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Humble winner celebrates Aus Day honours with BBQ

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Paul Freestone
Paul Freestone

PAUL Freestone, director of family company Freestone’s Transport, has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for his services to the road transport industry and the community in this year’s Australia Day Honours List.

Announcing the award, Australian Transport Association chair Geoff Crouch said Paul had demonstrated a lifelong passion and dedication to the road transport industry, making notable contributions to the improvement of industry professionalism and innovation.

Paul, 65, who with wife Christine established the family-run business in 1981, has been a go-getter his entire life, serving as Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation president for seven years while managing his own company.

He has also had a long involvement with the Victorian Transport Association, taking a board position in 1998 before serving as vice-president from 2000-2007 and as president from 2008 until 2015.

He is a life member of the ARTIO and is a National Road Transport Hall of Fame inductee.

“Paul is a self-made, first-generation transport operator,” Geoff Crouch said.

“His strong work ethic and passion for trucking is something to be admired.

“There are many outstanding individuals in the trucking industry like Paul and it’s important they are recognised for their contributions.”

Growing up in Melbourne’s outer northwest, Paul had an after-school job at a local garage and became smitten with trucks when a B61 Mack one day pulled into the forecourt.

His dream became a passion and the passion a reality when he gained his articulated licence aged just 16 and went straight into the mining industry to earn enough money to buy his first truck.

With that truck he put in long hours carting everything from soft drink to fuel but he found time to marry his sweetheart, Christine, the pair taking the plunge in 1976 and buying a Ford Louisville 9000 in which he made five trips a month to Kalgoorlie and Kambalda hauling an LPG tanker.

It was tough. Some clients were late payers, breakdowns happened, bills arrived and there were days when Paul left home with a cut lunch, a few dollars in his wallet and hoped the truck would keep running for another week.

But they persisted and five years later bought their first new truck – a cabover Kenworth Aerodyne – which also became the first to carry their distinctive maroon, white and black livery.

Their little business grew to a fleet of almost 70 trucks. It was strong enough to overcome a 2014 crisis when the loss of their major client, StarTrack Express, wiped out almost 90 per cent of Freestone Transport’s revenue.

Rather than walking away they restructured, developed new transport management systems, adopted a new accounting platform, rebranded the business, bought 100 new trailers, opened a Queensland depot, developed an online presence and established a new enterprise bargaining agreement with their employees. The reborn Freestone’s Transport also quickly gained a strong new client base, all without staff redundancies.

The strength of their resolve shows in the outcome, the company now boasting more than 80 trucks and more than 130 trailers.

His work has taken him outside the road transport industry as a staunch supporter of numerous charities including Mill Valley Ranch Christian Youth Camp, Fairhaven Surf Life Saving Club, Doctors Abroad, Muscular Dystrophy Australia and Fairhaven Surf Life Saving Club.

Paul has proven as adept in motor racing as he has in business. In 1973, in the spare time he didn’t have, he jumped aboard a four-cylinder Honda 750 racer. He still has a replica of that bike and rides it occasionally.

He soon switched to four wheels and tried most classes, racing trucks, NASCAR stock cars, Aust GT, Production cars, Porsche Carrera Cup, the classic Touring Car Masters in which he still races and Supercars. He and Christine competed in 21 Targa Tasmania tarmac rallies together. Targa Tasmania Hall of Famers, they are now rightly regarded as Targa royalty.

He also has a diverse private life. Along with his racing he is also a keen cyclist and pilot, flying his own helicopter.

Life in business has been a great journey, Paul said, often tough, rarely easy but always satisfying.

His Order of Australia Medal, he says, is: “overwhelming – I feel a bit humble but it gives me more reason to keep doing what I’m doing. It’s never been work for me, it’s been a passion.”

And how did Paul Freestone OAM celebrate his award? “With friends at a barbie on the deck at home with a bottle of champagne, it was just lovely.”

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