WALL OF FAME LEG­ENDS

ICONS GATHER FOR SPE­CIAL CEL­E­BRA­TION

Big Rigs - - FRONT PAGE - Glenn Mor­ri­son

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.

PHOTOS: CON­TRIB­UTED

HUM­BLE HERO: An emo­tional Bob McMil­lan reck­ons there were hun­dreds of in­dus­try leg­ends more wor­thy of the icon tag.

PHOTO: GLENN MOR­RI­SON

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.

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