Outback legend Tom Kruse dies

By Beau Gamble 1 July 2011
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Legendary Birdsville mailman Tom Kruse has died in Adelaide at the age of 96.

TOM KRUSE, FATHER OF the Birdsville Track mail run, delivered mail, medicine and supplies to outback stations from the 1930s to the 1960s.

“He was the lifeline of Birdsville,” says Kim Fort, previous publican of the Birdsville Pub and a friend of Tom’s. “He was just an incredible guy who took it in his stride.”

Tom made his first mail run on the Birdsville Track at 21 years of age. The 517km track runs from Marree in northern South Australia to Birdsville in south western Queensland.

The 96-year-old died in Adelaide, with his family around him.

Isolated from the outside world

Kim says many of the stations Tom made deliveries to would have otherwise been isolated from the outside world. “Living up here nowadays, you’re still isolated, but back then it was only the radio – and that was if anyone was within a few hundred kilometres,” says Kim.

To people living on the Birdsville, Tom was more than just a mailman. “It was something they all looked forward to – finding out what was happening out there and just to have a friendly face,” says Kim. “They’d be waiting a month for stock, machinery and repairs and things…Everyone was dependent on him.”

Tom’s Leyland Badger mail truck in Marree, SA (Credit: Mitch Reardon)

Due recognition

Tom and his road trips were made famous in the 1954 documentary Back of Beyond.

In 1955 he was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) for his services to the outback community, and in 2003 he received the Australian Geographic Society’s highest accolade, the Lifetime of Adventure Award. Tom has been inducted into the National Transport Hall of Fame in Alice Springs and nominated as a South Australian icon by the National Trust.

Tom’s iconic truck, a 1936 Leyland Badger, finally broke down and was abandoned near Birdsville in 1957. After being rediscovered in 1986, the Badger was fully restored and is on display at the National Motor Museum at Birdwood, in the Adelaide Hills.

Tom’s wife Valma passed away in August, 2010. They had four children together.

“I saw him for the last time in December last year,” says Kim. “For a guy his age and what he’d been through, he was very switched on and had a very good sense of humour…It’s very sad to hear, but we’ve got to expect it; we just move on. But certainly he was a part of history that’s gone.”