The Difficult Years: 1929 to 1953

The rise and rise of membership during the 1920s prompted the RAA to buy its first freehold office at 49 Hindmarsh Square - staff moved in during 1929, shortly before the 20,000th member was enrolled.

Almost at once came a fearful reversal as the Great Depression bit deeply into the economy. Membership dropped heavily for two years, but it took five years to regain the lost ground; and after a little breathing space the nation was plunged into the Second World War.

How different the RAA's role was in that, compared with the earlier conflict. It formed and operated the Civil Defence Transport Auxiliary, surveyed and mapped the State's roads for the military authorities, provided research into alternative fuels and supported the cause in other ways. It did so with greatly reduced staff, for many had enlisted and others were seconded for munitions work.

Throughout those difficult years the firmly entrenched member services had to be maintained, and new ones were added - Pilotage and Shipping, for instance - while an unexpected feature from 1934 was the control of motor sport in South Australia. They were difficult years, and they continued beyond the war through a period of austerity and hard times caused by increasingly tough petrol rationing and unprecedented inflation.

By 1947 the motoring organisations knew that rationing was no longer necessary and campaigned ceaselessly to have it removed. Prime Minister Ben Chifley refused, and to a backdrop of RAA accusations that petrol was being used as a political weapon, Chifley was defeated in an election at the end of 1949. The in-coming Government quickly removed rationing, an outcome which the Association regarded as one of its greatest victories.

There was triumph, too, in 1937 when the Road Traffic Act came into force. Until then traffic was controlled by about a dozen different Acts and hundreds of regulations. The RAA had been calling since the early 1920s for a single Act to replace them, and when it finally happened the Association was a participant on the committee which put it together. It has always been proud that it had initiated the idea of an Act which (despite periodic amendments) still controls road traffic, and then had a hand in its creation.

From all of those volatile years, motoring and the RAA emerged into a period of stability and economic growth in the early 1950s. This period of plenty produced a massive increase in car ownership and spiralling RAA membership, which soared past 75,000, tripling in just eight years.

That caused a great deal of change with services. The face of road service, for instance, became unrecognisable - the familiar motor cycle outfits were replaced by vans, the Guides became Patrols and were using two-way radio, operating 24 hours a day out of spacious new premises in North Adelaide. That metamorphosis was symptomatic of a period when the RAA's operations reached such a large scale that the Association had to be restructured.


Photo: Two-way radio being demonstrated in one of the Austin A40 vans, in late 1953.

It had become, in the words of President and Chairman Dudley Turner, 'big business'. When it reached its Golden Jubilee in 1953 there were 140 staff, supported by seven country offices and 99 road service depots.

During that year operations were expanded with the introduction of the Country Survey Unit for mapping field work and a mobile vehicle inspection unit for use at country centres. Service figures for 1953 showed 66,000 road service jobs, almost 40,000 touring enquiries, 12,000 vehicle inspections and 84,000 technical enquiries, 1,300 legal enquiries and almost a thousand court defences, and 20,000 insurance policies.

Among the Patrols contributing to the Road Service job tally at the time was a young Ron Kennedy, who joined in 1950 and completed an Association record of 50 years service. Staff loyalty of this kind has been a crucial feature of this service organisation, and it was the phenomenal growth of those post-war years which finally cemented at the RAA a culture among its staff which has been growing for 30 years; a level of career dedication in which stays of 30 and 40 years have been commonplace.

1954 to 1978: A Social Revolution

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