Desert and vast distances did not stop this pioneer Australian Lebanese entrepreneur building a life for his family and serving his customers!
The collection of the National Motor Museum at Birdwood in South Australia holds Harry Ali Monsoor’s restored 1924 Graham Brothers
1 and ½ ton truck that he fitted out as a hawker’s truck.
Harry Monsoor bought the truck in 1926 and plied his trade across the vast outback stretches of South Australian until his retirement in 1954.
Hassam Ali (Harry) Monsoor was born 1 March 1884 at Beit Meri, Lebanon and came to Australia in 1900 at the age of seventeen. He commenced work as a hawker in 1902 in the Far North Region of South Australia, visiting places such as the Nepabunna Aboriginal Mission in the Flinders Ranges and travelling as far west as Lake Eyre. Hawkers travelled from place to place selling goods and wares, particularly in remote areas where travel and the provision of supplies was difficult. Hawkers would usually travel along set routes to allow for outback families to plan the re-supply of their pantries. They were essentially a department store on wheels for station hands and owners, stockmen, Indigenous people, railway workers, drovers and missionaries. Harry carried goods such as blankets, towels, rugs, hats, soap, patent medicines, watches, mouth organs, boots, gabardine trousers, shirts, razor blades, tobacco, sweets (Minties, Almond Rock and Jubilee Mix), linen, haberdashery, bolts of cloth, underwear – you name it, he had it. It is reported that at Christmas time he would make a special trip to the Nepabunna Mission with talcum powder, hair oil, ribbons and brooches.
In 1925 Harry travelled to Lebanon to marry Mehiba Ali Solomon, returning to Australia soon after and setting up house in Copley, near Leigh Creek. His first transport as a hawker was with a cart and team of donkeys. But in 1926, he purchased his first and only truck, made in the United States by Graham Brothers. The body was built in Australia, specially designed for Harry’s needs, filled with shelves and drawers for storage. Harry would be away for six weeks at a time, timing his trips to coincide with fortnightly railway pay days, shearing and local race meetings. He returned to Copley for two week periods to re-stock and service the vehicle. His route took him over difficult terrain, rocky roads, flooded creeks and dangerously steep tracks. On one trip with his wife Mehiba and daughter Nora accompanying him, the rear brakes failed going down the Blinman Hills and it took all his strength to stop the van turning over. These experiences caused Harry to make some adjustments to improve safety, such as shortening the body of the truck to increase manoeuvrability and stability. He also added an ‘emergency brake’ consisting of a piece of wood held up with a length of rope, which he could drop down behind the back wheel to stop the van from rolling backwards when going up steep hills. He also carried tools such as shovels and long trays to help if he got bogged in sand.
In 1939, the family moved to the small town of Beltana where Harry opened a shop, continuing the hawker’s run from there until retiring in 1954 at the age of 71. His Hawker’s van remained in Beltana, slowly rusting away until it was offered to the National Motor Museum in the late 1980s. By 1990 the van had been restored by staff and volunteers of the Museum.