Getting bogged spawned Alice transport invention


2454 Air Tip tip 670
2454 Clarke Petrick 2By ERWIN CHLANDA
All ideas with a big touch of genius are no-brainers: The Air Tip trailers developed by Clarke Petrick (pictured) in Alice Springs are a perfect example.
Conventional tippers use a hydraulic system. Mr Petrick’s tippers use air pressure.
The conventional system means the prime mover needs to have a hydraulic pump installed that is expensive, around $20,000, including tanks, which in turn reduce the amount of diesel that can be carried. There is also an extra weight of 400 kg and ongoing maintenance costs.
2454 Air Tip tip 2 OKMr Petrick’s invention uses the compressed air system that is part of every prime mover, to operate the brakes of the road train.
The idea occurred to him when he and his father, Grant, were bogged near Old Andado, some 250 kms from Alice Springs, the nearest source of help.
While Mr Petrick senior was asleep, waiting for anyone coming past to tow them out or relay a message, Mr Petrick junior used the pneumatic bags of the truck suspension, pumping them up one wheel at the time, and putting the camel crates from the trailers under the wheels for traction.
“It was easy,” says Mr Petrick. “I could do it all pretty well at the flick of a switch.”
2454 Grant Ptrick age 8In a way he has transport ingenuity in his blood: Growing up on his grandparents’ cattle station Neutral Junction, his father had a dream at age eight of having a road train: He built a model (he is pictured with it), and today he is transporting thousands of cattle a year out of Central Australia.
Mr Petrick junior says nine $120,000 Air Tip trailers have been built so far, first in Murray Bridge, and later in Toowoomba, but there are plans to build them in Alice Springs, and also licence them in the USA.
The business has hit a snag with the downturn of the iron ore mining in WA, a major customer, but this is likely to be temporary. Two of the trailers are in use in Alice Springs, owned by Probuild.
PHOTOS: Developed in Alice – the airbag assembly to open and close the cover (above) and under the bin, lifting it up (top). The air tanks are filled as the road train travels, using the same standard system that operates the brakes.


  1. As the old saying goes, necesssity is the mother of invention.
    What’s very interesting here is how this latest innovation in road transport haulage demonstrates what has become a tradition of invention in this industry sector in the NT.
    The photos in this story demonstrate the Air Tip trailers using side tippers – which are themselves a Territory invention.
    And of course the road trains which have now long been a part of the Territory scene became possible because of Kurt Johannsen’s innovation of self-tracking trailers which he invented in the 1940s.
    These are great examples of innovations by practical-minded individuals in the remotest regions of Australia whose ideas have gone on to influence industry sectors around the world, and it seems certain Clarke Petrick’s invention is set to do likewise.

  2. Interestingly, Kurt Johannsen was Clarke Petrick’s Great Uncle … innovation running through their veins.


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