Journal: 005, Across the Continent

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Mallee!

“Up the Coast”, “Across the Continent” – I’m using up all my best journal headings. Soon I’ll be down to “Tuna for Lunch” (true, as it happens. I’m a vegetarian who eats fish. When I was swimming I wanted 100 grams of protein a day, which took tuna, eggs and protein shakes. But of course the truth is I like fish and love prawns and squid. And hate fishing. Killing things is not sport).

“Across the Continent”: After a few days of no work, and hence those last two book reviews, I was given a b-double load from Wagin in southern WA to Sydney. After the heat of two trips north, the wind and rain of the south coast, Kim Scott country, was a shock. Another old guy, Tom, and I both well rugged up, took all day to load, well the client did, the pace of loading with inexperienced forklift drivers was glacial.

Travelling with another driver is not my favourite thing. Too often they want to talk to you on the CB, set a different timetable, sleep when you want to make a mile, and all those things are true of Tom, a short, white-bearded, cranky and opinionated old man. But, this was my first trip out of WA in fifteen years, and to Sydney, the city I know least and hate most. Tom has been a lifesaver, leading me to all the best fuel stops and eating (and showering!) places and above all making sure my load was secure in the first place and constantly checked along the way. (It’s also been fifteen years since I wasn’t a tanker driver).

And the twists and turns. The first half of the trip is ok, except for the cameras at the WA/SA border (and from there on throughout SA and NSW) and the checking station at Ceduna. But to get across country from the Perth-Adelaide highway to the Adelaide-Sydney highway – from Port Augusta to Renmark – is a nightmare of hills, constant little towns and frequent left and right turns (map). Thank heavens for Tom!

And did I say my phone failed. So if I broke down or lost contact with Tom there was no way of getting help. I bought a prepaid outside Port Augusta. Couldn’t make it work – you need another phone to activate the sim card. And then I lost it anyway, somewhere in the truck. For a while it made beeping noises, but has since lapsed into silence. Past Renmark, near the Victorian border, a nice lady lent me a phone and I spoke to Telstra for 30 minutes without progress. “The system has deactivated your sim card”. Not our fault was only implied. Finally, yes, Tom’s suggestion, I pulled up outside a shopping centre in Mildura, which has become a substantial city since I was last there (in the 1970s probably) and in five minutes the Telstra shop had replaced my sim card for free, and I was on my way again, with 35 posts and comments from you guys to deal with.

Today, Sunday, I’m sitting in the sun in the southern highlands of NSW (WG says) having a 24 hour break now so if I get a load back I can go straight home. It’s been a lovely trip. Nerve wracking to think how much money you could lose breaking down on the Nullarbor – up to $5,000 just for a call-out – but the country is wonderful: western woodlands shading to mallee and saltbush, then the real Mallee yesterday morning across the top corner of Victoria making me a little homesick, into the forests of river red gums along the Murray and Murrimbidgee Rivers before night fell (for the fourth time) and we joined that old familiar Hume Highway near Gundagai, anonymous in the unstopping procession of brightly lit trucks flying through the dark, up and down, up and down, across the Great Divide, to here.

Monday: Tom was impatient. He say’s I’m impatient. The minute our 24 hours were up, middle of Sunday night Sydney time, we were off for the last two hours to a factory in the far western suburbs. Up the M7, sleep outside. Woke Tom up at 6am (4am Perth time), boy was he cranky, a couple of hours to unload, a few km back down the freeway to drop our trailers at Tolls and then into the Eastern Creek BP truckstop next door with a hundred other trucks waiting to be loaded, breakfast, a shower, a nap. Tonight, late, I’ll be on my way home, and Tom’s off to Brisbane.

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Trucks at Eastern Creek lined up with their backs to the sun while drivers wait for trailers to be loaded and the mad rush home to do it all again.

The books below, I enjoyed. Let the Dead Speak was a murder mystery with a twist – the wrong person dies – involving a good looking young woman who is a bit ‘slow’. Breaking Point was an adventure story featuring a thoughtful, non-violent forest ranger, wicked federal government agencies and a million miles of Wyoming mountain wilderness. Made me feel at home, despite the pine trees and summer snowdrifts. Us is still going – an English scientist, born the same year as me, with the tastes in music and clothing of my father, marries a beautiful, arty woman and their marriage is breaking up over his arguments with their 17 year old son. I think the nerdishness of the protagonist is intended ironically, but the author doesn’t pull it off. Good in parts.

Finally, I’ve been roped into a ‘serious’ literary argument. Bonny Cassidy in The Sydney Review of Books (here) has written a 3,000 word (I’m guessing) essay on David Ireland’s A Woman of the Future which commences by taking issue with my judgement that “the woman of David Ireland’s future turns out to be not so independent after all, or at least not in any way Miles Franklin or even Kylie Tennant would have understood, but just a compilation of all the author’s wet dreams.”

And now Holloway’s blog post winds me up. I can’t pretend to critical indifference; I believe the novel’s significance remains undiminished. I’ve got to get out of the bunker and argue for it.

It’s an excellent essay, by a passionate Ireland fan, and of course I endorse her references to The Swan Book, The Natural Way of Things

As in Wood’s narrative, for Ireland nothing is too high, low, absurd or gravid for the purposes of interrogating the limits of nationhood and gender.

and The Pea Pickers. Great books all.

 

Recent audiobooks

Jane Casey (F, Eng), Let the Dead Speak (2017)
CJ Box(M, USA), Breaking Point (1958)
David Nicholls (M, Eng), Us (2014)

Currently reading

Anne Brooksbank, All My Love (review)
Cixin Liu, The Dark Forest, 2008 (translated Joel Martinsen, 2015) – still going, although not today (Sunday), we’ve been checking the loads, talking  (I’m getting some writing done now while Tom has a nana-nap), fruit & veg shopping, and I have to catch up on those 35 posts and comments, which keep on coming! And have a nap myself of course.


PS. Took advantage of this break to write to Dr Cassidy, and I see in her RMIT profile that she has written a chapter in Katherine Mansfield and Literary Influence, Edinburgh University Press (2015) titled The Meeting of Katherine Mansfield and Eve Langley. I’ll have to see if Geology daughter can get me a copy via UWA library.

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17 thoughts on “Journal: 005, Across the Continent

  1. I love your trucking journal, Bill. It’s a way of life I’ve not though much about before and you bring it so alive I feel like I’m in the cab with you. BTW, I’m a veggie who eats fish (and chicken) and my Other Half describes me as a “fussy carnivore” which is probably right 🤪

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love that you don’t name your children it ex, but ol’ shit-head Tom is outted right away! It made me laugh. Why were you on a buddy run? Does Tom know he needs nana-naps to be less of a shithead?

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  3. Thoroughly enjoyed this Bill – and if you end up in the Canberra environs – ie Yass or Gunning or Goulburn (even), and can let me know in advance, I’d try to meet you for a cuppa if I could . (If I wasn’t otherwise committee I mean!) I just can’t contemplate doing that sort of driving in so few days. You truckies are amazing. I hope you enjoy this change – hmm, I was going to say “of pace” but that may not be quite it. This change, anyhow.

    I saw that SRB essay come through but haven’t read it yet. Love that you were quoted and argued with.

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    • Thanks Sue, I thought yesterday that if I told you where I was and you were going to Sydney, you would stop and say hello. (The fruit & veg shopping was at Franks, a stall outside the Shell past Marulan). And it has been a change of pace, doing a dollar (100 kph), when for all the last decade I’ve road trained at much slower speeds.

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      • I’d happily drive to Yass or Gunning or Goulburn if I could make the time suit. I don’t go to Sydney much now that my aunt has died and her estate has settled, particularly given my kids are both in Melbourne.

        I know that Shell but we usually don’t need petrol at that point, so I’m not aware of a Franks either. We often need a cuppa but for that we go into Marulan to the Meridian Cafe. That’s probably not what truckies can do though … go off the highway I mean.

        Anyhow if you are this way again and know your timing well enough to give me a heads up, do so!

        And enjoy going your dollar!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I really like these posts about your experience as a truck driver and all your descriptions of Australia.

    And congratulations for being quoted in the Sydney Review of Books.

    I love that you have a professional life so far from literature and you’re still able to discuss with academics.
    I think it’s a greater challenge to have this “double” life.

    PS : Out of curiosity, why do you dislike Sydney?

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    • Thanks Emma. I thought I was taking a risk writing them but they seem to be going ok. Re SRB my next ambition is to be quoted approvingly.

      Sydney really deserves a post of its own. But. It is surrounded by mountains, is difficult to navigate, the streets are narrow and winding and the traffic is fast, and police and transport inspectors backed by an Orwellian statewide camera network are on your case all the time.

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