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Year: 2015

John Gregory Sawyer was born in Adelaide in 1932. His father owned a sand and gravel business which supplied fill for local road works and John assisted his father from the age of 10. The family relocated to Alice Springs in 1944 and John's father passed away soon after, leaving him as the man of the house at the tender age of 13.

While in Alice Springs John worked in various jobs and was eventually employed by Goldsborough Mort to help transport, buy and sell cattle. It was also in Alice Springs that John met and married Janet Irvine, his wife of 54 years.

The Sawyer's bought Ti-Tree Roadhouse in 1961 and also leased the Wauchope Hotel before moving to Darwin in 1965. John bought his first Mack truck a B61 in 1967 and used it to cart fuel. This was soon followed by the purchase of three refrigeration trailers and Trans Territory Refrigerated (TTR) was born.

TTR operated a twice weekly service to Alice Springs, carting fresh produce from the Adelaide Markets (which had been sent by rail to Alice) back to Darwin. In 1973, John took this service one step further and began distributing the produce around Darwin in a joint venture arrangement that traded as Coin Distributors. This business was subsequently purchased outright by John, renamed Trans Territory Foods (TTF) and is still operational today under the management of one of the Sawyer's six children.

In 1974 cyclone Tracy hit and TTF became immensely important to the community in trying to get food into and around Darwin. It was a difficult time to get produce in by road, so some imagination was required. As there was a huge volume of passenger planes flying in to evacuate citizens, John and his team arranged for these empty planes to become roadtrains of the sky and loaded them up with whatever they could. Planes arriving into Darwin during this period were often seen carrying full cargos of produce with literally every seat containing a bag of spuds, onions or cabbage!

TTF continued to expand after the cyclone and became a fully-fledged food service company, one of the earliest members of the National Food Distributors Association (NAFDA). Agency agreements were struck with a multitude of food and beverage companies, including an exclusive distribution agreement for Streets ice cream in the Top End. John's fleet of trucks were now servicing towns (and many remote Aboriginal communities) from Kununarrato, Booraloola and in 1988 a new TTF depot was established in Katherine.

Although the business has been under management since this time, John has always maintained a hands on role, particularly in the recruitment and training of new drivers. Whenever a new truck was purchased for the business, John would often put his hand up to drive it back from Sydney or Melbourne, with the last of these trips taking place just short of his 70th birthday.

John will be 83 in November and he's now semi-retired (he'll never stop working completely) and free to spend time with his extended family, including 11 grandchildren. John's legacy is best described by one of his long term friends and fellow truckie, Dick Muggridge I'm a fierce admirer of John and Jan Sawyer. I know how hard they've worked and John's pioneering efforts with his fuel carting and perishable run from Alice are legendary. I can only look in awe at the scale of the business that he's created.

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