Big day in the Hunter

By: Greg Bush, Photography by: Greg Bush, Video by: Greg Bush

It’s been a tough few months for many along Australia’s eastern seaboard, but that didn’t stop a big turnout of trucks taking part in the Newcastle Hunter Transport Awareness Day as it celebrated its 25th anniversary


Under the hot spring sun and a light smoke haze drifting down from the New South Wales mid north coast, the 2019 Newcastle Hunter Transport Awareness Day celebrated its 25th anniversary on Sunday, November 10 with another successful event, culminating in a competitive show and shine competition.

The day began with a convoy from Sandgate Markets in Newcastle’s north to Maitland Showgrounds. More than 140 trucks took part, prompting Ray Williams, president of the Newcastle Hunter Transport Awareness Group, to claim the Awareness Day event as the "biggest ever".

M&K Eklund was voted Best Fleet of the Show

As well as the convoy, static displays set up during the previous day considerably added to the showground’s truck numbers, with most local dealerships showing off their wares.

Through his regular job at Gilbert & Roach, Hexham, Ray has been an Awareness Day regular since 1999, including the years when it was held at Newcastle’s Foreshore Park. It moved to Maitland four years ago.

"This site works well for us, but we’re certainly bursting at the seams," he says, surveying the packed showground. "We couldn’t fit anyone else in."

The RKS Distribution K200 on the home stretch to Maitland Showgrounds

Earlier, during his welcome address, he made special mention of O’Neill’s Heavy Towing & Salvage, who once again put on a hot breakfast from 6am until the convoy’s departure at Sandgate markets.

"They’ve been fuelling our drivers for the past 24 years; that’s a big effort," he says.

Ray also made mention of the "long distance travellers", including Glen ‘Yogi’ Kendall and his wife Amanda from Western Australia, and Laurie Williams, who brought his Bullet Burnout Truck down from Beerwah, Queensland for the event.

It was a close call for Laurie as bushfires had forced the closure of the Pacific Highway near Taree shortly after he made it through.

The effects of Mother Nature were evident elsewhere. More than 12 months ago Andrew Goodwin was driving a Kenworth T904 with tippers for Tathra Farming at Spring Ridge, south of Gunnedah. However, during the convoy he was behind the wheel of an RKS Distribution K200.

"Because of the drought I’ve come to do this instead of tipper work," Andrew says. "I normally work on a farm, but there’s no work there so I had to look elsewhere.

"I’ll just wait and see what happens, but they’ve just had another crop fail."

Later in the day, RKS Distribution was announced as the winner of the Best Presented Small Fleet award.

Joey and Renee Pace from Pace Bulk Haulage were delighted with their Truck of the Show award

Restored W Model

Steve Lawler, from SLS Group, has also been indirectly affected by drought conditions. SLS Group manufactures stainless steel truck accessories, and had a few customer rigs on show at its static display, including a smart 1986 W Model Kenworth from Rasmussen Bulk Haulage from Moura, Queensland.

Steve says the Kenworth is in its final stages of restoration in the SLS workshop where it has been for a couple of years now.

"We haven’t been working on it full-time, it’s just an in-between job," he explains. "Obviously it’s one of those where you have a good season up there on harvest so you’ve got money to spend, then you have a flood, a drought or a fire and you don’t.

"Then it’s when we’ve had time or not had time. It’s been a good job but we’ve made a mission this year to finish it."

The W model made its first show appearance at the 2019 Clarendon Classic. However, its owner Marty Rasmussen wasn’t able to make it down for the Newcastle event due to work commitments.

A good thing perhaps, as Steve neglected to enter it in any of the truck show categories at Maitland.

"I was polishing it and I thought, ‘I forgot to enter these trucks’. Spewing!"

Carter Heavy Haulage & Transport is a big supporter of the Newcastle Hunter Transport Awareness Day

Kenworths were in abundance, including a few veteran models, such as Barry Elbourne Transport’s "stretched out" 1994 T950 with Dennis Jones behind the wheel.

The T950, now with a 60-inch bunk and Icepack, belongs to his uncle, and Dennis was happy to give the truck a tidy-up before driving it in the convoy.

"It’s done a lot of ks. It’s been on roadtrain work and usually heavy float work, so she’s worked hard."

As far as truck driving is concerned – he drove petrol tankers for 20 years – Dennis is semi-retired. However, as a mechanic by trade, he’s enthusiastic about his current project truck.

"I’m doing up a 1984 SAR for a show truck," he says. "It was parked up for 10 years and I’m bringing it back to life."

The SAR which he bought from his uncle, has the original 400 Cummins and a 13-speed ’box.

"I’m changing it from Ryco suspension to air bag. I’m in the middle of that, welding up all the holes, and I’m ready to start re-drilling."

Dennis says the SAR will be ready to show at the 2020 Newcastle Hunter Transport Awareness Day.

Part of the Simmons Bulk Haulage crew. From left, Philip Simmons, Wayne Simmons, Matt Simmons and Sean Hetherington

Preferred venue

Simmons Bulk Haulage also had its fair share of the Kenworth brand among its fleet on show, along with three Freightliners and a Western Star. Among the Kenworths was a T610, the company’s latest purchase.

Business owner Wayne Simmons is an Awareness Day regular – his 15th year to be exact.

"This year we put a bit of an effort in, more than what we normally do," Wayne says. "Other years we’ve only put one or two in."

As well as the trucks, his drivers in the convoy included sons Philip and Matt Simmons.

Wayne says he prefers the Maitland Showgrounds venue over Foreshore Park. "There’s a lot more to do for kids – rides, attractions, and everything’s in the one spot now. A lot of the east-enders were complaining about the trucks down there."

Ray Williams, however, says the main reason behind the move to Maitland was the presence of the V8 Supercars.

"When the V8s came to Newcastle, we had to transfer to this location," Ray explains. "The V8s were already setting up in Newcastle where we used to have the show."

The NSW authorities had plenty of advice for the industry

At any rate, taking the Newcastle Hunter Transport Awareness Day to Maitland appears to have reenergised the event, which has been running since 1994. With a new committee and continued corporate support, plus attractions such as kids’ entertainment including Disney’s Pixar truck, and live music from country rock band Hurricane Fall, it not only provided a family-friendly day out, but raised important funds for two charities – Ronald McDonald House and Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.

"There’s a houseful of major sponsors here and their donations are hefty. But it all goes to good charities," Ray continues, adding that the event has raised over $1.4 million in its 25 years of existence.

He also appreciated the efforts put in by drivers and owners, aware that many start their working week on Sunday afternoon. He also paid tribute to those previously involved in the Awareness Day, including the late Paul Harrison and past president Tony McGrath. But he saved his biggest praise to the Newcastle Hunter Transport Awareness Group volunteers.

"I’ve got an awesome committee; I’m blessed to have those guys supporting me.

"There are some very key people that obviously do a lot, know a lot and make it happen."

Trucks ready to roll for the convoy at Sandgate Fruit Market

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