The Chinese precinct of Cairns around Sachs Street (now Grafton Street) in the 1920’s was a hub of activity day and night. Opium shops and gambling dens, brothels and respectable retailers attracted a huge clientele of Europeans and Chinese alike.
On that infamous strip, Frederick Lew Ah Tong bought a shop from Low Jip and Quay Sun and began to deal in the transportation of fruit and vegetables.
Within a few years, the company began providoring vessels plying the eastern Australian coastal routes. They are supplied ships from China, bringing cargo of lychees, ginger, silk and freshwater chestnuts to Cairns on a monthly basis.
Much of the fresh produce carried by Ah Tong’s Transport business came from the Atherton Tablelands. By the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, Ah Tong’s fleet incorporated a one-ton Chevrolet truck and a 1.5 ton International. By the 1940’s, two Ford trucks, a one ton and a three ton, had been added to the fleet. During World War Two, the three-ton truck was seconded by the US Army.
Before the 1950’s, all transport from the Tablelands to Cairns had to be by the Gillies Highway because the road between Kuranda and Mareeba was frequently unserviceable. It wasn’t until the late 1950’s that the Gillies Highway was upgraded from a one-way dirt track with traffic gates top and bottom, where one hourly runs were scheduled each way.
During World War Two, the company became involved in supplying fresh produce to the American Forces fighting in New Guinea. These supplies were transported twice per week to PNG by American B25 Bombers.
Much of the produce for the war effort came from the Atherton Tablelands. Eggs were packed in sawdust inside old kerosene boxes, lettuce and carrots in tea chests for the bumpy ride down to the coast.
Frederick Ah Tong transported eggs, capsicum and other vegetables from Cairns to Townsville on a weekly basis during the 1950’s in a 1.5-ton Bedford truck.
The vehicle returned loaded with potatoes from Woodstock and the trip mostly over dirt roads, took nine to ten hours.
Frederick Lew Ah Tong continued to run the business until his death on 17 March 1964. His sons, Ron Snr and Des continued the Cairns operation and Fred (Chook) worked the Townsville end, coordinating transport between the cities.
In 1969, the business became Tong Sing Pty Ltd and moved in 1974 to its current location at 169 Spence Street on the former site of the old Malaytown.
“Developing a good name over the last 92 years has played a major part in our ongoing success.” says Ron.
“Through the hard work of my grandfather and his wife Pearl, their sons (my father Ron and uncles Des and Chook) and now myself and our staff, we have consistently lived up to our motto of ‘Excellence in Service’.”
From the company’s early days until 1976, Cairns was a fairly isolated community with limited access in terms of transport to and from the capital cities in the south.
“During this time, Tong Sing acted as a mini market for retailers, wholesalers and growers in the Far North. As the roads improved along with technology, accessibility improved, and this changed our emphasis of business.” says Ron.
“We moved from being a local wholesaler of fruit, to become an exporter of fresh produce. It was around that stage we began our transport operation, which is now one of the largest privately-owned fleets in Cairns, servicing Townsville and Brisbane regularly. With the increased levels of communication and better technology we have been able to grow our business without the need to relocate to the southern capitals and now regularly export fresh produce from Sydney and Brisbane to international markets.”
Tong Sing is a major exporter of Australian fresh fruit and vegetables. Tong Sing Pty Ltd has exported to markets across the world, from the first Lychees from Far North Queensland to London, to the first R2E2 mangoes into China, we have the knowledge to ensure that products that are shipped to your required destination will meet your expectations.