'Ferret' is the name, kid's charity is the game
NESTLED in the shadow of the Glasshouse Mountains, north of Brisbane, sits a neat, inconspicuous collection of one-bedroom flats.
One, a surprisingly humble abode for one of the road transport industry's most extraordinary people.
John Moran OAM, or as he is known to thousands "The Ferret”, had agreed to share the story behind the first Convoy for Kids.
It's a tradition that has developed into a trucking pilgrimage, raising millions for charity over the past decades.
"My passion, my beloved convoys,” John sighs as he leans back in his chair, cuppa in hand.
"Once you start him, he won't stop he has a lot of stories,” warns John's wife Margaret from the kitchen.
She wasn't wrong.
Like most stories however, context is golden.
To know the real story behind the Convoy you must know the story behind the man.
"The Ferret” grew up in Rockhampton, the beef capital of central Queensland, and like most rural boys spent his school days staring dreamily out the window, and attempting to avoid the nun's cane as best he could.
"Sister Monica used to say to me, you'll never earn a living looking out the window,” John said.
Turns out Sister Monica was wrong.
After she recommended John leave school and find a job at the ripe age of 12 he went on to spend most of his life looking out of a window.
"The front window of a truck,” he laughed.
"I didn't start of in trucks straight away, I first became a horseman following in my grandfather's footsteps as a drover.
"It was tough work but it taught me to be good with my hands.”
It wasn't until John's early 20s did he decide he needed a little more horsepower in his working day.
"I was married then and had people that depended on me,” he said.
In a stroke of good fortune a pineapple cannery being built in Rockhampton at the time was in search of drivers.
"There was an ad in the paper for two body truck drivers, I thought hey I could do that,” he said.
"But I had never driven a truck in my life.
"Game I think is the word,” he said through giggles.
"The Ferret's” gift of the gab was what ultimately got him through and into the seat of his first truck, an Austin Lone star body-truck.
"I thought it was great, I was really pumped,” he said about his first day on the job.
"But as far as loading went I had no idea.
"It is amazing how things go, it never occurred to me that it was the start of it all today.”
After mastering the short distance drop-offs, "The Ferret” embarked on his first long distance journey just weeks later.
"I was sent on a train to Northgate to collect the new truck for the company and bring it back,” "The Ferret” explained.
"It was the first long distance trip I did, 600km empty on a corrugated road,” he said, hands miming the bumps of the shaky drive.
"He was the king of the road,” Margaret chimed in.
"Still am,” "The Ferret” corrects her.
After three years of carting pineapples from Yeppoon to Rockhampton, John took over his father-in-law's tip truck.
"It was the first tipper work I had done,” he said.
"The only thing we used to shovel a bit of sand, in those days I was fit as a bull.”
Eventually he was put to work as part of the Rockhampton airport build contract.
"They were some big trucks, I had never seen something that big in my life,” he said.
"We had three R 190 Internationals to move the gravel as part of the job, with special trailers built in Bundaberg.
"My mind was boggled.”
Apparently so was the rest of the population of Rockhampton at the time.
"When we went to the police to get a licence for it, they hadn't seen anything like it ether,” he said.
At that moment, "The Ferret's” mate "Squeak” knocks on the door, keen to join the party.
Alex "Squeak” Beattie, a life-long friend of "The Ferret” on the road was quick to dob him in for many historical misnomers.
"He is famous you know,” "Squeak” said as he gestured his finger toward "The Ferret”.
"He knows everything that happens on the road, people ring him up all the time.”
A thinker and observant type, "The Ferret”, a student of human nature, with a real interest in people, soon took up writing on the side of his transport career.
By the time the airport job had been completed John had become an avid writer and a gossip columnist in the pages of Trucking Life.
"But most of my black eyes in my life I got from talking when I should have been listening,” John clarified.
It was from this role he launched his the first Convoy for Kids.
"I was 55 and lived in Logan City then,” he said.
"This boy, 12 years old, had cerebral palsy and was busting to have a drive in a big truck.
"His father sent a letter to Trucking Life to see if there was anything we could do.
"I had thousands of mates that drove their own trucks, so how hard could it be?”
After speaking to the father in person John decided to extend the event further and offer an invitation to the students of Logan Special School.
"We only expected one of two but by the time we finished up the whole school wanted to come,” John said.
"I was worried we wouldn't have enough trucks, it boiled down to 35 who RSVP'd in the end.”
The plan was a short drive around Logan and then a lunch down by the river.
The only catch was, by the time word had gotten around, hundreds of trucks had arrived.
"And the siege of Logan City began,” "The Ferret” laughed.
"I got in trouble, we never had permits or anything.
"A police officer found me after someone told him I was the one who planned it.
"He said, 'You silly bastard, you should have come and see us'.
"But we had only planned to have 35 trucks.”
While the original day out didn't plan to raise any money, more than $1300 had been donated by the drivers there that day.
"We didn't do it for money, but people were sticking money in my pockets all day for the school.”
The tradition of generosity has held on, from thousands in the beginning, the drivers across the country are now bringing in millions for children's charities.
"It is like a fairy tale, it is what dreams are made of,” John said.
"Why it touches me so much I always think back to that day.
Now for the past 28 years the event has been run annually on a national scale and has made $24million in total.
"I know what people say about truckies, but the convoys are solid gold proof just how giving this industry can be.”