Family’s history “around the corner and around Australia”
To quote the famous song, Royston Whybird “has been everywhere, man”.
Before he retired, the Ipswich man saw a lot of Australia – and got paid to do it – as a fourth-generation furniture removalist.
Royston, who lives at Carinity Elim Estate retirement village in Raceview, operated Whybirds Removals. One of Ipswich’s longest running family businesses, it was owned by the Whybird family for 140 years until 1997.
Australia’s oldest independent removalist enterprise was founded by Royston’s great-great grandfather, John Whybird, in 1857 – although “not a lot of planning went into him going into the transport industry.”
“He worked for a produce merchant doing deliveries. When the boss went broke my great-great grandfather got the horse and cart in lieu of wages,” Royston said.
John’s son, Henry, upgraded to a two horse-drawn lorry which he used from 1911 until the end of World War II. After Royston’s father, Allan, returned from the war, he received a loan to purchase a 1946 Ford – the first truck in the fleet.
Royston was proud to continue the family tradition of delivering furniture “around the corner and around Australia” after he completed his motor mechanic apprenticeship.
“I started driving in the days when there was lots of dirt roads and no roadhouses like now. There were no refrigerators, no phones, no air conditioning, sleeping under the truck or in the back if there was room,” he said.
“I drove to Perth in the 1960s, when most of the Nullarbor Plain was still a dirt road. I’ve been across the top of Australia to Fitzroy Crossing and been to Tasmania a few times.”
One removal job saw Royston drive from Hermannsburg, west of Alice Springs, to Hopevale in far north Queensland. When Bill Hayden retired as Governor-General and moved from Canberra back to Queensland, Whybirds won the contract.
“We were quoting against national companies like Ridgeways and Grace Brothers. At our peak we had 35 employees and 13 trucks,” Royston said.
Royston, who was inducted into the Road Transport Hall of Fame in Alice Springs, explains that shifting furniture is a special and “very personal” skill.
“After a death in the family or a divorce, moving house is about the next most stressful thing. We met everyone at their worst; we had to be the smiling face,” Royston said.
“You can teach a furniture remover to drive a truck, but it is very difficult to teach a truck driver to move furniture.
“The removal industry has changed a lot. I think back to my grandparents, what they had in their house bears little resemblance to what’s in a house now. They didn’t have four TVs, a barbeque, an outdoor set of tables and chairs.”
Royston is keeping the history of Whybirds Removals alive. He has published a book on the business and made several 1:12 scale models of its delivery vehicles from over the years including their horse-drawn transport.
“I’d always thought I would like a model of grandfather’s lorry and I looked at all the model kits you could buy, but they were of a prairie wagon. So, I thought I’d better build myself one,” Royston said.
Striving to keep his DIY project “as authentic as possible”, Royston utilised everything from used pieces of exhaust pipe for the lorry’s steel tyre, to his own leatherwork for horse reins.