WATKINS, Jack

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Inducted into the Shell Rimula Wall of Fame at ReUnion 2011.

Jack (Scrubba) Watkins was born in 1930 in Lobethal, SA.  His father was an engine driver for Commonwealth Railways and Jack grew up in Beltana, a small railway siding 600 kilometres north of Adelaide.  His mates were the donkey teamsters, cameleers, shearers and drovers who passed through periodically.  As a youngster Jack did a trip to Alice Springs with drover Buck Hooper and decided he liked the place.  He spent the next 16 years working on cattle stations all around Central Australia. 

During the drought Jack moved into town and got work loading copper ore and driving trucks and later taxis for Bert Gardiner who owned Legion Taxi Service.  When Bert decided to sell, Jack bought one of his taxis.  When Gardiner passed away Jack bought the rest.  In 1966 Jack purchased a Ford Galaxie to start a private hire company.  By 1969 traffic was so intense the legion fleet grew to include three Toyota Hi-Ace buses.  These were called Bacardi, Beenleigh and Bundaberg.  As the tourism industry in the centre grew so did Jack’s fleet.  This time it was three Toyota Coaster buses.  In keeping with his “rum” tradition these were called Captain Morgan, Amity and Coruba.  He soon upgraded to full-sized coaches.

In 1975 Jack Watkins took on the then Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, at the Alice Springs Turf Club... Jack questioned him on the wisdom of removing the fuel subsidy saying it was detrimental to small businesses like his and big corporations alike and would adversely impact the national economy.  Only ten days later, Gough Whitlam was unceremoniously “sacked” by Governor General Sir John Kerr.  In 1978 Jack purchased the local Budget Rent-a-Car franchise from Bob Ansett.  The business now also included taxi-trucks, security vans and 4WD tour vehicles.  If you went anywhere in the centre of Australia it was likely to be in a Legion vehicle.

In 1981 the Legion Group of Companies was sold to Ron King and Jim Sinclair who later also purchased Ansett Pioneer.  That operation then became Ansett Trailways and the Legion name, which had served Alice Springs for 25 years, was gone.  Jack retired to South Australia but remained a regular visitor to the National Road Transport Hall of Fame and the Drovers ReUnion in Camooweal until his death in September 2010.  Jack’s love of the Territory, his commitment to family, friends, the transport industry and his beloved droving mates never waivered during his lifetime.