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

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(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)

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Journal: 010, Day by Day

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At the moment I seem to be doing one round trip a fortnight and I wanted/want to give you an idea of what that is like, day by day. I started making notes but a) diaries are boring, just lists of stuff done; b) after a few days the word count was out of control; and c) I could call it minimalism (see GTL here) but that still wouldn’t make it either interesting or good writing.

So I’ll attempt to both condense and provide a (minimal) narrative arc, a tiny amount of character development and zero dialogue.

Starting at the end of the previous trip: It’s Tuesday arvo June 5. I pull into the depot, wash my truck, go home in the ute, clean up, switch on the desktop pc (which I prefer over my laptop and phone) and later in the evening, pick up Milly from a meeting nearby and run her home. Difficult teenage granddaughter is watching tv/dogsitting. Milly makes us a scratch tea. I go home.

Milly works one week in the city, one week out on a mine. Getting up, having breakfast in time for a bus ride out from the camp and a 6am start means she’s definitely early to bed/early to rise. Most times I visit I’m hanging round for a chat and a third glass of wine and she’s pushing me out the door at 8.30.

Next couple of days I’m mostly on the computer, but on Weds Gee wants me to pick up a second hand double bed. In the rain. I buy a tarp from Bunnings, deliver the bed, get a light tea – fetta salad and pancakes. Read miss 6 and master 8 Ahn Do’s Weirdo. Thurs I meet Milly in town, take the ute, street parking is ridiculously easy for a ‘major’ city, and we have Japanese for a change – I’m still not sure what Ramen is but it had meat in it so I had spring rolls, whole small crabs and sweet potato chips.

Finally, Friday I get a load – so that’s my social life done for the fortnight. Or should be, in fact the load is to Bendigo where mum is visiting B3, so I road train to Echuca (which involves veering all over southern NSW (map)), break up, bring one trailer in, have a pub dinner with mum, B3, sister in law and cousin Kay, go back to Echuca for second trailer etc etc. Next day, unload, park one empty trailer at my nephew’s, run the other to Melbourne. Find a truck stop in the western suburbs. Taxi into Footscray to meet Lou, wander the streets until we finally choose a Vietnamese restaurant, cafe really, but it has a licence and I get to have a drink. Ok, so that’s really the end of my social life (for this 14 days) – well unless I run into old Tom or Dave, but I’m spared.

As is always the way with Dragan’s “you’ll be loading straight home” I don’t. My road train load turns out to be six tonnes. I stick it up the front. At the end of the next day I get a large van for the back half of the trailer. Then hurry, hurry “we have freight for the other trailer in Sydney”. On the freeway back to Bendigo to reunite my trailers, in bumper to bumper nighttime traffic way out into the country – MST’s daily commute, I don’t know how she stands it – B3 who has run our mother back home (Blackburn, Melb) calls to say he’s just behind me. We pull into a truckstop, the coffee franchise is closed and there’s no way I’m drinking McCoffee so we have a chat, I don’t have time to follow him home for tea and a shower, and that’s really the end of my social life for the fortnight. I roadtrain to Hay, leave the loaded trailer at the Caltex, push on to Sydney and put on half a load of steel in the evening and after inevitable delays waiting for something better to turn up the next morning (Sat), put 3 cars up top as pictured above and head for Perth.

Is that the end of it? No it’s not. Another driver has been stuck two days in Goulburn having problems – in his head mostly. His load is now late and he doesn’t look like moving. We swap trailers, I have a smooth run home, the last I see of him he’s at Hay hooking up. At Port Augusta I hear he’s managed to take the wrong road and his lights aren’t working. His name’s Ewan, but I don’t think we’ll see him again.

I get home, ie back to Perth, drop the trailers at Tolls (a parcel express company, once Australia’s largest, now owned by the Japanese Post Office). It’s Tuesday, I go round to Milly’s, make some soup, pick her up from Spanish class.

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Blood (2011) was Tony Birch’s debut novel, after two short story collections, and was shortlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin. Why, I don’t know as it’s a bog standard YA melodrama, two brave kids – a teenage boy caring for his younger sister, indifferent mother, evil adults, set in various locations in Victoria and South Australia with some dodgy geography, particularly along the Western Highway connecting Adelaide and Melbourne, and a token cave with Aboriginal paintings with a roadside sign (no doubt saying name carvers and spray painters this way) referencing the token aboriginality of the teenage boy. Lots of you liked Birch’s second, Ghost River (2015), so I approached this one hopefully thinking I might review it. But no. Admittedly it wasn’t helped by the flat delivery in a regional English accent of the old, male reader for the Queensland Narrating Service.

Recent audiobooks

Erle Stanley Gardner (M, USA), The Case of the Fabulous Fake (1969)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (M, Eng), The Adventures of Brigadier Gerard (1894)
Dick Francis (M, Eng), Under Orders (2005)
Robert Galbraith (F, Eng), Career of Evil (2015)
Tony Birch (M, Vic/Aust), Blood (2011)
Lisa Genova (F, USA), Every Note Played (2018)

Currently reading

Ruby Langford Ginibi, Don’t Take Your Love to Town

 

Journal: 009, An Anniversary

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Milly’s Daphne a few years ago, soaking up rays

This series of journals coincides with an anniversary, one I overlooked at the time though I’m generally pretty good with birthdays and suchlike, my twentieth year back in truck driving. I drove and owned trucks for nearly ten years when I was young, acquired a family, got an accounting degree, did white collar stuff for years while the kids grew up, transport management morphing into freelance computer programming and back into transport management/ownership. Moved the family from sandy, sunny Perth to damp, muddy Melbourne early on (Milly’s sentiments), bought a house, got into the local community around the primary school.

Mid-life crisis. Left Milly, Psyche age 15 leaving too, getting us all into family therapy and back together again, left again, Milly’s decision this time, Psyche and Lou leaving school, leaving home, Gee at a posh girls school living alternately with Milly and me (because I lived on the more convenient train line). Then Milly buying a house near Gee’s school, my transport management/ownership thing falling in a hole, Gee okaying a return to truck driving. And that was 20 years ago last month.

I had debt, no house, we’d sold the family home to pay an earlier lot of my debts. Bad, the guy who’d sold us – we were four partners – shares in his business had played fast and loose with my Diners Club card one time when I was away, and after the receivers came in it turned out he didn’t own the trucks he’d sold into the new business, and wasn’t going to be repaying any debts.

Keith, a transport guy I knew, said I could drive for him and every day I would drive across Melbourne to sit in his lunchroom and sometimes I would get a few hours local work and sometimes I wouldn’t. Turns out his interstate trucks were all b-doubles, for which the states were introducing a new class of ‘Multi-Combination’ licence. Luckily NSW were still in the transition phase, so I got a letter saying I was experienced and had been offered work, hitched a lift to Sydney, went to Liverpool, the nearest DoT. They required proof I was a NSW resident. Caught a train into the city, #2 brother gave me an electricity bill, caught the train back, transferred my drivers licence to NSW, upgraded it using the aforesaid letter and commenced full time employment running Sydney-Melbourne-Adelaide-Brisbane (The guy I came up from Melbourne with, totally pissed off because he had gone down the $750 week-long driver training course route for his MC and I had got mine in a day for free).

The downside was that even after I transferred my licence back to Victoria and then to WA, the ‘system’ in NSW assumed I was still living with my brother and would send my fines (log book offences) there, which was ok until he and then his by then former girlfriend moved away. What happened to any subsequent notices I have no idea.

Keith was good enough to pay Gee’s school fees each term and take it out of my pay. Diners Club progressed slowly through the courts. Bad had put his assets back into his father’s business so was able to go bankrupt as should have I. I scraped by for years, leaving Keith for road train work to North Queensland on lower pay, then falling out with that employer, interestingly an Assyrian who had been a scientist in Iran, but who in Australia ran a small fleet of trucks, underpaying his drivers, frankly admitting he couldn’t afford super, long gaps between trips, but always interesting destinations – I did that Tibooburra trip for him – until one weekend I had a date with Milly and a trip came up late and I refused it.

After that I had other jobs, interstate, Keith again until he went broke, another road train operator who also went broke, then back with the Assyrian. Mum and Dad paid the last year of Gee’s school fees. Gee went away to uni, Milly went to Perth to live with her sister, and the other kids and I took on her house, making the payments and painting the rooms.

Gee’s uni didn’t work out, she tried RMIT for a while, went up north, came back, meeting me in Emerald for the ride home, then heading off again. Psyche did one or two trips with me, and Lou came on a trip to Cairns, hitching a lift with a fridge truck across the Atherton tablelands to see Gee in Normanton. Milly came home a couple of times, making the trip across the Nullarbor in her little Daewoo with her deaf but not mute dog, Daphne, now departed these last two years. Once I went back with her to keep her company, hitching a lift home, and the second time, the house sold, Gee went with her, a few months later I followed, and we were West Australians again. Sam and Dragan snapped me up to run WA – North Qld, Milly began her career in mining admin with a job in Newman, and Gee progressed from Rottnest Is to Broome to Derby to Darwin and eventually home again to motherhood and university.

Lou stayed in Victoria, an almost perpetual student, but eventually a teacher, and Psyche went off overseas, came back, worked in tourism in North Qld, and across northern Australia.

I started a relationship with newly divorced family friend, the Bosomy Beauty, 16 and a schoolfriend of Milly’s youngest sister when I first met her and for a while our babysitter and typist for my commercial traveller business in the old milk run days. We married, I lifted my head, for the first time in years, above the debt parapets to put my name to a housing mortgage, only for the Diners Club debt to reappear, compounded outrageously by legal fees and usury. I was just getting into bulk tanker work and consistently decent pay, so had no option but to reach an ‘arrangement’ with the firm who had purchased the debt for cents in the dollar. A few years of increasingly longer distance work and exciting homecomings, then …

It’s ten years now since BB left, took off interstate with her druggie toyboy. I spent the whole of 2008 angry at work, always on a last warning from one customer or another, crying on the phone to Milly, my kids, anyone who would listen, BB refusing to talk, texting nonsense, assuring me she was on the way home, taking off again as soon as she got home, driving furiously backwards and forwards across the Nullabor, all of this spelled out in detail in the card and phone bills she left me to pay, out of her own money I hasten to add, we were never at financial loggerheads.

All through 2009 and 2010 I would remember each day where she was that corresponding day in 2008 a habit I’ve long since given up I think, though I might remember in a few months on Melbourne Cup day that its ten years since we last spoke.

 

Recent audiobooks

John Sandford (M, USA), Field of Prey (2014)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (F, Nigeria), Americanah (2013)
David Berlinski (M, USA), The Advent of the Algorithm (2000)

Currently reading

Miles Franklin, All That Swagger

Journal: 008, How I live

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When I’m home, which these days is just two or three days a fortnight, I get to go home to my flat in Rivervale (Perth, WA) looking out as you can see over lower units in the complex to the Swan River and a park and lake beyond (map) which is why I bought it, at the top of a falling market as it turns out. I have a spare bedroom, and a study lined with books so I’m pretty happy, though Milly says I’m an idiot to have bought a flat at my age up two flights of stairs. She lives a couple of suburbs south in a little cottage, 20 minutes by pushbike straight down the Armadale rail line, and Gee and the kids who used to live close by now have a rambling 60s brick house in the suburbs south of Fremantle, coincidentally just a few minutes from my trucking depot.

But of course, I’m mostly away.

Last trip, I didn’t get out of Sydney as easily as I’d expected and as I wrote this post had been waiting around days for ‘top loading’ to go onto the 30 tonnes of stainless steel tubing I’d loaded on the first day. ‘Waiting around’ for out of town truck drivers generally means parking up at a crowded BP truck stop – why BP I don’t know, I guess it has the biggest truck stops and sells the most diesel fuel – snoozing, sitting in the truck, in the tv lounge, or in my case at the counter with power connections (but no free wifi) to write on my laptop, and eating overpriced mass-produced meals. As you can imagine there is very little I can eat – eggs, toast, baked beans for breakfast, roast vegies or battered fish and salad for tea.

I eat better when I’m on the move – coffee, porridge for breakfast, salad, tuna, egg for lunch, nothing for tea or maybe salad sticks and hommus, and fruit all through the day, 2 or 3 sliced cheese on rice biscuits for snacks. I’ve been a vego for nearly 30 years now. Milly was always thoughtful about food and in the ’80s we tried different diets – she cooked, I ate – Scarsdale which gave me headaches, more headaches, I was already losing a day a week from migraines, and then Pritikin, which was hard work (for her) but excellent food. From there it was a short and seemingly inevitable step to vegetarianism, taking up swimming again, and other familiar symptoms of “mid-life crisis”.

During this time I visited Dr Gruber, a real doctor specialising in “natural” solutions. He thought my aura was too blue (or insufficiently blue, ask Milly, she’ll remember) but also found my blood pressure much too high and started me on (conventional) medication which continues to this day and which has the not inconsequential side effect of eliminating both migraines and hangovers.

I didn’t get out of Sydney straight away so went exploring, found the Minchinbury Fruit Market and bought a bag of oranges, 2 containers of fruit juice (guava and pink grapefruit, a treat, I mostly drink filtered water), 2 packets of ‘nuts’ (trail mix and overland mix), a bag of mandrines, 4 pink lady apples, a kilo of grapes, no plums, they’re finally out of season. That’ll get me home (3-4 days) though the grapes might not make it to tea time.

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When I bought this truck my criteria were a 600 HP engine, a wide bed (king single), a high roof so I could stand up, and plenty of storage. I started out looking at American/Australian bonneted trucks but the Volvo I’ve ended up with suits my needs pretty well. The cab is wider, and it’s 2m (inside) from the floor to the roof so I can walk around between the seats. As well as the lockers at each side accessible from outside, there are lots of overhead lockers inside for clothes, spare bedding, books and dry food. Between the seats 2 drawers slide forward from under the bed, one of them a 20L fridge – smaller than I wanted but it is such a convenient fit that I am happy to work round it.

I have had fitted an inverter which supplies 240v power to my kettle, to recharge my laptop and potentially to run a sandwich maker or microwave (I don’t think I need a microwave. Or a TV.) and may fit a lithium battery powered airconditioner to keep the cab cool overnight – this is new. To date sleeper cab airconditioners, ‘icepacks’, have typically been diesel powered and bloody noisy.

The problem with truckstops is people wanting to talk, not strangers so much, though there’s often some gabby guy at the next table, but fellow workers unable to keep themselves entertained. I can do truck talk in small doses, but mostly keep to myself. That said, I’m grateful to Dave, another old-timer, aren’t we all – the average age of long distance truck drivers is well over 50, just one cohort of us starting at the end of the 1960s and when we’re gone, we’ll all be gone and then who will drive the trucks – who went with me to yesterday’s pickup to keep me company, keep me heading along the right roads, to introduce me to the staff at the steel place, and we spent a good part of the remainder of the morning ‘making a mile’ through the outback, both of us, amazingly, having braved the track from Broken Hill through Tibooburra, up and down following wheel tracks over endless sandhills from Cameron Corner (NSW, SA and Qld) to Moomba, the only landmark one ancient signpost to Merty Merty Station (YouTube).

When, if I ever, leave this place – you could write a JG Ballard story about truck drivers trapped in the wastelands of concrete and stationary juggernauts at a truckstop – I will drive till 9 or 10 pm, sleep 7-8 hours then for three full days drive for 14 hours in 3-5 hour blocks until I get home. On interstate I have a mandated 24 hour break every seven days, not as flexible as WA which allows 15 hours driving a day for up to 12 days straight a fortnight. Listening to books as I go, not taking notes (not unless I get a Dictaphone), generally not bothering to search the radio for Radio National, nor for football while Hawthorn is doing so poorly, and reading Comments and Posts during my half hour breaks.

That top loading never did turn up and after three full days I took my b double out past Newcastle (no b-double route directly over the Blue Mountains) to Dubbo, spent half of Saturday night swapping trailers around in the dark and set off home with a b-triple (map).

Recent audiobooks

Anne Rivers Sidons (F, USA), The Girls of August (2014)
Jack Schaeffer (M, USA), Shane (1949)
Caroline Mitchell (F, Eng), Silent Victim (2017)
Liane Moriarty (F, Aust/NSW), The Husband’s Secret (2013)
Monica McInerney (F, Aust/Vic), At Home with the Templetons (2010)

Currently reading

Miles Franklin, All That Swagger

 

 

Journal: 007, Wrong Turns

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My old job, a couple of years ago: Where’d the road go?

In January 2011 Anthony Bradanovich, 35, in a triple road train, missed the turnoff to Jundee gold mine outside (very) remote Wiluna, 540 km north of Kalgoorlie and continued on out into the desert, realised after maybe an hour that he had made a mistake and became bogged in the sand attempting to turn around. Not having much water in his cab or any means of communication he began walking back to Wiluna. He was found the next day, dead of heat stroke, 30 km from his truck.

On my first trip in this truck I went to do a pickup from Yandi, an iron ore mine in the Pilbara (the desert region 1,200 to 2,000 km north of Perth), missed the turnoff from the access road to the main gate and kept driving as the road deteriorated into a dirt track. Until I found somewhere safe to turn around my, thankfully empty, triple road train, my next stop looked like being Roy Hill, once a cattle station now Gina’s iron ore mine, 100 km away, cross country.

The wrong turns I have made in trucks are legion. Each time I have to follow directions to somewhere I don’t know, or make my way in the dark to somewhere I have only been in the day, my heart is in my mouth. Towing more than one trailer makes it worse, as each trailer makes both reversing and turning more difficult. In my old job my biggest fear was getting lost on mine sites, and I’ve rung for a grader more than once to tow me out of an impossible situation, or just for a ute to lead me out, though I’ve never actually turned down into a pit.

In this new job unsigned dirt roads aren’t the problem so much as the number of places where the b-double or road train route is a series of left and right turns – Pt Augusta to Renmark (for Sydney) or Broken Hill (for Brisbane), and Bourke to Goondiwindi are examples. But my big problem is negotiating my way around cities. This trip I had deliveries in Adelaide, Bendigo, Melbourne and Sydney. Adelaide and Sydney were ok, the deliveries were only short distances from the main BP truckstops. ‘Bendigo’ turned out to be Fosterville mine, 20 km and a very convoluted route out of town.

I phoned no.3 brother (counting myself as no.1) who has a little farm nearby, from South Australia initially, drove across from Dimboola on the Adel-Melb highway to Marong near Bendigo on bitumen roads so rough I was restricted to 80 kph, didn’t actually miss a turn in St Arnaud but thought I had. I parked for the night at Marong and he took me home for tea and a shower and my sister in law printed out the directions which, next morning I followed successfully (with lots of stops to check), through bush and outer suburbs. Though when I finally got to what proved to be the mine turnoff there was of course no actual sign. Unloaded and another couple of phone calls to #3 I managed to follow (I think!) the b-double route back through Bendigo and on to Melbourne: Dandenong, Carrum Downs and Croydon, suburbs in the outer reaches of the far side of town, involving lots of narrow streets and a peak hour trip back across the city to the freeway north.

Tomorrow (as I write) I have to pick up my trailers which are being loaded nearby in Eastern Creek and top up in Villawood (both in Sydney, if I haven’t made myself clear). How I will get to Villawood or from there back out onto the highway home I had better start researching. (The Horsley Drive goes most of the way but the middle part is not a b-double route).

You might say plug it into Google maps. But I won’t. I won’t switch on GPS, Google already know far too much about me, all my search history for ten years or more, and now I have an Android phone they are no doubt reading and storing my emails – and if you have any doubt about that, mention a product name in an email and see how quickly ‘relevant’ ads appear. Also, I find Maps gives a very poor overview of where you are, and in highlighting your route make it difficult to make out major and minor roads you are crossing. I’m firmly in the hard copy map camp.

The other ‘wrong turns’ I have taken, and buying trucks springs to lots of people’s minds, and leaving Milly to mine, I will leave to another day.

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Another back of a woman’s head book cover. Obviously someone thinks it sells books. As you might see below, I’ve listened to a lot of books in the time it took me to drive from Brisbane to Perth and back to Sydney. Lots of crime, Numero Zero, another of Eco’s well written conspiracy stories, a ‘Regency’ (actually William IV) romance, and a couple of “women’s issues” – though the Salyers was more YA teenage angst. I thought The Book Club, which deals with woman in their 40s and 50s, might qualify for GTL’s Fat Fiction as one of the women comes to terms with her ‘matronly’ size.

I should really, and might if I find a paper copy, review Alex Miller’s Lovesong. I had Miller whom I don’t think I’ve read before pigeonholed as outback lit. so the theme of this one was unexpected. It contained a bit of Miller himself – I see he has moved on to fictionalised memoir in The Passage of Love (2017) – as a retired author listens to and rewrites the story of a childless Tunisan woman living in Paris. All stories fill in the time, but they have to reflect the author’s experience for me to find them meaningful, and though a woman reader might say ‘I agree with how that woman feels about being childless’, it didn’t do it for me.

Recent audiobooks

MJ Salyers (F, USA), Appalachian Daughter (2014)
Alex Kava (F, USA), Black Friday (2009)
Mons Kallentoft (M, Swe), Midwinter Sacrifice (2007, Eng. 2011)
Umberto Eco (M, Ital), Numero Zero (2015)
Julia London (F, Eng), The Ruthless Charmer (2000)
Faye Kellerman (F, USA), Blindman’s Bluff (2009)
Peter Grainger (M, Eng), An Accidental Death (2013)
Ruth Rendell (F, Eng), The Veiled One (1988)
Mary Alice Monroe (F, USA), The Book Club (1999)
Alex Miller (M, Aust/Vic), Lovesong (2009)

Currently reading

Gerald Murnane, Border Districts
Miles Franklin, All That Swagger (Actually, I’m carrying it around with me in the vain hope of stopping long enough to get time to make a start on it.)

Journal: 006, A Milk Run

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Holden one tonner, not mine, but close

Milk and I have had an odd relationship. Memories of a seven year old. Mum breastfeeding my youngest brother in a neighbour’s kitchen. Running up the hill from our little row of housing commission weatherboards in Hassett St, Leongatha with a billy for a quart of milk from the local dairy – not the milk factory, which stood on a hill in the distance wafting its sour milk smell over the town. Pushing nervously between Grandma’s placid cows waiting their turn while she handmilked in the little post and thatch shed in the corner of the yard. Granddad was already up at the machinery shed and the path from the house took a short cut through the ‘dairy’.

Walking home from Colac High and stopping for a spearmint thickshake. Cornflakes or weetbix and hot milk for breakfast all my young life, until I became a truck driver.

Banished to work on a dairy farm for a friend of a friend of Dad’s during the summer break after my first year at uni, because he couldn’t stand to have me at home – pregnant girlfriend, routinely drunk in college, failed Engineering. You get the picture. Ninety acres of lush, hilly country down Warrnambool way. Farmers, a brother and sister in their sixties in a mud brick house, the interior walls papered with pictures from the Womens Weekly, the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, the Wedding, the Coronation. Up every morning to walk the cows up the hill from the creek as the sun rose out of the mist. Milk, clean up, breakfast. Work on handyman stuff, or grubbing thistles during the day. Milk again in the evening. Dinner. Sleep. Bathing was for Saturdays if I didn’t take a couple of hours off to go for a swim.

Hitchhike back to Colac for Saturday arvo/Sunday morning at home. Number 2 brother, I’m the oldest, wouldn’t let me in the sleepout until I’d showered. Fleas! Or into Warrnambool to stay with friends from an earlier school, Hawkesdale, in their flat over the bakery. Saturday night dances at the surf club. Beer. And sometimes even, girls!

You know the next bit. The Moratorium, drop out of uni, drive trucks. No milk involved. A young marriage which I may not have previously mentioned. Its inevitable failure due to me being ‘away’.

I met Ludmilla Agnes, Milly, now ex Mrs Legend, and the six month old Psyche at the end of 1977, fell in love, gave up trucking, lost a sales job, drove, rolled a truck in the Blue Mountains, Milly by now six months pregnant. Gave up trucking again and we bought a new one tonne Holden to do a milk run for a dairy in Manning, a Perth suburb ‘south of the river’. That is south of the Swan, but on the Canning River which feeds into the Swan downstream of the city.

Remember home delivered milk? In glass bottles? The runs I had in Manning with its three bedroom red brick boxes and nearby Booragoon, all McMansions thirty years before the term was invented, took me about 4 hours, from 11pm or midnight, every milk box home to a redback spider and wolf spiders’ webs spanning the gaps between trees, the big spider always in the centre, head high, to run into in the dark. If one of Milly’s sisters was living with us, Milly might come out and we would do the run together, barefoot in the night, armloads of bottles, returning to the ute with notes and money to go into the bucket between us for later reconciliation.

Lou due, Mum and Dad come over from Melbourne. March is a month for birthdays and for mine and Mum’s they shout us to the Oyster Beds in East Fremantle, then very posh. Lou was recalcitrant and after a week was to be induced, at 9.00 am in King Edwards, the main women’s hospital.

I did the run as usual and retired for a couple of hours kip, only to be woken by Mum saying he’s born and there’s a problem. Into the hospital, mother and son well. He decided not to wait for the induction after all and was born on the trolley as Milly was being wheeled into the birthing room. So I missed that one. The next one, Gee, was a caesarean, which I saw up close and got to be first to hold her, mother being knocked out.

So. Into the hospital, mother and son well. He had a problem which needed surgery over the next 12 years but which is well behind him now. Arrived in time to eat Milly’s substantial breakfast. Lou was immediately transferred to Princess Margaret’s, the children’s hospital, and Milly was given one of the rooms reserved for mothers down from the bush. I think they were there a week. Milly got told off for being in her night gown, her status as a new mother entirely ignored. I got told off for wandering in in shorts and singlet, no shoes. I would bring in the milk bucket and we would sit on her bed, counting and writing up the night’s earnings.

A couple of years later, on my thirtieth birthday, I got a mild hepatitis, and that was the end of milk for me. The ute and I soldiered on as I developed a commercial traveller’s run in truck spares around the southern half of the state, returned to school, became an accountant.

Oh yes, ‘A Milk Run’. Multiple deliveries and pickups. I’m in Brisbane today by way of deliveries in Adelaide, Cobar and Toowoomba. Pick ups in Broken Hill and Cobar didn’t eventuate but the journal was already half written in my head.

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Eve by Iris Johansen is your standard US crime thriller with invincible CIA and FBI agents but is nevertheless interesting. There are four protagonists, Eve who reconstructs faces over skulls, her life partner Joe an FBI  agent, John Gallo, a former US Ranger and the father of Bonnie her abducted, long dead child, and Catherine, a CIA agent, though in this story they all act independently of their day jobs in the hunt for Bonnie’s killer.

Nearly all the action is carried forward by dialogue, including sometimes the words and thoughts of their quarry, a serial killer who preys on children, which takes some endurance (for the reader/listener).

Secondly, this is one of many, many novels where US agencies are portrayed as out of control and corrupt. And yet this seems to have no effect on real world perceptions of these agencies (except for lefties like me). Strange.

Thirdly, and most interestingly, the ‘heroic’ actions of the men are generally portrayed as rage or jealousy-induced, testosterone driven while most of the thought and planning comes from the women.

In my playlist Eve was followed by A Passage to India, wonderfully well written, though a little stereotypical in its characterisations and again, the author’s intent is to satirise ‘strong’ men.

I’d planned a full review of Tim Winton’s The Turning before this but work intervened. Hopefully I will complete it today, but more likely next week.

 

Recent audiobooks

Ian McEwan (M, Eng), Sweet Tooth (2012)
Tim Winton (M, WA/Aust), The Turning (2004)
Sue Grafton (F, USA), W is for Wasted (2013)
Iris Johansen (F, USA), Eve (2011)
EM Forster (M, Eng), A Passage to India (1924)

Currently reading

Gerald Murnane, Border Districts
Cixin Liu, The Dark Forest, 2008 Finished! All 550pp.

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.