Cattle carter looks back on career with fond memories

cattle carter

“I’ve never thought of it as doing anything special,” says Edward Russell. “I just did what I had to for our family.”

Ed’s proud wife and children, his countless kilometres behind the wheel, and his 2023 induction into the National Road Transport Hall of Fame tell a different story.

Ed was born in 1953 in Bridgetown, Western Australia, into a farming family. It follows that there was always a truck of some description around, typically an 8-ton Austin, for Ed to fill the passenger seat of while his father carted his cattle.

In 1973 Australia’s 15-year agreement to supply beef to Britain ended as the UK entered the EU, and unfortunately timed against the backdrop of mounting recession. Cattle prices tanked and Ed’s father took to driving trucks to supplement the lost income.

The Bridgetown apple juicing factory, opened in 1971 by Bush Boake Allen Inc., was a beacon of hope, albeit brief, for many in the region. Ed and his father would cart apple juice concentrate in drums from the Bridgetown factory to Perth, where it would be used as a sugar and acid substitute in soft drinks.

[L-R] Shell’s Nick Lubransky, Edward Russell and Frank Bilato at the 2023 induction into the Wall of Fame.
When Ed’s father became ill, Ed, aged 17, was granted a special licence to cart apple juice himself.

In 1975, when Gough Whitlam’s Labor government removed the rule that allowed soft drinks that used apple juice a sugar replacement to be sold without sales tax, the Bridgetown factory was all but closed. By then, Ed’s love for driving trucks had firmly taken hold and he continued what would be over 50 years and counting balancing his pastoral and transport pursuits.

While Ed modestly describes one of his earliest solo trips to a drilling camp north of Meekatharra as a “learning experience”, most would appreciate the experience was nothing short of a baptism by fire for an 18-year-old.

Ed was loaded with 20 drums of fuel, a couple of pallets of canned food for the camp and some motorbikes. With vague instructions to drive 40 miles north of Meekatharra and ask the way when you get to Mulgul Station, Ed paid his union fees and set off.

What awaited him was almost 200km of dry creek crossings 15 to 20 feet high. Ed had to back up and take a run at the crossings to get across. The busted tyres he saw discarded along the route were explained when Ed got to the camp and was told his International Acco 345 was the first two-wheel drive truck to have made it to the camp.

Ed and his one spare tyre made it home safely, where a fellow driver explained to him: “Well, they can’t tell you how far it is because nobody will go otherwise!”

Ed and wife, Coleen, were surviving as farmers, running sheep and pigs, but “never seemed to have any spare money.”

Deciding to make the switch to cattle freed up more time for Ed to go driving. “I was like a spare man for anybody who needed”, he explains.

“If someone was going on holidays, or if someone was sick or hurt, they’d ring me up. It worked well for us because I would do the farmwork in the meantime.”

Never working for one person for more than three months, there was one year that Ed drove 17 different trucks on jobs. You can trust Ed’s expertise when he names a Cummins-powered Western Star as his favourite truck to have driven.

Regardless of which truck he was behind the wheel of, Ed always made a point of looking after the gear as if it was his own. The result of a broader goal to do the right thing by a person if he was working for them, Ed has tried to instill the same values in his four children.

“I’ve always said to them if you’re going to do a job for someone, do it properly. Even if it doesn’t work out, don’t let them say you didn’t try your hardest or you didn’t do the right thing by them.”

Ed carted everything from grain and logs to potatoes and pigs. A memorable load for Ed was when he was tasked with moving a B-train of 35 horses from Parkes in NSW to Perth. While the pens of mares and foals were light work, there were five stallions in the front that were “just crazy!”

The impressive Western Star was his favourite truck.

Ed preferred cattle when it came to carting livestock. Despite the long hours and distances, Ed says the proudest moments in his career were getting a load of cattle to where they needed to be safely.

The hospitality he experienced from the pastoralists was always appreciated and helped bridge the time spent away from home. Having visited 50 cattle stations in WA alone, Ed remembers fondly the people he crossed paths with during his travels.

Carting cattle allowed Ed to see parts of the country he would have never otherwise seen: wading across the Fitzroy River’s mossy concrete crossing at a foot deep with a seven-deck trailer, loading boats off the wharf in Broome, or passing Uluru on route to Kalgoorlie.

“It was almost like a bit of a scenic holiday,” he recounts. “I miss that part of it, actually.”

Although, Ed recalls not all trips offered the same relaxing holiday experience. Driving a M-Series Volvo with a log loader on the back from Melbourne to Perth, Ed was involved in an accident that saw a car and caravan roll. By the time Ed stopped, the truck had hit the caravan.

First responders from Kimba, South Australia, instructed Ed to use the log loader he was carting to lift the caravan onto a trailer. Having been given a brief crash course in how to use the log loader at the depot in Melbourne, Ed pulled the machine up alongside the caravan, picked up the upside-down caravan by the axel and loaded it onto a trailer for them.

Thankfully, everyone was uninjured, with the caravan owner reassuring Ed that “there’s at least seven eggs in the dozen in the caravan that are still good”.

Today, Ed is still carting cattle in his Kenworth T401 and dog trailer.

He’ll occasionally see a road train somewhere and think, ‘Oh, wouldn’t mind going for a proper drive again’.

True to the mission of the Hall of Fame, Ed correctly observes, “unless someone asks you, you don’t tell your stories”.

The National Road Transport Museum is honoured to be able to celebrate Ed’s ongoing contributions to industry, using his stories to give expression to Australia’s intertwined pastoral and transport history.

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