Bill Van Der Weer­den was eight years old when his fam­ily made the long trip from the Nether­lands to Aus­tralia to start a new life. David McKen­zie chats to the now re­tired owner-driver about his ad­ven­tures be­hind the wheel

Owner Driver - - Trucking Heritage -

In March 1606 a small ship called the Duyfken, owned by the Dutch East In­dia Com­pany, was sent south of New Guinea to ex­plore the un­charted wa­ters. What Cap­tain Willem Jansz found there was a new ter­ri­tory – the west coast of Aus­tralia. More than 200 years later an­other Dutch­man wanted a bet­ter life for his fam­ily that post-war Hol­land was strug­gling to pro­vide. So Wil­helu­mus and Hen­ri­etta Van Der Weer­den packed up their fam­ily and headed for sunny Aus­tralia with seven chil­dren. The voy­age took six weeks, leav­ing Hol­land in Oc­to­ber 1950 and ar­riv­ing that Novem­ber. The ship they sailed out on was half freight and half pas­sen­gers, in­clud­ing 20 other fam­i­lies sail­ing with the Van Der Weer­dens.

The fam­ily ar­rived at Sta­tion Pier at about 7pm and af­ter fill­ing in all the pa­per­work were bun­dled into a three-ton Austin milk truck by 11pm to make the trip to a small town in north­east Vic­to­ria called Moyhu where Wil­helu­mus knew an­other fam­ily who had re­lo­cated there. The Van Der Weer­dens ar­rived in Moyhu at day­break to be­gin their new life.

Wil­liam ‘Bill’ Van Der Weer­dens, or ‘Dutchy’ to some, was the cou­ple’s third old­est child. He was eight at the time of the trip and thought it was all a great ad­ven­ture. Af­ter be­ing in Aus­tralia for 12 months, Bill de­cided he was go­ing to be ei­ther a truck driver or bull­dozer driver. He was fas­ci­nated with both.

Bill’s first pay was from Ken Howlett Trans­port, which had a rab­bit chiller in Moyhu. “Ken used to leave a re­frig­er­ated type of car­a­van in Moyhu where peo­ple would leave rab­bits they had caught,” Bill re­calls. “They would write in a book how many they had left so he could pay them when he came to col­lect them.”

Ken spot­ted Bill one day and asked if he would like to help him with the rab­bits. Bill jumped at the chance and earned two shillings!

When Bill told his mum he got paid for help­ing Ken she told Bill to go and give Ken the money back. Ken wouldn’t take it and had to go and see Hen­ri­etta to as­sure her that Bill had ac­tu­ally earned it. From that point for­ward Bill says: “If I wasn’t at school or home I was at Ken’s.”

Un­li­censed ad­ven­ture

It was through Ken that Bill had his first drive. He was about 12 or 13 and wasn’t sup­posed to be driv­ing any­thing. Ken was go­ing to Wan­garatta to do some shop­ping and Bill asked what he could do, think­ing he would be asked to cut the grass or put some paint on Ken’s fence. Ken said “you can take a ton of su­per phos­phate out to Ge­orge Greske” and left it at that. Ge­orge’s place was about two miles out of Moyhu.

The ‘su­per’ was in 186 pound bags and Bill re­calls think­ing that he “couldn’t bloody shift it by him­self”. So he went home to his el­dest brother Lambert and asked: “Come and help me, Ken has told me to take a load of su­per to a lo­cal farmer.”

So the two broth­ers be­gan load­ing 12 bags from a semi onto a

“I’ve had a 10-out-of-10 life and would do it all again.”

Ford tray body. While they were do­ing this, an­other Moyhu lo­cal named Ge­orge Costi­gan drove past. Not long af­ter, Ge­orge caught up with Ken in Wan­garatta and said: “You’ve got a cou­ple of good work­ers out there.” Ken replied: “What do you mean?” Ge­orge said: “I’ve just seen young Bill load­ing some su­per onto the Ford.”

Some­what alarmed, Ken rang the Moyhu po­lice to try and stop Bill from driv­ing, but by the time they got there Bill had al­ready left.

Bill couldn’t ac­tu­ally reach the ped­als of the Ford, so he had to grab the steer­ing wheel tight to pull him­self for­ward so he could reach them. This made gear chang­ing dif­fi­cult so Lambert had to change gears.

In the end Bill got the truck back safe and sound, but ob­vi­ously hadn’t quite caught on to Aussie sar­casm at that stage be­cause Ken never in­tended for Bill to take the truck any­where. Ken said to Bill: “Next time cut the grass, don’t touch me truck.”

A few years later Bill was work­ing as a truck jockey with Ken dur­ing the school hol­i­days. Ken ap­par­ently didn’t mind a beer and on one oc­ca­sion they made a run from Moyhu to War­ragul, and went to the Pak­en­ham pub af­ter­wards. They got there at about 4pm and stayed un­til 10pm. This was okay for Ken but Bill had to sit in the truck as he wasn’t old enough to go into the pub.

“[Bill] was in­ducted into the Shell Rim­ula Wall of Fame at Alice Springs in 2009.”

Bill, how­ever, was be­com­ing very hun­gry while wait­ing for Ken to emerge from the pub, so he re­sorted to eat­ing Ken’s Quick Eze from the glove box. Ken was too drunk to drive, so asked Bill if he would take over. Bill jumped at the chance, so they drove to a Chi­nese restau­rant at St. Kilda junc­tion for din­ner by about 11pm where they stayed overnight. Ken slept in the truck and Bill was small enough to curl up in the Ford’s foot well.

Big fleets

Bill went on to spend his en­tire work­ing life as a driver and owner-driver, re­tir­ing at the age of 72. Along the way he worked for some of the in­dus­try’s big­gest names in­clud­ing Cootes Trans­port and Lin­fox. He was in­ducted into the Shell Rim­ula Wall of Fame at Alice Springs in 2009.

Bill says there were a cou­ple of rea­sons he left the in­dus­try. One was knee trou­ble. Get­ting in and out of the truck got harder, and wash­ing it was dif­fi­cult. Cootes liked their trucks to be clean, and early morn­ings in the wash bay meant if Bill had a fall he might not be found for a cou­ple of hours, which played on his mind.

Bill trained Ian Cootes in a lot of the as­pects of de­liv­er­ing fuel as Ian had a de­sire to be a fuel tanker driver. Bill was do­ing metro fuel de­liv­er­ies to petrol sta­tions while Ian was work­ing as a po­lice­man. Bill would pick Ian up from the Port Mel­bourne po­lice sta­tion and take him on the road to learn the ropes. He would get Ian to write down all the dips and get him to work out how much fuel you could put in each of the petrol sta­tions tanks. With that train­ing Ian was able to get a start at BP, and as Bill says “the rest is his­tory”.

Bill had a cou­ple of roles with Lin­fox and one of his favourites was driv­ing new Ar­ma­guard trucks to var­i­ous states in Aus­tralia. He was usu­ally flown home af­ter a de­liv­ery, but on oc­ca­sions would bring back an old truck and take it to where it would be dis­man­tled.

Bill re­counts one trip where he recog­nised a road crew as­phalt­ing a road in coun­try Vic­to­ria be­cause he had de­liv­ered bi­tu­men to them in the past. He de­cided to turn around to say hello. The crew had never seen in­side an ar­moured car and asked if they could have a look. Bill be­ing a true gen­tle­man gladly opened it up for them to take a look. Once the crew had had a look Bill took to the road again.

Not long af­ter he no­ticed a po­lice car be­hind him with lights and sirens on, want­ing him to pull over, which of course he did. It turns out a mo­torist driv­ing past where Bill had stopped, saw the truck with all the doors open and as­sumed it was a rob­bery in progress. “The po­lice­men were all very happy that it was not an armed rob­bery,” Bill says.

Through­out his ca­reer he has strong sup­port from his wife Mary … es­pe­cially the times he fell asleep in his din­ner. “I’ve had a 10-out-of-10 life and would do it all again,” Bill says. If he ever feels the need to go for a run he has a num­ber of driv­ers who are will­ing to take him out, but these days; how­ever he’s happy to just sit in the pas­sen­ger seat.

Op­po­site: Bill Van Der Weer­den and a rare Lin­fox sign, made es­pe­cially when the com­pany took five vin­tage trucks to the Alice Springs Wall of Fame Re­union

Bot­tom: An­other load of hops at Frasca’s ready for de­liv­ery. Bill is stand­ing on the right

Above: Ken Howlett and his AA In­ter­na­tional he picked up from Win­ray and Sons in Wan­garatta with a McGrath trailer. It was Ken’s first new truck af­ter pre­vi­ously only own­ing old Fords

Far Left: One of Ken’s old Fords with a young Bill Van Der Weer­den stand­ing in front, com­plete with a scout belt that he has no idea why he had be­cause he was never in scouts

Left: Bill and his soon-to-be wife Mary in a cab-over White 3000 that was pre­vi­ously owned by KP Neal; it had a 6V 53 mo­tor and auto gear­box

Top: The last truck Bill owned was a Kenworth T604, pic­tured here at home with a brand new trailer for cart­ing bi­tu­men for Cootes Trans­portAbove: Bill took this truck loaded with hops grown in the King Val­ley, Vic­to­ria to Tooheys brew­ery in Syd­ney in 1961. The truck is an AA180 In­ter­na­tional with a six cylin­der petrol mo­tor

Right: An F600 truck with a wide bon­net and a cou­ple of 44 gal­lon drums slung off the side for fuel. The pic was taken at Ford in Broad­mead­ows. The load is a brand new 1963 Ford Fal­con and a Ze­phyr perched on 44 gal­lon drums

Top right: An­other of Ken’s trucks – a Ford with a wide bon­net and the first with twin head­lights, with Bill pos­ing. It was a load of ‘dumped’ wool go­ing to the wharves for the over­seas mar­ket

Top left: Bill Van Der Weer­den (right) at the 2009 Shell Rim­ula Wall of Fame in­duc­tion cer­e­mony, Alice Springs, with fel­low in­ductee Graeme ‘Jin­gles’ Neal

Be­low: Bill tak­ing a new Ar­ma­guard van to New­cas­tle from Mel­bourne in 2008

Above right: Bill’s first T600 Kenworth he bought while he was work­ing at W Cle­lands & Sons

Right: Bill tak­ing a load of gas up to Mount Hotham via Omeo in his T604 Kenworth. He had to be es­corted up and down the moun­tain for safety pur­poses

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