When I decided to stop being a cadet journalist at $44/week – and when my father gave my address in New Farm to the Federal Police – I hitched up the Bruce Highway intending to find a driving job and got one at the first place I tried, Marrs Carrying in Nambour, just 100 kms up the road. I got a flat, single bedroom, one of four in a row along a short driveway, and in a couple of days I was given a trip to Brisbane in one of Marrs’ old C-series International furniture vans, picked up the Young Bride and our little furniture, and brought her back to our new home.
Alan Marr was a big, angry man, a former POW on the Burma railway, and he got through employees pretty quickly. But his sons, big like him, weren’t so bad and luckily Danny, the older, took a liking to me and YB and so I got on ok.
A lot of our work was bringing building materials up to Maroochydore where they were just beginning the process of digging the canals and putting in subdivisions. We brought up all sorts of freight to Nambour; did furniture removals throughout the Sunshine Coast; and three trucks, the elite, carried fruit from central Queensland to Sydney and Melbourne.
As well as home base in Nambour, we had a depot in Eagle Farm and every night the last truck out of Brisbane would load up all the bits and pieces off the dock and take them back to Nambour to be delivered. Then, in the morning all the drivers, sometimes as many as 10 or so, would turn up at 6.00 am. All of us would line up beside that ‘last’ truck and sometimes shoulder to shoulder to fit us all in, would pass items from hand to hand until the truck was unloaded. No man could be seen to be unemployed!
If there was a flour truck in from Dalby, one or two of us would be deputed to go down to the bread factory to unload twenty ton of 120 lb flour bags. The driver would drag each bag to the edge of the trailer, tip it onto our shoulders and we would run -yes run – it inside and lay it on the stack, running up the sides of the stack as it got higher. Grown men would wilt and walk away, but I was pretty wiry then and once you got into a rhythm it wasn’t bad work.
Soon anyway I was promoted to a long-distance job running beer and and building materials to the new mining town of Mooranbah, inland of Mackay and about 600 miles or 1,000 km north of Brisbane. My truck was a ‘butterbox’ ACCO towing a single axle trailer, with a carrying capacity of 12 ton. That’s an ACCO pictured but a twin-steer, which I’ll get to later. Mine was single steer and single drive. The engine was a trusty old Perkins diesel putting out 130 HP. By then, 1972, American trucks had 240 – 300 HP motors and even the Europeans, mostly Mercedes at that time, had 205 HP. So progress, with a top speed of 48 mph, was slow. But on reflection it was a good truck in which to learn my trade.
Well, except for the brakes! Sadly, after a few pumps, the old ACCO had no brakes at all. You learnt to approach corners and other difficulties slowly. And usually, halfway down a long decline, you would let her rip, while you revved the engine and built up brake pressure again.
YB and I had the second flat along. In the first were a couple of guys, Spot, who was a barman at one of the hotels, and a tall awkward guy, Nebo. One night we had all been drinking around our kitchen table and I had gone to bed. After a while I could hear tall, awkward guy trying to persuade YB – 18, friendly, and good looking – to come next door with him. I chased him out, and we all stayed friends.
Still, she always came with me on trips. I liked being with her, and it was amazing the friends we made along the way because people liked talking to her. If we had to, we’d sleep sitting up, our heads on pillows in the corners or leaning over the engine cover. But often I would arrange the load, especially if it was beer and soft drinks, so there was a space on the deck where we could stretch out on furniture packing.
The coast road, the Bruce Hwy, was pretty primitive back then, narrow, barely two lanes, and all the river crossings single lane ‘bridges’ just above the water, with a log along each side to stop you driving off.
Summer of course is rainy season, and the water coming off the coastal range would flood all the creeks and cover the crossings. You’d check the level wasn’t above two feet, aim at the road on the other side and head right in. Going into Rocky there was a long stretch of river flats and the road had a big curve, so if it was under water there was nothing to aim for and the police would close it, or sometimes guide us through.
Towards xmas, YB and I went up on a Sunday. There were roadworks north of Gympie and they were a quagmire. There should have been a grader to tow the tucks through but the driver had gone to the Sunday session, so we had to wait. Eventually he turned up, not particularly worse for wear, and we got going, up to Moranbah, unloaded, and home without incident. That should have been our last trip for the year, but the boss had loaded up another ACCO, a petrol-engined twin steer tray with ten ton of beer, for us to take straight back. So off we went.
We got to Gin Gin, outside Bundaberg, that evening and there was a queue of cars and trucks waiting to cross the river which was a bit over two feet. Eventually, a couple of trucks came through southbound and we set up a convoy heading north. I was about third, tucked in behind the truck in front so I wouldn’t splash water on my engine, and particularly the distributor. We got through ok but no-one followed us. The truck behind had run up on the log side and was stuck there. I heard later, up the road, that it was 24 hours before they got a crane to lift him off and re-open the road.
There was more rain on the way, so YB and I made a run for it. The Bruce Hwy between Rockhampton and Mackay was then inland of it’s current route, as the map shows, running north from Marlborough. There were some good roadhouses along there, derelict now. We made it as far as Boyne River where there were already a couple of trucks pulled up with huts and another with oranges. The river was at two foot six, so we went inside to have breakfast and wait for it to go down. That evening it was at eight feet and we’d all backed up, and the next morning it was sixteen and rising. We were stuck there three days, eventually about 50 trucks and a heap of cars. The roadhouse tried to ration what food it had, and otherwise we lived on oranges and my beer, resting in the shade of the huts and playing pontoon. I was selling the beer at 50c a stubby, hot. People would keep coming up to me and YB giving us money. Another guy up the back in a Peters Ice Cream truck told me later he was chilling the stubbies and selling them for 60c. I wish he’d told me at the time!
When we finally got to the Moranbah pub, the publican just laughed and charged us Brisbane cost price for the shortages, so we made a whacking profit. Back in Nambour, friends, a couple from Moura where we also did deliveries sometimes, had arrived to spend the break with us. The guys next door broke a louvre and let them in. YB and I were back by Xmas Eve and we all went to the drive in, at Maroochydore or Caloundra, I forget now, and sat on the ground on rugs and drank the night away.