Grader operator retires after 43 years shaping region’s roads network

WHEN Rex Hockley blames shoddy maintenance for the poor condition of our roads he knows what he is talking about after working on them for more than four decades.

The Warrnambool 67-year-old retired yesterday after 32 years with the former Minhamite Shire Council and 16 years with Rodger Constructions.

For 43 years of that long, outdoor career he drove graders in building and maintaining the region’s roads network.

“Now when I’m travelling somewhere in the car I’m always commenting on the standard of roads,” he joked.

“Being a grader operator is a challenge and  special skill, requiring total concentration.

“I get a lot of pleasure out of achieving a good result.

“At work I say a job’s not finished until I’m satisfied.”

Mr Hockley’s employer Graeme Rodger yesterday described him as one of the last of the old-school road constructors who would be missed by workmates and the industry.

“We need people like him to pass on their skills to the younger generation,” Mr Rodger said.

Mr Hockley’s journey in life started at Tarrone on his parents’ soldier settler farm. He attended the nearby Willatook and Warrong primary schools, which have since closed.

Secondary education at Warrnambool Technical School didn’t inspire him much so he left at the age of 14 to work on the farm and in shearing sheds, before a 12-month stint as a house painter in Port Fairy.

But inside work didn’t impress him too much either, so he quit and scored a job with Minhamite Shire at Hawkesdale as a truck driver at the age of 19, just before he was called up for national service during the Vietnam War.

Two years later, after stints in Puckapunyal, Albury and Rockhampton, he returned to the shire and soon found himself in the driving seat of a grader after the usual operator died unexpectedly.

“After a week on trial I was given the role full-time and  picked up the skills as I went,”  he said.

“Whenever I return to Hawkesdale the locals ask when I’m going to return to fix the roads.”

In his young days, Mr Hockley also showed prowess on the football field and is still remembered for booting long dropkicks from full-back for the Hawkesdale team.

He’ll get plenty of  time to spot road defects as he and his wife Heather hitch up a caravan and explore more of Australia in retirement.

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