The Legend of the Patrol

In 1920 the horse and cart were still a predominant means of transport.  Many roads were not fit for cars, and ferries were often a preferred means of transport where available.  Back then the roads were a disaster.  When it rained a car could almost disappear into a pothole, and when it was dry motorists choked on dust.  Only about a fifth of the roads in NSW were sealed. 

The NRMA’s story began early in the same year at a gathering of 50 concerned individuals. Their common goal was to pressure the government to fix the undrivable roads in Sydney and regional areas across the state.

The following article appeared in the March 1924 Good Roads magazine.

“Whenever you see a spruce young man in double-breasted khaki uniform . . . and wearing a brown leather cap, you will know that he is a National Roads and Motorists’ Association official guide (as patrols were known back then).  If you notice a motor-cycle carrying a triangular-shaped light blue flag with a badge on the handlebars standing rider-less anywhere, you will know that there is a capable mechanic, with an encyclopedia of knowledge of roads and traffic regulations, not very far off . . . They are all ex-servicemen, and amongst them are “diggers” who carry quite a rainbow effect of medal ribbons on their breast.”

Earliest known image of
NRMA road service (1920s)

The NRMA made it a policy to employ returned servicemen, many as patrolmen, who were recovering from war injuries.

The first Guide, A.W. Scott, set out on his Douglas motorcycle at 5 pm on 16th February 1924.  More motorcycles joined him in time.  They all wore snappy uniforms, flew their small blue NRMA flag on the handlebars and had a kit of tools strapped to their back. Their slogan became Never Refuse Motorists Assistance.

One of their strictest rules, as a point of honour, was never to accept a tip.  Their original duties were to assist members to park their cars in the CBD, find motel accommodation when required, provide mechanical services when necessary and, generally, be at the members’ convenience.

The fleet of Douglas machines was eventually phased out and replaced with Harley-Davidsons, which had a side-car where tools were kept.  Guides were also trained for first aid.

By 1925 they had 7,637 members, nearly double on the previous year.  In that year they formed NRMA Insurance, which offered household policies in addition to motoring insurance. 

They generally sought to lobby parliament about laws and issues affecting motorists and in 1931 initiated a school road safety programme.

The following year the NRMA led the transport section in the opening procession of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and immediately began lobbying to ban horse-drawn vehicles because they were holding up traffic.

Road service became available 24 hours a day from 1933.

The 1950s heralded the beginning of a huge surge in the number of cars on Australian roads and membership increased.  It hit one million members in the 1970s, and by the late 1980s that number had doubled.

In 1982 they worked with the NSW Government to improve road safety by introducing random breath testing and, in 2001, fought hard to have the fuel excise capped – saving motorists about 10 cents per litre today.

The Open Road magazine was launched more than 90 years ago.  It was launched in 1921 under the name of Good Roads and was renamed The Open Road in 1927.  In 1920 they released a Centenary issue of The Open Road which documented the history of the organisation from 1920, taking through the early years, the Depression and war years, servicing modern motoring, addressing change, and relating how they co9ntinue to honour their founding values.


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