Toyota Celebrates 60 Years of Helping Build Australia

Sir Leslie Thiess in 1981, alongside the first and the 100,000th LandCruiser sold by Thiess-Toyota.
Sir Leslie Thiess in 1981, alongside the first and the 100,000th LandCruiser sold by Thiess-Toyota.

Toyota is celebrating 60 years of operations in Australia with 2019 marking the 60th anniversary of the first official imports of Toyota vehicles into the country by Thiess Toyota.

In 1959, Thiess, a subsidiary of construction company Thiess Holdings, became the official Queensland distributor for Toyota commercial vehicles – making Australia the first official export market for the Japanese brand.

To commemorate this proud heritage, Toyota Australia has embarked on a year-long social history project to tell the stories of the pioneers, the innovators, the adventurers, the communities and everyday Australians that built post-war Australia into what it is today – with a helping hand from Toyota.

These are stories of enduring hardship on the land, of exploration into new territories, of determination to be the fastest on the track, of innovation to build the best and they will be told by those who were there.

In its first chapter, this social history explores the very beginnings when intrepid Australians from all walks of life ventured beyond the seaboard fringe to open up the country to agriculture, construction, scientific exploration and tourism, helping build strong rural communities in the process.

Toyota’s origins in Australia began in 1958, after Thiess became the first Australian company to win a construction contract on the huge Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme.

The company’s owner, Leslie Thiess – who was later knighted – had privately imported about a dozen LandCruisers to use on the site.

He was so impressed with the vehicle’s capability in the harshest terrain, that he applied to Toyota in Japan to become an official distributor.

Toyota Australia Vice President Sales and Marketing Sean Hanley said the LandCruisers’ tough, durable capability set the scene for its ongoing role in helping Australia grow and thrive.

“Those very first LandCruisers proved their mettle in some very extreme conditions and while they did have some mechanical issues, Toyota supported Thiess with parts and even sent two Japanese engineers to be on site in the Snowy Mountains,” Mr Hanley said.

“It was the rugged nature of the vehicles and the Company’s strong support that first established the brand here and word quickly spread, particularly in regional areas.

“There, the LandCruiser and Toyota helped enable entreprenuers and explorers in a range of human endeavour from agriculture to science, tourism and construction build businesses and operations in the some of the harshest environments and remotest corners of this country,” he said.

Following its appointment as Queensland distributor, Thiess Toyota moved quickly to establish dealerships to service its growing customer base with one of the first being Rockhampton Car Sales, owned by George Jamieson.

A Thiess sales rep had taken a new LandCruiser to display at the Rockhampton Agricultural Show and asked Jamieson to put it on his stand, which he did – and promptly sold it to a local farmer on the same day.

Rockhampton Car Sales was one of 12 dealerships established in Queensland in 1959 that combined, sold a total of 69 LandCruisers that year. Last year, Toyota sold its one millionth LandCruiser in Australia with the global tally recently topping 10 million.

In addition to the vehicles used by Thiess for its own growing construction business that ranged from the 1960s Beef Roads Project, through some of the remotest parts of Queensland, NT and WA to the 1977 Sugarloaf Dam project that still today supplies Melbourne with drinking water, Toyota and LandCruisers found their way to far reaches of the country.

Such was the love for the LandCruiser that the Toyota LandCruiser Club was established and this year celebrates its own 50th anniversary, encouraged recreational pursuits across the country.

Australia’s own government science agency, the CSIRO too found plenty of use for LandCruisers with Murray Upton working in the organisation’s Division of Entomology undertaking several long distance scientific research surveys through NSW, SA, WA, Queensland and NT in the 1970s at the wheel of an FJ55.

Writing in March 1974, Mr Upton noted that the LandCruisers proved vital for the expeditions.

“The trip to western Arnhem Land to study the insect fauna was a two-part survey carried out both before and after the wet in two Toyota FJ55 station wagons and an FJ45, with all three towing caravans. Conditions in this area were extremely hot and dusty before the wet with the only serious hazard the dry creek beds and bulldust,” Mr Upton said.

“Getting into the area immediately after the wet was a different proposition altogether but with the Toyota vehicles, the party was still able to get the caravans to all the required sites.”

In its first chapter, Toyota plans to tell the stories of these people, whose work, leisure and community activities were enabled by Toyota on social and other media.

Over the next 12 months as part of its 60th Anniversary social history project, Toyota will also explore the role it played in individuals’ aspirations in motorsport and its movement for the masses courtesy of a long history of Australian-built passenger cars.

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