Hall of Fame Inductee 2021
- Robin Clifford (Cliff) Bennetts
Cliff Bennetts was born in Roxburgh in 1925. His parents and grandparents operated Fairview Orchard and by age 13 Cliff was working on the orchard.
After marrying Marj, Cliff decided to go farming but instead, in 1950, Cliff along with a partner, Colin Parker, purchased a 6-truck transport off Herbert and Ian Guise and Mossburn Transport was born. Only one of the trucks was in good order but after a lot of work, the 1936 Leyland Club became operational. Cliff drove and did repairs while Marj looked after the office and drove when required.
Early drivers lived in huts on site utilising the Bennetts’ toilet and kitchen and had their meals cooked and washing done by Marj.
Apart from the usual rural work, they were busy servicing the Homer Tunnel Project linking Milford Sound. When work grew, Cliff decided to employ permanent drivers instead of the usual casuals, even if it meant they had to sometimes dig the garden. Cliff contracted tuberculosis in 1957 but luckily only spent two months at the Waipiata Sanatorium.
Also that year, Cliff along with Mobil and two others formed Gore Services. By 1974, eighteen Directors sat on the Board, all representing carriers or contractors in Southland using Mobil fuel. By 1960 the fleet numbered 10 trucks with a huge amount of work coming from Lands and Survey in the Te Anau Basin where massive development was being undertaken. Lynwood Station was developed in 1953 while 22 other stations followed.
In 1963, Cliff purchased his first Mercedes Benz truck for £12,000 which was against all advice from other operators. This proved to be so successful that eventually Northern Southland would have the largest fleet of this make in the Southern Hemisphere.
In February 1964, Cliff along with George Hedley (Lumsden Transport) and Terry Gilligan (Te Anau Transport) formed Manapouri Haulage to contract service for the new Manapouri Power Scheme. This venture was so successful that in December 1964 a complete merger happened incorporating their three businesses and Manapouri Haulage. This was to become Northern Southland Transport Holdings Ltd. Each company retained their identity but were controlled by one Board of Directors. Livestock and fertiliser were major revenue streams and Cliff developed machinery to assist the transfer of fertiliser from rail and truck to farm.
Manapouri Haulage ceased in 1970 but the company diversified by setting up a joint venture in Queenstown called Queenstown Concrete. In 1974 Flagstaff Station at Athol was purchased followed by Ross Holdings Westland in 1976 and Wicked Willies Tavern in Queenstown in 1981. In 1979 Cliff and Marj purchased a farm as well. Unfortunately, George Hedley left the company in 1982.
In 1984 Cliff passed away from cancer.
Cliff was regarded an excellent employer and real community supporter as can be seen by the accolades he was awarded including Life Memberships of the Mossburn Rugby Club, Go Cart Club, Fire Brigade and Bowling Club. Cliff was also honoured by the Mossburn Shears and the Southland Rodeo Association, the latter appropriate as on one occasion both Cliff and driver received broken legs from a wayward horse.
Cliff gave 34 years to the industry. He was an RTA and Groundspread member and was Chairman of Northern Southland Transport for 12 years.