Like the Hills Hoist, an Australian invention - the Australian ute - a story that requires regularly repeating. It is remarkable.
The Australian 'ute' is an icon if ever there was one, yet somehow the good old 'Aussie ute' has never caught on in the US, rather their iconic look-a-like vehicle is symbolised by the Ford F100 light truck referred to as the 'pick-up'.
But Australia has been pushing the 'ute' barrow, as it were, and it's a wonder that the Australian ute has never been considered to be right at home on the roads and farms of the US.
There seems to be a US psychological issue with the 'ute' as opposed to the 'pick-up' which has an image of a large protective 'all purpose bash vehicle' rather than a more concise 'town vehicle' as in the 'ute'. Marketing the Ute in the US from badging to function has been one of the issues.
The Australian iconic Ute?
The 'Ute' – the Australian nickname for a ‘Utility Vehicle’ – has the cabin of a sedan car and the rear of a small truck - and has long been a favourite vehicle for farmers and tradesmen. It is very much part of the Australian landscape and whenever I drive through a country town, I expect to see utes in the main street, usually with a pair of border collies or blue heelers ‘at home’ in the tray at the back!
The word ‘ute’ can be confusing to those not used to the Australian accent. An English acquaintance of mine, married to an Australian and enjoying a road trip, was enquiring at a country town about how to get into the local camping area. She was told that she needed to get the key from the bloke in the ute, just around the corner.
Not understanding what this meant, she carefully rehearsed the phrase under her breath ‘bloke-ina-ute’ ‘bloke-ina-ute’ until she got back to her husband, waiting in the car. He understood immediately and laughed, and for the rest of their holiday they would point out all the unusual things they saw in utes. The most amusing was ‘a ewe in a ute’.
Nowadays, the ute even has its own specialty events called 'ute musters', where proud owners get together with their decorated vehicles to show them off at a social event.
The history of the Australian ute
The Power House Museum (the science/technology museum near Darling Harbour in Sydney) provides a more detailed account of the Ute. In 1932 a farmer wrote to the boss of Ford Australia to ask, 'Please make a two-in-one car and truck, something I can go in to church on Sunday, and carry pigs to market on Monday.'
Lewis Bandt was given the job to develop such a multi-purpose car. His solution was to graft a high-sided open or 'utility' back onto a two-door Ford V8 Coupe. What made it different from a truck was that the interior was as luxurious as the original coupe, and the side panels and roof were pressed in steel like a car.
The 'ute' was introduced in 1934 by both Ford and General Motors – Holden. It was an immediate success and the idea was soon copied by car makers in Australia and overseas. The 1934 utilities were sent to Ford in the USA where they became known as 'kangaroo chasers'. These early samples inspired the 1956 US Ford Ranchero and other utes worldwide. However, the current US version such as the Ford F100, is called a ‘pick-up truck’ and is a much heavier, larger vehicle. They were never a big-selling item as in Australia.
The Australian character and the Ute
The ute represents something of the Australian character, which the larger pick-up truck does not capture. The ute is compact, with clean lines and matches the rather rakish laid-back attitude of the Australian culture. It is also extremely practical.
Having a sedan's cabin means that women feel comfortable travelling in it or driving it, and it can just as easily be a town car as a farm vehicle. In more recent years, you have been able to purchase a 4-door cabin which can seat the whole family in comfort and safety.
Other advantages are its price and its versatility. Utes are sold at a reasonable price, cheaper than a small truck; and the tyres and repairs are also as cheap as those of a sedan. The ute can be a tradesman's vehicle or the weekend warrior's vehicle; or, when the back is enclosed, as is easily done, it can be the beach panel-van or camper-van.
Many young men in Australia have had a love affair with the ute; purchasing one (new or second hand) is seen as one of the symbols of manhood, irrespective of whether it is needed for any practical purpose. For those who are a bit more mature, a ute can be a status symbol. Many a sportsman drives the latest model, as do businessmen in all walks of life.
Classic Ute stories
A (late) colleague of mine, a theologian and university college master was to be provided with a vehicle by his College Board as part of his contract. What vehicle would he like? He would like a ute, please! Not one member on this highly distinguished College Board blinked an eye.
His reasons for requiring that particular vehicle was that it was a town car he and his wife could use; and it would also be suitable for their own respite, which was taking timeout on their hobby farm!!
In my ministry with Well-Being Australia, advocating planned respite within a busy schedule, I see that many people purchase a ute just for their ‘respite’ activities; either to belong to a social group for ‘ute musters’ or for their recreational or more practical weekend activities.
Our ministry had for some time a dual cab ute at the Basil Sellers Laguna Quays Respite cottage in the Whitsundays mainland for visiting missionaries taking their respite. While we were setting up the facility the ute was use it to collect soil and manure for the garden and a host of other practical purposes.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award, The Gutenberg. In September 2020 Summer Moore presented her commission portrait of Dr Mark Tronson holding the Gutenberg plaque. The above photo is the upper part from this portrait.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at: http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html