Kurt Gerhardt JOHANNSEN, b. 11th January 1915, Deep Well NT; USH00471


Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre


Kurt Gerhardt JOHANNSEN, b. 11th January 1915, Deep Well NT

About this object

Kurt's mother started teaching him grade 1 reading and writing when he was about 6 years old, and the following year, when the Correspondence School was started, they received sets of schoolwork from Adelaide on a monthly basis, with the camel mail.
However, Kurt hated the school lessons. The move to Hermannsburg brought little respite, as once a fortnightly mail run to Hermannsburg began they continued to receive the correspondence lessons. By the time they left Hermannsburg, he had completed grade 2 level. It seems that he received no further formal schooling until the family moved into Alice Springs in 1929. He was then 14 years old. He completed grade 3 level there but was then required to help earn money for the family. Consequently, that was the end of his formal schooling.
However, what he lacked in formal education, he made up for in a natural ability in inventiveness and improvisation inherited from his resourceful parents. These aptitudes were encouraged by the need to learn bush survival skills, by access to the family's blacksmith shop where Kurt and his siblings made their birthday and Christmas presents for each other, by assisting his father repair buggy wheels and, after 1924, cars, for visitors to Deep Well, and repair and maintain the mechanical equipment on the station, and by trying out some of his own ideas for mechanical inventions.
As an adjunct to these skills Kurt and his nearest sister also developed good co- ordination and balancing skills, as their play involved jumping off a 2.4 metre high sandbank in a nearby creek, chasing each other around the stock yards on the top rail, or climbing a tree with a rod held between the big and second toes, and having reached their destination, hanging on with one arm while they used the rod to pick 'sugar' from the leaves.
Because of the time delay in receiving spare parts for repairs to vehicles and equipment, "the art of improvisation became a natural habit. Dad and I didn't even think about a replacement part at first. We looked a the problem and decided whether another one could be made or the existing one repaired. Could something be forged up in the blacksmith shop? Or could I use something else? Or could I make a temporary repair? That was a natural part of life for me".
On a trip to Adelaide in 1922 Kurt's father bought a 1922 model Dodge Four. Kurt, although only seven at the time, was taught to drive. As the vehicle was to be used for a lot of the station work, all those involved in the work needed to know how to use this new piece of equipment. Thus began, for Kurt, a lifetime of keeping motor vehicles on the move.
A second vehicle, a Dodge one-ton G Boy truck, was bought in 1924. That year also brought the family into contact with another piece of emerging technology when John Flynn and Alfred Traeger used Deep Well Station as the test site for the first radio receiver and transmitter they were developing, which became the forerunner of the pedal radio and the Flying Doctor service.
Kurt began mechanical experiments when he was about 10 years old and describes some of these in his book of memoirs and anecdotes, A Son of 'The Red Centre'.
"I think the idea of the self-tracking trailers for my road trains, which I built after World War !!, originated in my imagination when I was about ten years old. I loved to make all sorts of weird contraptions out of tin lids, kerosene boxes and other bits and pieces and hooked my models together with 2, 3 and sometimes 4 trailers with wire towbars around bent nails. I pulled them around with a piece of string or a stick. I make a prime mover with a steering front axle and used a long stick to push and steer it around by twisting the stick. I also made up a wind-driven prime mover using a 15 inch fan with twelve blades, cut from a piece of galvanized iron.
I soldered it onto a shaft with a small pulley running down to a seven-pound treacle tin with route tracks on either side and a piece of tube rubber for a belt. This model worked quite well on a side wind, but would only pull two trailers. I abandoned that project because it wasn't strong enough to pull any trailers.
During 1925 I would sometimes disappear into the blacksmith shop building a model steam engine, which was quite a success. I never got around to making it mobile, so it remained a stationary steam engine. I fashioned the boiler out of an old float chamber from a cattle trough and used an inverted valve from a car tube as a safety valve. The crankshaft was made from a quarter-inch rod bent into both the cam and the crank.
The cylinder head was cast out of some zinc and I used nails for valves and the springs out of old car valves. I'd heat up the boiler on the forge and demonstrate it for visitors. I didn't think very much about it because it was just another of the things I loved to fiddle with, but everyone else seemed to think it was quite marvellous when I actually got it going".
Also about this time the family acquired their first bicycle - by mail order. The maintenance of the bike also called on Kurt's inventiveness. ;"There were thousands of bindi-eyes and many, many punctures so I'd put a spoonful of pepper and 3 or 4 spoonfuls of water in the tube. Whenever a bindi-eye went in and came out a little grain of pepper would be sucked into the hole and the water would seal it up with the gooey mess which was floating around inside the bike tube. Also a piece of wire or cord across the front and back forks, almost touching the tyres, will flick the bindi-eyes off before they penetrate right into the tyres".
After his 10th birthday Kurt was expected to help more with the maintenance of equipment at Deep Well. But it was 1926, when he was 11 years old, that he had to put his childhood behind him. Towards the end of that year his father became ill with poliomyelitis. He was ill for a number of months and never fully regained his strength. Kurt "was needed to look after the pumps, engines and all the mechanical jobs.
Looking back now, I would be horrified to see a child of my age then doing what I did, such as shinnying down the well to repair a pipe, 50 or 60 feet down, with another 150 feet below me to the water level". As well, all the stock had to be watered, as they were in the middle of a drought, and all the other daily chores kept up.
At the end of the long, debilitating years of drought and sickness, Kurt's father was declared bankrupt. Consequently, early in 1929, they abandoned Deep Well Station and moved into Alice Springs or Stuart, as it was known until 1933. Initially they lived in a large shed on the block of land that Kurt's father had leased, until they were able to build a house.
But first, "it was essential to sink a well and install a windmill and engine pump to establish a water supply for the vegetable garden and lucerne patch for our milking cow and chooks". When the house was completed it was the best private dwelling in the town, and, later on, when Kurt had "rigged up a charging plant with an old Lister engine and generator, supplying 32 volt power for lighting three houses - ours and two neighbouring houses" - one of the best equipped.
"From the age of 15 onwards, it was all work and I became another bread-winner in the family". His first job was the contract for the first night cart and garbage collection service in Alice Springs, a service he continued for about 4 years.
To supplement this, Kurt and his father "carried on with general work, which from 1930 to 1933 included odd jobs, building houses, putting down wells or bores and carting firewood for the bakery, hotels and boarding houses. I also did a bit of mechanical work, repairing old trucks, windmills and pumps and charged batteries for the old-type radios". They also carted general stores out to Hermannsburg and for the mica miners and others.
It was no doubt from this 'bit of mechanical work, repairing old trucks, windmills and pumps' that Kurt's reputation for mechanical ingenuity grew. He gradually came to be called on by all kinds of people with mechanical or engineering type problems and generally was able to help them out, either by his advice, or by repairing or building a replacement part. Later, when he was doing the mail run to Tennant Creek, he often obtained repair work from there as well.
In 1932 Kurt and his father took over the mail contract for east of Alice Springs, covering Winnecke, Ambalindum, Claraville, Arltunga, Mount Riddock, Alcoota, Waite River, MacDonald Downs, Mount Swan and Delny. As the mail run was a monthly service Kurt had time to engage in other activities.
Two of these were taking tourist parties or scientific expeditions out into the desert and helping another tourist operator by using one of their vehicles digging in the 'Black Eagle' shafts at Winnecke with four other men. They put in a small crushing plant which "produced one ounce of gold a week, at that time worth 9 pounds, which was a good supplementary income". However, this venture had to be abandoned in 1933, following an accident to Kurt's father, when Kurt was required to help look after the family.
About this time he also took on the longer mail run to Tennant Creek on a weekly basis and to Birdum, the railhead for Darwin, on a monthly basis. He also continued with general carting for the stations and mica miners in the Harts Ranges.
As Kurt's father recovered from his accident the two of them established a passenger service to operate in tandem with the mail runs to Tennant Creek and Birdum. However, while it was originally a good paying proposition because it was the only passenger connection between Darwin and Adelaide, no sooner had they got it started "when Guinea Airways started a weekly flight from Adelaide to Darwin". As a consequence the passenger traffic dropped so that the "run became a losing proposition even with the extra bit of general freight I carried. The mail contract on its own barely paid for running costs".
So, despite the abandonment of the Winnecke mining project, Kurt was still able to make many and varied prospecting trips in between mail runs to wherever there seemed to be any prospect of a 'find', in the hope that mining would provide a more lucrative income for the family. Some 'finds' proved worthwhile and a mining camp would be set up with the help of 3 or 4 other men and mining got underway. However, while some small profits were made out of these ventures, for various reasons they were either abandoned or taken over by others after a few months.
"An extension of their general carting business to the stations and mica miners occurred about 1934 when the stock agent in Alice Springs asked Kurt and his father to transport a load of 10 young stud rams to a property 130 miles north-east of Alice Springs. They made up a crate around the back of the old Dodge 4 truck and successfully delivered the rams". This proved to be the first of later further ventures into the road transportation of animals.
Because the Dodge 4 Kurt had been using for the mail run from Tennant Creek to Birdum wasn't really big enough or sturdy enough for the task, at the beginning of 1936 he started building his "first 'Bitzer' using assorted parts or 'bit and pieces' from various vehicles". However, the idea for such a project had been in his mind since at least 1933.
While Kurt referred to this vehicle later as Bitzer Mark 1, a member of 'tourist' expedition into Lasseter's country christened it "'The Mulga Express' after experiencing the way it crashed through the mulga scrub".
The first two 'Bitzers', or, rather the first two versions of the original 'Bitzer', were open trucks, and "in rainy weather or on frosty nights, besides wearing a flying helmet, I'd take a piece of a large truck tube, cut two holes in it to see through and pull it over my head with a cut away to go over my shoulders reaching down to my chest. My goggles went over the top of that". 'Bitzer' Mark III, the next upgrading of the original 'Bitzer' had a full forward cabin, negating the need for his 'Ned Kelly' outfit, as well as six wheels and a 22-foot tray which carried up to 12 tons in weight".
In 1937, at the request of a mica miner, Sam Weller, Kurt built an air compressor to help with the work of mining mica at the Aulgana Mine in the Harts Ranges. Kurt built the compressor "from two old Dodge 4 motors. I cut one motor in halves and made up two special cylinder heads to fit on the half motor which became the compressor. It worked quite well though it wasn't the most efficient compressor in the world, but it was much better than using a hammer and hand drill". Kurt and Sam set up camp 300 metres below the Aulgana Mine, and with the help of the Italians working in the mica mines carried all their gear up to the mine. They worked the mine for about nine months before Kurt had to again return to Alice Springs to take care of things, because of his father's health.
It was also about this time that Kurt established "a salt depot in Alice Springs to supply butchers and station owners with salt for domestic use and also salt licks for the stock". The salt was obtained from a salt lake about 290 km south-west of Alice Springs. This was the foundation of the salt industry in the Centre.
The Tennant Creek-Birdum mail contract ended on 29 June 1940. Kurt then moved to Tennant Creek and opened a garage. "It was there the idea germinated for making a wood-gas producer which would convert wood into gas to run the motor instead of using petrol. Australia was well into the war by then and petrol rationing was in full effect. I had seen an arrangement at the Central Milling Company in Tennant Creek which used wood for running a slow-speed crushing plant engine".
Using this arrangement as the basis for his thinking and experimenting he arrived at "the present idea, which I am still using, by creating a furnace and using some of the gas from the wood to produce a white heat which cracks the tar from the balance of the smoky gas produced from the wood. That smoky gas has to pass through the incandescent heat of the furnace and at the same time converts the charcoal produced from the wood into carbon-monoxide. This process also produces some hydrogen out of the moisture of the tar residues. Much to my surprise and pleasure, this process worked without further alteration.
"The wood-gas producer was more efficient and cleaner than the charcoal burners with which many vehicles were fitted during the war. My unit was only about half the weight and produced more power. It consumed about one and a half pounds of wood per mile (or approximately 1kg per kilometre on a vehicle weighing about 3 tons gross) and could operate on just about any good firewood, easily obtained with a small chainsaw from dead timber lying alongside the country roads. The unit I built in Tenant Creek was fitted onto a 1928 President 8 Studebaker". Kurt made a few adjustments to the wood-gas producer after some further experimentation, and then decided to go to Sydney, where he had some contacts, to put it on the market.
The garage at Tennant Creek was closed and he, his wife and son, and 3 others headed off in the Studebaker, with the wood-gas producer attached as their fuel source, planning to go to Sydney via Brisbane. However, having arrived in Brisbane the need for money became a top priority, and Kurt had to get work. Having obtained work in Brisbane he was 'manpowered' and found himself unable to leave. He was 'man-powered' by Mars Machine Tools for essential war-services repairing aircraft, submarines, cargo freighters, engine parts and also making tools.
It was 1943 before he got a Melbourne firm interested in the invention. "However, by the time they had tested it and got it 'off the ground' the war was turning the corner and petrol was dropping in price and rationing had been lifted, so nobody was interested in developing my idea".
Having obtained work in Brisbane he was 'manpowered' and found himself unable to leave. After about 14 months he became fed up with the situation, and told the firm he was working with that he was taking the wood-gas producer to Sydney and would be missing from work for a day.
However, he returned to Alice Springs instead, where he was immediately 'claimed' by the Allied Works Council to install machinery at Harts Range. He eventually convinced the authorities that he "would be more use to the war effort if I could mine a lease I had at Strangways Range where I'd found some phlogopite around 1937".
Phlogopite was a very flexible mica which was then "used in x-ray machines as a polarizer because only certain rays go through it and was an essential material for the manufacture of aircraft spark plugs". Kurt worked at this lease under the jurisdiction of the Allied Works Council until that body pulled out in 1944. Even though they were allowed to continue working the lease Kurt and family returned to Alice Springs to live not long thereafter.
Following this return to Alice Springs Kurt again turned to the salt industry he had commenced in 1937. He continued with this until 1947. Even though Kurt relinquished the lease for this operation he maintained an interest in it and in 1970, at the request of the then operator, built a salt harvester to enable him to fulfill a contract to supply 500 tons of salt within 6 weeks.
As well as the salt business, at the end of the war, Kurt also started a garage in Alice Springs and again worked at carting, general engineering and motor repairs. It was now that he became involved in transporting animals by road. After he had been asked by some property owners and race horse owners to transport animals for them, and had successfully completed the assignments, a property owner asked him why he didn't build a truck that would take a hundred head.
Kurt's reply: "I told him I already had plans made in my mind for building a road train with self- tracking trailers for negotiating bush tracks, but I didn't have the money to buy all the equipment which would probably cost about 10,000 pounds just for starters". The imaginative property owner offered Kurt a 2,000 pound interest free loan to help him get started.
Not long after, an Army disposal sale was held which had 23 Bren-gun carrier recovery trailers for sale. Kurt located his would-be benefactor and claimed the 2000 pounds and bought the 23 carriers from which he used the wheels and stub axles to construct bogies for the trailers. At less than half the worth of one of the tyres on each of them.
However, before he could start work on the trailers he had to construct some equipment to work with - initially a welding plant and a crane to transport, lift and cart the equipment he had bought. Having started work on the trailers the question of a prime mover then came to the fore. Again, Army disposal sales provided the answer, but Kurt had to go begging for money.
By various means the money and the equipment came together and the first road train became a reality. The self-tracking trailers "were 43 feet (13 metres) long and weighed 8 tons. They worked perfectly up to a speed of about 25 miles per hour, but weren't practical for higher speeds. With a prime mover and a string of 3 trailers 54 metres long it was possible to drive off the street into a standard-width gate without any worries at all.
The trailers, which were specifically designed to follow the prime mover tracks perfectly, were ideal for transporting cattle on the narrow, unmade, winding, sandy bush tracks". As well, each trailer was able to be converted to a flat top for carrying general freight. Gradually the fleet extended to 3 prime movers and 9 trailers, capable of transporting 300 head of fully grown cattle at one time.
As with any new innovation some property owners were prepared to make use of the new transportation system, but others had to be persuaded of the benefits of the extra costs of transporting cattle in this manner. However, the operation was viable from 1947 to 1950, until freight costs had to be increased because of rising costs for fuel, tyres and wages.
At that point the Stockowners' Association refused to pay the extra, so Kurt stopped using the roadtrains for cattle transport, and "turned to mining and carting ore over to Mount Isa". During this period Kurt also learned to fly, an ambition he had had since seeing Francis Birtles fly over Deep Well in 1921.
The mining ventures began in the Bonya Hills, just west of the Jervois Range, which was 350 km north- east of Alice Springs, about 1949. However, the first operation didn't work out, and neither did a second in 1950. Kurt then decided to organize, in 1950, a syndicate known as Northern Drillers and Company with the intention of drilling at Jervois Copper Mine.
However, while his partner, Toby Becker, was in Melbourne after a visit to Sydney to arrange financing and to obtain the drill for the drilling, he spoke to the then chief of the Bureau of Mineral Resources who offered the company, "a contract to open up Rum Jungle Uranium Mine, which was the first large uranium mine opened in Australia.
We accepted the contract and diverted all the gear which we'd intended to send out to Jervois, added all the mining gear from Jervois and some more from the Home of Bullion Copper Mine in which we also had an interest. Straight after the wet we took a road train load of the gear up to Rum Jungle, about 90 mile (145 km) south of Darwin.
Things progressed satifactorily for a few months as they commenced drilling and began to sink the new shaft the Government wanted sunk and to clean out another one which was full of water. Then the old shaft had to be abandoned when it collapsed following a breakdown of the water pump they were using. Kurt had gone down the shaft to fix the pump and had only just climbed out again when the collapse occurred. However, they continued on with the new shaft.
Then the government decided they wanted a bigger development. Even though they were offered the contract they decided to let it go as their mining engineer was proving to be unreliable.
Also in 1950 Kurt was approached by 2 miners to join them in an attempt to find gold in Lasseter's country. They had the money and knew where the place was and Kurt had the plane and vehicles they required. He decided to join them after many discussions and much poring over of maps.
The two miners set off by vehicle and Kurt was to join them two days later at Mount Lyell Brown. From there, one of the miners, Jimmy Prince, who knew where the place was, joined Kurt in the plane to do an aerial survey of the area. They flew until they sighted the Musgrave Ranges and Mount Buttfield. After flying around Mount Buttfield they tried to pick out somewhere to land and refuel. They eventually landed at Lake Hopkins after a few false attempts.
After refuelling Kurt realised the surface on which they had landed, wasn't quite as firm as it had appeared. He selected an area that he thought would give them the maximum run, but as Kurt went to turn the plane around at the start of the run one wheel dropped into a soft patch. The nose of the plane went into the mud and about 15 inches broke off each end of the propeller.
Kurt initially decided to try and find another claypan to ascertain if it would be safe enough for a search plane to land on. However his search was unsuccessful after several hours of walking, so he returned to the plane and his passenger. He then tried to find a piece of desert oak suitable for making a new propeller, but again without success. Obviously some makeshift repairs were going to be needed. After setting up a condenser system, using two jerry cans, to desalinate the water from the lake so they would have some drinking water, Kurt turned again to the plane.
"I pulled the broken propeller off, balanced it up over a screwdriver and chipped and trimmed away on it with a tomahawk until it balanced. I smoothed the rough edges off with a file and put it back on the Tiger Moth. When I tried it out it seemed to function reasonably well as far as the balance was concerned. I started the plane and got it out of the bog. Of course there was very little grip left in the prop, but nevertheless I prepared it all ready for a dawn-off the next day".
The first attempt to take off failed. But by late morning there was a good breeze so Kurt gave it another go. The take off didn't go exactly according to plan, but he at least got airborne! Even if it was only about 20 or 30 feet. The engine was revving excessively putting it under great strain, but if he allowed the revs to lower the plane began to descend also. Noticing an eagle soaring on a thermal he picked it up too, and it lifted him to about 80 or 100 feet. At least he could get a better look at the countryside.
He was thinking of trying to find somewhere to land in case the engine burned out from the excessive revs. However, it was too difficult to identify anywhere quickly enough to use it as a landing spot. After finding another thermal the plane rose to at least 200 or 300 feet. He felt a lot safer at this height and eventually managed to throttle the revs back a little. He then decided to continue on to Mount Lyell Brown. After picking up more thermals he eventually managed to get the plane up to about 1000 feet and made it safely to his destination.
From there Kurt drove into Alice Springs to try and get another plane or spare propeller so he could go back and rescue Jimmy Prince. He achieved this and they all eventually returned safely to Alice Springs.
A full account of this 'expedition' is in 'A Son of 'the Red Centre'' chapter 35. It is also recounted by Alan Wauchope in 'Seeking the Golden Reef' in "Wide World Magazine", June 1953.
In about 1952 when some mining leases in the Jervois Range became vacant, Kurt took them up as well as some abandoned leases in the same area. These leases contained copper, silver-lead and scheelite. Kurt concentrated on the copper as there was no profitable market for the other two minerals at the time. The equipment from a lease he had in the Strangways Ranges was moved to Jervois, a bore was put down and a reasonably comfortable habitation established. Then the work began to dig out the copper ore to produce copper carbonate for the fertilizer industry.
Kurt and family remained living at Jervois until 1958 when drought conditions forced them out, except for a period of about 18 months early in the venture when there was a drop in copper prices. During this 18 months back in Alice Springs Kurt carried on with general carting and transport contracts.
Slowly the grade of the copper carbonate they were supplying for the fertilizer industry diminished and they were unable to continue using that market. Instead they decided to supply the ore to Mount Isa Mines (MIM) who could use it as fluxing ore as it had a high silica content.
The first trip to Mount Isa entailed making the road as they went. Even though MIM were initially happy to take all the ore Kurt could provide, when they resumed supplying after the wet season Kurt was told that MIM had put a quota of thirty tons a month on him, as they had found a big supply of similar material right under the office block Mount Isa. This arrangement made it economically unviable for Kurt to continue.
Not to be outdone, Kurt experimented until he found a way to obtain copper sulphate out of the ore and then began selling that to the fertilizer industry. Eventually he was producing about a ton a week at a time when copper sulphate was worth about 900 pound a ton. Hence they were able to make ends meet.
However, the drought and the accompanying dust storms which covered everything in fine red desert sand eventually brought the project to an end for about twelve months.
During this time at Jervois, about 1955, Kurt began thinking about the idea of solar power and experimenting with ways to store solar energy. He was introduced to a thermal power consortium in Sydney who were interested in the concept and feasibility of the plans, but it was knocked back as being economically unviable. However, in the early 1980's he was consulted by Australian Solar Ponds Pty Ltd for advice on some aspects of the construction of solar ponds they were installing in Alice Springs.
In 1959, the year after leaving Jervois, Kurt put the cattle trains back on the road after numerous phone calls from property owners and agents. As a number of other transporters entered the market about this time because of the number of cattle needing to be transported, a Cattle Transport Association was formed to get uniformity into the prices and service, so that everyone would get a fair deal. However, after a few years a couple of the other transporters pulled out, one of them doing a deal with some of the largest customers. That was the end of the Cattle Transport Association as everybody pulled out and each transporter went his own way. Consequently price cutting and other deals came into play. Kurt decided to retire from cattle transporting altogether at this time because of these practices.
During 1960 Kurt had another attempt at the Jervois Mine. He wanted to build a bigger, more economical copper sulphate plant than the one he had originally developed. However, he needed a loan to achieve this. While the Commonwealth Development Bank agreed to advance the money they wanted the project floated as a public company. After floating the company Kurt returned to Jervois to start work on the treatment plant. However, problems arose when the head office in Melbourne wanted more written reports on the progress of the plant. Kurt was more interested in doing the physical work than writing reports on the progress of the plant, so a manager was sent up "to organize the completion of the plant with written reports of progress at regular intervals. I was virtually dismissed as manager at that time".
By 1962 Kurt's frustration with being told by someone with book learning how to do what he had learnt by practical experience and knew would work, and also with seeing things deteriorate without having any control over improving the situation, was affecting his health. He was advised to take a holiday. He did so, not happy with the situation, but knowing the company was at least financially afloat. When he returned the company was about 60,000 pounds in debt.
As he had been the guarantor for the original loan from the bank he was now faced with repaying this amount. Fortunately, even though the bank foreclosed on the company, they had faith in Kurt and allowed him to continue working the leases. He was eventually able to pay off the original loan by mining the copper and shipping it to Mount Isa. As the price had risen by now, MIM allowed him to take in larger quantities. He finished off a portion of the copper sulphate plant so that he could work with it, but he was never able to finish it off completely. Kurt closed the mine down about the end of 1966 and returned to Alice Springs to live.
During 1967 he became part of a venture, with Joe Baldesera, to work a turquoise prospect which Joe had discovered. However, while they collected quite a lot of turquoise the grade was too variable to make it a really worthwhile venture for them. Eventually Joe found a mining firm which was willing to pay him a reasonable amount for the find, so they pulled out of it. Joe then wanted to buy out Kurt's share of the project. However, during this time Kurt suffered his first heart attack, and also because of Joe's carryings on during their time together, Kurt was quite happy to sell out to him and get out of turquoise mining.
Using this money and the money he had received from selling his shares in the Jervois Copper Sulphate Company, Kurt moved to Adelaide in 1968. However, in 1970 he returned to Alice Springs to get his transport business going again, but his interest in cattle transportation ended at that time.
The following year Kurt went back to Jervois where he still owned his original leases, as the drought had broken and copper prices were up. He was able to sell the ore to MIM for the time he remained working the leases. However, he eventually sold them off. The area has now been taken over by Poseiden. During Poseiden, a period of high copper prices it was planned to build a mining township here to be called Johannsen in recognition of the work Kurt had put into the mine, but when copper prices fell the project was abandoned.
Following this, about 1972, Kurt joined his son, Lindsay, in a mining venture at Bonya and Molyhil.
"Lindsay had been settled at Bonya for quite some time prospecting around the area and he'd found some fairly rich scheelite deposits not far from his camp". However, a mining company with a camp nearby began hassling Lindsay to buy the finds, but would never come good, so he asked Kurt to join him in mining the scheelite. They formed a family syndicate to get started. Various hassles continued with mining leases and exploration licences as well as trying to find a market for the mineral and then coping with changing market prices. However, they persevered with the project and gradually developed the mine. However, just as they were on the verge of breaking even and could see a good profit on the horizon Kurt had a second heart attack, and Lindsay's wife also became sick.
So, in 1977, the family syndicate decided to sell out to Petrocarb. That was Kurt's last mining venture, except perhaps for an occasional spot of casual prospecting during his camping trips.
In 1976 Kurt bought a 1972 Dodge Coronet Station Wagon and set it up as a self-contained camping vehicle. This has become the 'Mulga Express' Mark IV. Since he 'officially' retired in 1979 he has used this vehicle extensively on camping trips throughout the north and west of Australia.
Following recuperation from heart surgery in 1986 Kurt built a second wood-gas producer and mounted it on this vehicle. Consequently, he doesn't have to worry about running out of fuel on his camping expeditions, which can last up to four or five weeks - the vehicle will run totally on wood-gas, or petrol, or a combination of both.
Since 1989 Kurt has lived six months of the year in Adelaide and the other six months in Alice Springs. Apart from his camping trips he has been working on his family's history, and organizing photos and researching the historical aspects of road transport.
Alice Springs has come to recognize the contribution of Kurt Johannsen to road transport. His first two road trains are being restored and will eventually be housed in the proposed Transport Hall of Fame in that town. As well, Johannsen Street in Alice Springs is named in honour of his parents and family.

Subject and Association Description

Ancestors: Grandparents - Matthias Johannsen| - Karl Johann Hoffmann married Maria Dorothea Gunster
Parents: Gerhardt Andreas Johannsen married Marie Ottilie Hoffman
Siblings: Elsa Margaret, Gertrude Ottilie, Mona Dora, Randle Werner and Myrtle Edna
Married: 1. 1938: Alice Springs NT|2. 1950: Alice Springs NT|3. 1958: Alice Springs NT
Spouse: 1. Kathleen Rowell|2. Daphne Avis Hillam|3. Elsie Dixon Collins
Children: 1. Lindsay Andrew, David William and Peter Kurt|3. Paula Francesca and Kurt Damien
Resided: 1915 : Deep Well NT|1922 : Hermannsburg NT|1924 : Deep Well NT|1929 : Alice Springs NT|1940 : Tennant Creek NT|1941 : Brisbane QLD|1942 : Strangways Range NT|1945 : Alice Springs NT|1950 : Rum Jungle NT|1950 : Jervois Ranges NT|1958 : Alice Spr

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Chris Kemenyvary 19 Apr 2014 09:07 AM,UTC

What a wonderful story of a true pioneer of the Mighty Territory.


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