I’m the driver. This is my default position in the family. When all else goes wrong I drive. My version of staying in touch. Milly needs dirt for her garden, timber for a renovation, into my ute it goes. Gee buys another bed, ditto. When Psyche left home in year 10, I had too, but we had an agreement, if she rang I’d come and get her, from my place in Carlton – a lovely terrace house in Lygon St, standard mid-life crisis guy-thing – pick her up in the middle of the night in the outer suburbs and deliver her back to her refuge.
Milly doesn’t drive at night so when I can I pick her up, get up at 4.00 am to take her to the airport for work. Whatever it takes. She cooks, I think I come out on top.
Every chance I’ve got, all my life, I’ve driven. Utes and tractors at Granddad’s farm from when I was 12, then more independently at my uncle Allan’s as I got older and went there to work every holidays. I turned 18 at uni, mum and dad paid for lessons with the RACV, and I got my licence at the Melbourne Exhibition Building (above) where we also did our exams. There was a truck driving school nearby in Lygon St (near the bowling green) and I got my semi-trailer licence there too a year later.
I’m not sure now when I decided to be a truck driver. Les, Mum’s youngest brother was mad about trucks and bought his first one when I was 15 or 16. He was only four years older than me and I had always tagged along after him every chance I got. Whenever I hitchhiked, and that was often in the last year of high school and the first year of uni, I would aim to get lifts in trucks, the further the better.
I spent the first half of 1970 ostensibly repeating first year Engineering, but really with the anarchists and SDS working towards the Moratorium. After that there was a Socialist Scholars conference in Sydney and I remember driving home (driving the Premier’s daughter’s little Renault 8) and announcing that I was dropping out to become a truck driver.
It was ridiculously easy to get a job. My first was in Glen Iris driving a 2 ton Toyota tip truck for a gardening contractor. That lasted a week but I got a proper driving job straight away with Coulsons in West Melbourne, an easy walk from my place in North Melbourne opposite Royal Childrens. The limit for a driver with a car licence was, and is, 3 tons. Coulsons gave me an old Austin that weighed less than that empty but was 8 ton fully loaded, and I was on my way. As soon as I got my semi licence I was promoted to a bigger truck, a Bedford 7 tonner. I remember all my trucks.
I remember all my jobs too and I’ve had a few. After ten weeks at Coulsons I moved on to Sartoris in the hope of getting interstate work, got the push for reading a book when I thought there was nothing to do, did one trip Melb-Bris-Adel-Melb as co-driver, a few weeks with Clive Brothers livestock, got caught speeding, 6 ‘orange’ lights through Ringwood bringing a load of vealers from Lilydale market to the saleyards at Newmarket, then Lou Arthur’s carting to and from the wharf, they had the most amazing old trucks, some dating back to before the War. One of my jobs was carting bagged wheat from the ‘Nylex’ silo near the MCG in a 1950s Bedford. They offered to keep me on when my court case came up and I lost my licence but I’d already decided to use my year off to do first year Arts – Arabic, Philosophy and History & Philosophy of Science with Maths carried over from Engineering.
Late that year I met the Young Bride and she moved in with me and my mate in a terrace house at the rear of the Windsor Hotel. In December she and I bought a Commer van with what little money we had and with another couple to share costs we drove up the coast to Brisbane and moved into a rooming house in New Farm. It was still a few months until I could get my truck licence back. I laid grass on the banks of a new freeway, did spot-welding, was an electrician’s mate in Ashtons Circus, then just on my 21st birthday I was accepted as a journalist cadet.
I worked evenings, four till midnight, writing up world news off the AAP teleprinter, putting my own slant on the Vietnam War, listening to the cricket, Australia were touring England, writing up my own cricket stories. The van had died so I would walk home through the Valley, sometimes calling at the pub to pickup the Young Bride if she had gone for an evening out with our prostitute friends/neighbours. They were big solid girls and made sure young, slight, blonde and pretty YB stayed out of trouble. We had the days to ourselves and would walk around the Valley window shopping. Once I got my licence back I got a job driving an old Commer 8 tonner on the wharves, but: I had a dispute with my employer about overloading; the Federal Police wanted me for non-compliance with the Draft; the newspaper wanted me to work days. I moved on.
To Nambour, 60 miles up the Bruce Highway, driving for Allan Marr, an angry man who’d been a Japanese POW. We were there six months, initially just running down to Brisbane in a furniture van, or out to Caboolture and Maroochydore where they were just starting the canal developments and new houses, but then the big time! An old butterbox ACCO with a single axle trailer carrying prefabricated house sections and beer (they built the pub before they built the town) from Brisbane to Moranbah, west of Mackay, 600 miles north. YB always came with me, we were flat out at 48mph, we broke down, got stuck in floods, made friends up and down the road, and I was officially a long distance truckie.
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