Canberra’s Greatest Hoax, 1969

The tiny classifieds ad that became ‘Canberra’s Greatest Hoax'
 Bronwyn Barnett

During the Centenary of Canberra year, the NFSA’s TV Unit looks at our holdings of Canberra’s first commercial television station, CTC 7 (now Southern Cross Ten). In working through the news collection we discover some gems that highlight Canberra’s hidden or forgotten history.

Why did a tiny advertisement in the Classifieds section of The Canberra Times on 2 September 1969 lead to hundreds of Canberrans flocking to the goods yard of Canberra Railway Station at Kingston the following day? And why did this event become known as ‘Canberra’s Greatest Hoax’?

The following news report from CTC-TV on 3 September 1969 explains the turnout:

Courtesy of Southern Cross Austereo. NFSA: 676800
Note: This story has no audio over the vision until the reporter’s piece to camera.

This event made the front page of The Canberra Times on 4 September and, under the headline ‘The Day The Jeeps Did Not Arrive’, reporter Frank Cranston sheds light on the story.

On 23 August 1969, in the bar of a Canberra hotel, Mr BA Schick of Aranda learned that a friend of a friend in Melbourne worked with a man from the Army who said hundreds of jeeps were going to be auctioned. The jeeps would go on sale in lots of 100 for $30 each and the man thought he could sell 70 but didn’t want to be left with the remaining 30. He was also concerned that if the jeeps were left-hand drive, they would not be able to be registered in Victoria.

Schick mentioned the deal to some work colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry. It seems Mr Schick was not the only one who thought it was a good deal – by that afternoon he had 200 people expressing interest, with 700 inquiries by the following Wednesday. Interested parties included an Army general and a senior official of Commonwealth Police. Others wanted the jeeps to give as birthday, Father’s Day and Christmas presents. Someone even rang the ACT Motor Registry to make sure that left-hand drive jeeps could be registered.

Mr Schick tried to find out more about the auction by calling both the Department of Supply and the Army but nobody seemed to know anything about the jeep surplus. Nor could Schick discover who placed the classifieds ad. When the jeeps did not arrive in Canberra, another rumour circulated that they would be delivered a few days later on the Friday … but this never happened either.

This news story was on a CTC-TV 16mm film compilation reel with other news stories from 2–5 September 1969. Sadly the news bulletins in which these stories were broadcast do not survive. Luckily audio was recorded with the journalist’s piece to camera allowing identification as to what the story was about. The journalist is CTC-TV reporter and newsreader Brian Smith.