In 1920, our roads were in a shocking state. There were potholes so deep they could – and frequently did – swallow a car.
When it rained, surfaces turned into quagmires. When it was dry, motorists would choke on the dust. Just one fifth of NSW’s roads were sealed or covered with gravel; the rest were not much better than rough tracks. 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 undriveable roads in Sydney and regional areas across the state.
The organisation immediately started to advocate on behalf of its members and became one of the most powerful lobby groups in Australia. It helped build roads where no roads existed before. It fought passionately to make highways smoother and safer, and its patrolmen became a familiar and welcome sight for motorists stranded at the side of the road.
Long before any other organisation, the NRMA promoted regional tourism, encouraging motorists to visit every part of the state in search of adventure. Along the way, these first road-trippers supported regional towns as they spent money on fuel, food and accommodation. For rural communities, the NRMA made a difference.
The organisation has grown and changed with the times in the last 100 years. Those first 50 members have swelled to 2.6 million and, in 2020, our patrols wear hi-vis vests for safety, rather than those first uniforms reminiscent of the Light Horse Brigade. Instead of the tents found in the motor camps we ran for members in the 1920s and ’30s, we now offer modern hotel and holiday park accommodation. And those beautiful Douglas motorcycles the first guides rode have been replaced many times over with various patrol vehicles and will, in the near future, culminate in electric patrol vans.
We will never forget that it’s our patrols who have won the hearts and minds of the NRMA’s members since our formation. Our early patrolmen gave peace of mind to motorists driving temperamental cars along sub-standard roads. They were there to help in a crisis, and their technical skills – as well as their courteous approach and willingness to go beyond the call of duty – made them legends on the highways and byways of NSW.
Helpfulness and kindness are still very much embedded in the NRMA’s DNA. Staff from every part of our growing organisation continue to show the same spirit of those early patrolmen. In a century, the NRMA has changed lives and made our cities, towns and rural areas better places to live.