Military Tribute: The Braitling family Kenworth C509

By: Peter and Di Schlenk


With its striking murals, the Braitling family’s new Kenworth C509 is a fitting tribute to World War I serviceman and Northern Territory grazier Bill Braitling. Peter and Di Schlenk write

Military Tribute: The Braitling family Kenworth C509
The Braitling family’s new Kenworth C509.

 

Matthew and Shane Braitling’s new Kenworth C509 was one of the most eye-catching rigs at this year’s Road Transport Hall of Fame Reunion.

It was also one of the Kenworth trucks on display at the opening of the extension to the Kenworth Pavilion at the Alice Springs Road Transport Museum.

The Kenworth’s stunning murals depict the World War I conflict in France and in particular, honour the service given to Australia by family patriarch William (Bill) Braitling.

Brothers Matthew and Shane run the Passchendaele Cattle Co, Mount Doreen Station, which is around 400km north-west of Alice Springs, on the Tanami Track.

When the Braitlings bought a second property a couple of hundred kilometres north of Alice Springs, it was decided there was enough work to justify the purchase of a new prime mover.

In addition, the cattle price is currently on the up.

"I hope it stays good," Matthew says.

"Unfortunately we are price takers and we’ve got to take what they give us and that makes it awfully hard.

"We turn off between two and three thousand cattle annually depending on the season and also when the markets are available," Matthew says.

"Sometimes we’re lucky enough to get some on the boats. The export of cattle is hit and miss depending on volume, boats and everything else."

Trucks have always been part of Passchendaele Cattle Station, and the Braitlings currently operate a 1988 Mk1 Mack Super-Liner.

When it came to buying a new truck, they looked at what was around before settling on the Kenworth.

"I wasn’t too sure about the new Macks, and Kenworth have proven themselves, so the result was a C509," Matthew says.

"We’re on one of the worst highways in Australia here and we had to make sure that we bought something that could handle it."

 

The C509 commemorates the Battle of Passchendaele.

 

Badges of honour

The family then debated as to what would be the feature on the new truck. Something along the theme of the Battle of Passchendaele, where Matthew and Shane’s grandfather Bill Braitling saw active duty, was suggested.

"We threw ideas back and forth with both CJD Equipment and SignCity NT in Darwin; everyone was really good to us."

What is striking about the truck is the detail in the murals and in particular the badge on the rear of the sleeper.

"It’s the Anzac badge and the Kenworth’s number plates are his enlisted army number, RN 2903," Matthew says.

"It’s a very personalised truck that holds a lot of memories for our family, and it’s good to commemorate what our forefathers have done that enables us to live like we do."

Keeping the Kenworth clean is a battle in itself, especially as its main route is along the Tanami Track.

"The dust and dirt are part of being out here, but if the driver is going to drive it, they are going to keep it clean," Matthew says.

Mount Doreen Station is in a very remote area but the Braitlings enjoy living in central Australia.

"I was brought up here so in realistic terms I probably don’t know anything different," Matthew says.

"I can’t understand how people can live so close together in the city.

Looking in each other’s bathroom window every morning and evening would drive me nutty.

"I enjoy my space, the dogs run free, the horses can do what they like and the cows can do what they like.

"It’s beautiful out here and you can smell the rain. The drought is never something that is fun, but the rain is always beautiful."

The Tanami Track is now busier than ever with roughly 100 road trains running along it, as well as tourists.

 

Ben Parkinson, left, and Matthew Braitling.

 

Like a Commodore

Driver Ben Parkinson, who was also at the Alice Springs for the reunion, put the first 15,000km on the C509.

"I started my own welding business two years ago, but when this thing turned up I couldn’t resist getting back behind the wheel and taking it for a drive," Ben says.

Ben started driving for Tanami Transport at age 20.

After that he went to work for Curley Cattle Transport and then to Epenarra Station. Now, with a family, he prefers to be based closer to home.

"The truck is fantastic," Ben says of the C509.

"I love driving it; it sits on the road like an SS Commodore would."

The Kenworth has a Cummins Signature putting out 600hp (447kW) and an 18-speed gearbox. Inside it has all the creature comforts, including a 50-inch (127cm) bunk.

"The old V8 Super-Liner has done a good job, but it’s like comparing chalk and cheese when piloting a truck this modern," Matthew says.

"Just comparing the old square hole that you had to squeeze in and out of in the old Mack; they’re a bit different today."

 

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To War and Back

William ‘Bill’ Braitling was born in Springsure, Queensland in 1889 and left home at age 16 to work on cattle properties in the Victoria River and Kimberly districts.

Bill was droving 500 stud bulls from Queensland to the Vestey’s properties at Victoria River Downs and Wave Hill when World War I hit in 1914, although he was not aware of it until 1915.

He finished his delivery of bulls and rode back into Queensland, enlisting in the 14th Reinforcement of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment at Rockhampton.

He started training early 1916, and sailed for Egypt.

After training in Egypt, he was detailed for the artillery and undertook further training in England before leaving for France in July 1916, attached to the 1st Section of the 5th Division Artillery Co, then later to the 14th Field Artillery Brigade.

He served as driver, bombardier and gunner in the Flanders/Somme area during most of the major battles including Ypres, Bapaume and Passchendaele.

He was gassed while at Ypres, but was able to recover ‘behind lines’.

He also sustained some shrapnel wounds which affected his knee in later life.

Bill served in France until April 1919, and was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for ‘Valuable Services rendered with the Armies in France and the Flanders’.

William ‘Bill’ Braitling.

After undertaking a six-month course on animal husbandry at The University of Edinburgh he returned to Australia and was discharged in late 1919.

Back in the Northern Territory and with a partner, Bill took up a small pastoral block on the eastern boundary of Victoria River Downs, naming it ‘Passchendaele’.

He built up a small herd of cattle but easy access to markets was a major obstacle.

On learning that the railway was to be extended to Alice Springs, giving better access to markets, he explored new country 400km north-west of Alice Springs in 1926.

He found it to be suitable as a cattle property and obtained a grazing licence over a suitably large area.

He relinquished his share in Passchendaele and taking plant and cattle, set off to settle on the new block.

Drought and lack of water prevented him from reaching his goal and he was forced to sell his stock.

In 1929 he married Doreen Crook, whose family owned Singleton Station where he had been agisting his cattle.

After building up enough reserves with droving jobs, the Braitling family set out to settle on their new property in 1932, now known as Mount Doreen.

Through lack of funds and the war years, development was slow.

However in 1956 Bill, an old-time drover, saw the need for an alternative to taking months to get stock to market and was one of the first in the centre to buy a road train.

It was a Foden twin-steer with a 34-foot (10m) tray, pulling a 52-foot (16m) self-tracking trailer.

Those measurements conformed to the capacity of five vans of the 17-foot (5m) railway stock vans.

The truck and trailer cost the equivalent of $40,000, which was the total proceeds from the sale of 1,000 bullocks during that year.

There was only one wooden loading yard on Mount Doreen and just the Tanami Track for access. That road was only a graded track, badly corrugated and impassable after any rain.

The road train was extremely underpowered and was lucky to get to 30mph (48km/h).

A loaded trip to Alice Springs (300km) took 10 to 12 hours.

At that time, there were a few owner-drivers operators in the district using a standard 5-tonne prime mover with a 34-foot semi-trailer.

These could carry 18 to 20 bullocks.

Like most outback pioneers, Bill had a life of many changes, challenges and achievements. He passed away in 1959.

 

 

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