My way on the Otway, an industry life

By: Tamara Whitsed


Keith Herron Keith Herron Keith Herron

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

 

Keith Herron worked in the trucking industry for 52 years before retiring at the end of September, 10 days before he celebrated 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."

Keith 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 trucks 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.

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

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 land-line 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 loves forklifts. Anyone who’s ever loaded and unloaded 17 tonne 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, I think. There’s a few spots there I know they won’t get out of."

Timber Towns

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 was something like 11 hardwood mills around the Otways, in little towns."

But most of these had closed by the 1980s when he worked 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 Keith’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."

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

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 things he won’t miss about trucking. "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’."

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