On the last weekend in October this year, about 200 former employees, subbies and industry friends and their families travelled from all around Australia to meet at a property in Yabulu, North Queensland, for a reunion of Malley’s Transport.
The star of the show was retired small fleet owner Mal “Malley” Bakon, who was a pioneer of transporting bananas around and from the Far North, from the mid-1970s to the late 1990s.
Not only were guests keen to catch up with the now 83-year-old Malley, but it was a great opportunity for everyone to reconnect with old mates, reminiscing about old stories and great memories from earlier days, when many of the loads were hand-stacked on to flat top trailers before heading to southern markets.
“They started arriving before the Friday at the property of Peter and Jenny Bakon, where many guests camped for the weekend,” one of the organisers, Trevor Southern, told Spy.
“The big celebration was on Saturday, and for some ‘legends’, it went on until the early hours of the morning.”
Many stayed on and had bacon and eggs for breakfast the next morning whilst continuing to yarn about the good old days.
Guests came from Mt Isa, Queensland’s south-east, New South Wales, the Northern Territory and many other places in between, with legendary truckie Bruce Horsefield travelling from Molong in NSW.
“I picked him up the airport and he camped with us and when he got back home, he phoned saying he wants to do it all again next year,” said Southern, who worked for Malleys for 20 years.
Malley now lives a quiet life in Kennedy, which is 10km past Cardwell along the Bruce Highway.
Malley described the reunion as “emotional and happy” when I spoke to him soon after the milestone event.
“It was a great reunion, and great to see lots of old mates,” he said.
“Some couldn’t come because they are too old and not able to travel. That included many from Perth.”
Octogenarian Malley said being raised on a farm sparked his interest in trucks. He ended up spending 45 years in the road transport industry as a driver and owner operator.
“When I was a kid I liked trucks on the family farm and ended up with my own in the Toowoomba area, which had cows and grew crops such as oats and barley,” he said.
So what inspired Malley to take the leap and buy his own trucks?
“I didn’t want to be milking cows all my life!” he said.
In his heyday, Malley ran 35 trucks and employed 60 to 70 people, some of whom were family members, in addition to using 70 subcontractors.
“My late wife Nancy was the backbone of the business and we never used to stop work at 5pm when most of the employees went home. Often we were at the depot until 2am,” he said.
I asked Malley why he decided to retire after more than 40 years travelling the highways and byways and helping to keep Australia running.
“There is too much red tape now, and rules and regulations. Back in the good old days, you could stop at a roadhouse and purchase a log book,” he said.
On the big night of the reunion, Malley had such a good time that he didn’t get to sleep until nearly midnight.
“I really enjoyed the breakfast the morning after and the cook Eric Ross did a wonderful job,” he said.
Unlike many people of his age, Malley has embraced modern technology – to a point.
“I have a computer, which was in the cupboard until a few years ago. But I know how to use it now for electronic banking,” he said.
As for his health, Malley said he is travelling along well.
“I am going okay for an old bloke, but do have a few aches and pains,” he said.
The story of Malley Bakon, as compiled by Helen Southern
Mal and Nancy Bakon began their married life in 1960, moving from Yangan to their dairy farm at Goomburra. In 1963 they gave up farming and with their first two children, Barry and Glenda, moved to Clifton.
It was in 1963 that Mal purchased his first truck and together, Mal and Nancy entered the carrying industry as MA and NJ Bakon.
In a Ford F600 truck, they carted grain and cattle around the Clifton district, to and from Brisbane, for the next 10 years. Then in 1968, Mal bought his first brand-new butter box Acco from Ron Bellingham at Bellingham and Co. in Warwick. After that, he bought a Commer Perkins from Austral Motors in Toowoomba.
Also in the early days Mal had a 406 Transtar single drive, 250 Cummins. It used to go 100 miles an hour, according to Mal. Mal was the local carrier around Clifton at this time and during this period, three more children – Graham, Ian and Peter – were added to the family.
At the same time, his brother Denny gave up working in the bank and bought his own truck. This resulted in their mail being mixed up and so two new companies were born – Malley’s Transport and Denny’s Transport.
Prior to the family’s big move north, Mal was loading bananas for southern markets each fortnight. He would load half his flat top trailer, one carton at a time, at Arthur Gilbert’s farm in Tully. The next day he would finish off at Robbie and Karlene Sing’s farm in Kennedy.
As told by Karlene Sing, “Malley would have some dinner and a shower and head off into the night driving as long as he could to escape the heat.”
In 1973, the Bakon family packed up the Atkinson and moved to Cardwell. Karlene Sing remembered Mal and Nancy arriving with the semi loaded with all their worldly belongings, ready to begin life in the north. She said she would never forget seeing five kids, Sox, the dog, the cockatoo and eventually Mal and Nancy emerging from the cab of the truck.
In the early years, Mal continued driving while Nancy helped out and raised the kids, who were also known to work hard with the handstacking of loads. As Mal’s reputation grew in the area, Malley’s set up a small depot in Kennedy to run their business, which, at the time, operated with two Transtars hauling produce.
Towards the end of 1977, both company trucks and numerous subbies were being hand loaded till all hours of the night and early morning at the Kennedy shed. It was said that “Mal always strived to ensure that his produce arrived at the markets in the best possible condition”.
It was around this time that Mal purchased the blue and white Road Commander from Duce, Townsville and later the twin cab over Kenworths from Brown and Hurley, Townsville.
As time went on and the business grew, Mal gave up his life on the road. In about 1977, he looked after the operations whilst Nancy managed the office and accompanied subbies to load trucks at the farms when required.
He went on to trade and purchase trucks, including the colourful White Road Commander (also referred to as ‘The Circus Truck’) from Duce, Townsville and the blue W-model in 1980, which later became affectionately known as ‘The Polar Bear’, also from Brown and Hurley.
It wasn’t many years after that, 1979 in fact, that a new shed was built at Tully (with the offices on the rail line side), and the Kennedy shed was pulled down and relocated to Tully.
The Tully shed was a long shed – the Kennedy part made it like a shed and a half – and then the Kennedy shed part was extended to make it a full side. In the early 80s, the Tully shed part was extended again for storage. The first cold room was put in and the workshop was added.
In the late ‘80s/early 90s, the office area was extended to include a smoko room. Eventually, with the introduction of modern facilities such as cold rooms, loading docks and a workshop, the business grew larger than Mal and Nancy could ever have imagined. It was then that Glenda started working in the Office.
With the business growing, Malley’s were able to remain a local company. They employed many locals in the office, doing local pick-ups, giving young blokes the opportunity to get their start driving interstate and in the workshop. Of course with all this, the regular pool of subbies continued to grow.
Within this workplace there was a high level of comradery, respect, professionalism and a little bit of tomfoolery – with memories of there never being a dull moment at the lunch table, banana fights, and the odd cracker thrown, to name a few.
It was at this time that Malley purchased more company trucks, starting with the S2 in ‘81 and the SAR in ‘82, both from CMV Adelaide. Sometime in 1982/83 the Road Commander was loaded for Perth, but needed repairs done on the radiator.
The next day it was found that the radiator could not be repaired in time, so Mal phoned Brown and Hurley to find out what new trucks they had for sale. The only truck available was a new F12 Volvo, so Mal told them to bring it straight up. It joined the Malley’s fleet with its maiden trip to Perth.
In ‘84 the black W model, known as ‘The Little Black Duck’, was purchased from Brown and Hurley.
Later, in ’85, the second Volvo, another F12, was added to the fleet.
Around this time, fridge vans were becoming more popular. It was then that Mal came up with the idea to create a unique cooling system for the flat tops to continue carting the produce. The system was basically air forced through a water cooler to keep the fruit cool.
Records obtained from Brown and Hurley indicate that in 1987, two of the first T600s in Australia, painted up in the bi-centenary colours, were purchased, strengthening the relationship Malley’s had with the Brown and Hurley group and Cummins engines.
In 1988, another two T600s came along, followed in 1990 by two more T600s – all painted in the new Malley’s colours. Around 1990, flat tops were gradually being phased out with the introduction of tautliners.
In 1991, they started purchasing Cabover K100s, taking delivery of two. Then in 1992, another three trucks joined the fleet, these being one T600 and two K100s. The following year, Malley’s purchased another three K100s. By this stage, the growers base was getting bigger and Malley’s were meeting the demand.
In 1994, the two T950s, ‘Chained to the Wheel’ and ‘Let’s Play’ were bought, along with three other K100s that same year. One last K100 was added to the green and gold fleet in 1995. By this time, the business included 18 Kenworths and a variety of refrigerated vans and tautliners. Amongst these purchases, Malley bought several local trucks including Triple 1, ‘The Spinifex Queen’ to name a few.
Malley’s Transport was moving approximately 4,000,000 cartons of produce per year to all corners of Australia. Mal and Nancy had also developed a strong working relationship with the NQX group and had numerous trucks and trailers working with them.
With Mal and Nancy wanting to take life a little easier, in 1993, half the business was sold to the Carpentaria Group and the remaining half was sold to TOLL in 1999. It was then, after 40 years in the trucking industry and becoming one of the major carriers of bananas from North Queensland, that Mal and Nancy retired. They started to enjoy more travel and holidays, making many new friends, at a more leisurely pace.
In 2001 Mal was awarded an honour by the Australian Banana Growers Council for his selfless and dedicated service to their industry through his transport business.
For Mal, it was a challenge to leave the industry altogether. He stayed active by helping both Graham and Peter, doing pick-ups and loading produce in and around the Tully region for them.
Although Nancy is no longer with us, having died in 2010, she is with us in spirit – as she lives on in our hearts, never to be forgotten.
Finally, to quote Karlene Sing: “Mal and Nancy were certainly trailblazers in the trucking industry, with their expertise in the transportation of bananas. Mal was always willing to try new ways to improve the quality of the load when it arrived at the southern markets.”
The Malley’s story is one to be proud of. It was about a hardworking couple who owned and worked a transport company that was, and still is, highly valued and respected by so many people.