Southpac Legends

 
Farewell 'Fearless' Fred Burling

Farewell 'Fearless' Fred Burling

Southpac Legends

 August 2021   

Straight talking ‘fearless’ Fred Burling was not only a pioneer in the trucking industry but his work ethic was deemed ‘salutable’ by those that knew (or knew of) him. With a massive 60-year contribution to the freight and farming industry, not only from the Wairarapa area but throughout New Zealand, Fred really was a legend.

To say Frederick Allan Burling ‘Fred’ came from ‘humble beginnings’ is an understatement of epic proportions. Born in Hastings in 1940, his early life was fraught with difficulties, essentially a combination of hard times for the family and of course World War II resulted in Fred and his five siblings being placed into the Methodist Children’s home orphanage in Masterton when he was just nine. Aside from being separated from his parents and segregated from the family, according to many, the home itself was a tempestuous place where the young children worked multiple chores.

His sister Phyllis says, “that’s what shaped his life, we had nothing and were expected to work hard, very hard.”

Fred ‘escaped’ the orphanage at the age of fourteen and as Phyllis recalls it, “I was given a suitcase with a few bits of clothing and a bible and told to ‘get on with it, make your own way’ and I assume Fred started out the same.”

But ‘get on with it’ Fred did. 

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Straight talking ‘fearless’ Fred Burling was not only a pioneer in the trucking industry but his work ethic was deemed ‘salutable’ by those that knew (or knew of) him. With a massive 60-year contribution to the freight and farming industry, not only from the Wairarapa area but throughout New Zealand, Fred really was a legend.

To say Frederick Allan Burling ‘Fred’ came from ‘humble beginnings’ is an understatement of epic proportions. Born in Hastings in 1940, his early life was fraught with difficulties, essentially a combination of hard times for the family and of course World War II resulted in Fred and his five siblings being placed into the Methodist Children’s home orphanage in Masterton when he was just nine. Aside from being separated from his parents and segregated from the family, according to many, the home itself was a tempestuous place where the young children worked multiple chores.

His sister Phyllis says, “that’s what shaped his life, we had nothing and were expected to work hard, very hard.”

Fred ‘escaped’ the orphanage at the age of fourteen and as Phyllis recalls it, “I was given a suitcase with a few bits of clothing and a bible and told to ‘get on with it, make your own way’ and I assume Fred started out the same.”

But ‘get on with it’ Fred did. 

His first job was at the wool scouring plant in Napier, and then returning to Masterton a few years later Fred took up tractor driving with Charlie Banister, plus he also nabbed a job at Aparama Station. During this time, Jack Moore and Davie Topp bought Fred a brand new Fordson Major Tractor, ‘for breaking in the country and doing a lot of cropping work’, Fred would work at the Station during the day and then drive the tractor for half the night as well, working nearly 24-hours a day.

According to Phyllis, Fred went to a farm in Homewood and drove a D4 bulldozer, which he apparently not only worked with but slept under too. While Aparama Station also had a truck that Fred drove, he would load that truck up with wheat twice as much as anyone else.

Fred evidently saved his money as in time he bought Bayleys Spreading in Masterton and went out by himself. 

Fred’s son Johnny says “He bought a trap door scraper and started doing that sort of thing and from there he went deer farming and then into trucks (doing farming and trucks at the same time). Firstly, doing some local fertilizer work and then later bought his first logging truck and ended up with about fifteen. He sold the loggers and then went into general freight.”

Fred’s son Johnny says, “Fred had his own special way of doing things, his way or no-way, he was pretty renowned for being blunt. His nickname was fearless, but it wasn’t because he was fearless of people, his work ethic was fearless. A lot of jobs he did, people said ‘nah you can’t do that’ but he would make it happen because he was fearless. It was mainly when he was doing the bulldozing contracts, he went where the other guys wouldn’t go. And to this day they still call him fearless Fred.”

The stories about Fred at that time were borderline folklore, for instance at one point Fred bought a ‘trucktor’ (half truck/half tractor) but it ended up taking off downhill on its own and that was the end of that. 

Fred’s ‘special ways’ extended to ways of generating work too. If farmers needed a job done, they knew to go to the pub and have a beer with Fred and the job would be booked in. You knew where you stood with Fred, he believed in honesty and always spoke his mind. It was said that as long as there was a Tui in his hand and his trucks were on the road he was happy.

As son Johnny turned sixteen, he joined the business and worked with his father. Fred then sold his business but kept two trucks, (intending to stay small, just Johnny and himself) however, he had an alert business brain and plenty of foresight, buying land and growing the truck numbers, basically he just got bigger and bigger.

Fred’s loyalty to his workers and his family was paramount and although the Burling business may have always been just Fred and Johnny, the Burling’s have employed a vast amount of drivers over the years too. One of which Eddie, (a long-standing driver) spoke at his funeral.

“Looking around here today I’m pretty sure we all have a yarn or have experienced meeting or dealing with Fred whether good bad or funny but we didn’t book this venue for three days, so I’ll briefly bring a few up.”

Eddie began by saying that Fred’s work ethics and organising was one of a kind and deserved praise. 

“He’d say ‘If shit needed doing get in don’t fuck around get it finished ‘cos I need that truck on another job’”

Apparently ‘getting things done’ was a common theme from Fred, drivers were always told ‘don’t muck around, go like hell, lean forward and don’t get a ticket’. Whether it be in wool, fertilizer, logs, or general freight, if you wanted a truck Fred would send one and then another couple just to make sure the job was done correctly.

Eddie says “Another name I used to call Fred was google maps. If you didn’t know where you were going Fred would get his notepad out and proceed to draw a map. With the map in hand leaving his office you would walk out thinking ‘where the hell am I supposed to be going?’” 

With his vast experience and time spent doing the job, Fred’s memory of directions to the different farms and farmers’ names was unbelievable. But being old school he told Lindy (in the office) he didn’t know how to work her computer in the office ‘because there were no keys to start the bloody thing’ hence the maps. What’s more everything was written down manually in his big diary that sat on his desk, however, only Fred could understand what was written.

Eddie’s stories of Fred continued, “He had a very creative aspect of life that I believed pioneered certain sectors of the transport and agricultural industry to be more productive. No open gate policy, drive into it. No 14-foot gateways drive into the strainer if too narrow. Effective braking on a loader, use the side of your truck. Conventional bales too heavy to lift? Cut the strings and make them repress the bales lighter.”

It’s understood that drivers following Fred’s previous instructions lead to Burling Transport trucks being banned from many a farm, however, there was always a call a couple weeks later for the truck to go back. Fred was a very hard worker and expected the drivers to follow his lead.

A teary Eddie ended his speech with “lastly to be a good bastard you need to know a good bastard”

And a good bastard he was, outside of the business as well as within. Fred was a family person, but the trucks and the yard came first ‘that’s just the way he was. Fred was an ardent East Coast rugby fan, (thanks to son Johnny playing there) and was one of the longest standing supporters of the club, plus he sponsored them too. He was also a strong supporter of the Westpac Helicopter. 

Fred’s other passion was car racing and cars in general, however, in true Fred style, he treated his cars like trucks, when he drove there was more rubbish in the cabins than on the back of the truck and so he would think nothing about putting an oil drum in the back of a brand-new Holden Statesman.

Fred’s health dwindled and he was hospitalised at the age of 81. His sister Phyllis says that when Fred was in there, she told him, “I really love you and I’m proud of what you’ve achieved in your life” but she says that Fred didn’t take this as a compliment and his reply to her was “well everyone was expected to work hard”.

Wairarapa Road Transport Association chairman Graeme Reisima describes the loss of Burling ‘as a huge kauri falling in the transport industry’ and that pretty much sums it up.

His daughter Joanne adds “he was a rough diamond that always had respect for anyone that worked hard.”

Son Johnny has been working with Fred for over 30-years, before taking over the business last year. But even as he turned eighty Fred was still involved

RIP ‘Fearless’ Fred Burling 

26 Feb 1940 - 24 June 2021  


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