Frank Marley, a true legend of the trucking industry

FRANK Marley has been a successful sort of bloke.

He was the chairman of Livestock Transporters in Western Australia for a number of years and also vice president of the national body, as well as chairman of the West Australian Road Transport Association.

He also owns Marley's Transport.

I met Frank quite some time ago now.

In fact it was at The National Transport Hall of Fame, Cummins Race Day at Alice Springs last August.

Somewhere along the way my interview with him got lost in the depths of my voice recorder and it has only just surfaced.

Listening to it reminded me what a good natured (and successful) guy Frank is.

He remarked at some stage of the interview that he/the business doesn't talk to the (trucking) media and didn't hunt publicity because the business doesn't need it.

However, he did know that the voice recorder was on. Characters like Frank shouldn't be hidden from the wider world so belatedly I reproduce our conversation.

Frank introduced himself as the brother of Bob (Marley).

We took a photo to prove that he's not. The suntan was dark, but not that dark and the dreads - or lack of them - sort of gave the game away.

Which leaves the commonality of surname only.

Also, we suspect Bob was never involved in the trucking industry.

Q: You've been trucking for how long?

A: "Forty-five years. These days mostly in grain, after starting off in livestock. Cows and sheep have given way to the odd pig or three. There's a good market in pigs. Sheep are seasonal. With pigs you get booked up nine months ahead. Good to know what the future is bringing."

Q: How old are you now, if you don't mind me asking?

A: "Are you a cop? I'm 64. I started out in 1969 with one truck and was happy. We now have over 60. My three sons and my lovely girl do most of the management of the company. I got married at 19 and I still have the girl. She can't afford to leave me because I'd take her to the cleaners. (The lady in question's name is Georgina, better known as Georgie.)

"The boys think they're the boss, but she is. Never argue with your mother, you will lose. In fact argue with any woman and you will lose."

Q: Are you still active in the business?

A: "Yep, I'm the gopher."

Q: So you never wanted 60 rigs? The boys kept coming to you and saying, 'dad, here is another opportunity'?

A: "They say they do it for the lifestyle, while living off the old man's money."

Q: Do the boys manage to find good drivers for you? Everyone tells me that's an ongoing problem - looking after the truck the way you would. After all it is not their $200,000 invested.

A: "You're buying Isuzu's are you? Our trucks cost a little more than that. In answer to question about drivers, we have many good drivers. There is always the odd one who will upset the apple cart. That's to be expected in the fleet of this size.

"The drivers are our frontline and generally they do a very good job. Many of them have been with us for a long, long time. Very rarely do we have a truck sitting in the yard because there is no driver for it. And of course there is ability for any of the managers, the boys or even myself to get behind the wheel should the occasion arise."

Q: So what do you buy?

A: "We buy Kenworths for some sort of consistency, and for the jobs we do we believe they are tougher. They achieve the task better than most others.

"Also, when you go to sell them you usually get a reasonable price for them. In our view they're the pick of the product at the minute.

"Mind you, they're starting to send their engineers to Europe rather than North America. When I bought my first Kenworth - in 1974 I think - they were a custom-made truck. You could go there and order what you wanted. Now they tell you what you're going to have. It's changed quite a bit.

"I think that everybody in the industry would pay more for the best product. We always paid more for a Kenworth because we thought they were the best. That's the road we chose and for servicing reasons we will carry on. We also have six or seven Volvos but parts are expensive."

Q: What got you into trucking?

A: "When I left school the teachers said I could only be a policeman or truck driver. To prove them wrong I got a job working on the standard gauge rail line that ran from Perth to Kalgoorlie. I got the sack from that job.

"They were putting the rail line through from Tom Price to Port Hedland and I got a job up there.

"Meantime my father had gone broke running a service station. He came to me and said, 'You've got a few bob. Why don't you buy a truck and I'll drive it because you're too young.' That's the way it started. Bloody teachers!

"I used to go rouseabouting at shearing sheds, carting bales of hay, fencing - anything to make a quid whilst dad drove the truck. The business grew from there.

"Today the pigs are only a very small part of the business. We are into grain and stockfeed. Because I don't have anything to do with management, I wouldn't really know. I'm just a dumb truckie, but Marley's Transport would probably cart in excess of two million ton of grain a year."

Q: So you've told the boys that they don't have to load and unload by hand any more?

A: "That's it. Only recently told them about forklifts too. The boys are in management more than anything now."

Q: You're the West Australian rep for the Trucking Hall of Fame. So you do what Liz Martin tells you to do?

A: "No."

Q: Would you say that to her face?

A: "No way. I haven't paid my Medibank and I don't like hospital food. See, people like you are the reason we don't talk to the (trucking) press."

Q: You were notorious for fighting transport regulations in the 70s and spent a bit of time in jail for refusing to pay fines.

A: "We had regulations that wouldn't allow us to compete with rail. Couldn't cart a bag of super or a bag of wheat or a bale of wool - except to a train. You had to cart it all to a train.

I remember as a young man, going to the rail siding to unload bales of wool by hand into a rail wagon and watching the staff of West Rail sitting there doing nothing. The regulations were unfair. Any protected industry will not produce good results and so I, along with many others fought against them. But that's old history. Now, can I go?"

Kermie: Sure. Cheers Frank.

Frank: "You're not printing this are you?"

Kermie: I'll try to lose it in my voice recorder. You can trust a journo!

(Frank Marley was inducted into the Road Transport Hall of Fame in 1999).

Topics:  transport truck drivers trucking

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