Chesney Caravans

The Changing Face of Chermside

Originally the site of a blacksmith's forge, a bicycle shop and a corner shop the site became the home of an Australia wide caravan firm.

Where Gympie & Rode Roads Cross

The occupancy of the present intersection of Rode and Gympie Roads shown on the photo

The north west (upper left) corner is occupied by the Chermside-Kedron Uniting Church of Australia. The white roofed complex is a combination of Church and Community Centre and it replaced the original buildings of the Chermside State School which began in 1900.

The north east (upper right) corner is occupied by Cheapies Car Sales which uses the buildings erected by Chesney's Caravans which replaced a corner store, a bicycle shop and a blacksmith.

The south west (lower left) corner is occupied by a two story financial offices which replaced a large timber and tin Queenslander.

The south east (lower right) corner is unoccupied at present but a few years ago had a couple of shops and a service station.

The Original Chesney Caravan Yard by Neil Chesney

The original Chesney Caravan yard in 1949. This was on the site of Plunckett's blacksmith forge. The first shed at the back of the block was made of corrugated iron. (Courtesy Chesney Family)

After Alex Chesney was discharged from the air force prior to the end of the Second World War he started a motor garage at Abbotsford Road Mayne called Mayne Motors. Ron Rankin from Carapark Pty Ltd approached him to buy that premises and for Alex to take over and manage Carapark Qld Pty Ltd.

This he did for about 4 or 5 years and in 1950 he paid Grenville Plunckett 2,5 00 pounds ($5,000 or $95,000 in 2005 values) for his blacksmith and carriage building property which was the third block on Gympie Road from Rode Road. He cleared the site and using it as a sales yard he started Chesney Caravans Pty Ltd.

He began the business buying and selling used caravans and adding new caravans bought from backyard manufacturers.

Alex erected a new building on this block using iron left behind, such as old cart axles, for reinforcement in the concrete floor and traded there till about 1960.

The Chesney Caravan Story by Neil Chesney

Daybell's store was typical of the corner stores which dotted the urban landscape in the days before the motor car era began. People had to walk to the corner store and carry the purchases home in a basket.

As the business grew he bought Ron Harbottle's bicycle shop which adjoined his business on Gympie Road. It was a small building in which Ron, who was a well know competitive cyclist in the area, manufactured and sold Lancer bicycles.

Sometime later Daybell's store, which stood on the corner of Rode and Gympie Roads, was bought by Alex. It was possibly built in the 1920s and had a succession of owners including a family named Green and another named Lusk but little is known about them.

The Business becomes Chesney's Corner

This photo of Chesney Corner was taken in the late 1950s when the expansion of the site had ended. (Courtesy Chesney Family)

The final purchase was the lot of the milkman, Charlie O'Brien, which fronted on to Rode Road and went behind the other three blocks thus completing the square shape of the Chesney property.

The Chermside business was a sales and service centre employing eleven people. Mr Arthur Doherty had another caravan building business a few doors along Pilba Street where he sold Trailer Home caravans.

The motor car, hauling a caravan, had finally displaced the corner store.

Move to Factory Production of Caravans at Stafford

In approximately 1960 Neil Chesney, son of Alex started a factory to produce their own caravans on Hayward St Stafford. The original building was 100ft by 50ft (30.5m x 15.3m) and was purchased for 5000 pounds ($108,500 in 2005 values); it was extended twice until it was 200 ft. by 50 ft. (61m x 15.3m). The first caravan took 6 weeks to complete and at the time of opening the factory on Gympie Road, Lawnton the Stafford factory was producing approximately 3 to 4 caravans per week with a maximum of 60 employees.

The Stafford factory produced domestic caravans as well as busses, horse floats and commercial caravans for the mining companies, Rothmans, Australian Army, American Oil drillers, and exported a complete accommodation camp to New Guinea. Whilst at Stafford the factory completed the largest single caravan order, then or now, for the construction workers at the Gladstone alumina refinery. This order consisted of 500 caravans some of which were 15 ft. and others 18 ft. long, delivered them to Gladstone and set them up in a new caravan park.

The First Caravan Convention

As the caravan industry grew it was time to hold a convention. This was the first and it was sponsored Chesney a leading manufacturer. (Courtesy Chesney Family)

In about 1960 the first Caravan Dealers conference was held by Chesney Caravans at 29 Murray Street, Wilston, a well-known Brisbane function centre. The attendees were mostly Queensland dealers plus representatives of insurance companies and suppliers.

The aim of the conference was to release new models and to show the dealers the new factory at Hayward Street, Stafford.

Expansion to Lawnton 1968

The third move was to larger premises on Gympie Road, Lawnton where over 450 workers were employed producing up to 22 caravans a day (110 per week). There were another 100 employees around Australia at wholesale yards etc., while approximately 80 dealers in every state of Australia sold Chesney Caravans.

At Lawnton the firm produced commercial caravans as well as domestic caravans. At that time it was the largest producer of fibreglass products in Queensland and the largest employer in the Pine Rivers Shire. The largest caravan produced at Lawnton was 50 ft. long by 10 ft. wide (30.5m x 3m).

Chesney Caravans was the biggest selling caravan brand in Queensland and the 3rd largest in Australia.

Advertising the Caravans

The trams ran all over Brisbane so what better way to advertise. The people catching the tram could hardly miss the message. (Courtesy Casney Family)

Thousands of people would see these travelling bill boards as the trams navigated the streets at a stately pace.

The cartoon gives the impression of speed and freedom. This is the way to go on holidays, go anywhere, go when you are ready, not timetables, no catching transport. (Courtesy Chesney Family)

The Featherweight caravan was a small lightweight model suited to small cars. (Courtesy Chesney Family)

A small caravan for a small car. The Austin was a popular English model in the pre Japanese, Korean car days. (Courtesy Chesney Family)

Sale of the Business

As the ownership of the 'Corner' changed so did the advertising. One ownership change put the boot on the roof, the next owner kept it but changed the name. Owners may change but the buildings and the boot remain.

In about 1972 the Lawnton factory and Chesney's of Chermside were sold to Concrete Industries (Monier) Ltd which ran it for about 4 years before closing it down.

The Chermside property was sold to Mr. J. Jeffries. Other owners were Brisbane Camperland and later, Boot's Camping. The latter put the big Boot on the roof, which they obtained from Boot Factory Restaurant & Spaghetti Emporium near Lang Park (Suncorp Stadium).

For a long time Cheapies, a used car sales firm, occupied the corner position. They retained the Boot on the Roof but changed the name. Thier distinctive colour was yellow and it made the buildings stand out clearly.

In 2011 the firm changed hands while the car sales remained. The Boot on the Roof remains but with a new name of The Wholesale Cars, while a sign on the right reads The Car Mine. Also the distinctive yellow colour has gone, replaced with a bright blue one.

Chesney Corner Solver Paints 2011
In 2012 the buildings and the boot were still in place but the new firm sold neither caravans or cars; paint was the commodity being offered for sale. The appearance of the building has been altered with a screen hiding the roof and gables. The prevailing colour was green but the boot box remained blue. There was plenty of room for customer parking.

Chesney Caravans Today

If the World Wide Web is any guide, Chesney caravans are still widely sought after. A recent Google survey found 1,350,000 results for Chesney Caravans on line. It seems that that there is a vintage market in the earlier models. The following links provide a lot of information about Chesney Caravans.