How many people can say they have held down the same job for nearly seven decades?
Roly Lennox has been delivering fresh produce to homes on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast for 70 years, all without a single address, mobile phone, alarm clock or sick day.
Now, with millions of kilometres clocked up on ever-changing roads, Roly has ended a remarkable run, completing his last deliveries aged a very youthful 86.
It is hard to comprehend how it will affect his loyal customers. Up to three generations of the same families have depended on his reliability and friendship.
“In all the times I’ve been going I’ve never lost one day through sickness,” Roly says.
He learnt his trade and work ethic as one of four children on the family’s dairy and market farm, helping his parents and grandparents grow and deliver produce by horse and cart.
Every second Monday since the 1940s, Roly has left his Ringtail Creek home at 3am, waking up without an alarm clock, to drive two-and-a-half hours to the Brisbane market through an ever-changing landscape.
“All out this side of Brisbane, they used to grow early pumpkins on red soil and there was pumpkin patches everywhere around and now there’s nothing but houses,” he marvels.
When he started, Brisbane’s markets were based in Roma Street. Forklifts and pallets did not exist and produce was moved one box at a time.
Fast-forward to 2018, and Roly is visiting a vastly different operation in Rocklea. Brisbane Markets Limited covers 77 hectares, processes 600,000 tonnes of produce from 7000 growers and turns over $1.3 billion a year.
But among the 4000 people doing business there every day, Roly is a rarity, not just for his age, but his independent home delivery service.
“When I started here 30 years odd ago, there would have been 30 or 40 backing on the back docks, and buying doing home calls. There’s virtually none now. He’s a rare breed,” salesman Ross Caltabiano says.
Roly never needed to advertise. Business grew by word-of-mouth and even as he winds down business, he is delivering to 70 customers over three days every fortnight.
“It’s been a blessing to me really because as a working woman I found it very convenient to have somebody call with fruit and vegetables every fortnight, especially when my family was growing up,” Helen Berry says.
The mother of five, who ran a mechanical workshop with her late husband, has relied on Roly since 1951. Her children and grandchildren have also been customers.
Landline joined Roly as he made one of his last runs to his beloved customers.
“It’s going to be a sad day for me when he gives up. Very sad,” Mrs Berry said.
“Roly’s like family,” George Martin said as he and his sister Elva Tomlinson walk outside to choose tasty fruit and vegetables from the grocery shop on wheels.
“He’s been coming to our family before I was born. I’m 70 years of age and it’s a shame that Roly’s finishing up but I understand that as you get older you can’t do things like you would like to do.”
Roly never owned a calculator, or a mobile phone.
“Well when you haven’t had one you never miss it,” he laughs.
“Same with the computers, I’ve got nothing to do with computers or anything of that modern stuff.”
A bung right knee has made deliveries tough of late and although Roly could power a planet with sheer determination, lugging heavy boxes up steps, climbing over gates and pushing through, the pain was losing its allure.
But do not make the mistake of calling this retirement.
“No way, I’m just stopping me fruit and veges. We’ve got cattle and we’ve got bees.”
The “we” in Roly’s life is his 88-year-old brother Des, who lives in the original farmhouse on their property, without a working phone or power. He drives down the hill every day to make meals with the vegetables Roly bought at the markets, and the fresh food they grow at home.
Together they run cattle on the family farm they bought from their parents in the northern Sunshine Coast hinterland.
They own more than 200 hectares and have been keeping bees since the 1970s, harvesting, processing and selling honey from 30 hives, without protection from suit or veil.
Asked what it was about the Lennox brothers that keeps them so active well into their eighties, Des said he did not know.
“Just work I suppose. Work. Probably good breeding,” he laughs.
The Lennox brothers share a deep faith in God. Des gave land for a youth camp to Teen Missions International Australia and that was where Roly met the love of his life, American Linda Lee Asher.
They married when he was 58 and shared ten wonderful years before she died of a brain tumour.
Now, it is just two bachelor brothers and their ever-hopeful dogs.
“Obviously to a lot of people these days, it’s maybe seen as a hard lifestyle or a difficult lifestyle but it’s just what they see as normal,” nephew Ian Lennox says.
“Being self-sufficient, growing things. Just being in touch with the land.
“I’ve always been impressed by their can-do attitude. Nothing phases them.”
A gift of a card and cup from one of Roly’s customers reflects the regard he is held in.
“You have been a huge asset to the community with your service and friendship,” it reads. “You are a wonderful man who deserves a well-earned cuppa.”
And there is no doubt Roly will drop back in for a visit and a cup of strong tea. He has strong views against too much time spent indoors, and farmers retiring.
“They get sick and tired of fishing, they come home, sit on the lounge chair watching the idiot box and they only last a few months and they’re dead and six foot under,” he said.
“I’m going to keep going so I don’t do that, for a long time yet.”