My way on the Ot­way

Keith Her­ron re­calls his ex­pe­ri­ences with in­dus­try rev­enue rais­ing, red tape and his re­cent re­tire­ment

Australian Transport News - - Contents - WORDS TA­MARA WHITSED

Keith Her­ron has been in the truck in­dus­try for five decades. He ex­plains his feel­ings on rev­enue rais­ing, red tape and his re­cent re­tire­ment

K eith Her­ron worked in the truck­ing in­dus­try for 52 years be­fore re­tir­ing at the end of Septem­ber, 10 days be­fore cel­e­brat­ing his 70th birth­day. “I loved two things in my work­ing life – trans­port and tim­ber,” says Her­ron, who lives in Bir­re­gurra near Co­lac, Vic­to­ria. He spent years pulling logs out of the Ot­way Ranges.

“I’ve prob­a­bly been from one end of this coun­try to the other, but I’ve al­ways come back here to log­ging again.”

Her­ron spent the last years of his ca­reer av­er­ag­ing about 800km daily in his 2006 In­ter­na­tional Ea­gle 9200. His last job was haul­ing tim­ber out of the Pyre­nees Moun­tains, near Avoca, Vic­to­ria. Truck­ing in 2017 is much eas­ier than when Her­ron be­gan driv­ing in the mid-1960s.

“It’s a bit dif­fer­ent to when my brother [Frank Her­ron] and I used to roll across the Nullar­bor in a Com­mer Knocker. We felt we were pretty flash. But, yes, it’s changed a bit.”

Her­ron was man­ag­ing the trans­port di­vi­sion of WH Ben­nett & Sons at Bir­re­gurra a quar­ter of a cen­tury ago. He had al­ready spent 25 years in the in­dus­try, in­clud­ing a decade driv­ing in­ter­state.

A few years later, in 1996, he bought a Peter­bilt and be­came an in­ter­state owner-driver.

Her­ron liked the big bag phone he used when he was with WH Ben­nett and Sons.

“That was in the 1980s and that would have to be the best phone I’ve ever had, the bag phone. You couldn’t put them in your top pocket. You nearly had

to have a trailer to drag them around but they were handy.”

When Her­ron mar­ried Ma­ree in 1968, they didn’t even have a land­line at their house. “I can re­mem­ber writ­ing let­ters to my wife when I was stuck in west­ern New South Wales or Queens­land or some­where. I used to get home­sick,” he says.

He also loves fork­lifts. Any­one who’s ever loaded and un­loaded 17 tonnes of ce­ment or pota­toes by hand will tell you the same thing.

Her­ron can’t imag­ine driver­less trucks cart­ing logs on steep log­ging roads in the Ot­ways. “They’d want to be pretty clever. There are a few spots there I know they won’t get out of.”


Dur­ing his 52-year ca­reer, Her­ron wit­nessed the clo­sure of many tim­ber mills, and ob­served the im­pact this had on small com­mu­ni­ties.

“In the 1970s and ’60s there were some­thing like 11 hard­wood mills around the Ot­ways, in lit­tle towns.” But most of these had closed by the 1980s while he was work­ing for WH Ben­nett and Sons, which op­er­ated “the big­gest mill in the South­ern Hemi­sphere at the time” at Bir­re­gurra.

The Bracks Gov­ern­ment brought an end to log­ging on pub­lic land in the Ot­ways na­tive forests in 2008. Her­ron says plenty of log trucks still cart tim­ber from pri­vate plan­ta­tions on the range.

There are sev­eral places in the Ot­ways where trees have been har­vested three times in Her­ron’s life­time. “There are places in the Ot­ways where I’ve taken the na­tive for­est, then I’ve taken the pine, and now I’ve logged blue gum off it.” He says tim­ber is re­new­able. “There’s more wood in the Ot­ways now than there was when I started.”

In his youth, Her­ron thought he would get through life with just two cer­tifi­cates – a truck li­cence and his mar­riage cer­tifi­cate. But he re­quired many more cer­tifi­cates to work in the tim­ber in­dus­try.

“I’ve got a ticket to drive the truck in the bush. And I’ve got a chain­saw ticket. I’ve got an ex­ca­va­tor ticket. I’ve got a bull­dozer ticket, fork­lift, and all the rest of it.”

There are a few apects of truck­ing he won’t miss, how­ever.

“I couldn’t han­dle the red tape any­more. The red tape has just ab­so­lutely wrecked me.”

He be­lieves in climb­ing into the bunk to sleep when you’re tired but says overzeal­ous polic­ing of logbooks does lit­tle to re­duce fa­tigue. “That’s only rais­ing rev­enue as far as I’m con­cerned.”

And this kind of scru­tiny is a de­ter­rent for the next gen­er­a­tion of driv­ers. “Why the hell would you want to go to year 12 in school and then go and drive a truck?”

No won­der ex­pe­ri­enced driv­ers are in de­mand. “Two days after I sold my truck there was one bloke on the phone try­ing to get me to drive for him, and there was an­other one sit­ting at my kitchen ta­ble try­ing to get me to drive for him. I’m sort of say­ing: ‘Hang on a minute. I want to have a rest.’”

Keith and Ma­ree Her­ron look for­ward to cel­e­brat­ing their 50th wed­ding an­niver­sary in Jan­uary. And they want to travel.

“I’ve got a car­a­van in the shed now,” Her­ron says. “We’ll prob­a­bly go and have a look around and do a bit of fish­ing.”

Be­low: Keith and Ma­ree Her­ron have been mar­ried for al­most 50 years

Above: Keith Her­ron was driv­ing a 2006 In­ter­na­tional Ea­gle 9200 when he re­tired this year, just short of his 70th birth­day

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