Rocky’s long and winding road

By: David McKenzie

The trucking life of Robert ‘Rocky’ Bof has taken many twists and turns throughout his long career.


Rocky with his trusty steed

Robert ‘Rocky’ Bof was almost destined to become a truck driver from an early age. He remembers sitting on his uncle Emilio Missio’s lap while his mother drove their Bedford single axle low side tipper with formwork to a job site, then return home and bundle the workers into the tray and drop them off at the job.

Rocky’s parents Greg and Teresa emigrated from the Veneto region of northern Italy in the 1950s. When they were settled in their new country, the couple purchased a concreting business named Brittania Paving from a retiree in Coburg, Melbourne, which happened to be the same suburb as the Bofs. They continued to operate the business through to retirement.

"My mum got her HR licence in the ’50s," Rocky says. "She’s 86 years old now and still has it".

Rocky explains that he worked in the family business for what seemed like decades, even while going to school.

"I left school in year 10 and was handed the keys to the wheelbarrow," he smiles.

Rocky spent two years fulltime with the family business until the day he tripped over steel reinforcing while carrying a heavy load with another worker. He landed awkwardly, trying not to drop the steel, and injured his back.

"I spent three days in traction at the hips and was told by an orthopaedic surgeon that my concreting days were over." He was just 18.

Around this time he was a member of the Gorgons Motorcycle Club, living at the clubhouse in North Fitzroy. The club members thought that ‘Rocko’ was a more fitting name than Robert, especially with his Italian heritage. Eventually his nickname morphed into Rocky, and has stuck with him to this day.

With concreting looking like it was no longer an option and rent money was needed, one of the Gorgon’s supporters suggested Rocky should join him in becoming an automotive mechanic at Spencer Jeffcott Motors in Melbourne.

"The pay was 20 bucks a week, but the rent was 25 a so I found myself having to borrow money each week," Rocky recalls.

That became a vicious cycle, so after trying to stick it out for 12 months he rang his parents, asking them about returning to the concreting business.

"My wage went from 25 bucks a week to about 60 bucks a day with mum and dad."

Concreting really didn’t help Rocky’s back injury. "The orthopaedic surgeon asked me what I was doing for work. I told him I was concreting."

According to Rocky, the surgeon’s reply was, "Go back to school, because if you continue concreting you will end up in a wheelchair."

Robert ‘Rocky’ Hof bought his Freightliner FL80 to score a subcontracting job with Pioneer Cement in the 1990s

Metal work

Rocky met his wife Jill Helsham in 1980, the couple marrying in 1985. Jill’s dad Gus Helsham suggested to Rocky that he should get out of concreting. He had a mate, Alan Caldera, who worked for Chalmers Transport, and an interview was organised which led to Rocky starting on his trucking industry journey.

Rocky drove a few different trucks for Chalmers. There was a single axle Bedford picking up metal welding, to a Mercedes-Benz tandem with a twin-axle dog trailer with a short draw bar taking containers to Noble Park or picking up tin plate stillages from the wharves and delivering them to Northcote.

Having proved he could drive, Rocky was asked whether he was interested in full time work at Ajax Fasteners, driving a semi with a tri-axle drop deck trailer carting stillages and coils of steel.

"That was closer to home than Yarraville, so why not," came Rocky’s reply.

He recalls the not-so-fun part of the job. "When I reversed into the laneway too slowly, the curvature of the laneway meant the wheels wouldn’t make it over the lip, and would be hung up on the road."

He then moved into driving truck and dog tippers. However, he was involved in a life-changing crash around 12 months later which still haunts him today.

Jill could see the need for Rocky to stop driving. One day when he arrived home, she said: "I’ve applied for a job for you."

It ended up being a gardener’s job at what was known at the time as Larundel Mental Asylum.

"I loved gardening and did an adult apprenticeship in horticulture while there," Rocky says. He recalls many strange experiences, including one patient who would regularly walk past him while he was on the ride-on mower stark naked – except for a pair of shoes!

Rocky spent the next 10 years at Larundel. By the time he finished up he was the superintendent with a team of 35 gardeners.

Behind the wheel: The Freightliner FL80 has been a versatile bit of gear

Back to concrete

In 1996 his brother Michael, who was working for Pioneer Cement, organised for Rocky to become a replacement driver as one of the subbies was going to Italy for six weeks. This role continued when two other drivers also went on leave, leading to Michael phoning the state manager to ask if Rocky could be given a contract in his own right.

Pioneer agreed, saying, "If you buy a new truck, we’ll give you a new barrel; buy a second-hand truck and we’ll give you a second-hand barrel".

Rocky spoke to his accountant and it was agreed he would buy a new truck as was given a 10-year contract.

His truck was a new Freightliner FL80 which was "standard issue for concrete mixers at the time". It was light, weighing only 80 tonne empty, which meant he was legal with 6.2 cubic metres of concrete.

The Freightliner was turbo charged with an in-line six-cylinder C series Cummins engine with all mechanical injector pumps coupled with a nine-speed Road Ranger gearbox.

Once his contract expired at Pioneer, Rocky knew it was time for another change. Pioneer had taken the barrel off, leaving him with just the cab chassis.

He had Hercules Engineering fit a new tipper with a roll out tarp, and went to work for Lofts Quarries for three years.

"There I did a up to 400 ks a day, but the money wasn’t there," he said.

During his time at Lofts he bought a bobcat, becoming self-taught at operating it. Once finished at Lofts, he rang various plant hire agencies and for the following three years was a tip truck, bobcat sub-contractor.

Around this time, one of Rocky’s good friends, Peter Creely, needed the help of Rocky’s tipper and bobcat at Moreland City Council depot as one of his workers was about to retire. This worked out well for both Peter and Rocky, so well in fact that five years later Rocky is still there.

"It’s easy work; I simply load my truck at the yard with general rubbish and cart it to the tip at Wollert."

Rocky, now 61, does four to five trips a day in his trustworthy Freightliner. "It’s not hard for the old girl; and I’m not planning to move on from this easy, no stress job."


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