History in the Making

One of Australia’s leading Kenworth and DAF dealerships, Brown and Hurley, celebrates 75 years in operation this June. Prime Mover speaks with Jim and Paul Hurley, son and grandson of co-founder Jack Hurley OAM, about the remarkable rise to prominence of this successful Australian family business.

The Brown and Hurley story started in the early 1940s during the Second World War when Alan Brown and Jack Hurley, who were both in the army at the time, met and became great mates.

Due to their excellent mechanical skill set, rather than being sent into battle the dynamic duo was enlisted to train the soldiers in the service and repair of trucks and machinery used during the war.

In 1946, after the war had ended, they decided to go into business together at Kyogle. With limited funds they started doing mechanical repairs in a shed behind a bike shop situated on a property owned by the Catholic Church.

The business, according to Jim, struggled to make money doing mechanical repairs over the following year or so, however, a turning point came in 1947 when the first new machinery sales were made.

“A fellow came in and wanted a crawler tractor so they got him an Oliver Cletrac and then another fellow wanted a new White truck which they also managed to supply,” says Jim. “From those two sales they made 150 pounds commission, which convinced them that selling new equipment was the way they needed to go.”

In the early 1950s the Catholic church decided to build a new church on the site, which prompted Jack and Alan to buy a block of land a couple of doors up and build their first dealership which was opened in 1953.

Brown and Hurley subsequently became a White truck distributor and sold 154 units. They also sold 548 Leyland trucks between 1957 and 1968, along with a large number of Volvo trucks between 1968 and 1999.

Artist impression of the first Brown and Hurley outlet in Kyogle, NSW.

Also sold in the early years were significant quantities of Allis-Chalmers and David Brown tractors along with Blue Streak Two Man and One Man chainsaws (and later McCulloch chainsaws) which were tools of choice in the thriving logging industry in northern NSW at the time.

A watershed moment came in 1964 with the appointment of Brown and Hurley as Australia’s first Kenworth dealership – an event that set up the company for ongoing success that continues unabated as the 75-year milestone is passed.

“We’ve been a truck dealer with various franchises for most of the 75 years,” says Paul Hurley.

“Becoming Australia’s first Kenworth dealer in 1964 and selling our first Kenworth in 1965 are certainly two of our biggest milestones.
“Another was being given the opportunity by PACCAR to buy the 70,000th Kenworth produced in Australia, which was delivered to us in April this year.”

Paul agrees that the successes of both PACCAR Australia and Brown and Hurley are intrinsically linked, with both businesses enabled to flourish due to the symbiotic relationship.

“There’s no doubt that without the Kenworth products we wouldn’t have been able to achieve what we have and I’d like to think that we’ve played a part in helping PACCAR achieve its considerable success in this country,” Paul says.

“Both companies have similar aspirations in that we have always strived to serve the end users who buy the trucks by supplying them with products tailored to suit their individual circumstances.”

Paul explains that as a proudly Australian family-owned company Brown and Hurley has achieved this goal by continually investing in its people and facilities, including spare parts and service, to ensure excellence across the board. He also highlights the careful succession planning that has seen a third generation step up to guide the business through its next phase.

“Both families have a long-term commitment to the company that has enabled continued investment in our brands. This, in turn, enables us to better serve our many loyal customers, without whom we wouldn’t have a business,” he says.

Today, with a staff numbering 468, Brown and Hurley has a parts inventory of $24million and across all of its nine branches supplies around 97 per cent of Kenworth parts off the shelf.

Historically, the company has sold between 27 and 30 per cent of Australian-built Kenworths and between 30 and 35 per cent of DAFs sold in Australia.

Jim says the prowess of its sales people along with having its own technician training centre are big factors in the company’s success, particularly with selling DAFs.

“Being able to support the product is key,” he says. “We have a head trainer who attended a course at DAF headquarters in Holland so he could come back and train our technicians, ensuring they’re right up to date with all the latest technology.”

As part of its 75-year celebrations, Brown and Hurley recently released 75 Diamond Edition trucks which were all snapped up within 24 hours. A number of these were displayed at the recent Brisbane Truck Show.

Celebrations continue throughout June with open days at the company’s nine branches scattered across northern New South Wales and Queensland.

The 70,000th Kenworth produced in Australia.

The first will be at the Kyogle headquarters on Saturday 5 June which will be opened by Federal Member Kevin Hogan MP at 11am. The event will include a new truck display and pallet sale auctioning goods donated by various parts and accessories manufacturers. The proceeds of this will go to the daughter of a staff member who is bravely battling leukaemia and has three young children.

Also being launched that day is a book titled How a great oak from a little acorn grew, originally written by Jack Hurley OAM, detailing the first 60 years of the company’s history and recently expanded with the last 15 years of history by his son Jim.

The Coffs Harbour branch also has its open day and pallet sale on 5 June, followed by the Yatala branch on 10 and 11 June and Toowoomba branch on 12 June.
Rockhampton and Caboolture open days will occur on 19 June, while Townsville and Darra branches have their turn on 26 June.

Kyogle, Toowoomba, Rockhampton, Caboolture and Darra branch open days will also play host to Show ‘n’ Shine events enabling truck enthusiasts to display their pride and joy for the general public to admire.

The grand finale will be the open day at the Tamworth branch on 3 July which will also be a celebration of the official branch opening.

All up, it’s a fitting celebration for the diamond anniversary of a great Australian company that started from little more than a shared vision of two talented men and has grown to become a pivotal part of this country’s vast and varied road transport industry.

As the book title so aptly depicts, from a tiny acorn a mighty oak tree has grown.