It was a year in the making but Maureen Smith finally got the message through to her hard-working husband – it was time to put their health first.
After 55 years as a livestock transporter and a lifetime of predawn starts – more often than not seven days a week – Ross, 74, made his last run to the Wagga Wagga sale yards just before Christmas.
With a successful auction of all his gear and plenty of shed clearing to do since, Ross admits he’s been too busy to miss the non-stop pace he’s known for so long.
But he already concedes that he’s starting to see the upside to waking up without a cattle farm or sheep sale to race to.
Maureen, who worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Ross from day one, said she could see the job starting to take its toll.
Ross said Maureen’s stroke in October 2019 – she’s since made a full recovery – also made him stop and think seriously about making a change while they were still young enough to enjoy the next chapter together.
Livestock transport is really the only life they’ve known as a couple since marrying more than 50 years ago, Maureen doing the books around raising two daughters, and Ross always on the road, travelling up to 3000km a week until recently.
After leaving school at 15, Ross tried his hand at shearing, graduated to hay and grain carting at just 17, before switching to livestock soon after.
As Ross puts it, it’s been “nose to the grindstone” ever since.
“You’d start Sunday afternoon, or Monday morning, and go all week,” recalled Ross.
“Most nights I never came home, and once we were into semi-trailers, I was gone all the time.”
Ross struggles to offer up too many highlights, but he does concede that he’s grateful for the handful of loyal clients who have been by his side since the start. That kind of loyalty is rare nowadays, laments Ross.
Change hasn’t been easy for Ross of late, he admits. Everything is getting bigger and faster – he can’t see the point of EWDs – and no one wants to give up a cushy lifestyle for the rigours of driving livestock, he said: “I can’t blame them. It’s hard work pushing sheep on and be expected to do three or four pick-ups to get them loaded.”
Now, said Ross, he just wants to focus on building a new house in Wagga, and making up for lost time with family.
Covid permitting, Ross and Maureen are planning to hook up the caravan and head north to Queensland in March to see their two great grandkids.
After that, if all this newfound leisure time isn’t quite what Ross envisaged, he’s got a prime mover stored at a mate’s property, just in case.
“Maureen gives me a funny look every time I mention it, but I might put a tipper on and cart a bit of grain to keep my hand in,” he said.
“I’m still fit enough and if I’ve got to go and do something, it’s a good way to keep the bones moving.”