History

Getting Started: 1903 to 1928

When RAA emergency road service began in 1923 (the first in the southern hemisphere) there was no fanfare - RAA Guides of those days (we call them Patrols now) were employed for other duties but, increasingly, members were stopping them in the street to solve mechanical problems. A year passed before the RAA realised what a boon this could be and promoted it as a member service.

Guides

It's worth remembering that unexpected start to the Association's most valued service, for it mirrors the manner in which many of its activities began, growing with the developing needs of motorists.

Back in 1903 the only real need had been a knowledge of their primitive machines. There were no garages; the owner or a Good Samaritan had to cope with problems.

That was part of the reason why a number of pioneer motorists got together on 30 September 1903 and formed the RAA. Apart from feeding off each other's experiences, they were keen to arrange weekend outings and social evenings, take part in hill climbs and reliability trials. Before 1904 was over they had pioneered motor sport in this State.

Just two years later the mood changed, when motorists were reigned-in for the first time by regulations. The RAA became embroiled in that and started a role as the 'motorists' watchdog' which has continued to this day. That, though, had a sting in its tale, for a growing gulf between the sports-minded members and those concerned with more serious matters caused a split around 1910 which brought the RAA close to a premature demise.

In the wake of that came a determination to concentrate on practical help for members, in support of which the Automobile Club (as the RAA was called then) became an Association; and from that moment its fortunes never looked back. The war waged by the RAA against speed limits (still as low as 4mph in places by the 1920s), and the revenue-raising tactics of Police speed traps, prompted a response among South Australians which saw an increase in membership possibly without equal in the world - a growth of 1,379 per cent in the decade from 1920.

Proliferating speeding prosecutions had led to the introduction of free legal defence for members, the first formal service, as early as 1911. Even earlier it had begun some low-key benefits in the touring area, compiling lists of country hotels and producing the State's first detailed road map.

In 1913 it began an equally important task which would continue for many decades - direction signposting.

From those first member services came the crucial step, early in the 1920s, of restructuring the Association to become a fully-fledged service organisation. Staffing levels grew from zero early in 1920 to about three dozen by the end of the decade.

By then Road Service, Technical, Touring and Legal services were established and the RAA Motor Insurance Policy was in place. Not a single facet of its operations was recognisable from the relaxed ideals of 1903.

Its hectic first 25 years ended with news that it had been granted the prefix 'Royal' by King George V. There was pride and satisfaction in that - not just the recognition from England but from a State Government (which had to approve the application first) with which it was still having bitter battles. This was an acknowledgment of the Association's role in guiding the State into a radically new era, and of its work (particularly that of its members) during World War I in tirelessly providing transport for wounded and sick soldiers returning from the battlefields of Europe.

Enter the Royal Automobile Association of South Australia.

1929 to 1953: The Difficult Years

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