Castlemaine came alive with the rumble of heavy vehicles turning out in force for the 34th annual truck show organised by the local Rotary Club
The 34th Castlemaine Rotary Truck Show, now sponsored by HHA & Larsen Truck Sales, returned to a full schedule in November 2022 with what the organisers have called one of the biggest turn-out of entrants and spectators in a decade.
Volunteers were kept busy serving food and registering the trucks for the judging.
A quality line up of country music and free children’s entertainment created an enjoyable atmosphere for over 3,000 people at the event over the weekend.
Rotary Club president Grant Thomas says much of the success of the day came down to the help from its sponsors and volunteers.
“We simply can’t run an event of this magnitude on our own. Incredibly generous sponsors underwrite the core expenses to make it happen,” Grant says.
“And for every volunteer hour contributed we make a direct donation back to the volunteer’s school, kinder or sporting club. It’s a wonderful example of how a community can come together to do good.”
When I drove up to the Campbells Creek Recreation Reserve just out of Castlemaine’s main drag where the show was held, I found everything to be well run and the volunteers I encountered helpful and easy to talk to.
As I made my way around in the warm and dry central Victorian weather it was clear to me that there was really nothing like a truck show. You can read all the media releases and truck spec sheets you want. But you’ll never really understand the appeal of trucking until you see it up close.
I had been to truck media events and while were impressive they had a distinct corporate air and feel to them. What struck me at the truck show that day was the passion and sense of community you could see on the faces of everyone who had made the effort to turn up.
The half-moons of camp chairs filled with tired but happy drivers, who had spent the past few days getting their trucks up to show quality or driven long distances from around Victoria, could now finally relax talk to old friends and admire all the other transport works who had made similar efforts over the last few days.
The excitement and energy of the event translated into a very successful show for Rotary. The club reported just after the show that while its profits were still being tallied, Grant Thomas confirmed that events like this are Rotary’s major fundraiser.
“Along with the Art Show, this event enables us to support many community projects and youth scholarships each year,” he explains.
Of all the truck show volunteer roles perhaps the most unenviable task was that of the six judges who had to assess 222 trucks over the two days. In a toughly contested show, there were some hair-split scores to determine who took home the 12 trophies.
Rig of the Show and a $1,000 cash prize went to an impressive Kenworth owned by JBE Transport, while Bransgove Trucking’s 2017 Kenworth T900 Legend took out Saturday’s Best on Ground, proof that it’s worthwhile turning up early.
As I made my way around I had the pleasure of speaking face to face with a number of operators and regular drivers. These included Chris Brown of Browns Stockfeed who brought his staff and several of his spectacular red and white Kenworths over from Leongatha. Browns ended up taking home the Best Fleet Award from the show.
Chris told me his business has been around since 2003 when he founded the company with his brother. His father and uncle had also owned transport business in Victoria.
The Browns are in the business of carting their own grain around Victoria and New South Wales. When talking of the company’s fleet, Chris admitted a clear preference for Kenworths.
“We’ve got a couple of Western Stars but the fleet is pretty much all Kenworths,” he says.
As Chris and I got to talking a familiar handful of issues all operators are struggling with quickly came up.
“Fuel prices are always an issue at the moment, it’s a big cost when you’re running 30 trucks.”
On the plus side, Chris says the driver shortage isn’t much of a problem for them.
“We’re pretty lucky, we don’t turn a lot of guys over. We get good drivers, we look after them and they tend to stay.
“Having nice equipment brings good drivers to you. People want to drive them,” he adds.
Overall however, Chris says the government needs to focus on getting more drivers into the industry.
“There’s a lot of operators who have gotten out of the industry recently, because it has gotten too difficult.”
Ten category winners collected their trophies at the end of the show, with additional prizes being awarded to the People’s and Trucker’s Choice and five entrants selected by HHA (Heavy Haulage Australia) and Larsen’s.
Co-sponsor Jon Kelly from HHA expressed his pleasure at returning to the Castlemaine Rotary Truck Show and announced that HHA and Larsen’s Truck Sales would continue to sponsor the next two shows. “This show was so refreshing, and it was an awesome job by the volunteers. Everyone in the community made us feel so welcome,” Jon says.
One of larger operators who made an appearance that weekend was Membrey’s Transport & Crane Hire. Membrey’s sponsored the Best on Ground award and got to take home the Best Working Rig (under 2 years) award themselves. The company’s founder, Craig Membrey, had his hands full when I strolled past their stall, however I grabbed the chance to chat to his son Jack Membrey.
Although only 15, Jack says he knows his way around a truck as well as anybody else in the company and told me a bit about their operations which runs mostly around Dandenong, Clyde, Packenham and throughout Victoria. The company also does trips to Brisbane.
When it came to my asking Jack about the size of Membrey’s fleet, there was a lot of back and forth between family and staff, with the number falling somewhere around 50 trucks and well over 200 trailers.
Jack will have to wait a few more years until he can formally go for his heavy vehicle licence, but it was clear that Membrey’s will have plenty of work for the company’s younger namesake.
There was one fantastic Kenworth I spotted whose name made me want to know more. Leo Kelly’s W900, nicknamed the ‘Midnight Special’, is something of a truck show award legend.
The truck first took out the now defunct Truckin’ Life’s Rig of the Year award in 1990 and then after that, as Leo puts it, “it just kept winning”.
The Midnight Special wasn’t always Leo’s partner in crime on the truck show circuit as he told me he didn’t see the rig for two decades.
“I had the truck for 10 years, sold it and then bought it back again about seven years ago and have recently done it all up to take it ’round truck shows again,” he says.
Leo is a farmer who carts his own produce, including cattle and grain, around the western districts of Victoria.
Leo says he hasn’t been to Castlemaine for a while although he says in years past the truck won Truck of the Show there two years in a row.
“Not many trucks have done that,” Leo adds.
The W900 sadly isn’t a working truck anymore, but with all its history it’s certainly worth hanging onto for a while longer.
“This truck doesn’t do anything but sit in the shed at home, besides win truck awards of course,” Leo says.
There was one truck that was just asking to be ogled and that was the bright purple Kenworth C509 built up as a tow truck for Truckworks of Adelaide. Steve Gus and Gordon Smith from the South Australian-based company told me a bit about their regular duties. “The core of our job is road transport crash repair,” Gus says.
Truckworks also builds tow trucks for the Australian market; they’re up to around 200 to date. They’re a well-respected name in South Australia, having been operating for over 40 years in the state and in their home state of Tasmania as well.
“We’re only trying to branch out more and more, with new equipment and efforts to get our name out,” Gus adds.
Truckwork’s fleet is currently a mixture of Kenworth’s and Freightliners.
“We try to have a diverse fleet. With the supply issues there are at the moment, it makes it hard to get certain makes.”
Speaking of the C509 they had at the show, Gus says it was a very capable build. “You can roll out to a job and be ready to do anything.” This includes hauling B-doubles and road trains that have been involved in accidents.
Gus also mentioned that signature paint schemes are a bit part of the business.
“The truck we’ve brought today is one of our more glamorous paint schemes. All hand painted,” he explains.
Truckworks seemed to make no apologies for being proud and flamboyant in what they do. Gus had a knowing smile when he mentioned the choice of colour for the trucks.
“Purple has been the paint scheme for a long time,” he says. “It’s a mobile business card essentially.”
That for me summed up what it was like to walk around the dusty reserve in Castlemaine. All those dolled-up trucks, their attentive staff and drivers were visual representations of their companies and the values they espoused.
The HHA and Larsen’s Castlemaine Rotary Truck Show will return in 2023 on November 25 to 26.
Photography: Julian Daw