He was confident. A risk taker.
A tough ol' bugger, but fair.
His handshake left yours throbbing,
and a cloud of tobacco smoke hung always round his head.
He was a country bloke at heart, and as honest as the day is long.
He spoke plainly; told it straight.
He was fiercely driven, and ambitious.
But he always treated others with respect,
And the easy crack of his smile bared a glimpse of his warm heart.
He was a man of genuine integrity.
Most knew him as Allen, AW, or ‘A-dub’.
We called him Pop.
He was born in 1928. And raised on a property outside of Saddleworth, South Australia, which his family share-farmed. When the Great Depression struck, his father had 3 years of wheat in storage. The dollar crashed. And they lost everything. Like many at the time, AW grew up knowing what it was to live on nothing.
After leaving school at 13, he went straight to work.
‘The day I left school, I went home and Dad said, “Here’s an axe. Go and earn a living.” ‘
Although only 13 AW worked and felled trees. He trimmed the boughs and cut the timber into 8ft lengths to be burnt for charcoal at Hamilton. All done by hand with an axe.
“It was hard work.
The cutting was hard, the work was hard. It was all physical.
We were working at full capacity all the time.
No room for getting any more and no room for getting any less.”
The physical work kept him fit, and as teenager AW loved sport. Especially football where he able to unleash his competitive side.
He had an idea about what to do through growing up with horses and poddy calves.
Back then rodeos were a place where you could earn a few extra coin in times when it was hard to come by.
Great mates included Alan Bennet, Les Cowan, and Kevin McDaggart.
“We did it to try and earn a few extra quid.
My first couple of rides were pretty good so I decided to keep going.
Money was one thing but glory was the other.
There’s nothing better than being on a rough horse or bull and you’re conquering em.
Pumps the adrenalin up.”
When the war ended in 1945, at age 17, AW quit cutting timber. Jobs were hard to come across but he found work driving a cream and egg truck.
At 20, AW first tried his luck buying a truck in shares. But he soon worked out the money was in going solo. In 1950, at only 22, AW convinced the bank it was a good risk to loan him $1600 pound to buy a second-hand Fargo truck. It threw him straight into poverty.
AW knew he'd have to work hard. The first jobs he got were carting up water and chaff up to the Riverland. He took any work that was going. And always made the most of a trip by backloading with something else he could sell back home. Like tree stumps and fruit. Peaches and melons were a favourite. As well as sneaking in a few long-necks between chaff bags for local Riverland detectives.
AW made a name for himself as a trader making a quid through any deals he could. Carting all sorts for all sorts of people.
(And generally, always overloaded.)
AW never rested.
He lived in the truck. Never went outside for a bed even though it didn’t have a sleeping compartment. It was his office and his living quarters.
AW learned all about mechanics the hard way. The roads in those days were terrible. From 1948 to 1958, from age 20 to 30, AW had bought and sold 10 trucks.
They weren’t all winners either.
In one sale, AW tried to be fair and let a bloke only pay a deposit first. On its way back from Darwin, with a road train full of cattle, the bloke rolled it and wrote the truck off. AW didn’t get another cent out of him.
Another, a green AS 180 International, was a lemon. Although deemed to be the newest and best available, the engine blew up 3 times within 26,000 miles. It almost broke him.
It was this truck that finally put AW on his feet.
“When I got the International I didn’t look back. I just keep her rolling.”
During his carting days, one of the many jobs he took was carting wool from local farmers to Adelaide. Fortunately, one of his customers was the father of his future wife, Doris.
Her father wasn’t too keen at first. This was an ambitious lad with a dirty beat up truck, first picking up his wool and now his daughter as well. But eventually he came around. Maybe because AW was so persistent. Doris and Allen were in love and happy. But that’s another story.
After a couple of years of flirting, they married in 1956. AW was 28 and Doris was 21.
Doris was the humble pillar on which AW’s whole operation could lean. She supported AW in all he did. She has been the glue that kept everything held together.
He would buy peas from around the area, accumulated them in whatever storage he could find, then sell them.
“I’d stack bags of peas on the truck, and sell em when the price was right – if I could work that out.”
In not much time, more space was needed. And the shed gradually grew and grew.
In the middle of all his trading, in 1972, AW got Doris in the car and drove out of town. They drove up a dirt track to the gate at the Greenhills; the share farming property he had grown up on.
He got out, and said to Doris, “I’m going to buy it.”
Doris laughed and asked what he would use for money. He said he’d find a way. And he did.
“There was a bit of sentimental value with Greenhills. I was brought up on it.
I wanted to own the place I was brought up on.”
Again, he proved his doubters wrong. In his first year of farming AW managed to not only pay off what he owed but end up with money in his pocket.
From there on AW had an asset he could borrow money against.
He was set up. And the boom began.
Motivated and willing to give anything a go, AW started selling machinery.
He soon become the biggest header supplier in SA.
He started with a sub agency with Case. Then soon received a full agency and became the biggest header supplier in the state.
Busier than ever. Carting, grain trading, and now a machinery dealer, AW still had bigger dreams.
AW worked flat out to keep up with it all.
He continued trading in grain.
And in another story, AW cofounded Pea and Grain Exporters. Becoming the biggest pea exporter in the state or Southern Hemisphere.
It wasn’t uncommon to find unable to sleep. Spending nights pacing up and down the passage way, stressing over a deal that might send him broke.
Overseas trips to gain buyer markets became frequent.
Roger began managing Machinery. Jill to parts and merchandise. Kim began running the grain trading and transport. Rick took over the general running of AW’s farmland. And Tania began to run the merchandise when Jill’s role turned to managing the books and agricultural chemicals.
The Machinery division became a New Holland dealership.
The Merchandise and Chemical division quickly outgrew the small shed store. In 1989 it was moved down the Saddleworth main street.
Agricultural chemicals began to be widely used and the industry kept growing. Rural merchandise stores were few in the beginning, but slowly more and more competition arose.
The growth demanded another store, and in 2005 the Kadina branch was officially opened.
AW remained the patriarch over the Vater family business until his passing in 2013 at age 85.