its first truck.

Master salesman Manny (Manuel) Melkonian. Set to retire after more than 50 years, the Paccar stalwart has sold more than 3000 trucks in a long and dedicated career

Something of a quiet achiever and now close to his 81st birthday, Manny is the quintessential master salesman whose loyalty, knowledge and contacts seem to know no bounds within the Paccar fold, and whose passion and commitment to the product and its customers have seen him accrue more than 3000 sales. As one wit remarked, ‘He’s sold more trucks on his own than some brands have sold altogether.’ True!

On the other hand, Jim Hurley has been retired for a number of years and with a business card which describes him simply as ‘Roving Ambassador’ for the Brown & Hurley Group, he bears many of his father Jack’s traits, not least a dry wit and laconic sense of humour.

The choice of a T659 model as the 70,000th truck was, as Jim put it, "Because it’s a real workhorse." As for the truck’s notable absence from the event, held up by floods around Moree, an unfazed Jim Hurley said simply, "Well, it just goes to show, Nature has the final say."

But with so much history to draw upon, it was Jim’s delivery of an anecdote from the formative years of Alan Brown and Jack Hurley which had many people captivated and laughing. A few, however, appeared exceedingly relieved that Prime Minister Scott Morrison – then being hammered far and wide for his poor handling of gender-related issues as well as a very seedy act of self-gratification by a parliamentary staff member – had belatedly flick-passed the Paccar event to Treasurer Frydenberg.

Just as well, because Jim’s story went something like this: In the very early days of the business, and as was their occasional want, Alan Brown and Jack Hurley would adjourn to a local pub to discuss things, with Jack’s wife Thelma or Alan’s wife Lil invariably left to look after the office at the company’s Kyogle base in far northern NSW.

Brown & Hurley roving ambassador, Jim (JJ) Hurley. The artwork on the 75th anniversary T659 captures the early days of company founders Alan Brown and Jack Hurley

One day, Jack was proudly telling a mutual acquaintance how he’d sold various pieces of equipment and how well he was going. Listening to Jack’s high opinion of his sales success, Alan soon reminded him that the business – with Jack doing the selling and Alan looking after service – was in fact a partnership in every way and everything they did, they were equally responsible for.

Suitably chastened, Jack agreed. "Yep, you’re right mate. We share responsibility for everything."

A few days passed. Alan strolled past and Jack asked him into his office.

"Mate, you know how you said we share responsibility for everything?" Jack asked.

"Yeah," Alan replied.

"Well, we’ve just got the office girl pregnant."

While the assembled audience cracked with laughter, on stage it was a toss-up who squirmed the most, Josh Frydenberg or Andrew Hadjikakou.

As for how ‘Scotty from Marketing’ would’ve coped … well, we’ll never know, but it would’ve been priceless to watch.

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