“Why is the heavy haulage traffic that Australia relies on perpetually starved for roads? Why do the road trains that are the lifeblood of this country have to share a few inadequate lanes of so-called freeway with every Tom, Dick and Harriet crawling along and obstructing our logistics network in its vital role of, er, logistics?”
The questioner was haulage magnate Les Hogg, founder and owner of Road-Hogg Heavy Transport, “grabbing” a lunchtime “Family-Size Fill-U-Up Meal in a Box” at Ol’ Colonel Greezy’s Krispy Frozen Chicko Chunks road-stop gourmet dine-in facility. The interrogatory thump with which he accompanied his rhetorical inquiry sent a plastic container of the Colonel’s Maryland Hominy-Goo Ketchup flying onto a neighbouring seat, where, immediately sat upon by a newly arrived luncher, it discharged its viscous contents over a pile of unsold copies of the Monthly on the adjacent magazine rack. Runnels of the condiment spread in filigree patterns across the mahogany-hued features of Stan Grant gazing with ancient dreamtime wisdom from the magazine’s spattered cover.
Mr Hogg had agreed to meet me for an interview, but “Can’t stop now, mate, you’ll have to talk to me on board,” he told me. He pointed to a vast vehicle pulsating and rumbling as though in a frenzy to leap away. “That’s me new baby,” he said. Across its front was the legend “Road Titanosaur” in streamlined chrome letters. A sign on the back read, “You are being passed by another Road-Hogg”.
A chairlift attached to the cabin conveyed us up to his “bridge” three storeys high on the truck—“Only don’t call it a truck, mate, if yer don’t mind. It’s a mobile warehouse.” Deftly, as though playing a sonata on the massive bank of gears, he manoeuvred us out of the roadhouse yard, not quite clearing an advertising display for Chicko Chunks. A hoarding with the slogan “They’re finger-sucking yummy” caught in the wheel housing and bounced along in our wake for some time until it broke loose into a flutter of flying splinters, causing a minor pile-up of braking motorists behind us.
“That’ll teach them to tailgate me,” Mr Hogg laughed, extending a banana-like forefinger from the window.
“As the nation’s heaviest-volume road users it is our right to have roads provided for us that are fit for the purpose of the essential public service the haulage community fulfils. Logistics as a—” but his words were lost in a shriek of air horns directed at a passing caravan. “Bloody idiot, shouldn’t have a licence, does he think he owns the road?”
Ingesting a “pep pill”, Mr Hogg said Road-Hogg was “doing its bit” to reduce pressure on the roads by introducing “more advanced equipment” such as the 900-kilometre-long Intercity Overloader. This vehicle would stretch from Sydney to Melbourne, allowing goods to be loaded in one city and simultaneously unloaded from the other end in the other city. “The net effect,” said Mr Hogg, “will be to maximise productivity while minimising volume of traffic and so-called wear and tear on roads,” for which, he said, haulage contractors had been “scandalously overcharged” by successive governments.
“I’ve taken this matter up with my friend Albo and he agrees we should get some tax relief. Wants bigger vehicles too.
“Think about it,” he bawled across the cabin over the vocal gyrations of Keith Urban on the sound system. “It is a matter of national survival. We have to stop the clutter of non-essential private transport getting in the way of commercial users, frequently at considerable risk to themselves. Struth! We’re already behind time.”
Taking a refreshing slurp of Wild Turkey, he accelerated and the mighty vehicle (“speed-governed at 100 kilometres an hour”) shot forward on its full 800 horsepower to overtake a tourist coach full of senior citizens enjoying a community singalong on their way home from a “Beautiful Gardens of Bowral” excursion. The strains of “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts” froze in a score of elderly throats as the coach, its driver blinded by clouds of exhaust from the Road Titanosaur, swerved from the highway and careered through a roadside “rest ’n’ refresh” reserve, scattering picnickers, paper plates, burnt chops and thermos flasks across the verdant site. “Bloody litterers,” commented Mr Hogg with a glance in the rear-vision mirror. “Don’t they know the meaning of ‘Keep Australia Beautiful’?”
Mr Hogg believes the time will soon come when limited-capacity roads such as even our major new freeways won’t have room for non-commercial users. Unless governments are prepared to invest the billions necessary to completely upgrade these vital arteries to “twenty lanes minimum”, the only alternative is to ban private traffic from haulage-priority sections on all major roads.
“We’ve got the support of the Greens on this,” he noted. “They agree with us that the less cars the better.”
I became aware of a gathering rumble and suddenly five Road-Hogg transports in convoy grew level with us, all sounding their horns merrily. Mr Hogg gave an answering blast and smiled at them benignly, like a father admiring his children’s sporting prowess. But to me it was terrifying, this wall of huge vehicles filling the freeway with the force of a tsunami.
“No industry’s without its problems and another of ours is the profileration of so-called ‘independent’ carriers trying to take a bite out of our business here, a bite there, and buggering up our overall national strategy,” he explained. “But Albo’s onto that one too, and he’ll get these nuisances off the road. In the old days we put sugar in their petrol. Now we use legislation to achieve a properly regulated industry with fully experienced logisticians in charge. Albo, and the union guys too, are great friends of the official haulage community.”
We sped, rather too closely it seemed to me, under a high pedestrian bridge newly erected across the freeway. “Them bridges are another problem,” observed Mr Hogg. “That one’s OK for now, though it wouldn’t have enough clearance for our next-generation vehicles, but most bridges seem to have been built just as a barrier to our free movement. They’re far too low, and even if they have height-limit signs on them, it’s dangerous for a driver to take their eyes off the road to be gazing around at signs all over the place.”
I remembered an incident where a Road-Hogg truck got stuck under a low bridge in Melbourne. While the damaged bridge creaked and buckled, police and emergency vehicles found themselves unable to make headway through a billowing tide of glutinous consistency oozing from the stricken transport. It turned out to be ice cream, melting as the carrier’s refrigerators failed. Motorists and bystanders found themselves trapped in a rising sea of raspberry ripple, blue heaven, rocky road with salted caramel, mango whirl and other assorted flavours. “My windscreen wipers jammed in a hail of choc chips when the traffic in front of me skidded into the sludge,” I heard one driver say on the news. “Cars were disappearing like into coloured quicksand—schlomp! and they were gone.”
I suggested to Mr Hogg that perhaps rail could take some of the pressure off road transport. “Bloody trains,” he yelled, emitting a spray of Wild Turkey, “they’re worse than women drivers at blocking the roads.” Reinserting his false teeth, dislodged in his vehemence, he explained. “Try and do an off-highway delivery run down any country road and you get stopped everywhere by level crossings. ‘Jang, jang, jang’ for hours waiting for the train to come, if it ever comes, and costing us valuable time. Trains are a menace. I have instructed my drivers that while the train is a reasonable distance off they’ve got a few seconds to beat the boom and slip across the line. Why sit there and twiddle your thumbs? But there’s always some unlucky bugger who comes a cropper. One of our vehicles just had to stall in front of an XPT last month. That was a close one—and the railways had the nerve to say we were to blame—with our unblemished record too.”
Christopher Akehurst, a frequent contributor, lives in rural Victoria