Robbed at knifepoint, cabbie tries to move on

THERE would be few people in Ballarat who don't recognise Bruce Hancock. 

Chances are the man with the signature shoulder-length grey hair and resemblance to Scottish comedian, Billy Connolly, has driven you home from a night on the town. 

For Bruce, a taxi driver in Ballarat for the past 27 years, 2013 has been one of his toughest to date.

A calm, positive and spiritual man, Bruce, 59, was robbed at knife point on August 1. 

And he's finding it hard to move on. 

Admittedly, he was one of the lucky ones. 

The rather polite armed robber, who actually apologised before pulling a knife and stealing cash, wasn't aggressive, nor did he use the knife. 

However, the incident has taken its toll on a man who, more than anything, loves driving cabs.

It's changed him, as nervousness and anxiety now take over when young men step into his cab.

But he's working through it.

Some would call it fate that Bruce would spend a long career driving cabs.

A lover of all things automotive, the signs of his destiny were there from a young age.

"I remember back at school I used to charge people for rides in my billy cart," he recalls with a laugh.

"Billy-carts, go-carts, tractors, I just loved driving. I couldn't wait to get my license.

"And it just sort of panned out that I'm doing what I'm doing. I love it."

Born and bred in Ballarat, and educated at Redan Primary School and then Sebastopol Technical College, Bruce speaks of an "affinity" with the city he will always call home. 

"I love the people here," he says.

"We're different to anywhere else in the world.

"Some of the drivers are questionable, but it's just a really warm community."

Undertaking a train driver's apprenticeship in his 20s, Bruce said the thought of moving to Melbourne - where drivers were instructed to go after the completion of their training - was too much.

"The smog and the people, it was just never going to be for me," he says. 

Looking for an alternative which would feed his love of driving, Bruce thought back to a past stint he'd done driving cabs.

"I thought, 'oh well, I could always go back to driving cabs for a bit'," he says. 

"27 years later, and I'm still doing it."

"He was a clearly a good kid," he says of the armed robber, "I really do wish him all the best."

And it's no surprise. 

For Bruce, driving cabs is a rewarding job, and as he says throughout our interview, he wouldn't do anything else.

"It's the greatest job in the world," he says.

"I know it isn't that aspirational or anything, but I just enjoy it. 

"You're helping people out in the community and it makes you feel like you're a positive influence on people."

Describing his job as a "self improvement program", he says he's often moved to tears by the beauty of the human race.

"The people I meet just blow me away," he says.

"I constantly think, 'wow, how nice are some people'. 

"Like little old ladies... they'll tip you 30 or 40 cents and it almost makes you cry. It's not the monetary value, it's seeing them appreciate what you did... it touches you inside."

Plus there's the chance to meet people others would only dream of.

Speaking of the many famous faces that have graced his cab over the years, Bruce says it's an honour to drive people he admires. 

Pinpointing one of the greatest moments of his long career, Bruce says picking up the 1987 Miss Australia, Judi Green, stuck with him for a long time. 

"That was the highlight of my taxi driving career for about 10 years," he says with a laugh.

"I was telling people about that one for a while."

Yet the famous clients aren't the only ones that stick in his mind. 

Bruce recalls one man who also left a lasting impression. 

Picking the man up from a Ballarat hospital some years ago, strangely one of his eyes had stopped working and he needed to be taken to a Melbourne specialist. 

"I was a bit concerned about him you know, and I said, 'it's alright mate, I'll hang around and make sure everything is alright'," he says. 

"So I waited around for him, I spoke to a nurse about him, I hung around, and then I brought him back (to Ballarat).

"It's just nice knowing that he really appreciated the fact that I hung around for him... that I cared."

Yet just like any job, there's people who press his buttons. 

Anyone reading can relate to the regimented set of questions passengers often ask their cabbies.

"We call it 20 questions," he says with a laugh.

"It usually starts with, 'you been busy?', followed by a 'oh yeah...what time you on til?' and then there's the bunch of tedious questions that follow."

So what does someone who spends the majority of his life behind a steering wheel do in his spare time?

He keeps driving.

"I've got a driving simulator at home, which is weird I know, but knowing me you'd probably understand," he says with a laugh.

"I finish driving and I go home and drive on the computer for a while."

Gran Turismo - a rally style first person game - is his favourite. 

"I don't get to do much rallying in the cab," he says. 

Apart from video games Bruce is focusing on meditation, clean living and the odd counselling session to help him through his latest challenge. 

And although he remains on edge after the robbery, he hold no grudges. 

"He was a clearly a good kid," he says of the armed robber, "I really do wish him all the best." 

"He was polite, he didn't seem under the influence of anything, I mean who knows what he was going through?"

For now, Bruce will keep doing what he loves. 

"There's one driver still going at 70, so if I can live that long I wouldn't mind to be still driving," he says.

"Once I hit that mark I'll say, 'I've done my bit, it's someone else's turn.'"

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