The McNeill family’s foray into trucking all started with Kevin McNeill, now aged 91. For this family, the saying ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ rings true, with the third generation now getting her start behind the wheel.
Kevin started out in a Commer Knocker, before progressing to an International ‘Butterbox’, a lot has changed since Kevin first got behind the wheel.
He spent the majority of his career driving concrete trucks with a company that operated out of Sydney called Farley & Lewers, until he retired when he was in his sixties.
“Back then, the agitator had its own 186 Holden motor, driven by a manual gearbox that drovae the chain to turn the bowl. The chutes were made of steel and were very heavy, with a hand operated hydraulic pump used to raise them. There were no luxuries like air conditioning and power steering,” said Kevin.
For around 17 years, Kevin worked as a company driver. Then he bought his own truck, a Ford Louisville and continued on with the company as a subbie for a further 17 years.
His son John McNeill, 53, has fond memories of growing up around his father’s trucks. “I used to sit on Dad’s lap and drive the International around on building sites. Then I learnt to drive properly in his truck, the Ford Louisville. I was a builder’s labourer, working on construction sites until I could get my licence. I started driving at 21,” he recalled.
John drove concrete trucks alongside Kevin for several years before moving to Queensland around 20 years ago. He now works for Hanson, based at the Rockhampton site, where he does tipper work in a Mack Trident truck and dog, delivering materials to the company’s various concrete plants in Queensland; including to Brisbane and Emerald.
And now his daughter Shannon McNeill, 20, has followed in the family tradition too. She joined Hanson around three months ago, after successfully completing the company’s Women’s Driver Training Program. She obtained her HR licence and is working full-time out of Hanson’s West End concrete plant, driving a concrete agitator.
This training program has seen many new starters come through the doors. Last year alone, Hanson held an intake in Queensland, two intakes in NSW, two in Western Australia and one in Victoria. This has brought in 70 new faces to the business.
While John’s move into trucking didn’t come as much of a surprise, he says seeing his daughter move into the same field was completely unexpected.
“I was in the truck with Dad every chance I could get, it was every weekend. And then once I got my truck licence, I started working out of the same yard as him in Alexandria. But these days you can’t bring kids in the trucks anymore, so they don’t get to have that same experience – they’re basically coming in and having to learn everything from scratch,” John said.
“For me, I learnt from hanging around Dad all the time. It was just a matter of learning to drive the truck, I already knew how to do everything else. I was moulded pretty early on. I learnt everything I knew from watching Dad.”
Kevin added: “A lot has changed for the better across the whole industry. The trucks are now mostly automatic, with power steering and all the bells and whistles. Concrete trucks have come a long way and are much more user friendly now.”
As Shannon was growing up, John often entered trucks into convoys. “Shannon always wanted to come along to these when she was a kid. But it’s only been in the last two years or so that she’s really become keen on getting into driving them. It’s great that companies like Hanson are now giving out these traineeships to help kids get their foot in the door.”
When Shannon first asked her dad John about getting a job with Hanson, he didn’t think she was that serious – however he was quickly proved wrong. When the traineeship opportunity came up, Shannon jumped at the chance. “She was keen as mustard,” John said. “She’s on a two-year traineeship and Hanson covers the cost of her truck licence and training.”
A few months into the job and Shannon is loving every minute of it. “The conversation has changed in the way we talk – now we’re always talking trucks and everyone else is left out,” laughed John.