Dragan’s back

Journal: 021

Beechworth mudmap2

Last trip – I’m doing one trip a fortnight out of Perth to the east coast – Mum and my cousin Kay were in Toowoomba visiting Mum’s sister, I got two trailers to Toowoomba, unloaded, took a 24 hour break, got a room in their motel, had a pleasant time. This trip I had deliveries in Wodonga and Canberra. Great, I’d finally get to meet Sue, the famous Whispering Gums.

I let her know I was on my way (as a comment on one of her posts, I think).

Sue: Just a quick response. Meeting you somewhere for a cuppa Monday early, mid or even late afternoon should be easy …

Nothing is easy with Dragan. On Friday, I’d left Thursday, he books me to load out of Tolls, Sydney on Monday night, never mind that I’m due one 24 hour break a week. Tolls collect freight all day, we drop our trailers in the streets nearby, and during the night they tow them inside and load them. Then phone us after midnight to say they’re ready.

I update Sue.

Sue: I’m guessing the DRAGON’S (haha) change in plans for you mean we are not going to catch up this time?

I get to Wodonga midday Sunday, to the BP truckstop 15 km south. My paperwork is addressed to “name to be supplied”, 245 Beechworth Rd, Wodonga. Dana, Dragan’s sister, has sent me a text with the mud map above. I can’t read it, on my phone or on my laptop. I get Dragan to come into work. After a dozen phone calls we establish (a) he should have warned the client of my ETA on Friday; (b) it looks like the delivery address is back to front, should read Wodonga Rd, Beechworth (map). I finally get on to the client direct and he tells me to come before it gets dark and he’ll try and get a tractor with forklift attachments. Doesn’t that sound promising!

Beechworth’s not far away but it’s in the Great Divide. So, into the mountains we go, picturesque and exciting! I pull up on the edge of town and Darryl comes out in his ute to guide me. I follow him a short way, he jumps out, gesturing to a narrow gateway into a bush block on the far side of a drain. I swerve around the end of the drain, between the gateposts, drop more than a metre at 45 degrees, find a space to park between the trees (yellow and grey box he tells me). If it rains I’ll need a bulldozer to tow me out. We pull back the curtains but it’s too late to unload.

Up at 5am next (Mon) morning, get all the straps off, the gates stacked under the trailer etc. Eventually an old guy turns up with a tractor with hay bale tines. My load is fireproof sandwich panels that by the end of this week will have been assembled into a house. The old guy makes a meal of getting them off. The tractor has to drive up onto home workshop ramps to reach the highest packs, and of course he drops one that isn’t balanced properly. No harm done. Job done. I find a way to back up and turn around, make a very limited run at the jump-up out the gate, and I’m away. Hook up my front trailer again, head north up the Hume.

Me: ‘Wodonga’ turned out to be a bush block in the mountains near Beechworth, I’ve been having “interesting ” times. Still hours from Canberra, no hope of making Sydney in time to load, but that doesn’t mean Dragan won’t make me try.

Sue: That’s OK … I assume we’ll hear about Beechworth/Wodonga in a Journal post??

‘Canberra’ of course means Queanbeyan. Between Google maps, a real map and advice from the (next) client I find my way around Canberra (map) and get my delivery done. It’s now after 5.00 pm.
I text Dragan in hope, but apparently Tolls is still on. I give up on the “Alternative Heavy Vehicle Route” out for a simpler route through Canberra.
Me: On my way. Dragan still has plans. Heading out via Ipswich St, Monaro hwy.

Sue: Such a shame … Fyshwick would be very doable for me. Good luck.

Three hours later I pull up outside Tolls, Eastern Creek, drop my trailers in the street as requested, go round to the truckstop. But wait, there’s more …

Me: Dropped trailers Tolls 8.30. Went round to BP for shower and was just having a quiet browse before going to sleep when Dragan messaged to say (a) load was off till tomorrow; and (b) another driver would be doing it anyway. So all that rushing for nothing, as usual … Might be easier if your next trip, after the Mallee, is to Perth.

I see Sue has just responded to a comment, so I guess she is still up. She replies, wishing me well.


Interestingly, there is no mention of Indigenous people on the Beechworth tourism sites nor in their wikipedia entry. I have found a detailed post (here) Where were Aboriginal people during the Beechworth gold rush? (decimated by settlers as you might expect – Giving more weight to my belief that it was unforgiveable of Peter Carey to exclude local Aboriginals from his True History of the Kelly Gang). The same blog in a different post (here) names the locals as the Yeddonba. The map I used for Joseph Hawson’s Journal gave the language name Waveroo to this area, more research needed!

 

Recent audiobooks

Edna O’Brien (F, Ire), The Country Girls (1960)
Margaret Atwood (F,Can), Alias Grace (1996)
Linwood Barclay (M, USA), A Noise Downstairs (2018)
Leena Lehtolainen (F, Fin), Before I Go (2000)

Currently reading

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel. No I’m not but I have it with me, and half a dozen others, notably Eleanor Dark’s Waterway .

Stuff on the Internet

Mrs B’s Book Reviews has reviewed Seven Little Australians (here). A reminder, to me as well as you, that my AWW Gen2 week (13-19 Jan, 2019) is fast approaching.

And the latest issue of Australian Literary Studies (here):

“Helena Kadmos’ essay, ‘Re-Imagining Indigenous Australia through the Short Story:  Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven’, presents a welcome discussion of van Neerven’s acclaimed collection.

Jonathan Dunk examines the use of the short story form by Henry Lawson and John Kinsella.

In addition, reviews of the edited collection Teaching Australian and New Zealand Literature (by Dougal McNeill) and David Game’s D. H. Lawrence’s Australia (by Barbara Holloway – no relation).

 

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More Mistakes

Journal: 019

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Not a mistake at all. I said I almost never saw wombats these days, so it’s inevitable that from then on I would. At dusk last week between Morgan and Burra, mallee country, there were wombats all along the verge. One started crossing the road, saw (or heard) me coming, and broke into an impressive gallop. I should get dash-cam and take my own photos like the above.


I wrote I’m Making a Mistake at least partly to see how long it would take me to rectify it. The answer, so far, is a while. I thought I might have a job lined up which would keep me closer to home but it fell through, and anyway, while Dragan’s away Sam and I seem to be getting used to each other. There’s regulatory stuff I have to do too. Meanwhile, Milly seems mellow. I took her out to dinner for her birthday and gave her The History of Bees, Maja Lunde and Mary Leunig’s brand new, One Good Turn. We all used to love Mary Leunig and the kids would pore endlessly over her drawings.


Last trip I made a mistake of a different kind, or more correctly I guess, a wrong turn. Following the multiple secondary roads which are the official cross country route (in South Australia) for trucks from NSW heading to the West, I got from Renmark to Burra ok, but then, in the dark with oncoming traffic, turned left 100 m before the correct turnoff to Spalding, Warnertown, Port Pirie and thence via Highway One to Port Augusta. I quickly realised my mistake but, unable to turn around, pressed on. The road turned to gravel, kilometres passed, tens of kilometres, I pressed on. I was forced into a left turn when I needed a right, I pressed on. Finally, I came to a bitumen cross road with a sign pointing right to Clare. I was way, way south of where I hoped to be.

I hadn’t been through Clare for 40 years, there were hills with 35 kph hairpin bends I’d forgotten, then just as the road levelled out:  “Bridgeworks”, “Road Closed”, “Detour”. I turned on to a track through the trees, under a railway bridge with 8 inches (0.2m) to spare and came out at a T-junction onto the main street. No signs. It was after 9.00 pm local time, the town centre was deserted. I stopped where I was in the road and went for a walk. A lone truck came along. The driver said turn right, go over the hill and turn left to Lochiel (which is on Highway One but a long way south of Port Pirie). I took his advice, I was sure there were shorter routes but it was late, drove an endless straight road to Lochiel, turned onto the highway, went to bed. I was hours and 100 km out of my way (map).


I’m not sure if it’s a mistake or just old age, but I’m 20 kg overweight. Since starting this job in April I’ve gone over 100 kg. I feel (and look) like a blob. Yes I’ve stopped swimming, but even in full training four or five years ago, 20 km/week, the best I could hope for was the high 90s. I’m a vego. I live on fruit, vegies and nuts. It’s not fair. And then there’s this article in the Age about the Zoo no longer giving fruit to animals because it’s making them obese. I eat 5 pieces of fruit/day, more if stone fruit or grapes are in season. I’m back on the 5:2 diet. ‘Starvation’ days are porridge, one apple, one orange. It’s already killing me.

When I met Milly I was a rake, and I don’t mean the Georgette Heyer kind. I was 10 stone, driving all night on diet pills; half a briquette, 2 shakers and a bottle of coke every two hours. Eyes like saucers. Hair buzzing. A year into marriage and that little belly started coming. And kept coming. I stood it till 40, then mid-life crisis, vego, competitive swimmer. For a while most of my less than 90 kg was muscle. Now it’s just a foundation for all that extra flab. Hang ageing gracefully, I want to be that 40 something guy again. I want to pull chicks. What is it again I should do with them?


I’m not going to a review any of the books I’ve read recently. Lincoln in the Bardo was try-hard (read Lisa/ANZLL’s post (here) on David Malouf’s comments about “clever” fiction). The 7th Function of Language (Lisa again) was fun, with a Lit. professor hero, and lots of lectures about literature, but in the end was just ordinary crime fiction. The Natashas (2016) by Yelena Moskovich was interesting, worth reading, I wonder if I bought it because one of you recommended it. The other day, waiting for the car to be serviced, I picked up Beloved for $2.00 from an op shop and I’m loving it.

Recent audiobooks

EM Forster (M, Eng), Howards End (1910) – Project Gutenberg
Terry Pratchett (M,Eng) , Strata (1981)
Ian Rankin (M, Scot), Blood Hunt (1995)
Matthew Quick (M, USA), Love May Fail (2015)

Currently reading

Toni Morrison, Beloved
Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel


If you look on the Menu bar you’ll see I’ve started a Journal page to make it easier for new readers to find earlier posts. (Which begs the question, what brings in new readers? In my case it seems to be mostly posts about early Australian and English Lit.)

Crossing the Nullarbor

Journal: 018

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The Nullarbor Plain (nul-arbor: no trees) lies across the WA/SA border and its cliffs hold back the Southern Ocean. Technically, the highway only crosses the plain around Nullarbor Station at the head of the Bight, but generally a Nullarbor crossing is the 1200 km from Norseman, WA to Ceduna, SA, though the Eyre Highway continues another 500 km across the Eyre Peninsula to Port Augusta (map).

The Plain is largely uninhabited except for the roadhouses every 60-180 km and the quarantine workers at the border (Eucla/Border Village Roadhouse). Driving across from west to east, the clay soils of the Goldfields and the Great Western Woodlands give way after Balladonia to limestone plains, light scrub and saltbush until well into South Aust. and the Mallee woodlands around Yalata. The Nullarbor itself is “the world’s largest single exposure of limestone bedrock”, but as far as I can see, sand, limestone and mallee scrub extend all the way across SA and into northern Victoria.

Much of the plain is fenced for grazing, sheep I imagine, though you never see any. Then from around Nundroo – a couple of houses and an old service station – scattered wheat farmers scratch a living from marginal soils and even more marginal rainfall. Penong, 70 km before Ceduna, is the one township, with a truck stop, a couple of shops and a police station. A while ago, I wondered why Kim Scott’s great grandmother Fanny (Benang) and her husband carried supplies from Esperance (on the coast) to Balladonia, 180 km east of Norseman. It was not a sheep station as I thought but a township, although for what purpose I cannot imagine, and is now long gone.

The signs along the highway, when they’re not being stolen by backpackers, warn of camels, kangaroos and wombats. There’s no shortage of kangaroos, or emus or wedge-tailed eagles; camels are a problem when they venture this far south, which is luckily not often, because their weight and high centre of gravity cause a lot of damage when you hit them; wombats dead or alive, you used to see a lot of at the eastern end of the plain, but not so much now.

I can only think of two literary references to the Nullarbor, Daisy Bates’ The Passing of the Aborigines, a selection of articles written by her and collated by Ernestine Hill, and Hill’s biography of Bates, Kabbarli (here); and Stephen Orr’s The Hands with its improbable Herefords (they certainly wouldn’t get fat!) and mathematically impossible train sighting (one hour horizon to horizon at 100 kph). Though at the edge of my memory is an SF novel written by Sean McMullen, a workmate of a friend but now apparently famous, Mirrorsun Rising about a post-apocalyptic future which somehow involves Victoria at war with Western Australia.

The Indigenous map I rely on (here) shows a major language group extending from around the Goldfields (Kalgoorlie) along the Bight to Nullarbor Station in South Australia. As best I can discover, the original languages along the coast were Ngadjunmaya to the west and Mirning to the east, both now extinct. The people of the Goldfields and out into the desert are Wangkatja, Western Desert people

Further east, from Yalata to Ceduna, were the Wirangu whose language was subsumed by the related Kokatha, another member of the Western Desert family of languages to their north, following the establishment of the Koonibba mission near Ceduna (map). Yalata on the highway has been a mission, a roadhouse and is now an Indigenous community centre. And the roadhouse where you could once stop for souvenirs and snacks is closed.

Not just out on the Nullarbor, but in the roadhouses I use in WA, in the Goldfields and the Pilbara, and in outback SA and NSW, you never – I think I can say never – see Aboriginal workers. Racism probably. Chinese-run roadhouses don’t prosper either, though there are a couple of Indian ones. Truckies it seems, like to be served by (white) housewives and backpacker girls.

White 9000 Adelaide 1976

The SA end of the Eyre Highway was sealed in 1976 and I made my first crossing at the end of 1977, so I never got to cross on the dirt, though long sections of the old road still run parallel to the bitumen. I’d always wanted to run east-west and my business, I was an owner-driver then too, was registered as “Go West”. I got my chance when Holymans in Sydney offered me a load of lawn mower grass catchers. I’d brought a mixed load of oranges and general freight up from Adelaide and the Riverland, unloaded Sunday night at the markets, went round to Holymans who had me going by Mon evening; was in Adelaide Tues arvo to top up; and more importantly pick up my girlfriend Tommy who had promised to introduce me if I ever got a load to Perth, to her busty blonde friend Xenia; arrived Perth Thurs, pulled up in inner suburban Rivervale outside Xenia’s duplex; and were met at the front door not by Xenia but by her slender younger sister  …

Milly and baby Psyche. I went off and unloaded. Xenia came home from work and took us down the beach. By that night I had been awake 6 days. I fell asleep in the shower, was discovered, crawled behind a couch and there lay oblivious to the five women who hadn’t seen Tommy for years since they were all together in Alice Springs, and now had a lot to say.

The next morning I woke early. Milly was in the kitchen feeding Psyche. We talked, we sat and read, I held Psyche. Later, the girls said if I was ever back in Perth I should come and stay. I rang Adelaide, organized a load for Xmas Eve. Took Tommy home. “You’ve fallen for Xenia, haven’t you,” she said – resigned after repeatedly losing boyfriends to her in Alice. “No,” I said, “her sister.”

Drove all day Xmas Day, absolutely no traffic, was back in Perth Boxing Day and stayed for 2 weeks. Down the beach, Cottesloe, Swanbourne, New Years Eve at Steve’s (a famous pub). The time of my life. Got regular east-west work, took Xenia to Melbourne, took Milly’s best friend to Melbourne. Brought my Monaro back, to take Milly to the drive-ins. It took a while to convince her. And where was the Young Bride you ask. In Holland as it happens – a story for another day.

I struggled to get work for my trailer, a pantec (van), so borrowed B2’s flattop. Rolled it with a load of jarrah when I came over the rise into Ceduna and there was a train on the line, took it off the road out into the sand and laid it gently on its side. Bought a new trailer but was soon broke and declared bankruptcy. Was a salesman for a few months, then a driver again, crossing the Nullarbor twice a week each way, two-up (one driving, one asleep) with Ipec fast freight. Rolled another truck in the Blue Mountains. Flew home. Retired. Lou was on the way.

After five years in Perth I dragged Milly and the kids to Melbourne where we stayed for fifteen years. Milly flew home sometimes and we made two trips by car, Mitsubishi Magna station wagons, a trailer for the tent and supplies. The first time the two youngest sat in the very back (with seatbelts!), talked and played games, Psyche listened to music, Milly read to me and kept everyone fed. The second time Lou had a broken leg, a corkscrew fracture when he was tackled by all his fellow scouts, including his sister, playing british bulldog, and he got the back. Psyche flew home early that trip to celebrate her 18th birthday while we came home round the coast, the Big Tree at Pemberton, Denmark, Albany, Esperance.

In 2001 Milly had had enough of Melbourne and drove back to Perth in her little Daewoo, came back to see us in July and again at the end of the year when she sold up. I hung on for a couple of months then drove my lovely Triumph 2500 TC I’d bought all those years ago back in Perth, round to the wreckers, piled all I had left in the Mitsubishi and drove over to join her (share housing you understand, we’d been separated a while). Started running out of Perth to north Qld for Sam, till in December (2002) a co-driver foisted on me for a quick trip to Darwin rolled the truck with me in the sleeper and I packed it in. And that was it for Nullarbor crossings until I rejoined Sam and Dragan earlier this year. The rest you know.

Indigenous Stories

Train refuses to stop for injured Aboriginal, Ooldea, 1941 (here)
Aboriginal Astronomical Traditions from Ooldea (here)
Our People, Ooldea (here)

Recent audiobooks

Ian McEwan (M, Eng), Sweet Tooth (2012)
Jonathon Kellerman (M, USA), Heartbreak Hotel (2017)
Margaret Atwood (F, Can), The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
Kerry Greenwood (F, Vic/Aust), Death at Victoria Dock (1992)
Kate Chopin (F, USA), The Awakening (1899) – Project Gutenberg

Currently reading

Laurent Binet, The 7th Function of Language
Yelena Moskovich, The Natashas

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 there 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

 

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.

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 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

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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