About Us

barnes auto hero about us

About Us

Barnes Auto Co specialises in ultra-heavy salvage and recovery services and is the largest and oldest dedicated heavy vehicle towing and recovery business in Australia. Currently owned and operated by John Dent, it was he who introduced heavy-duty under-lift equipment and air cushion recovery equipment into the company.

Although many things have changed since the early days of the business, our main focus is still quality customer service all the way. A pioneer of Queensland's Transport Heritage, our ‘We never sleep’ motto, unique striped vehicles and dedication to exemplary service have become synonymous with specialised ultra-heavy recovery - not only throughout Queensland but Australia-wide.  

Barnes auto about us


    Founded circa 1900 by John Barnes, Barnes Auto Co has played a major role in the Transport Heritage History of Queensland over the years. Originally operating an engineering workshop on Breakfast Creek Road in Newstead, John started out selling petrol and oils and doing minor vehicle repairs.

    He then opened Barnes Automobile Company near the corner of Creek and Adelaide Street - the site of Brisbane's first petrol bowser, opposite the Gresham Hotel. He also had the agency for Sunbeam and Delage cars and was later asked to build a tramway to collect milk and cream from large dairy farms in the Beaudesert area. Although this project failed, he did invent the Degaussing System, which repelled magnetic mines from ships at sea, as well as a quick-fire gun and a successful beer keg tap for Castlemaine Brewery.

    Despite these successes however, John Barnes was not an astute businessman and later returned to England, where he passed away. His legacy was Barnes Auto Co, which had survived under six different owners up until November 13, 1930.

    Barnes Auto Co

    In the early days, Barnes Auto Co depended on the business generated from car hire companies, which ultimately helped to advertise their services as they travelled throughout the region. The company was later purchased by Bishop & O'Sullivan (date unknown), who introduced what became known as the Barnes Auto motto, "We never sleep".

    Bishop and his previous partner had operated hire cars at all hours so they could meet trains that were frequently late. Their dedication inspired the motto and Bishop retained it even after the partnership dissolved. The motto also had some relevance to the Adelaide St building, which had no doors and remained open 24 hours a day.

    Barnes Auto Co then passed to Fox and Fillot, who later sold it to Tipper & Glanville, and relocated to leased premises at Queen Street and North Quay, a site owned by the Church of England. Tipper & Glanville then purchased what was probably Australia's first towing truck - a Crosley tow truck, that had been constructed for Eagers.

    New Lease Of Life

    In 1930, Luton White heard that Barnes Auto Co was going into liquidation, so he purchased the business - in a 1992 interview, White recalls the date of November 13, 1930 (Mr Luton White 1904-2000). White’s father owned Whites Motor & Engineering Works, Stanley Street South Brisbane, manufacturing marine engines and other items, and had Whites Hill Reserve named after him.

    The then 29-year-old Luton White had comprehensive experience in engineering, motor vehicle repairs and sales, having worked for Smellie & Co, and Peels and British Australian Motor, amongst others. White subsequently expanded the business onto Adelaide Street, operating it primarily as a parking garage at the foot of the old Victoria Bridge. 

    Visitors daunted by the site of the big city would drive over the bridge and seek sanctuary at Barnes, who would in turn offer them full driveway ‘service’. Barnes would park the car, refueling, greasing and doing repairs, as well as loading customers’ shopping by the time they were ready to head home.

    With blue and gold as the family colours - taken from the Dutch ships on the nearby Brisbane River – White adopted stripes after WW2, as he was tired of camouflage. He also knew his vehicles would be his best advertisement. Hire cars - not owned but organised by Barnes - operated from the building, with bookings taken by Miss Mayo, Miss Lindsay or Paula Moore.

    Refreshments were also sold at the Speakeasy Buffet, which became a city landmark and was leased and operated for a time by Percy Barron. Employing up to 25 staff on a rotating shift, a core of these were lifetime employees, including John Savage, who spent 48 and a half years on night shift from 9:00pm – 8:00am. Barnes also had the first battery charger which ran directly off the DC current of the city trams and the first brake testing machine - Rawson Brand - amongst many other things. 

    Renovations And Moving On

    Parking at Barnes Auto Co went to a mezzanine floor accessed by a self-activating turntable which rotated the car in the right direction. Later, this level became a mechanical and motor body repair shop with 11 mechanics, with fuel sales amongst the highest in Queensland and with up to seven tow trucks in the towing and recovery fleet. 

    In 1946, parking was expanded to another Adelaide Street site near the corner of Wharf and in around 1956, the Church asked White to purchase the premises for £65,000. He declined, so the business was on the move. Prudential Insurance moved onto the landmark site.

    The towing and impound depot went to Boundary Road, Spring Hill, and the parking garage and service station went to the Adelaide Street and Wharf Street site, then known as the Astra Auto Co. The business moved in 1977 to Ipswich Road, Rocklea, to purpose-built premises with tow trucks, cranes and travel towers. In 1984-85, Barnes Auto Co was moved to Melbourne Street West End and later (under new ownership) near the corner of Montague and Mollison Streets.

    In 1987, the White family sold the business to the present owners, Mr S Wane and Mr J Dent. It was back to Rocklea, where it is now, along with depots at Virginia and Toowoomba.

     " We never sleep"


    John Oxley Library, QLD Sate Archives, QLD Main Roads Library

    Luton White (deceased), Mr Leo White, Zita Denholm

    The Courier Mail (The Truth newspaper) past employees including Cess Stafford and others.

    Historical recordings are limited to a few mentioned in the Post Office Directorate, QLD Company's Business and Firms Register. Additional records on the history of the Company are maintained at the QLD Main Road's Central Library.

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