The trucking fraternity celebrated the life of Tony Camilleri.
The trucking fraternity celebrated the life of Tony Camilleri.

Truckie Tony was made for the industry

ON THE morning of Tuesday, December 10, 30 or more truckies gathered at the Little River BP on the Geelong Road.

From the red and black T900 Legend to Ray Shalders’ single drive W-model, they were all presented without a speck of dirt on them.

Similarly with the drivers.

Not a blue singlet to be seen.

Rather, pressed trousers, collared shirts and ties and in many cases, suits.

At 9am, engines turned over and the procession, led by a sparkling white 1986 W-model Kenworth, wound its way down the Geelong Road to the church where hundreds waited to mourn the passing of Tony “Izzy” Camilleri, the owner of this white Kenworth that had served him so well for nearly thirty years.

One of 10 children, Tony was born at the Royal women’s Hospital on February 27, 1954 to Emily and Joseph.

Long-time mate, Les Thursby said: “Tony was made for the industry and it was made for him.”

“He was driving tippers before he was 20 with Boral, carting sand out of Bacchus Marsh,” he said.

“Then there was Linfox, Pearce’s and Fluid Freight LP gas tankers, one of which he laid on its side (with me riding shotgun).

“There was a problem with the tri-axle with a full load of LP gas. We were going around a corner and arse-over-end she went. It certainly wasn’t Tony’s fault – he was a damned good driver!”

Tony camilleri
Tony camilleri

Tony’s twin sister, Redenta spoke of another time: “On one occasion while driving a truck for another company, he took the corner of a roundabout just a little bit too tight and rolls the truck. He rang the boss straight away and said, ‘Boss, the mirror is broken.’ The boss snapped back, ‘Then fix it!’ Tony replied, ‘I can’t, the truck is on top of it.’”

Maybe it was just as well Tony went out on his own, purchasing a Kenworth S2 in the late ‘80s. This was followed by his beloved W-model that he bought in 1991.

He had run into long-time mate, Ray Shalders who’d just three days before bought one for himself.

“It was only three years old at the time. Tony came down and said, ‘Where did you get that bloody thing?’ I said, ‘Why? Do you want one?’ He said, ‘Absobloodylutely I do!’ I said its sister truck was still sitting there at Sidebottom’s so he went straight out and bought it.”

So, Ray had W-model number 7 (Cummins) and Tony, no 8 (CAT). It is well known that the things Tony held dearest were his family, his friends and his W-model, although it would be hard to say in what order.

“It would be approaching 30 years that he’s had it,” Ray said.

“It’s a long time to work one vehicle. He used it as a working truck for his whole life. He only ever had the S2 and the W.

“I’ve known Tony for 35 years and do you know what, mate; if you broke down at 3 o’clock in the morning, anywhere, anytime he would jump in the car and drive down there to make sure I was back on the road again. What sort of man would do that that wasn’t a true mate?”

Les Thursby and Tony go way back.

“Tony was everyone’s best friend and he regarded everyone as his best friend. He was more like a brother than a friend and we all experienced a deep loss on December 1 when he passed away at the age of only 65,” he said.

“There was no doubt that the world will be a darker place without him in it.

“I first met Izzy, and his quick wit and humour over 50 years ago and we quickly became the best of friends. I doubt if there’s any person in this room that Tony has not helped in some way without reservation or expectation of repayment. It is not an exaggeration to say that Tony was an extraordinary man.

Tony camilleri
Tony camilleri

“We held a shared passion for automotives and spent many hours working together on cars and trucks for income, for fun, or for sheer necessity of a job that needed doing.”

Tony had a little gas burner that he kept in his truck, always ready to be pulled out to cook something on whilst waiting roadside for the next job to start.

He would start cooking and his wife, Julie would give him extra food to cook for people – including strangers – he’d meet along the way.

Tony’s twin sister, Redenta spoke lovingly of her brother: “For 65 years we were best friends. Tony gave me strength when I needed it. He inspired me when I was in doubt. He made me laugh and cry. When I look around and see the amount of true friends who are here today it makes me proud of what an indelible imprint he made upon the world around him.

“He loved long-haul driving as he could earn more money to provide for his young family. I remember talking to him whilst he was driving on his way to some place up north that I’d never heard of. He certainly knew his way around Australia. I thought he was the third member of the Leyland brothers.

“Tony was always working on his trucks, servicing and doing repairs to them. Every weekend he and the love of his life, wife Julie, would be washing and polishing the truck and tank. (Older brother) Frank would ask why he polished the tanker. His reply was that the police wouldn’t stop him if they saw the truck was well maintained.”

On August 2, 2019, Tony and his close friends, Karen and Heath, organised a benefit called Tony Gives Back to the Mac.

With brother Joe and other family members belting out the songs, more than $20,000 was raised for the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute.

We wrote about Tony's efforts for the institute in issue 19 of Big Rigs, published on September 20.

Tony Camilleri has prostate cancer. His warning to other truckies.
Tony Camilleri has prostate cancer. His warning to other truckies.

Tony mingled at the event with all his workmates and family, although wracked with pain.

Twenty years ago Tony was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The family thought then that he wouldn’t survive, but survive he did.

Then, four years ago he was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer.

Following the lymphoma he had regular blood tests – but, as it turned out, never a test for his PSA levels.

In the face of this adversity he showed great strength, courage, resilience and determination.

Although very ill at the time he still did a lot of work on his W-model with help from Les.

They pulled out the whole back suspension, separated the chassis rail from the inserts, cleaned it, had it sandblasted and painted it all.

Tony camilleri
Tony camilleri

“He pulled it all out himself,” said Les.

“I went and gave me a hand to put it back in. A lot of young fit and healthy men wouldn’t take on a job like that. We had every nut and bolt out of the truck. We changed the front axle, put in a second lot of diffs and the fourth engine and gearbox.

Joe Camilleri: “I look at my brothers and sisters here. The unbreakable chain has been broken.”

Rest in peace, Tony.