Cyril Mahon was born in Auckland in 1888, but unfortunately little is known about his history up until the time of his entry into the transport industry arena in 1936.
To his contemporaries, he was a fine orator, a talent doubtless refined by his leading the “for many years successful” Papatoetoe Literary Debating and Dramatic Society, accomplishing all this as the archetypal single-unit town carrier, a distinction none of his successors to date can share.
In the mid 1930’s the Auckland road transport industry was in chaos. Cost cutting was rife as carrier competed against carrier for business. On October 1936, Fred Andrew, principal of Otahuhu’s Andrew & Andrew Transport Ltd, convened a meeting of local carriers in his office, resulting in the formation of the Southern Suburban Carriers’ Association, covering the suburbs of Otahuhu, Papatoetoe, Manurewa, Mangere and Panmure. Prevented from accepting office by his membership of the Auckland Master Carriers’ Association, Andrew nominated for founding President, Cyril Mahon, a man who was to achieve the highest office the licensed road transport industry in New Zealand could offer, and earn the national industry’s most coveted honour.
The Executive supported the formation of the New Zealand Carriers’ Federation and at its April 1939 meeting agreed to recommend affiliation to the national body, which represented town carriers’ organisations throughout the country, as distinct from the rural carriers’ national body, the New Zealand Road Transport Alliance.
In 1940 Cyril Mahon was nominated the Association’s representative on the New Zealand Carriers’ Federation National Council, the start of his 15 year stint among the national licensed transport industry decision makers.
World War II presented additional responsibilities upon him; while he declined to become involved in the Lines of Communication transport companies, Cyril performed valuable duties as an industry representative on several Government committees.
In June of 1940, the Executive laid down its first definition of an owner-driver as one “who owns not more than three vehicles and himself drives one of them”. Later this definition was amended to five trucks.
Cyril was elected Vice-President of the New Zealand Carriers’ Federation in 1941, when the Association boasted a membership of 450, preparatory to his three year stint as National President from 1943-1946. His term was extended at the specific request of the then Commissioner of Transport.
Many members held Cyril in high regard, such was their admiration that at the 1942 annual meeting, five years after he became President, notice was given of his nomination for Life Membership “once the rules are changed”.
He led the Association through a series of post war shortages, industrial problems, including the 1951 national waterfront strike, and on to a sound financial footing.
In 1953, he told the annual meeting of his apprehension of a system “steadily creeping” into the industry in Auckland whereby master carriers were obtaining large quantities of work and then utilising owner-drivers for such work, instead of working through them. It could lead, he said, to rate cutting, a forecast that proved only too true as time went on.
His concern, as always, was for owner-drivers’ welfare, a situation he could appreciate only too well from his personal standpoint. But he had concern, too for the industry nationally, as shown by a comment in his 1954 report when he noted that the Industrial Transport Association of New Zealand, which represented the industry and other road-using organisations, had only one representative on the National Roads Board - “one lamb among many wolves” was his description.
On his retirement from the Association leadership in 1955, members fulfilled that 13 year old promise and unanimously elected him its first Life Member; the national body honoured him similarly that year too.
In his valedictory remarks to the Association, Cyril emphasised his pride in it and was generous in his praise of the Executives he had led.
“That I have been the unopposed President of an Association which has grown from 204 to 623 members over a period of 18 years is something of which I am justly proud; in all humility, I hope I will at least have the credit of having centred all my hopes on the owner-driver attaining his rightful position in the community.
To have represented you over all those years in the transport councils of the nation is, and always will be, an accomplishment of which I am again humbly proud.
All these things could only, by co-operation and loyalty, be accomplished and I thank all living and departed members for that unselfish acceptance of my leadership.
I have learned painfully what the owner-driver and his battle for life have meant to me and the severance of those ties and responsibilities will leave a blank, unfillable by any other activity.”
Cyril died in November 1967 at the age of 79.