Making a difference – the Life, Times and Trucks of Alan Lever
Long-term industry stalwart, the late Alan Lever, was one of the big-hearted highway itinerants who contributed much to our community, on a journey of long-distance truck driving that began in 1959.
Long distance truck drivers are a mixed bag of eccentrics – mostly with rough exteriors that house big hearts – imbued with love of the adventure and freedom of the open road.
Unfortunately at times, unfair reporting by the general media gives the road transport industry a an image in the mind of ‘Joe public’ that the men and women behind the wheels of these ‘Juggernauts’, are just mindless cowboys. As in most industries there are the fringe dwellers, but majority of drivers who travel the blacktop are good, honest and hardworking individuals, trying to make living for their families.
Alan and his identical twin brother, Doug, always loved trucks. As kids they loaded and washed trucks for Rod Gray, Bill Abbot and Greg Moran in the school holidays and often managed to cadge a trip to Melbourne.
At the age of 12 Alan fell ill with poliomyelitis and spent extended periods in hospital and at home recuperating from this illness. It took its toll on him for a while. When he recovered he was so far behind with his schooling he chose to leave and take his chances in the world. At 16 he hitched a ride to Brisbane, put his age up by three years, got his licence and a job with M.H.P driving a Kew model Dodge.
In 1961 Alan decided to buy his own truck and haul interstate. Alan’s first load in his AA180 International with bogie trailer was from Sydney to Meekatharra, then in the wilds of Western Australia.
“It took me three weeks and I thought I’d never get home,” smiled Alan.
Not long after that he started sub-contracting for Brambles carting to Woomera, Leigh Creek, Parachilna and Marree. Over the years he also subcontracted for Cousins, Taylor, Dalton and Ansett, and eventually secured permanent work to Adelaide bringing back cement to Mildura and fruit from Sid Knudson out of Mildura.
In 1964, he traded an R190 on what he says was his first real truck, a B61 Mack, after Reg Ansett had told him, ’buy American trucks and think big’. In the first 12 months he did 48 return trips to Adelaide. Alan stuck with Macks and, for many years, never drove another make. His last Mack was a ‘Fred Flintstone’ R600.
Alan’s first Mack adventure started badly. When he headed out on his maiden voyage in the quad-box B-model, by the time he’d reached Balranald, he was knackered from changing gears and thought ‘the bloody thing was gutless!’.
The problem was that Mack Trucks’ driver trainer was supposed to have met up with him before he headed off, but for some reason was unable to make it, so Alan headed out, having never experienced the gymnastics of wielding two gearsticks and making compound shifts in a Mack 5×4 transmission.
However, his saviour was a Mack driver at the Balranald Roadhouse. Alan told him of his woes, so the driver said: “Get in son and I’ll show you how to drive it.”
On that very day, Alan graduated to a fully-fledged Mack quad-box gymnast.
In 1968, he met Devron and Brian Booth and asked them if they needed any sub-contractors. They did and Alan became their second sub-contractor (the first was Johnny Collins).
When he was inducted into the Shell Rimula Wall of Fame at ReUnion 2005, Alan Lever acknowledged the support of his wife, Joy, doing the books and administration, and bringing up Tracey, Dean and Claire.
Alan Lever was awarded ‘Rotarian of the Year’ in 2002 for his contribution to the community. Also, together with some other industry identities was one of the founding members of the Wollongong district ‘Convoy for Kids’ – a parade of trucks which is held each year in order to raise money for Camp Quality, helping children with cancer.
At the inaugural Convoy Alan and other helpers rounded up what they thought were 100 starters, but they couldn’t get the smile of Alan’s face when 250 trucks lined up for the parade. That first year raised $50,000. Alan Lever’s last convoy netted 750 trucks and a whopping $1.2m
He would have been absolutely delighted with the results of the 2022 event, when the staggering total of $2,078,718.95 was the official figure raised from the i98FM Illawarra Convoy, proving that the Convoy spirit is still thriving in the Illawarra Community.
Following the past week of activities, a total of $ $1,358,584.36 was raised before the event had even begun – with the Lead Truck and Motorbike Auctions raising a total of $405,527.36. A $230,000 donation from Coles Illawarra saw them take the Lead Bike position, followed by the Lead Truck Auction, where Menai Haulage and Gear Shift donated $152,500 to secure the top spot, on behalf of six-year-old Nate Deushain, who has recently relapsed with leukaemia.
Convoy For Kids Sydney Inc was started in 1992 by a small group of dedicated people from the transport and associated industries who had a desire to help sick children. Alan Lever was one of those dedicated people who was instrumental in starting the event.
“A family tragedy got me involved in helping to raise money for the Wespac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service, “ Alan Lever recalled in 2019. “I know from first-hand experience how tragedy can affect people.”
Alan remembered a time back in the mid-1960s when he came across an accident on the highway near Balranald:
“A car had rolled and I was the first one on the scene,” he said.
“The parents had been killed and two injured and very distraught children who were thrown from the car were desperate to find mum and dad.
“I knew they were both dead in the wrecked vehicle, so I spent some time trying to comfort and help the injured kids, but it seemed like an eternity before anyone came along with additional help.
“It was a horrific scene, because both parents had been decapitated and I had nightmares for months afterwards – Lord knows how the poor children coped.”
Alan Lever reckoned he truly enjoyed his time on the road back in the ‘good-old-days’.
“The camaraderie and the open-air lifestyle were fantastic, but I’m afraid that has all disappeared these days,” he said.
“Today’s officious and overzealous authorities have replaced generally more fair-minded ones – some of whom even became acquaintances.
“We all have a job to do, but it’s not carried out by most authorities these days in a polite and respectful manner.”
Alan had had enough of the pretence by authorities that simply masked revenue collecting and had nothing to do with road safety. He finally threw in the towel and retired, like many of the pioneers of our road transport industry.
Sadly, Alan Lever passed away in January 2019 and the presence of more than 200 mourners displayed the affection with which he was held.
Fittingly, his casket was adorned with a Mack Bulldog and his beloved R600 Flintstone Mack was given centre stage outside the funeral parlour.