Southern Transport trucking pioneers to reunite
A restored Mack truck will form the centrepiece of a reunion of past Southern Transport employees in Albany next year after being restored to its former glory more than 30 years after it retired from the fleet.
The 1976 Mack R600 Prime Mover — owned by Southern Transport co-founder Wally Peters — was one of the first road trains to cart grain through the Great Southern more than four decades ago.
The truck was driven by Wally’s right-hand man Mick Nastasi, who worked for Wally for 24 years.
Wally’s nephew Adrian spent 15 years searching for the truck, before finding it in a farmer’s shed at Hyden.
A Rat of Tobruk and a WWII Digger, Wally was 21 when he enlisted for the 2/28th Australian Infantry Battalion 9th Division and started his four-year career with the Australian Army.
On returning to WA, he carved out a career as a road transport pioneer as one of the nine founding members of the first company ever contracted by CBH Group to cart grain by road.
He used his first truck, a KB5 International, to start carting grain for the railways from the Eastern Wheatbelt to Fremantle around 1948.
It was while returning to the Wheatbelt for another load that he noticed another operator broken down.
As he drove past later, he noticed that same truck was still there so he stopped to help.
Neither the stranded driver Dick O’Neill, nor Wally, knew that this would be the start of a lifelong friendship and business partnership.
Together, the pair would start the first WA bulk grain road transport company to be contracted by CBH from 1957 to 1986.
Dick introduced Wally to some of his closest friends in the transport industry: Terry Priestly and Doug Hall.
He also introduced him to a group of other hardworking truck operators — mainly Italian and Yugoslav immigrants that had worked with Dick.
This included Rudd Barbarich, George Barbarich, Julian Rijavec, Tony Bubnich, and Angelo Bosich.
While most thought the treacherous roads in the Great Southern would destroy their trucks and send them broke, Wally, Dick and the seven other brave men went on to found Southern Transport to give it a red-hot go.
While Adrian is still finalising the date of the flagged reunion in Albany, he is happy to see the truck nearly finished — with just minor touches to go.
He enlisted Watheroo-based expert Wayne Perola to do the job, modelling the restoration on old photographs.
Southern Transport operated from 1957 to 1986 after being created by nine determined, unafraid and what many thought were slightly mad men who did not shy away from a challenge.
Adrian hopes to have a memorial put up at the Albany Port to recognise the truck drivers and offsiders who laid the foundation for the Great Southern grains industry.
His uncle was his hero who he loved “as much as” his own father.
“These men were the only ones that put their hand up and it was incredibly brave,” Adrian said.
“They helped to develop the entire grains export industry, so as the farmers grew more grain the trucks got bigger which made them more cost effective.
“They took the challenge on when they were shouted down, a lot of people said it could not be done and they did it.”
Among those that saw the truck at a special viewing earlier this month was Des Goodfield, who worked for Southern Transport on and off for decades.
He started with the business at the age of 19 and recalls how difficult the terrain was to traverse while carting grain.
Mr Perola said the restoration had been inspired by pictures of the original 1976 Mack R600 Prime Mover and was one of his favourite projects to date.
Adrian said he hoped the farming community would “get behind the men” of Southern Transport to support his proposal for a memorial at Albany Port.
Adrian’s journey to find the truck was one of many twists and turns. His first port of call was Salty’s Haulage owner Brian Shiner, a Mack fanatic whose father used to work as a sub-contractor for Southern Transport.
He suggested a “fella out at Hyden” may have bought it. That “fella” turned out to be Hyden farmer Greg Hockeridge.
After a bit of convincing from his good friend Jack Cahill — who had heard Adrian’s story and was determined to help out — Greg gave Adrian the truck.
“Three weeks into the last harvest, I got a phone call from the farmer who said we could have it because he knew how much it meant to us,” Adrian said.
Mr Peters said he was on the hunt for old photographs or stories people wanted to share about Southern Transport.
He can be contacted on 0406 835 965.
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