“I’ll just keep going as long as I can. When I can’t do it anymore, that’s when it’s time to give up. A fella asked me a few years ago, ‘When are you going to retire?’ And I said I’ll retire when they start to dig the hole. My mother lived to 107 so I’ve got a bit to go to catch her age haven’t I,” said Bill Ferguson, who recently celebrated his 88th birthday.
With over 70 years behind the wheel of a truck and millions of kilometres travelled, Ferguson is a true legend of the transport game. He followed in the direction of his father and grandfather and has carried on their legacy. His son Ross Ferguson has done the same, also working as a truck driver.
After a long chat with Ferguson about life and trucking, it’s clear he loves what he does and shows no signs of slowing down. “I tow a four-deck sheep crate and two decks of cattle and still load and unload all on my own,” he said. And it’s this can-do attitude that has helped to keep him young at heart – and his doctor agreed.
“About five years ago I had a hip replacement in Melbourne and of course beforehand the doctor has to give you the once over. He had a look at me and said, ‘There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with you old sport. You’re still working and that’s why you’re still so fit and healthy’.”
Ferguson was out of hospital within just five days. “The day I was going home, the doctor and surgeon came to see me and said, ‘Remember what I told you. Don’t stop doing what you’ve been doing all your life. You know what happens when you stop. The end of the road is very close’.” So Ferguson has lived by that advice and done exactly that. Doctor’s orders.
Ferguson’s grandfather started a transport business in Avenel, Victoria, back in the 1800s. The business was passed onto his father and then onto him.
Ferguson started driving a truck at the age of 17 (before he even had his licence). Livestock, wool and hay transport have been his specialty for most of his career.
“I started in trucking after I left school and then just kept at it. I’ve been doing some people’s work, then they’ve passed on and I’ve continued working for their family and now their grandchildren. I just got to like the job and at that time, most young blokes like myself fancied driving trucks so it just carried on. I’ve been doing it for that long, I sort of know nothing else and that’s what keeps me going.
“When my father was alive, we used to cut wood and cart that into Melbourne, then we developed into livestock. He got killed from a stock crate accident many years ago, while he was loading cattle. He was only 49. I’ve been doing it myself ever since,” he said.
Ferguson travels throughout Victoria, as well as into NSW, driving his Iveco Powerstar Automatic which he has had for almost 16 years. It’s a far cry from the old Bedford he started out with back in 1948, which was used to cart up to 80 lambs at a time into Newmarket.
Over the past seven decades, Ferguson has owned many different trucks. From the original old Bedford, he moved to a new one, purchasing a schmick new Bedford S-model in 1953. His first International came in 1962, followed by another three wearing the same badge. Then there were two Kenworths and another International, before he purchased his current truck in 2004.
Still at the ripe age of 88, Ferguson isn’t afraid of hard work. “I enjoy what I’ve been doing all of my life. People ask why I’m still working. I tell them that I don’t do bowls or go fishing, so what else am I going to do,” he laughed.
“Some of the country I get to is nice and I enjoy the peace and quietness. I get out into western NSW quite a bit, carting wool out there for people who I started carting wool for their father and when he passed away, I carted for their sons, and now their grandsons.”
Though the eastern states are his mainstay, Ferguson has made one very memorable trip further afield. “The furthest I’ve been is into the Northern Territory. I drove my truck to Alice Springs, where I was inducted into the National Road Transport Hall of Fame in 2010. It was my son, myself and a good mate of mine and we got to drive a few vintage trucks up there in the parade. It was a bit of a holiday for us. That was about the most memorable and best time,” he recalled, still clearly chuffed to have received the honour.
“To be inducted was terrific. There were people from around the country that knew me and we were escorted through the aisle among this great group of people. It was just like winning Tattslotto.
“It was great to be up there and read the history of some of the older pioneers of the transport industry. I’ll get back up there some day. It was a long way but my son and I shared the driving so that made it a bit easier.”
Speaking with Ferguson, the passion he has for the job and the industry is undeniable. What’s also clear is the impact of some of the people he’s met along the way. When asked what he has enjoyed most about being a truckie, he responded, “I think it’s the people that I’ve worked with over the years. There are very few of them left now. Sometimes there would be up to 10 of us going to Queensland with livestock and we’d camp along the road. I’ve made some great friendships. Back in those days, everyone would stop and help each other. It’s a bit different today. I think a lot of the mateship has gone out the window over the years.
“I have a lot of good mates in the industry – mostly in my vintage and some younger ones that have come off farms and things like that and are like my old mates. The only state I haven’t been to is WA, I’ve been everywhere else though. I’m a bit like a lucky star I guess.”