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Transport and supply
I started driving when I was 17 – it was 1952. I was working for Dad. I talked him into buying the truck, because I had no money. Then the business was expanding and he bought a second truck, and then he was getting sick and wanted to get out/ retire. When I turned 21 he said because I’d established the goodwill of the business – I’d got the business going – that I didn’t have to pay for that. But we valued the trucks and I had to pay 2000 pounds (which was $4000) for two second-hand trucks. Because I’d been working for Dad for a pound a week, or two dollars a week and my keep for six years, I had no money. So I had a no-interest, no-deposit loan and Dad told me, ‘You’re got to pay this off.’ But I started from scratch with nothing, and I eventually paid him his 2000 pounds back, and I’ve probably still got the receipt book out there. There wasn’t any set thing. Whenever I could afford 50 pounds, which was a hundred dollars, I’d pay him, and so after many payments I paid him off, and then we started to expand.
In 1973 the beef was still going well, and then when the alternatives started to come it just changed because they started to buy up land and they didn’t farm, they let it go back into nature, and there’s very little productivity out there at all now. Like, when they talk about being self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables and that sort of thing, I used to bring two or three ton a week, twice a week, from the Brisbane Markets back to the shops.
In the previous days?
No, after ’73. From Nimbin to Brisbane. Pick up the fruit and vegetables, and then bring it back to the shops.
We’d take timber up on the way, or something, because we had another mill at Kunghur, and then we’d turn round and pick up the groceries and the other freight, and then fertiliser, because I sold a lot of fertiliser. We sold, still in the transport days, up to 500 tons of fertiliser in a year in Nimbin.
So just wondering about the trucking – so in ’52, say, what were you carting?
Bananas only at that time.
So when did the bananas start to slacken off and you had to bring in different things?
We grew with it, I mean. I don’t know, we did bananas and then, see, the banana train only went twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays. We had to bring the bananas from Nimbin in to the rail at Lismore, and so because we always had so many bananas, we had to employ staff. Then you had to find other work for them to do – like, we started carting bananas maybe Monday afternoon, get organised for the Tuesday, which was the big day, and then you did a bit on Thursday, and Friday was another big day. So in between we had to find something to keep the staff, so I became a fuel agent for BP, selling drum fuel, in 1961, I think it was.
At the same time I was appointed a fertiliser agent because I could see that there was a need for fertiliser in the place, so that meant that we had to go to Brisbane to get the fertilizers with the trucks, and of course we were running up empty. You had to find something to make it pay better, so we started carting stuff to the Brisbane Markets, the overflow that didn’t go to Sydney, and then we started carting timber to keep the trucks utilised– and then, of course, as the timber went out we had other things to do, and then we started carting the general groceries and things like that. And we expanded into livestock transport.
I got another truck, and the most we could do was seven loads of cattle for the weekly sale day in Lismore out of Nimbin, seven truck loads.
Marie: In one day.
Eric: Myself, I’d start about 4.30 in the morning, and we had to be finished and have them in by about 12.00 o’clock, and I could do four loads in that time. The driver that I employed, he started about 6.00 and he could do three. Sometimes I’d have to hire another truck. If we had more than that to shift, we’d have to get someone else, a sub-contractor, get someone to do it. On quiet weeks we many have had only two or three loads.
Then when we bought that other run out from the cream carrier – we used to cart all the beer and the kegs for the hotel. Because the publican wanted to do the right thing, there were two or three carriers in town at the time and we shared it. But as we bought them out, we finished up having all of the hotel work.
Of course, during the Festival that kept us very busy, because they sold a lot of grog during the Festival at the hotel.
So in ’52 when you started, how many carriers were there?
There were four cream runs I think – and there was Ranns, Colliers, and probably us carting bananas. I think there were probably three banana carriers, and they were bigger than me, because I only had one little truck when I started.
And then bit by bit you bought out over the years most of the other ones?
Yes. Colliers sold out to someone. One of them then sold back to us, and then Ranns sold to Singh’s, and Singh sold some of it back to us.
And was that because in the end you’d got so big, or was it also that there just wasn’t quite as much carting to be done?
I don’t know. There was no cream, because the cream trucks used to run, and they used to cart stock feed. When Norco closed their factory in Nimbin, the stockfeed, the dairy meal and that sort of thing that they fed the cows on had to come from Lismore. And the pig food – the pigs were big in those days, too, because every farmer had separated milk and so they all had skimmed milk to feed their pigs.
Then there were two or three livestock carriers as well. They fell out, too, because the pigs weren’t there any longer to be carted.
Marie: It was a changing dynamic all the time in what was profitable and what was going out, and what was needed, wasn’t it?
Eric: Yes, and the thing is, you had to provide good service and treat people right.
Marie: Reasonable prices.
Eric: Reasonable prices and that sort of thing, too, because I could go back out there now and then go into the alternate communities, and I’d have lots and lots of friends and I’d be made very welcome.
And in that middle period before the Norco factory closed, was there decline in dairy but increase in the bananas?
Eric: Yes, they changed. Dairying was dropping out, and then when the dairy dropped out they went to beef, and as I talk about in that little book there, I expanded my livestock, because we were general carriers. We did all different types of work. Bananas were in, but as the bananas started to drop off, we had to find other work.
Marie: And that turned into bringing groceries to the grocery shop.
Eric: Yes, then we expanded to Brisbane. We’d bring the wholesale stuff back.