Birth of a Jeep

Mural at the Willys Plant in Australia


Here's a mystery that I hope somebody in Australia will be able to help solve. A large mural depicting the story of how a Jeep is born, was reportedly located somewhere in the Willys facility in Brisbane in the 1960s -- but who was the artist, where exactly was it located, and what happened to it? Judging from the floor tiles visible in this picture, the mural (or this portion of it) may have been about 14 feet (4 meters) across.

Brisbane mural

Lincoln Cushing, Archivist at Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources wrote to CJ3B.info: "Henry J. Kaiser owned the Willys Jeep line of vehicles between 1953 and 1970, with manufacturing and assembly plants all over the world. Slides in our archives reveal a fascinating mosaic mural at the plant in Brisbane, Australia, circa 1963. It depicts the various steps in design, casting, manufacturing, and assembly for those iconic and rugged machines. The fate of this mural is unknown. It's possible that it was located at the headquarters at Evans Road, Rocklea, rather than the actual plant."

I have dubbed the mural "Birth of a Jeep" -- see a larger image (200K JPEG) for a better view of the details. The completed vehicle in the center, with a drawbar on the rear, appears to be a CJ-3B, and there is also a faint high hood silhouette in the background behind it. The body tubs on the left are CJ-5s, and there are some Station Wagon bodies on an assembly line. These are all models which were built by Willys Motors Australia. I'm not sure about the engine blocks in the foreground, or the frames in the center, which actually look like passenger car frames.

Brisbane, 1964/65This photo shows the front of the building where records indicate the mural was located; the Willys Motors Australia plant and offices in Brisbane. Popularly known as "Building 27", the complex was just off Evans Road, which in the Willys era was in the municipality of Rocklea, and is now part of Salisbury. The photo circa 1964-65 is from Barry Massey via John Massey.

John says, "Note roughly one third of the building is not shown, on the left side of the photo. Building size was 5 acres under 1 roof. Vehicles out front are company units/demonstrators. Visitor entrance is beneath the sign and beside the red CJ half-cab."

Brisbane, 1959I wonder if these three employees might have been models for the mural. This 1959 photo was part of a series illustrating the contributions of immigrants to Australia. In the foreground is wirer Nick Balens from Latvia. Behind him are trimmers Werner Kudepp from Germany (left) and Thomas Wright from Northern Ireland. Photo by Don Edwards courtesy National Library of Australia under CC.

Willys Motors Australia folded in 1974, but Jeep Australia was set up as a subsidiary of American Motors in 1978 (see History of Jeeps in Australia) and assembled Jeeps again in the 1980s in Building 27, now known as Project Street, Salisbury.

Factory 2017Much of the building was subsequently used as a textile factory (360K JPEG) which is now closed. The wooden floor, installed because it was originally a munitions plant during World War II, is deteriorating.

These 2014 photos reveal cement block walls similar to the background of the black & white photo above, and a hanging sign reading "Units for Paint Shop."

Photos courtesy of Talk Urbex, under CC.

BrisbaneThese two photos look from Evans Rd. down Project St. to the entrance of the Willys factory on Engineering St.

The black & white shot (70K JPEG) was probably taken around the time the mural was photographed, based on the lineup of J-Series trucks, which debuted in the US in 1963. A close look at the sign on the building shows that at this point the company was also importing vehicles by Fiat, Isuzu and Mitsubishi (who interestingly was manufacturing a large number of Jeeps in Japan under licence from Willys Motors.) The Google Street View image (140K JPEG) from 2017 shows that the west section of the building has been demolished.

Aerial viewAn undated aerial view of the factory shows the full extent of the 5.5-acre facility on the south side of Brisbane. Evans Road crosses the upper right of the photo from left to right, with Project Street running one block down from Evans Road to the plant entrance at the center of the north side.

Different areas of the plant are identified by color in the large version of the photo (370K JPEG), published in Jeep Action magazine in May 2010.

Willys adWillys Australia also had an office on Kent Street in Sydney, which was listed as their address in some advertising, but there is no indication in the archives that the mural might have been located there. It also seems unlikely because Willys was a tenant in Caltex House, Sydney's first high-rise office tower.

Sydney Morning Herald, 1958The Sydney Morning Herald published a multi-page feature about Willys Australia on 25 August 1958. One page (see it full size, 900K JPEG) included a description of "How the Vehicle is Assembled" in Building 27, where three crates provided all the imported parts necessary for six finished Jeeps.

See more on this newspaper feature in Promoting the Australian-Made CJ-3B on CJ3B.info.

RAAF J200A later interior photo of the plant, taken in May/June 1967, shows some of the sixteen blue J200 trucks built for the RAAF. John Massey comments, "Note the background rail with "DANGER" signage; this and the foreground rail provided overhead crane transport from front of the building to almost the rear wall. Beneath this, under bond CKD packs from the USA were stored."

Although part of Building 27 is still standing as of 2017, there appears to be no trace of the mural, and I have been unable to find anybody who recalls seeing it in the plant. I would welcome hearing from anyone who has any further information.

Thanks to Mick Broomfield, John Massey, Miran Hunziker and the Willys Australia group on Facebook. Thanks also to Michael Bowen of Jeep Action magazine, and Lincoln Cushing at Kaiser Permanente. -- Derek Redmond

Kaiser Mural in Fontana, California

Brisbane muralWhile I'm talking about murals connected to Henry Kaiser, it's perhaps worth mentioning a mural in four panels which represents the history of the city of Fontana, California, including founder A.B. Miller, the citrus industry, the Kaiser steel mill (seen here) and the NASCAR racetrack.

The 1400 square foot mural was created in 2005 by artists Enrique Vidal and John Thongnoi in acrylic on the side of a building in Fontana. See more details at Waymarking.com.

See more Jeeps in Australia on CJ3B.info.

See also Universal Jeep History.

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Last updated 30 July 2017 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond