Brother, it's time to take a load off

A UNIQUE part of Warrnambool’s character ended this month when Graham Wilkins carted his last load of rubbish after a career spanning five decades.

In an era where electronic communications and mechanisation can be the difference between success and failure in the business world, Graham and his brother Archie defied the trend.

They don’t have a telephone, not even a landline connection, and built their reputation on hard manual labour and honesty.

They’ve cleared tonnes of rubbish from foreshore camping grounds, showgrounds, the racecourse and business premises — working seven days a week in peak demand. 

Archie, now 73, spent most of his working life with disabilities caused by brain injuries suffered when he fell from a garbage truck at the age of 20.

Unfortunately, his active days ended after a hip replacement five years ago.

Graham kept the business going until he decided to hang up the boots two weeks ago at the age of 68. 

Their little white truck and trailer now sits idle in their driveway. 

Turn the clock back to October 1959 and Archie was in Warrnambool Base Hospital after a major operation in which part of his skull was removed to relieve pressure on the brain.

He spent three weeks unconscious in ice therapy and about two years recuperating.

Archie had been riding on the rear of a contractor’s garbage truck when it jerked, causing him to lose balance and fall head-first onto the roadway in Japan Street.

According to Graham, the driver fled the scene. Archie was found by a nearby shop operator and taken to hospital for emergency surgery, which lasted six hours.

Graham, who had been working at Repco, had a hunch that Archie’s old International truck could be put to use.

So he hung a sign on it advertising rubbish carting and general freight work.

Within three months demand had expanded to full-time work for the brothers.

“On New Year’s Day we’d collect heaps of beer bottles and cans from the foreshore camping grounds,” Graham said.

“One of our biggest tallies was 135 dozen bottles (that’s 1620 bottles).”

Warrnambool Show weekend produced a truckload of rubbish each day and the May Racing Carnival would leave behind two truck loads after the Thursday cup day.

It wasn’t an easy slog, considering many rubbish bins were 44-gallon drums overflowing with refuse.

Archie still gets a grin by pulling up his shirt sleeve to reveal his muscles. He was reputedly one of the strongest men in Warrnambool in his heyday.

“The shopkeepers didn’t want us to leave,” Graham said.

“One of the oddest events was when a shopkeeper followed me to the tip looking for his day’s takings which had been accidentally put in the rubbish bin.

“I walked over to where I had dumped the load and luckily picked back up his money.”

The Wilkins outlasted eight trucks and five municipal rubbish tips — Thunder Point (two), Harris Street, Fitzroy Road and Braithwaite Street.

Along the way they’ve picked up a few items worth saving, including old newspapers which Graham has used for his own clippings file of local history.

Graham also served in the local fire brigade for 38 years.

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