Odds & Sods

Journal: 017

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Sail & Anchor, Fremantle (wiki)

I’m having (will have had by the time this is posted) a week off. The truck has had a leaking radiator for a few weeks now and on Saturday Sam used it as an excuse not to give me the load he promised me on Friday. I guess one of his own trucks didn’t have work. So I’ve put it in to have the radiator replaced. Apparently modern radiators are too fragile to be repaired.

Hence a journal of odds & sods. My mother used to say “you sod” meaning I think, you duffer. Wrong consonants! My family, all of whom read I’m Making a Mistake, were quick to capitalize on my unexpected availability and I was allocated the task of picking up nearly 15 year old granddaughter from a party in Freo. at 10.30 pm (negotiated down from 11.30). I was already at Milly’s doing some carpentering – she’s never slow to capitalize – so we got changed and went down to Freo for dinner and a movie.

Dinner was ok, we wandered through the markets and ended up at the multi-outlet place next to the Sail & Anchor. I had Malaysian, rice and fish curry, and a glass of cheap white. Outside, in the busking space, a 9 or 10 year old girl was dancing furiously with a hula hoop. I put a few dollars in her hat. The movie was The Insult. Earlier in the week I’d been discussing an Israeli view of the Palestinian ‘problem’ with Sue (Whispering Gums) and this was the same problem from a different viewpoint, that of right wing Christian Lebanese forced to share their country with Palestinian refugees. It was a good movie, until I got a phone call from nearly 15’s father (at home with 6 and 8).

Nearly 15 is in with a bad crowd as they say and it’s impacting on her schooling and her home life and I was a bit anxious about what state she’d be in by 10.30. So when her dad said (Yes, I went outside to return the call) granddaughter and her friend were waiting to be picked up nearby two hours early, I walked straight there, and Milly caught us up a few minutes later. Two more fifteenish 15 year olds you wouldn’t want to meet. They were bored, they were hungry. Their phones didn’t work, or were lost, or the chargers were lost. We fed them, took them home. I think the other girl hadn’t told her mother everything she might as she (the mother) and Milly had a long talk when Milly rang her in the morning. A happy ending. I just need to borrow the movie to see how it ends.


Westerly, our local bookish magazine, has an essay by Claire G Coleman (my review of Terra Nullius) on the perils of being Indigenous and speaking at Writers Festivals – The Risks of Question Time (here). It seems there will always be at least one old white person to tell the Indigenous how to be Indigenous.

I am speaking to whitey now; you made us. You took our land, you raped our ancestors and made our people feel so unwanted, so hated, that they felt it necessary to capitulate by marrying and bonking our oppressors. When our children were born mixed-race, you decided we were inferior even to our own people and tried to breed us whiter, breed out the black and took kids from their families to ensure you had power over them. You told us our culture was worthless and forced your ‘education’ on us. Some of us excelled at your education and those of us who do well within your system are now, in your minds, ‘not really Aboriginal’.

Leaving aside that I don’t go to Writers Festivals and I find it very difficult to speak in public, I hope I am not such a person. I think we have reached a place in black/white relations in Australia where Indigenous people can speak for themselves. Our duty is to choose the right people to speak for us, to negotiate fairly to achieve a situation where Indigenous people can live both with and alongside mainstream society as they choose.


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Weds. I had big plans for this week, all the things I’d put off doing for lack of time (vacuuming for instance!) but instead I seem to be relaxing. Delivered the truck to the repairer, Monday, and Millie’s dog to the kennels. Took Millie to the airport Tues. Had tea with Gee and the kids last night. They all said “Where’ve you been, Poppy?”. I stayed long enough to read two Anh Dos. This morning I did nothing except finish Georgette Heyer’s The Foundling, which I bought at the Addison Road Markets in Sydney last week. I’ve written a couple of posts, had lots of fun with the comments on The Dry. Ok, I’ll stop there and bring my business accounts up to date.


Thurs. Work says their should be work today. Gee gave me a lift – getting her thesis completed is proving a struggle, so she was happy to skive off uni for an hour – so I could pick up the truck and run it back to the depot. Dropped in at Crow Books, got myself a Magbala book, Blackwork by Alison Whittaker (poetry!), and Jane Eyre and a Perth YA, Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson for Ms Nearly 15. Sept/Oct is birthday season in my family so there’ll be more business for Crow when I get back.

No work yet. Maybe tomorrow (Fri.)

Recent audiobooks

Reginald Hill (M, Eng), A Pinch of Snuff (1978)
Jane Harper (F, Vic/Aust), The Dry (2016)
George Eliot (F, Eng), Silas Marner (1861) – Project Gutenberg

Currently reading

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel
Georgette Heyer, The Foundling
Frank Moorhouse (ed.),The Drover’s Wife
Yelena Moskovich, The Natashas

 

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My Father was Busy

Journal: 015

Wm & Mum 1951
Photo 1951, DC Holloway (Box Brownie)

My father was busy and I’m still angry. Tedious I know, Milly and the kids make that clear! And let’s not discuss how busy I was for them. Busy, Busy.

Mum was a 17 year old farm girl, a pupil teacher when Dad came to town, tall, ex-Melbourne High, ex-Navy, city boy, confident (and competent) teacher but pathologically un-social. His mother, a Luya from Brisbane, had pretensions of class. Her son spent his life in her shadow. He needed a wife he could train up, no challenges, a farm girl.

Granddad, mum’s dad, made him get his truck licence so he could help with the harvest, driving the old ex-Army 7 ton Inter, overloaded with wheat to the top of the bin, to Boigbeat silo. He could never in his life call Granddad ‘Dad’ or even ‘Fred’. I heard Granddad tell him off about it and he skulked back to his room, his books while his sons crammed into the ute, the cab of the truck, drove tractors, chased sheep, sewed up bagged wheat, grew into hybrid farm boys town boys that he only ever imperfectly understood.

In May the year after they met, Mum barely 18, they were in Healesville 250 miles from Sea Lake, waiting apparently for permission to marry. It’s never discussed, would never have come up except Mum’s younger brother, then still a baby, told me over a beer years later that guys in the Berriwillock pub still asked him why Mum and Dad ran away together. Dad said he was offered a married position at a school at the other end of the state. Mum says nothing.

I came along 10 months later.

It wouldn’t be fair to say Dad wasn’t involved. We always went for Sunday drives, often quite long ones, Wilsons Prom from Leongatha and a few years later when we still had the FJ, from Murrayville to Nhill after church, 80 miles of sand through the Big Desert. We got bogged 3 times and it took till after midnight to get home, the long way through Ouyen.

Dad and Mum were both strict and handy with a stick. I cried at the time but being belted never did me any harm. Dad took to me with a piece of dowell once for saying ‘pooh’ when Mum told me to do something and I went to school (his school) with blue stripes across the back of my legs. He said he wouldn’t hit me after I started high school, but once when I was 12 or 13 his parents were staying and I woke them up fighting with B2 whose room I had been forced to share. He was furious, dragged me to his office – our house was in the school grounds – and began laying into me with the strap, hands and legs until he was worn out.

The big problem was I was bright, brighter than he was, and he didn’t know how to deal with it, thought the solution, the least amount of effort for him, would be discipline and an average education. He taught me chess and I beat him, and his father, in primary school. That was the end of chess.

I had sport, I had scouts, I had books. I had a bike. We lived in country towns so as long as I was home for tea, out of sight, out of mind. In 1966 Mr Fast-Track needed to complete his BA to become an Inspector so we bought a 3 br brick house in a new development in Blackburn South (Melbourne). I fought to maintain my country freedoms, he was too preoccupied to fight back. But nights were out of the question. Even at 17 bedtime school nights was 9.00.

He got his promotion, we moved to Mudsville. My english teacher at Blackie South High – you notice that selective Melbourne High, his alma mater, was never considered, nor even mentioned – offered to board me but Mudsville High was good enough and I spent the last year and a half of my schooling with the mud-minds.

Dad was a shocking 1950s husband, made all the rules, was very Mr Bennet with Mum, and yes that rubbed off on me, would shrug off any attempt at affection. I thought after he retired, began doing housework and making speeches about how lucky he was to meet Mum etc, etc. that Mum, who like many fiftyish women grew into mature self-confidence, might have given him an ultimatum, but she says not.

I don’t forget Dad dinking me to school on his bike when Mum was in Leongatha hospital having B3 and B4, or piggybacking me home at Murrayville when I was crook. B2 who had him in grade 6 says that when he played up Dad would take him into the office next door and give the desk a resounding 6 cuts with the strap. I don’t forget the driving lessons he gave me in the bush when I was barely a teenager, or that when I came home drunk from a Saturday night dance in 6th form he just sent me to bed with some newspaper (he always waited up and would sometimes drive into town to search for me if I wasn’t home by midnight), nor do I forget the huge financial strain of giving me a year, and potentially four years, in Trinity College.

I don’t forget that I got my high school girlfriend pregnant, that I failed first year Engineering.

And no,  I’m not bitter about his opposition to my politics, to the Moratorium, to my non-compliance with the Draft Laws. A bit annoyed that he advised the Federal Police who had warrants for my arrest where they could find me in Brisbane  but Mum let me know and the Young Bride and I moved on to Nambour.

He always came across when I asked for money. His first thought when I told him and Mum that I was leaving Milly was for the kids, particularly Psyche who was in a more difficult position than the younger two. In later years, even before his retirement, he tried very hard but it was never enough.


(If you noticed the Journal No., I wrote this some time ago but held off publishing it, so it’s out of sequence. Earlier Journal posts may be accessed from the Journals page above.)

Photo: Dad’s car appears to be a 1930s (so, older than Mum) Chevrolet Series AD Universal (wiki)

 

I’m Making a Mistake

Journal: 016

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I’m making a mistake. I’m driving 15 kms of dirt road back into Terry Hie Hie in preparation for contacting the owner of the other half of my load of (commercial not charity) hay from WA when he phones to say he is not “near Narrabri” as I had been instructed but some other place which turns out to be back behind me. I turn around, re-drive the 15 kms, down to walking pace through the herds of angus and herefords lining the road – calves never know which side to stand, crossing backwards and forwards at the last moment, before one of them inevitably trots down the road ahead of me – and another 10 not much more than a track really through heavily wooded hills, the western slopes of the Great Divide in northern NSW, along some bitumen, then up another dirt road in light rain now, between farms, turning and dropping into narrow creek crossings until Rick phones again to say he can see me coming over the hill and all I have to is turn hard right through the next narrow gate and cattle grid and come down the track to his hay shed.

All through this trip, the late call on Monday, loading in the northern wheatbelt on Tues, it has been assumed, Sam has demanded, that I be in Sydney to load Tolls parcel freight on Friday night. Notwithstanding that they left it too late Monday for me to load; that the destination was always Moree and not Tamworth as Sam was still claiming when he called to shout at me on Wednesday and Thursday; that I had two separate deliveries to farms in the backblocks, not one to a shed on the highway. Until late Friday, yesterday, the truck and trailer filthy with mud and straw, the operations manager and I agreed that I would load Saturday morning, take my 24 hour break, come home. I asked Rick, checked the map, headed for Tamworth and the New England Highway (map).

I’m making a mistake. Rick’s ‘most direct’ route through Upper Horton to the Bingara – Tamworth road has turned to gravel, the drizzle has turned to rain, the sun has set, and I am doing some serious hill climbing. I wish it was daylight, I’m sure the scenery is spectacular, my spotties are good but there is oncoming traffic and then where are the cows, the kangaroos, the next corner, the trees? I’m flat out at 60 (that’s 40 in American). After Upper Horton – whoever knew there was an Upper Horton? – a few houses and an RSL club in a river valley, at least the road is bitumen, though wet and unlined. Still, I’m in Tamworth more or less on schedule, though no idea where I am. A friendly taxi driver leads me round an impossible roundabout to avoid the city mall and out onto the highway.

Three hours later, at 9.30 western time (11.30pm local) I pull into the Wyong service centre for my 7 hour break, 90 minutes driving left, I’ll be at Tolls, Eastern Creek 8.00am on the dot. The phone beeps. The load is cancelled. I sleep.

I’m making a mistake. Not a big one, not becoming an owner driver, or buying this particular truck. I’m making (some) money, the truck is comfortable, powerful, reliable (it’s a Volvo!). Not even working for Sam, well not in the beginning, taking up Dragan’s offer got me started, but after the previous journal, when I was stuck in Brisbane for the weekend, I was stuck another 7 days as Sam loaded his own trucks ahead of me, then at the last minute, 7.30pm the following Friday, after I had told him I was planning to return to Perth empty and find new work, he came up with a load to Sydney and the ‘promise’ of an immediate load (Monday night) Sydney – Perth. I took it, dropped my trailers at Tolls, spent a pleasant weekend with friends in Bathurst. They fed me, took me to the movies (Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman) and I gave them MST’s Elizabeth Macarthur – second printing! – and McKinnon’s Storyland.

No, the real mistake I’m making, and taking three weeks just to do one Perth – Brisbane brings it home, is spending too long away from home, too long away from Ludmilla Agnes, from my children and grandchildren. If I was a single man, I would sell up, take loads as they came up, spending as much time as possible in FNQ, the NT, the north-west, a jobbing carrier, my home on my back. But I’m not a single man, I’m a family man, missing both the pleasures and responsibilities of family life. When I took this job I thought I would run mostly Perth-FNQ, for a year anyway until after Milly’s big trip to South America, as I did for Sam 16 years ago, but that’s not turning out, the work is different and so am I.

In the next couple of years Gee will have finished her PhD, accepted a job (in refugee welfare not geology) anywhere in the world, and I will have missed an opportunity, one I regret even now, every time Milly has the kids for the weekend, pancakes for Sunday breakfast, though I spend all my time there those infrequent times I’m home.

I’ve been offered new work out of Perth, to central South Australia and northern WA, perhaps half as far as I’m doing now, requiring I lease or buy my own trailers which was my plan eventually anyway. Sounds good on paper, the rates quoted are excellent, the only problem is I’m yet to determine the contractor’s ability to pay. We’ll see. I still have to drive, but I need to spend my breaks at home, to be more in charge of when and how I work.

This morning I’ve taken my truck to the truck wash. Not cheap! All the mud and road grime is gone, though the trailer, tautliner, still needs to be properly swept out before it’s usable again, Monday’s job. Right now I’m off to B2’s – public servant (ret.), chef, world traveller.

The Dinner - Herman Koch

Reviews by Emma/Book Around the Corner (here) and Kim/Reading Matters (here) reminded me that I had already listened to Koch’s The Dinner, in January, but completely forgotten it. On relistening this week, I didn’t think it as good as Dear Mr M (here) but I still think Koch is an interesting writer and admire him for trying different things with each work. The Dinner takes the form of one man’s (Paul Lohman) stream of consciousness during a restaurant meal with his wife, Claire, and his brother and his wife, Serge and Babette, to discuss what they are to do after their 15 year old sons have committed a crime which they may get away with.

I found Paul mostly boring and his descent into seeming madness unconvincing. My sympathies were with Serge, likely next Prime Minister of Holland, and the only one of the four to take a reasonable moral position. But no doubt it made for interesting discussions at book clubs.

For the trip home I have Garry Discher’s The Heat, after you let me know he is a crime fiction writer (after my review of his WWII internment novel) and The Dry by Jane Harper.

Recent audiobooks

Kim Harrison (F, USA), The Drafter (2015)
Herman Koch (M, Netherlands), The Dinner (2009)
Georgette Heyer (F, Eng), The Unkown Ajax (1959)
Tami Hoag (F, USA), Dust to Dust (2014)

Currently reading

Fanny Burney, Evelina (done and written up)

I have with me but am still undecided which to start/resume –
Mike McCormack, Solar Bones
Anita Heiss, Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia
Elizabeth Jenkins, Jane Austen
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism, The Left-Wing Alternative
Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel

I’m the Driver

Journal: 014

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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.

Image result for international acco truck history
 ACCO prime mover. I wish mine had looked this smart!

 

Recent audiobooks

Maggie Leffler (F, USA), The Secrets of Flight (2016)
Peter J Bentley (M, USA), Why Shit Happens (2009)

Currently reading

Elizabeth Tan, Rubik
Fanny Burney, Evelina

 

Driving, Reading, Writing

Journal: 013

LochielMonsta_03-sq

A real journal for a change. It’s Saturday, I’m in Brisbane. Here’s how the week went.

Fri 3 Aug. Home waiting for a load. I get an email from work:

Sorry to be annoying but that’s what women do right?

As you may know, Dragan will be taking a leave of absence  which I know I hear you sigh in the background relieved!  He will be out of contact for approx 2 months on a much needed family holiday.  … myself  and the rest of the team … will be here to assist you.  [new Brisbane manager] didn’t work out and will be finishing this week.

[more in the shape up or ship out vein]

At the end of the day Transport Never Stops!  You have chosen to be a Truck Driver,  enjoy the journey.

I don’t recognise the name but it seems Dragan’s sister is going to whip us all into shape.

Go round to Milly’s for tea. Teenage granddaughter is meant to be there but when she finally phones it’s from Fremantle station. I drive down to pick her up. It’s a late, late meal

Sat 4 Aug. Up early, get a fortnight’s food & clothes together, load the ute. Back to Milly’s. Drive teenage granddaughter back to Freo. She has a 9.00 am start at Maccas. Speak to Dragan, he’s happy with the way I, his only subby, am fitting in, looking forward to summer in Serbia. Run one trailer up to the road train assembly at Northam, 100 km east. No driver to bring up the second, so I do it myself. On way by 4.00 pm.

Sun 5 Aug. Run into my old boss at Norseman BP. Stop for a chat. He runs Adelaide Kalgoorlie Karratha. Leaves the boring stuff, Perth – Goldfields to his drivers.

Mon 6 Aug. Late in the afternoon, road train right into Port Adelaide. The depot where I’m to unload is already shut for the day.

Tue 7 Aug. A long, long day! The gates open at 6.00 but it’s nearly 8.00 before the forkies turn to me. A transport co nearby has a roadtrain load to Bris. I use their depot to break-up. Pick up is from Mt Compass, turns out that’s actually Victor Harbour, 80 km south. Adelaide doesn’t change. South Rd is a freeway at the northern end, but for just 5 km, after that it’s stop lights and city traffic all the way, another brief Motorway section, and then some country hills (McLaren Vale if you’re a wine person). It’s mid afternoon before the first trailer is loaded, if I’m back quick night shift will load the second. Back to the depot, swap trailers, the depot manager promises not to lock up before I’m done. All the way down South Rd again in evening peak hour, load, return to the Port, fuel, hook up, head out. Around Lochiel I’m out of hours, out of energy, bed time. If you’ve read Eve Salis’ Hiam you’ll recognise the Lochiel Tyre Monster.

Wed 8 Aug. Over the Flinders Ranges to Gladstone, Jamestown, Peterborough, villages of limestone cottages a hundred years old right on the road, no front yard, then out onto the moonscape plains Yunta, Coburn, Broken Hill, Wilcannia – the once great Darling just a drain carrying sickly green agricultural run-off, river red gums stranded way up the banks, roots reaching down 20, 30 feet to what little water is left – turn north at Cobar to Bourke, then east again, Brewarrina, Walgett.

Thur 9 Aug. Mooree, Goodiwindi once a great forest all this country, still being cleared, burnt off, laser levelled, irrigated with water stolen from the Darling, Bogan, Barwon, McIntyre Rivers by big agri-business and their lackeys in Federal and State parliaments. Up to Toowoomba, hand rear trailer off to Tony who’s waiting on the road in. Through town and down the Range, 30 kph in low gear, out into the lush Lockyer Valley.  Depot. I’m booked to unload first thing in the morning. BP Rocklea for tea. Over the Gateway Bridge. Park up by the wharves on the north side. Sleep.

Fri 10 Aug. Unload. Back to Depot and mandatory 24 hour break. Write up Jane Austen in the lunchroom. Wash the truck. Do some shopping at Redlands Centre. Have horrible, greasy battered ‘barramundi’ for lunch. Toasted sandwiches and one gin & grapefruit for tea. Jason and some drivers are unloading, reloading trailers till late at night. No-one speaks to me, doesn’t look good.

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Sat. 11 Aug. As expected, no load home. Consider taking a train into town, spending a couple of nights in a hotel, shop for books, eat out. Can’t be bothered. Write up a post on my father, hope that’s out of my system now! You’ll see it soon but I have a couple of others to do first. A guy comes and sits in the lunchroom with me, Bruce, a talker not a reader. He lives in his truck, drug addict children have used up all his money. We make miles across Australia and America through the afternoon as I keep an eye on Hawthorn – Geelong on the laptop. Old high school girlfriend writes to me, she’s been reading my posts. Warn her I’ll write about her, let her choose her own name.

Real time now. I’m off down the pub for tea.

It’s a walk of a kilometre or so, in the gathering dark, down past the marshalling yards. I use the pedestrian bridge at the Redlands station to cross the line, there’s a dozen girls, teens and pre-teens, Aboriginal, white and one Sudanese (I say Sudanese but how would I know really) hanging out. One 11-12 year old has stuff spread out across one step, a make-up kit maybe, I call out to her and she moves it, thanks me politely, cheekily. Redlands is probably an outer suburb of Ipswich rather than Brisbane, poor working class, fibro houses, light industry, the railways, a tired 30s pub appears deserted and I go to the other one, two storey Federation weatherboard with big verandahs. Old style, 1980s say, inside with a TAB and pokies, customers all my age. I have the $6 calamari special and a couple of beers.

Sun 12 Aug. Writing. Reading. Go for a walk.

Tomorrow 6 am I have the truck booked in for a service, and a trailer to load.

 

Recent audiobooks

Rudyard Kipling (M, Eng), The Man Who would be King (1888)
Martin Cruz Smith (M, USA), The Girl from Venice (2016)
Jan Jones (F, Eng), Fair Deception (2008)
Herman Koch (M, Netherlands), Dear Mr M (2014)
Ruth Ware (F, Eng), The Lying Game (2017)
Deanna Sletten (F, USA), Finding Libbie (2016)
Jo Nesbo (M, Swe, Macbeth (2018)
Kate Atkinson (F, Eng), Started Early, Took My Dog (2010)
Lee Child (M, USA), One Shot (2005)
Jane Austen (F, Eng), Sense & Sensibility (1811)

Currently reading

Faith Richmond, Remembrance
Anna Kavan, Ice

We were not here first

Journal: 012

Nifty Road Sept '13 (1)

We were not here first. It seems self-evident now and was in fact acknowledged by writers from Watkin Tench onwards. Unfortunately though, our behaviour and in particular our legal system, was based on the conflicting ideas that there was no one here in 1788; or that there was but their perceived failure to build houses, engage in intensive agriculture meant that their presence didn’t count; or that there wasn’t a war but they lost anyway and Australia was ours by right of conquest.

That was all swept away, theoretically at least, by a combination of the (Commonwealth) Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 and the Mabo Case (1982-90) in which the High Court ruled (1) that states – in this case Queensland – could not pass laws which conflicted with the Racial Discrimination Act; and (2) that wherever the rules and customs of the indigenous inhabitants – in this case the Mer people of the Murray Islands in the Torres Strait north of Queensland – have continued without explicit extinguishment by state law, then the land remains theirs.

The Native Title Act of 1993 which was meant to give effect to the Mabo decision in fact interpreted it as narrowly as possible, in order of course to give the greatest possible advantage to grazing and mining interests, with near impossible definitions of continuing occupation for example, when so many indigenous people were forced onto reservations or had drifted in to provincial centres. My own opinion is that all crown land, including leasehold – which is to say, most of outback Australia – should be acknowledged as belonging to the original inhabitants and that we should only then negotiate a treaty for its ongoing use by all Australians. That is, that the Aboriginal Land Councils instead of being supplicants should be able to negotiate from a position of relative strength.

As part of my own, belated education about what it means to live in a shared country I have been increasingly careful to identify whose land it is that I am talking about/driving on in my reviews and journals. But in my last post ‘The Heaviest, Longest Run in the World‘, in concentrating on the driving experience (and the word count!) I said nothing about whose land it was and I want to rectify that here.

In general, because this is where I live, I am best informed about the indigenous nations of Western Australia – though I still have a long way to go! – but as I go on I will do my best to learn and write about everyone whose land I cross.

As I’ve written previously, Perth, the south-west and the wheatbelt (except around Geraldton) are Noongar country. Going north from Perth on the Great Northern Highway we cross the Moore River at New Norcia. The infamous Mogumber Moore River Settlement is just a few kilometres west. I have written about it a few times, in Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence of course, but also in relation to Kim Scott and Jack Davis. Molly, Daisy and Gracie, the Rabbit-Proof Fence girls headed north from Mogumber before striking east and would have crossed the Highway (if it existed back in 1931) a bit south of Wubin. You don’t see many Aboriginals in these little wheatbelt towns and I imagine they have mostly drifted in to Perth or to provincial centres like Northam and Moora.

Since reading Scott I have also become conscious of the different language groups within the Noongars. The AIATSIS map says the language spoken in the area up to Wubin is Balardung.

Separating Wubin and the Murchison goldfield towns of Mt Magnet, Cue and Meekatharra is 300 km of scrub and desert. About 100 km up, the Irwin River rises near Mt Gibson and flows down to the coast at Dongara south of Geraldton. I wouldn’t be surprised if this marks the border between Noongar and Yamaji country. The various language groups within the Yamaji nation occupy the land from south of Geraldton to north of Carnarvon, on the coast, and inland to the headwaters of the Murchison and Gascoyne Rivers (as best as I can ascertain, which applies to everything I write here).

I wrote about the Yamaji for the first time in my review of Papertalk Green and Kinsella’s False Claims of Colonial Thieves. The Yamaji are bordered to the east by Western Desert people. Mt Magnet, Cue and Meekatharra aren’t big towns and they all have active gold mines, but they also have substantial Aboriginal populations, which are probably these days a mixture of Martu from the north, Yamaji, and Ngaatjatjarra from out towards the NT and SA border. There used to be reports of ‘trouble’ in the towns but I haven’t heard any in the last decade. Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis, a Ngaatjatjarra woman, writes of her family’s move, in the 1960s, in from Docker River on the NT border to Wiluna, east of Meekatharra, from where she was sent to school at the mission at Karalundi, on the highway 50 km north of Meeka.

The rest of the trip, except that we detour via Port Hedland (map) to avoid the atrocious Nullagine Road from Newman to Marble Bar, is Martu country. The Martu are the northernmost of the Western Desert peoples. Daisy Bates who owned a station near Jigalong, north of present day Newman (see Ventured North by Train and Truck) learned elements of the Martu language there and was surprised to find it useful when she later settled amongst the southernmost of the Western Desert peoples 3,000 km away at Ooldea in SA. Jigalong, one of the main camps for maintaining the rabbit-proof fence, became the centre of the Martu people and was of course the home which Molly, Daisy and Gracie were heading back to. The northernmost limits of Martu country include Nifty, my destination, as well as the Woodie Woodie and Telfer mines, in the Great Sandy Desert where I imagine the border with the Walmajarri (see Two Sisters) is fairly fluid.

There are two separate language groups on the coast north of Yamji country, one south of Port Hedland, probably once centred on the Fortescue and Ashburton Rivers but now at Roeburn, and another between Port Hedland and Broome. I can’t tell you anything about them so I’d better do some homework!

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Recent audiobooks

PD James (F, Eng), Shroud for a Nightingale (1971)
Hetty E Verolme (F, Aust), The Children’s House of Belsen (2000)
Masaji Ishikawa (M, Japan/Korea), A River in Darkness (2000) DNF
Michael Veitch (M, Vic/Aust), The Forgotten Islands (2011)
Carole Radziwill (F, USA), The Widow’s Guide to Sex & Dating (2013)
Julia London (F, Eng), The Dangers of Deceiving a Viscount (2013)
Richard North Patterson (M, USA), Loss of Innocence (2013)
Michael Connolly (M, USA), Trunk Music (1997)
Tim Winton (M, WA/Aust), Eyrie (2013)
Stuart Woods (M, USA), Paris Match (2014)
Jay Stringer (M, Eng), Runaway Town (2013)
Gregory Randall (M, USA), Venice Black (2017)

Currently reading

Helen Garner, Honour & Other People’s Children


Housekeeping: I started using the Journal heading so that readers who were only interested in book reviews could see the journal emails and press delete. Don’t worry, you still can! But I’ve moved the journal designation down a notch so that while it is still clear in the email it is not so obtrusive.

The photos are mine, from the Nifty and Woodie Woodie roads in the Great Sandy Desert.

Journal: 011. The Heaviest, Longest, Run in the World

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During the mining boom, say from 2009 to 2013, the company I drove for had what was probably the heaviest regular long-distance run in the world. With heavy duty prime movers towing four trailers each, loaded with 100 tonne of powdered cement for an overall gross of 152 tonne, our fleet of 10-12 trucks delivered on average two loads a day from Perth to the Nifty copper mine in the Great Sandy Desert, east of Port Hedland, taking five days for the 4,000 km round trip.

So for all that period the Nifty paste plant took a couple of hundred tonnes of cement each day, mixing it into a slurry of waste water and tailings which was pumped underground to backfill tunnels no longer required for extracting ore. In fact the basis of my employment as a tanker driver for 15 years was mines taking hundreds of tonnes of cement and lime – daily in the case of the bigger mines – for backfilling, waste treatment and ongoing construction.

There are companies using quads – four trailer sets – all through the North, some with higher gross weights than we operated at, but most on leads of no more than 400 km, fuel tankers running out to the mines and side tippers delivering ore to port or processing plants where establishing a dedicated rail line was deemed uncommercial. But as far as I can tell, we were unique in the world for a long distance run at our weights. By comparison, European and American long distance trucks, “18 wheelers”, operate at 38 – 45 tonne, Australian b-doubles at 64T, double road trains at 80T and triples at 110T.

My truck, “Buffalo”, was a Mack Titan with a 600 HP 15 litre Cummins diesel engine, an 18 speed Roadranger gearbox, and heavy duty drive axles with lockable diffs, a 48” sleeper cab with king single bed, and three airconditioners – one in the dash, one in the sleeper for when the truck was running, and another in the sleeper with its own powerpack for nights. Given that we were running out past Marble Bar, the hottest town in Australia, they were all needed! There was a big fridge under the bed, a 240v power supply, and storage lockers everywhere, but not quite enough headroom to stand between the seats. I had this Mack from new and drove it for six years.

Sitting at home on a scheduled break, or an unscheduled – Nifty had a history of poor maintenance and then there was the rainy season – I might get a call in the middle of the day to go and load. I would take my lead trailer down to Munster, Cockburn Cement’s 1950s-era cement works, pull up under the MineCem silo and load 24T – purely by guesswork based on estimated rate of flow and the air pressure gauge on the trailer suspension – drive to the weighbridge, check weigh, go back, top up, weigh again, print out delivery dockets. Meawhile Pete or Steve would be doing the same with my b-double set. We would meet back at the yard, I would hook up a dolly

Image result for road train converter dolly

(a tri axle set with a drawbar to the trailer in front and a turntable to connect to and support the trailer being towed) behind my trailer, reverse it under the front of the b-double, set Road Train signs fore and aft and I was off.

At this stage I was grossing about 110T (and I was still in the middle of Perth, so watch out who you cut in front of!). Round to the BP for fuel, 1,700 litres, and then I was really off. Round the airport onto Roe Highway to Great Northern Highway, through the vineyards of Upper Swan, stop at Gingers for coffee, fish & wedges, getting dark, through Bullsbrook, open road again, one last set of traffic lights at the intersection with Brand Highway (the coast road) and we’re into the hills. First climb Little Bindoon Hill to Chittering Roadhouse (very nice home made pies but keep going), cars and trucks backing up behind then swarming past in the short overtaking lane, down the other side through Bindoon and on to the one big climb, Bindoon Hill, hit it at 90 kph, then quickly back through the gears – top, hi split, lo split, 7th, 6th, 5th, into low range, 4th lo, will it hold?, it does, the engine barking, straining but not dropping back. 1700 RPM, 22kph. Up we go. It’s a precarious feeling, all that weight just waiting, for the engine to cough or the wheels to lose traction, to drag you backwards 2, 3 kilometres to the bottom again. Two bends, the road starts to level out, go to 1800 RPM grab 4 high, back into high range, 5 lo, we’re over, 5 hi, 6 lo, starting down the other side, using the engine now to hold us back, slowly gaining speed, round the first bend in 7 lo, letting go, rounding the last left-hander at 100 kph, a short valley and into the next hill, one steep pinch you can do in 5 lo, then over and flat out down a steep drop and one last short climb and that’s the worst of it.

Do a walk around at the next parking bay then it’s more, gentler hills, jarrah and marri (big eucalypts) country still, only partially cleared, flattening out gradually as we slow through New Norcia, old stone convent buildings right up to the road, then the wheatbelt and little, half abandoned farming towns, Dalwallinu the prosperous exception, to Wubin, an old weatherboard roadhouse where everybody stops, and the roadtrain hookup – 20 hectares of sealed surface, trailers in a row and in disorganised ranks around them and on a dirt block too across the road when it’s really busy.

Hopefully it’s around 9.30pm and I can pull up just short of town for a mandatory 7 hour break, away from the constant racket of fridge motors, ice packs, road trains assembling/disassembling, pulling up outside the roadhouse.

Five am start, make coffee, down the street to the hookup, look for a dog (a trailer with a dolly at the front), there’ll be several but some of them will be empty, dropped by trucks heading home. This is the complicated bit: drop my b-double where there’s plenty of room in front of it, drive round to my dog, back onto it (now I have 2 trailers, are you keeping up?), go back so I’m lined up ahead of the b-double, reverse onto it, make sure all the couplings (Ringfeders) are closed and locked, airlines connected, taps open (an easy one to forget till you get to the first long hill and find you have no brakes). Pull forward slowly in Lo/Lo – we have two ‘crawler’ gears below first – the engine roars, we’re off, moving slowly up through the gears, swing wide to miss the power pole at the exit, call out a warning on the CB, “roadtrain, quad, northbound from hookup”, pull out onto the highway, onto the dirt on the far side, watching in the mirror as that last trailer comes round the pole, straighten up, leaning into the weight, still only 30 kph as we crest the hill out of town. Then it’s bends, shallow hills, mallee and the northern fringes of the wheatbelt as we head out, through the westernmost edges of the Great Western Woodlands and into mostly acacia scrub, once sheep country, now largely ungrazed. Set the cruise control at 90 kph, but there’s still plenty of work to do, 200 km, past the two or three houses and the old roadhouse that make up Paynes Find, before the road levels out. Through the gold mining townships of Mt Magnet and Cue, stop for fuel at Meekatharra – 775 km, 900 L – then 400 km of gibber plains broken by (mostly) dry river crossings to Capricorn roadhouse outside Newman, stop for a shower, then on, heavy traffic from here on, trucks servicing all the iron ore mines along the way, workers’ utes, grey nomads (though far fewer than the coast road), quads hauling ore to Hedland. Up the big climb out of Newman, in the dirt, crushed ore really, off the bitumen if there are too many held up behind, much nicer country now, rocky but well treed, on the fringes of the Karajini ranges, past the turnoff to Tom Price, down the long descent through Munjina Gorge, past Auski, the sixth and last roadhouse between the outskirts of Perth and Port Hedland. Over the Fortescue River flats, up and on to a great grassy plateau, then down again, praying Andrew Forrest doesn’t have an ore train on the level crossing gifted him by a state government too servile to demand road/rail overpasses from the big miners. Dark now and lots of cattle. Time to find a parking bay.

Five am, coffee, muesli bar, fruit, yoghurt, call in at Hedland for fuel, then out on the Broome road, 50 km, turnoff to Marble Bar, open, grassy cattle country into the Coongans, a rocky little mountain range, 10 kms of winding, single lane road, call out on the CB to negotiate right of way with the ore tipper quads coming the other way, then down to the T junction outside Marble Bar, plenty of parking, pull up for a walk around, my dash thermometer has shown 50 deg C here, then out on the Woodie Woodie road, one climb, Mt Everest, not bad eastbound but unrelentingly steep and long for the ore trucks coming the other way, make a run at it, back through the gears in a rush, there’s a vertical pinch at the top, if you’re shedding speed too quickly then it’s grab second before you come to a stop and crawl over. Coming the other way the ore trucks are under strict instructions to select second at the bottom and come all the way up at walking pace. Still they break down, drop trailers halfway up, sheer their tail shafts, so check at the top the road down is clear, you can see for miles, let her go, out across the plain to the next climb, over in 5th on a good day then down again, river crossings, concrete fords just above water level, ignore the turnoff to Telfer, 50 kms into Woodie Woodie, past admin, past the mine and out onto the Nifty road, 50 km of graded dirt and sand and twisty little hills, along a line of sparsely vegetated red sandhills and into Nifty.

I’ve waited days to get unloaded at Nifty, sitting in a holding yard in the middle of nowhere, with other drivers or on my own, eating and sleeping in the camp; flew home once and came back two weeks later, after cyclone Rusty, when the road out was closed; have been held up by floods at Karalundi outside Meeka, at Kumarina and at Oakover River near the Telfer turnoff. Have got halfway up the incline on the edge of the pit to the paste plant, as in the pic at the top, lost traction in the rain, slid backwards, been towed up. Have had innumerable problems unloading, turning around in the tailings area to get back out, mud and water knee deep some days, till they finally, after years, made a road through for us. Held on after the boom on short hours and short trips hoping Nifty would come good again, or another contract like it, but it didn’t and here I am, in Brisbane today, driving twice the distance but only half the weight. Ah, those were the days!

Nifty evening (1)