THE first impression of Craig Membrey is of a no-nonsense businessman who calls a spade a spade.
With more than 100 pieces of equipment under the Membrey Transport banner and the associated cut and thrust of the heavy transport industry, this would come as no surprise.
At the recent Castlemaine Truck Show Sponsors Dinner he surprised the guests by asking to address those gathered.
His speech was not about trucks or trucking, but rather about his son, Rowan John Membrey, who took his own life in March of last year at the age of 17.
The tears in Craig's eyes at the end of his short but heartfelt speech touched all present and gave food for thought about what is really important in life.
Craig Membrey has been in trucking since leaving school at 14. His father started the business 50 years ago this year, with Craig taking over the reins 25 years ago. Craig has worked hard throughout his life, but the long hours and seven-day weeks meant much time spent away from the family.
"You do what you think is right by your family, giving them a nice home and environment to grow up in. Unfortunately the downside is too much time away from home yourself," he said.
"Rowan was a very popular kid. He had a passion for BMX and I reckon was good enough to make a career out of it. He just wanted out of school and left in Year 10. There's nothing wrong with that - school's not for everybody. I was the same and I managed to make my way in the world. Rowan got himself an apprenticeship at Wilsons Transformers - he could have worked for dad but figured that he'd get robbed. He appeared to have his life on track and away he went.
"He was earning good money - money he'd not seen the like of before. He wanted to live his dream. He wanted to drink and smoke and hang with his friends which I found hard to come to terms with, being a non-drinker and smoker. He started going to nightclubs and pubs, following the bright lights with a fake ID card. It's easy to do these days - the access to alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. The law is too soft. All the kids get is a slap on the wrist. The world's changed and not all for the better. There's too much pressure on kids today."
Craig's attitude to life has changed dramatically since March 17. One of his first actions was to create a rolling monument to Rowan with a six-year-old Kenworth T908 - an ex-Toll road train with 1.4 million kilometres on the clock - purchased just two days before his death. To say the truck looks brand new today would be an understatement. Is the truck a cathartic exercise, a way of getting over the grief?
"Yes and no. Grief is a funny thing. You don't know when it's going to hit you. I love trucks, I love my children. We all grieve in our own way. Part of mine is the truck. If you lose a loved one you need to remember the good times. The murals on the truck display those. I didn't want to forget. The truck is to keep those memories fresh.
"That was the main reason for doing it. But I also wanted to try and give something to help others. That's when I decided to get Beyond Blue behind it.
"One day I was getting a bit peed off - things weren't moving fast enough. I'm a bit of a demanding person and I was having difficulty getting permission to use Beyond Blue's logos on
the truck, so I decided to go straight to the top - as in Jeff Kennett. I asked my PA, Shelly to get Jeff on the phone. She rang Hawthorn Football Club, they connected her with Jeff's PA and within two hours he was back on the phone to me.
"Jeff was very understanding. He listened to my story and gave me his condolences then asked, 'Craig, what do you want out of this?'
"I want to promote a truck for my son's memory and I want to help an organisation, a group that can stop this from happening again to someone else. "He said, 'Craig, not a problem at all'.
"One of the things that hit me after Rowan's death is that life is too short. Everyone ums and ahs. Within an hour of the conversation with Jeff I had people calling me from every direction and he made it happen. I got the right to use the Beyond Blue logo and it's gone from there.
"The truck was a six-month project. A lot of people heard what I was doing and offered help. The sponsor list on the board just keeps growing. A lot of the people who've helped have been in a similar situation in losing a loved one or close friend.
"Chad from the Truckers Toy Store has been unbelievable with what he's done for me. He let us use his workshop and all his gear.
"I'd heard that Paccar/Kenworth is a difficult company to get behind you. I don't know why because they've been nothing but supportive. Andrew Hadjikakou, the national sales and marketing manager, in particular has been terrific, with nothing too much trouble. Anything I wanted they supplied.
"I hit Andrew late last year. We wanted gold badging but couldn't source them. I rang Andrew and he found the three I needed out of the States - that was three out of seven remaining in the world of a limited edition run."
What about the company, the employees? How did they react?
"Oh mate. To see what my team did for me. The day I announced my son had died and I told my staff I didn't know how I was going to handle this...to see my staff all get together and do what they did to run my company.....I'm gifted with a great team," he said.
"Being a family business the crew all knew Rowan from when he was just a little kid. I was a single dad and consequently when he was with me, he was with the business."
Is talking about Rowan publicly so soon after his passing a tough ask?
"I love talking about it because I'm proud of my son and I hope that by speaking publicly about our grief and Beyond Blue, I may make a difference with someone else who may be contemplating suicide
"I believe that what you give in life you get back. It's no use sitting around, you have to make it happen. I've always been a hands-on type of guy and the involvement with Beyond Blue is no different. Life's too beautiful you know. I lost the most talented son. Unfortunately he went down the wrong path and I was powerless to stop him, and too busy maybe, to see it coming. I never learnt how to kick a football or anything like that. Dad taught me trucks and that's all I really know how to do. Trucks have been my life. But I've got young kids-- four and six years old - and now I realise I've got to learn those things.
"Before this happened to Rowan I couldn't care who Beyond Blue was. I didn't think about depression and what it could do to people.
"Beyond Blue don't have the money to get visibility on TV, radio, papers and the rest. So Craig Membrey is going to have a real crack at stirring some s*** up before they plant me six foot under. One in five truck drivers suffer from depression. If I can make even one of them think again if they're contemplating the worst then Rowan's death won't have been in total vain."
Beyond Blue can be contacted on 1300 22 46 36. Website: beyondblue.org.au
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