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Industry veteran retires after 60 years in trucking

As Robert Holmes, 76, steps into retirement, he reveals it’s the people and the challenges that he’ll miss most of all.

The owner and founder of Robert Holmes Transport (RHT) built his Dubbo-based business from the ground up. Since being founded in 1971, it’s remained strong thanks to hard work, determination and a commitment to its customers.

Holmes’ career started very early – he was just 12 when he ran both the local service station and a wood delivery business to support his father who was paraplegic.

At 16, he purchased a Jail Bar Ford and a 20ft Steco trailer and began carting wheat at harvest time.

Holmes then purchased a Commer Knocker and won the contract for Mumbil Rail to Burrendong Dam at only 18 years of age. Holmes had to tender under his father’s name as he was too young.

“My dream was to run my own transport business one day. After I finished the Mumbil Rail to Burrendong Dam contract, I moved to Dubbo and grew Robert Holmes Transport to the business it is today,” Holmes recalled. This included building a 5000sqm Dubbo warehouse.

“After wheat I started carting sheep skins from the abattoirs, moved into grain cartage from Sydney to Newcastle, then cotton and wool for Colly Farms and built my business from there; eventually moving into transporting building products, steel and general freight from Sydney and flour into Sydney. I had the Coca Cola route and linehaul work for 34 years too. I also built a 5000sqm warehouse in Glendenning which will remain operating under the management of my son Darren.”

Holmes has been in the driver’s seat for his entire career.

In all his years in transport, Holmes has remained very hands-on and was driving trucks throughout his entire career.

Transporting wool has made up a large portion of business for RHT. In 2011, Holmes successfully campaigned to have the width limit for wool increased. He took a submission to then NSW Minister for Roads Duncan Gay and after many discussions and board meetings, legislation was passed to allow a 2.7 metre width for wool bales, rather than 2.5 metres.

At the time, Gay said, “This was one of the easiest decisions I have ever made… What I have done is taken the width of bales on trucks back to where it has been for 100 years.”

It was hailed as a major win for farmers, and for transporters who had no control over how the wool bales were pressed on the farms.

RHT’s immaculate and modern fleet, in its vibrant red livery, had grown to 20 Kenworth prime movers and 45 trailers by the time the business closed its doors. They were used to transport goods throughout Dubbo and the central west of NSW. From skels, flat tops and tautliners, running as singles, B-doubles and road trains, the company’s offering was wide and diverse.

Holmes says the business would update its prime movers every four to five years, and its trailers from seven years.

RHT also employed 20 staff, including long-time staffer Allira Walsh who started in office administration 16 years ago, at the age of 21. She progressed into finance, then office manager, then executive assistant and more recently was running the company as managing director and shareholder.

At 76 years of age, Holmes knew the time was right to begin a new chapter. RHT officially closed its doors on November 12, with the entire fleet going under the hammer through Ritchie Bros.’ National Unreserved End-of-Year Auction in early December.

“I decided that I would recommend other local transport businesses in Dubbo to my existing customers to ensure the transport work stayed locally within the community, rather than selling to an out of state or overseas business,” Holmes said.

He’s remained a strong contributor to Dubbo through his involvement and support of various charitable groups and initiatives and says he was pleased to be able to give something back to the community.

Through his 60 years in transport, Holmes has seen a lot of change. “Without trucks, Australia stop but I believe the ever-changing industry puts added pressure on the small to medium sized family-owned trucking companies – pressure that had not been there 5-10 years ago. Additional support for these companies by way of education and resources would be beneficial,” Holmes said.

Now as the story of RHT comes to a close and gives Holmes the chance to enjoy more time to himself, it’s bittersweet.

“I very much appreciate the continued support of our customers and suppliers, and value the hard work from all our employees over the years. I’m looking forward to my retirement and spending time with my family,” Holmes said.

“I’m also looking forward to family holidays and more time spent with close friends, and my wife, who already has me busy in the garden.”

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