WALL OF FAME LEGENDS
ICONS GATHER FOR SPECIAL CELEBRATION
A TRUCKIE shedding a tear or two is not something you see every day.
Not from workers with a reputation as Australia’s toughest.
But the tears come when they’re warranted, and more than a few were shed at the National Transport Hall of Fame’s Wall of Fame induction ceremony at Alice Springs.
“I have a couple of departed mates who have been on today,” said long-haul driver and transport industry advocate, the still feisty Bob McMillan, aged 71. “It’s always a bit emotional.
“I’ve been coming here every year since 2010 and there are quite a few mates who were coming each year no longer able to do so. “You think of them today.” The air was brisk outside the Buntine Pavilion near Australia’s Outback capital after 2C overnight.
But the atmosphere inside the ceremony where perhaps 300 truckies and loved ones had gathered was warm and convivial.
The sound quality for the speeches was crystal clear and the zincalume-clad portal frames of the hall looked almost regal with sponsors’ flags flying from roof and walls.
Still displaying the swagger of a much younger man, Bob McMillan had sauntered to the podium to collect the medal and timber plaque declaring him an icon of the Australian transport industry.
But the industry had saved the best for last.
Bob’s icon award and that of Lex Gordon had come at the tail end of 62 drivers and other transport stalwarts being inducted to the Wall of Fame, a national award honouring exemplary service to the Australian transport industry.
One by one, young and old, but mostly older, the inductees had made their way between tables and chairs thronging with people, to the stage for their obligatory hug and handshake.
Of his own recognition, Bob remained modest.
“To be he honest I can probably think of hundreds of people who would be worthy of this honour ahead of myself.
“I’m happy to accept it graciously and humbly, it’s just a total shock to me.
“I’ve written columns, I’ve stood up in front of crowds, I’ve been a spokesman and appeared in different forums at conferences, conventions and protests.
“I always thought the opportunity to speak my mind was enough recognition.”
And speak his mind Bob certainly had, perhaps most notably during and after the extended trucking protests over road taxes during the late 1970s and early ‘80s, including the notorious Razorback blockade of 1979.
But for a man who reckons he’s driven more than 11 million kilometres, the road to Razorback and beyond to Alice Springs was a long one.
Born in Port Macquarie in 1946, Bob grew up in Wauchope and Port Macquarie until his parents moved to Western Sydney in 1954. His father was a timber merchant and had a timber yard on the Great Western Highway at Mt Druitt.
Bob said he first learned to drive aged 11, but was driving his dad’s crane by the time he was 12.
Things moved swiftly from there, with a semi licence at age 17 ahead of Bob becoming an owner-driver in 1976.
Bob had married in 1972 and with his former wife fathered six children.
“Only four are still with us and that was part of a tragedy in 1978. My eldest daughter is a school teacher with four children, the eldest boy a truck driver with two daughters.
“The second sister is CEO of dictionary.com with three little boys and (there’s) my youngest boy, David, who has been a great supporter of me over the years.”
A year after tragedy had struck his family, things heated up for Bob politically.
“I was invited to one of the
meetings that planned the blockades of ‘79.
“But because of what we had been through (with family) and what we were encountering at the time, I said to Ted Stevens I can’t afford to be at the forefront, but if you get it happening I’ll support it because I believe in what you’re trying to do.”
Semi-trailer owner-driver Ted “Greendog” Stevens led a nine-day truck blockade of Razorback Ridge on the Hume Highway near Picton, south-west of Sydney, in April of that year.
The drivers were demanding an end to road taxes, and more than 2000 others across Australia joined their stance, facing down police, unions, politicians and critics.
“Ted and I were mates until he passed away this year,” Bob said. “I ended up visiting him on Razorback when the protest was a few days old. There was a lot of misinformation being put out, by the media, the government in particular and their corporate mates, and also by idiots on CB Radio. A lot of bad communications, which created a lot of misunderstanding.
“Ted asked me to help resolve some of that, which I think I might have done.”
Bob still drives, now in his 11th truck, which is a CAT-powered Mack Superliner, his pride and joy.
Hauling the inland routes from North Queensland to Adelaide and Melbourne, Bob carries fresh produce such as beans, bananas, melons and mandarins.
HUMBLE HERO: An emotional Bob McMillan reckons there were hundreds of industry legends more worthy of the icon tag.
Bob receives his honour before a room full of his colleagues.
At 71, Bob McMillan still loves driving.
Bob’s pride and joy carries fresh produce.