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
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.”
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.
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