FLYING - much less driving - into Alice Springs is an experience all should undertake. As far as the eye can see, is mile after mile of red, barren land, interspersed with what look to be, from 30,000 feet, spider webs of black. They are trees that have taken root in dried-out riverbeds with a view to survival of the fittest.
The locals say quite rightly that Alice Springs is the closest town to every beach in Australia. It also rings true that it is the closest town to every truck stop in Australia. To be fair to everybody it seemed only right that Liz Martin and co built the National Transport Hall of Fame smack dab in the centre of this country.
Alice Springs somehow seems to be the perfect backdrop for the hall and the people it represents. She is a tough town in an even rougher geographical environment. She is perhaps, reflective of the nature of truckies and truck driving around the country. Whether driving through the Red Centre, around our vast coastline or through the hustle and bustle of our towns and cities, a truckie's life is a tough one.
Since its inception in 1995, Liz's "baby" has been a Mecca for truck drivers, their families and anyone else even vaguely interested in the transport industry and what it has done to open up this vast land.
Each year at the end of August the annual induction into the Hall of Fame takes place. Inductees, together with their families and friends,
gather in a spirit of unity to be officially recognised for their contribution to the industry. Some are leaders of transport, some have large and successful transport businesses, but many are just your everyday truckie, who has gone about his job, day-in day-out without any thought of recognition. Luckily for these men and women, others close to them realised the contribution that they had made to the industry and nominated them for entry into the Hall of Fame. A surprising number of nominees had not a clue that they were to be inducted. Under what pretext their families and/or mates used to get them there, only they know. Suffice it to say they'd all make damned good salesmen!
In Liz's opening speech on induction day, she pointed out that the significance of the transport industry is often downplayed, misrepresented, and in some cases vilified. "We like to think that we are putting the positive side of the industry forward."
She also paid heartfelt thanks to the Hall's volunteers. "This place simply would not exist without them. For example the National motor Museum in Adelaide employs 18 staff and takes half as much money as us. We have three paid staff and 50 volunteers who pickup that workload and all the projects that we undertake."
Each year Liz takes pleasure in bestowing life membership upon one of the volunteers. This time around, the deserving recipient was Sherrill Ives. Sherrill blew into town three years ago and asked about volunteering with a friend due to arrive a couple of weeks later. As it happened there was a function on that very evening. "Do you want a hand?" said Sherrill.
Liz's response was quick and to the point. "Yeah! Get back here at six o'clock." Sherrill did, and has not left since. From the toilets to administration to the website - whatever it takes, Sherrill gives.
This year there were 128 inductees from all walks of life and from right across Australia. One of the most popular was William MacMillan, better known to all and sundry as Billy Mac. Billy had no idea that he was to be inducted and was loath to receive his medallion as, "I'm wearing me bloody thongs!"
At the evening dinner, which we understand is to be reformatted into a more casual (is that possible?) affair from next year, Liz Martin was presented with a superb three-dimensional picture of Ruffy Doyle's 1972 cab-over Kenworth K-series, painted by his daughter Brenda.
Brenda went on to deliver a memorial to her legendary dad who passed away early this year and whose ashes were laid to rest at the Hall this day. Along with a photographic history, a conversation recorded with Ruffy at Alice Springs in 2010 was played, and his words from beyond the grave, together with Brenda's brave singing of In the Arms of an Angel reduced many to tears.
It's not often 600 toughened men and women are reduced to attentive silence and the standing ovation received was just reward for Brenda's efforts and a testament to Ruffy's standing within the trucking community.
The National Transport Hall of Fame, with help from Shell, Kenworth, Cummins, Western Star, Mack/Volvo and others, stands as a beacon to truck drivers everywhere - traversing the country or delivering locally. The hall says: "Stand Tall, Be Proud - You have All earned the right"
In the 1960s Billy went to Victoria River Downs Station to work as a stockman. In 1969 the legendary cattle transporter, Noel Buntine told George Lewis, the manager of VRD, that he was buying a new Mac R600 truck with three trailers to do all the station's internal work instead of tying up the Buntine road trains. Buntine always said that good road train drivers, who were also good at managing cattle, were rare. The logical conclusion was that Buntine would teach one of Lewis' stockmen to drive the road train. He chose Billy Mac who then spent the rest of the cattle season off-siding with various Buntine drivers learning how to handle a truck - he already knew how to handle cattle.
In 1970 a shiny new red-and-white R600 Mack arrived in Katherine. George Lewis named it 'Cattle King' after Sir Sidney Kidman who owned VRD prior to World War II. Billy Mac was given the job of driving 'Cattle King'. He drove the truck throughout the '70s and worked with Buntine Roadways well into the 1980s, becoming part of the Buntine legend along the way. Billy Mac was there at the foundation of Roadtrains of Australia and is still working there to this day, having witnessed the famous Australian company change hands over the years to Dicky David, then Jim Cooper AO and currently Hampton Cattle Transport.
1983 saw Janelle Smith and her then husband purchase a trucking business. Within five years Janelle got her HC license and gave birth to her son. With the collapse of the marriage she needed a job. Already regarded as a professional operator, Janelle was offered a position with Jim Pearson transport, carting woodchips to Newcastle and bringing bricks back. She was soon doing four round trips a week from Port Macquarie to Sydney and was often called upon to help run the Sydney depot when staff went on holidays. Today Janelle operates a B-Double from Port Macquarie to Grafton four nights a week and to Brisbane every Thursday. Janelle is living proof that you don't have to be ugly to drive a truck!
In 1978 Garry Evans started driving trucks 'two up' with dad, Norm. Together they drove all over Australia while Norm taught Garry the fine art of being a road train driver. In 1980 he bought his own truck and carted bottles from Melbourne to Brisbane. Over the years Garry has owned a UD, a 'bubble' Volvo, an Atkinson and a Ford LNT. In 2011 he purchased an Aerodyne Kenworth and is currently running his own business out of Townsville, carting general freight from Queensland to the Northern Territory.
These are but three of the deserving inductees into the Hall of Fame. The words written here cannot reflect the blood, sweat and tears, the interminably long hours and the hardships that they and others like them have undertaken to mould Australia into the Lucky Country.
Checkout a full list of the inductees here.