The First and the last St.John Volunteers on Adelaide Metropolitan Ambulances


On Friday 1st of February 1952 Mr Vic Kollosche and Mr  Brian Delaine did the very first shift as an official St.John Volunteer Ambulance crew in metropolitan Adelaide.  


They transported a patient with a general sickness after getting the call from the radio room at Hindmarsh Centre at around 1.30 am Saturday morning.  They were in a Dodge ambulance, registration number 5051 that was still wearing the livery of the Northern Suburbs Ambulance Association on its Gilbert Motors bodywork, but it was soon destined to become Car 11 in St.John.


St.John were due to take over that month from both the South Australian Ambulance Transport Incorporated and the Northern Suburbs Ambulance Association Incorporated, as the officially mandated ambulance service provider, but true to form, dedicated St.John volunteers like Vic and Brian had started covering shifts before the official handover.


However, St.John Ambulance volunteers had been alive and well providing a variety of ambulance services in Adelaide since 1885.  In the early days, they conveyed patients using either horse drawn ambulances or hand litters (stretchers), but they had not operated exclusively in the capacity of the official Adelaide metro ambulance service, until the Hayward1 agreement of 1952 was ratified.


Between 1952 and 1991, St. John provided all of the ambulance services for South Australia, metropolitan and country, volunteer and paid staff, with the main concentration of crews located in the Adelaide metropolitan area.


However, at dawn on the morning of Monday 6 May 1991, over 100 years of tradition ended, as the last volunteer crew came off duty.  From that day onwards, St.John volunteer ambulance crews in metro Adelaide passed into the annals of history.


On the night of the 5th May, the last two St.John volunteer crews in Adelaide started their shifts.  There was a St.John volunteer crew at McLaren-Aldinga and another at Blackwood.  The superintendant at McLaren-Aldinga at the time was Mr Chris McGrath and the superintendant at Blackwood was Mr Philip Dunkley.


The phasing out of St.John volunteer crews had begun in earnest in early 1989 after intense industrial disruption by certain disaffected elements of the ambulance union lead to the decision by a union sympathetic Labour government to remove the volunteers to appease Trades Hall.


By early 1991, both McLaren - Aldinga and Blackwood St.John Centres were the only remaining ambulance centres in metropolitan Adelaide for St.John Ambulance volunteers.  There were no shortages of willing crewmembers at either Division as displaced volunteers clamoured to fill the last shifts before the final curtain came down.


The last crews at Blackwood consisted of Miss Pip McGowan and her partner from Unley Division for Afternoon Shift and part of Evening Shift and Mr Philip Dunkley, Mr Andrew Clough and Mr Rohan Roylance for the remainder of Evening Shift and Sleep On.  The Aldinga-McLaren crew came off duty at midnight, Sunday 5th May. 


The last job performed by St.John metro volunteers was a priority one responded to by Blackwood 16 Echo for an elderly gentleman experiencing chest pains in Wattle Road, Blackwood  at  around 03:30 am, resulting in the patient’s heart being  monitored on the Lifepak 5 and transported to FMC (Flinders Medical Centre) on a priority two.


At 0800 the paid staff from Marion came up the hill and collected Fleet 155, the Blackwood Division Ambulance, it was the end of an era.  After they left, Phil Dunkley reversed Blackwood’s new divisional first aid unit Fleet 905 into the garage.  Even if Blackwood Division were not allowed to run an ambulance service any more, at least they could provide first aid support to the local area.



May 1991, taken during the week that the last St.John volunteer ambulance crews operated in Adelaide, South Australia.  Fleet 155 was the Blackwood Division Ambulance and Fleet 905 was the Toyota Land Cruiser Troop Carrier First Aid Unit (FAU) that replaced it in the garage.  (Photo by Phil Dunkley).




  1. Sir Edward Hayward, was a prominent South Australian businessman and philanthropist who was the chairman of the St.John Council of South Australia, and whose family owned John Martin’s Ltd, which was at the time one of the largest department stores in South Australia.  Sir Edward was invested as a Knight of the Order of St.John in 1959.  Source (Website



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