After being surrounded by trucks for as long as he can remember, this third-generation transport operator says the time was right to begin a new chapter.
A true veteran of the industry, Greg McDonald, 59, has quite literally been around trucks from the moment he was born.
Originally from New Zealand, Greg’s grandfather, Rod McDonald, ran a transport business there during the 1950s. Then Greg’s parents, Graham and Nyra, bought some trucks and ran their own transport operation from the 1960s.
“I was driving trucks all my life. I was one of those kids who’d ride my bike to the yard every chance I could,” said Greg. “I grew up driving trucks around hay paddocks and the yard with no licence. Once I left school, I went straight into transport. I wasn’t old enough to get my truck license yet, so was tarping loads, driving forklifts and that sort of thing.”
But as soon as he was old enough, Greg was straight behind the wheel – with his first driving job being in a J5 Bedford. Then by 23, he purchased his first new truck, a Mack Superliner.
With such a strong family heritage in transport, it’s fair to say that trucking runs through Greg’s blood. “When I was a kid, you’d have family gatherings, and all the uncles would be there telling stories as they all had trucks as well. My brother and sister also had their own trucks, my cousins were also in trucks. The whole family was in trucks,” he said.
Greg’s mother and father moved across the ditch to Brisbane in 1988, where they continued in the transport game through the 1990s and 2000s, eventually building up to a fleet of 50 trucks. Greg moved over a few years later in 1991 and worked for his mum and dad.
When his father decided to sell off parts of his business, Greg and his wife Sharon bought one of the transport contracts from them. That sparked the beginning of Greg McDonald Transport, which operated out of Yatala for close to 20 years, transporting freight locally and across the eastern seaboard.
“At the time, we had a T404 SAR Kenworth and tipper. Dad was selling out and the opportunity came to buy one of his jobs in 2006. We sold the tipper to my brother and bought two of dad’s trucks, and three new ones. Over the next 15 years, with that job, we grew from the five trucks doing local to 18 doing local, interstate as well as tippers,” explained Greg.
By 2020, the company was operating a fleet of 18 trucks. Following a strategic sale, the couple sold all but one truck in February that year, just before Covid struck. From there, the fleet grew back up to six trucks: two 2022 Kenworth T909s, a 2021 Kenworth T909 Diamond Edition, a 2019 Kenworth K200 Big Cab Aerodyne, and a 2013 Mack Super-Liner, five of which were all put under the hammer at Ritchie Bros. Australian National Unreserved Auction, held on August 23-24.
Though there’s one special truck Greg didn’t want to part with. “I’ll still keep one truck, it’s a 2015 Kenworth T950 Legend – that’s one I’m never going to sell. I’ll keep it for truck shows and that sort of thing and might do some of the convoys too.”
The decision to walk away from the industry that has been such a big part of his life for so many years wasn’t an easy one, but Greg knew the time was right.
“Retiring has been a hard decision. It’s hard to leave, I’ve never not worked, I’ve never not been around trucks. I’m third generation, I’ve never done anything else,” he said.
According to Greg, increasing levels of compliance are making it difficult for many transport operators, while also impacting the industry’s ability to attract new, young talent.
“The transport industry has become relentless in its adherence to compliance, with regulatory hurdles that seem to multiply. Jumping through hoops and navigating this has become increasingly difficult and I believe it’s time to pass on the torch.
“I understand why compliance is required but a fair amount of it is just plain ridiculous. I think what a lot of older people like myself find quite hard is when we’ve done the job well for all these years and now all of a sudden we have all of this added compliance. As a kid I was always going into the yard on my pushbike. You can’t do that now. Kids can’t come anywhere near a depot.
“There are a lot of older people giving it away because of over-compliance, but then at the same time, we’re not getting the young people in.”
Greg says he’d like to see more done to attract young talent into trucking once they finish school. “I got into my first big truck when I was 20 years old, but now insurance companies say people can’t get into them until they’re 25. We need to get kids into trucks when they come out the school gate. Send them to the workshop for a month, to the office for a month, tyre company, etc, show them how everything is done. If kids get out of school and there’s a labouring job paying $40 an hour, they’ll go and do that instead.”
While many transport operators have grappled with driver shortages, for Greg, he says that was never the case.
“I’ve been fortunate to have fair and loyal customers who’ve been instrumental in our journey, as well as some bloody good drivers who have been the backbone of our success.
“Good equipment attracts good drivers. I only ever advertised for a driver once and he only lasted a couple of weeks and was gone. When you put the good gear out there, pay a fair wage, treat drivers with a bit of respect, you’ll get good drivers.”
Now, as the curtains close on a career that’s spanned 43 years, Greg and Sharon are looking forward to a change of pace. “As I approach retirement, I’m looking forward to travelling and spending more time with my family. I’m hoping to travel overseas and maybe take a closer look around Australia too. I’ve been through all these towns, but never actually stopped to have a good look. It’s time for a new chapter,” he said.