By ERWIN CHLANDA
It’s official: The Catholics have St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Muslims have the Ka’aba in Mecca and the Truckies have the National Road Transport Hall of Fame in Alice Springs.
I suggested this to Patrick Day, one of the industry greats and honoured on the Wall of Fame, which received 297 new inductees at this weekend’s reunion.
He laughed but didn’t disagree: “It’s a religion, yeah.”
“What makes a trucky?”
“It’s in your blood,” he replies. “My father had a truck when I was born.”
Mr Day, from Oaklands, NSW, with his family – including his father and his son – built up their company to a fleet of 30, and branched into farming, buying up land in the early seventies.
“At one stage I sold our trucks, and bought more land, but my son wasn’t happy about that.”
He wanted to keep on trucking?
“Yeah. He’d been there for four or five years, had done his apprenticeship in mechanics and diesel mechanics. Since then he’s gone and built them trucks up from two to 30 now.
“We built the land up at the same time to a reasonable size operation.”
However, the reliable income came from transport, carting mostly fuel, right across the southern part of NSW.
Mr Days says his father had been inducted ino the Wall of Fame “in the very early days. Me and my brother were inducted at the 10th anniversary. I guess we’re just truckies through and through.
“I would have done, I reckon, three million miles over my life. I drove for over 20 years.”
The firm has a proud safety record.
“Through the eighties we’d done a lot of miles, because I had a tanker contract which was constant.
“We’d done a lot of miles and we never broke the law, ever.”
Their home base location allowed trucks to go to Melbourne, Tumut, Wagga, West Wyalong and so on: “We could stay within the hours, stay within our log books.”
The Alice annual reunion is special: “People in the industry, you met them over the years, you get in touch with them again.
“Guys my age don’t crash many gears any more.”
“Crash many gears?”
“Well, I don’t do any driving any more.”
Mr Day is 78, and this type of conversation – with variations, of course – would have been repeated a thousand times over this reunion in Alice Springs, marking the 25th anniversary of the Road Transport Historic Society, and the 20th of the National Transport Hall of Fame.
“Will there always be trucks? Will rail sound their death knell?”
Never, says Mr Day. The efficiency of door-to-door capability will always win out.
And rail? “The unions are bugging them up.”
Starting on August 26 and ending today, the reunion brought a massive crowd into town.
“We stopped counting at 7000,” says Liz Martin, the indomitable organiser, together with hundreds of volunteers.
She says all the town’s accommodation was book out. When caravan parks were full some of the overflow went to the Pioneer Park Racecourse and Blatherskite Park, but mostly behind the Hall where some 500 of the 650 trucks were parked.
It took an estimated $2.5m worth of fuel to get them into town from all over Australia.
What’s the most important truck? I’d like to get its photo, I asked Ms Martin.
“The Rowan prime mover in the Kenworth hall.”
It is a huge chrome studded monster, towering over the crowd and even the other huge machines, worth $380,000, producing 600 horsepower, 1800 litres tanks.
It is also a shrine to Rowan John Membrey who took his own life in 2011 at age 17.
“He grew up too quickly and started going to nightclubs, started abusing drugs and alcohol and was silently dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts,” says a sign alongside the T904 Kenworth, with a Beyond Blue emblem on its cabin.
Rowan’s father, Craig, was here. “1000s of people have been saddened by Rowan’s death,” says the sign.
Many of them were at the reunion. Being a trucker isn’t just a religion. It’s also having a big family.
PHOTOS from top: A small part of the trucks parked behind the Transport Hall of Fame • Liz Martin with mates in the Stuart’s Bush Kitchen • Patrick Day • How do you get five trucks to Alice Springs with just one driver? No worries • Rowan John Membrey • The Rowan Truck •