A lifetime on the back roads for Gippsland truckie Jingles Neal

A lifetime on the back roads for Gippsland truckie Jingles Neal

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The well-known livestock carrier recently marked 60 years of driving trucks.

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Graeme 'Jingles' Neal's 1980 Volvo might not boast copious amounts of polished chrome work or a fresh paint job, but he and the truck share something in common - they both have plenty of charm and character.

The veteran Gippsland truck driver, known mostly as Jingles, has travelled about nine million miles since jumping behind the wheel as a kid, or in today's lingo - some 14 million kilometres.

He has lived at Swan Reach his entire life and has seen huge improvements, from a road transport point of view, in that time.

Sealed roads, safer infrastructure and more stringent and sometimes "unnecessarily savage" rules and regulations, to name a few.

And despite telling people he would consider retirement when he turned 80, he has no plans of slowing down.

"It's in my blood," the 80-year-old said.

"I knew I was going to be a truckie when I was four-years-old, my uncles and aunties and parents would tell me, and almost eight decades later I'm still at it."

GOOD TIMES: Jingles has been driving truckers longer than he has been married to his wife, Sheryl, of almost 50 years.

GOOD TIMES: Jingles has been driving truckers longer than he has been married to his wife, Sheryl, of almost 50 years.

Jingles said he started driving trucks at the age of 12, when a neighbour would call into his parents' property on Neals Road in an old petrol Austin.

"I was the oldest of four boys and he used to come around to see if I could go with him," he said.

"When I was about 16 or 17, I started driving unsupervised and in that era, all young blokes who grew up on farms all drove tractors and trucks as soon as they could get behind the wheel and the coppers turned a blind eye."

A character behind the wheel

There's no straying from the fact Jingles is a Bedford man, having owned five of them since he started in the industry, along with a few Dodges, a Commer and two Volvos, including his current 300-horsepower rig.

One of his Dodges, a V8 petrol, would use two 44-gallon drums of fuel, or 400 litres, on a trip to Melbourne and back.

Clearly the cost of fuel was not what it is today.

One of his older trucks, a 1959 TK Bedford with a Leyland diesel - which went into retirement about 30 years ago and still displays its original livery - is still in his shed at Swan Reach awaiting a nut-and-bolt restoration.

"This bloody Volvo has been a ripper of a truck and the Bedford was a magnificent little truck too," he said.

In his time behind the wheel, Jingles has carted everything from livestock to wool, superphosphate to hay and even drove for the East Gippsland Bullock Team which toured ag shows and visited the Moomba Parade.

When he started driving in the 1950s, most of the Bairnsdale district consisted of small dairy farms, long before refrigeration.

Most of his time would be spent carting pigs and calves to market, and also taking bobby calves to the Melbourne abattoirs at Richmond, and Ralphs, Borthwicks and RJ Gilbertsons at Brooklyn.

He was also often responsible for taking cull cattle to Newmarket and pigs every few weeks to Brooklyn.

"Most of the time the pigs were meant to go on the train but quite often the agents involved would book a rail truck but the railways would forget to send one so I had to take them by road," he said.

He also recalls taking sheep from Delegate, NSW, and Bombala, NSW, to Newmarket and delivering lambs to the Bairnsdale railway station to head into town.

Then there was the regular bullock and vealer runs between Orbost, Cann River and Bruthen to Bairnsdale or Newmarket and the Mountain Calf Sales up in the high country, carting into Omeo, Benambra and Ensay.

Recognised for his commitment to the industry

In 2009, he was inducted into the National Transport Hall of Fame, marking 50 years behind the wheel.

Among the other improvements, he said better on-farm yards and gravel driveways had helped make his job easier, adding he's only been bogged a handful of times.

"A lot of people think it's easy, but it's not and it involves a lot of concentration and of course now the rules and regulations are quite unnecessarily savage," he said.

"If you make a spelling mistake in your log book, you can get a $400 or $500 fine."

And while Jingles admits after two or three days behind the wheel, he needs a day or two to rest and recuperate, his wife of almost 50 years, Sheryl, says she can often find her husband sitting in the truck with the chair tilted back listening to the ABC Country Hour on his quiet days.

"I don't have any plans to retire," he said.

"I had my truck licence renewed until I'm 86 but I hope to have well and truly retired by then."

The story A lifetime on the back roads for Gippsland truckie Jingles Neal first appeared on Stock & Land.

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