The Struggles of an Interstate Truck Driver

“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

12 thoughts on “The Struggles of an Interstate Truck Driver

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    My father had a small trucking business in rural NSW back in the 1950s, and I have a great deal of sympathy for truck drivers. I still give thanks every time I see one for having managed to avoid what, in my opinion, must be close to being the worst and most dangerous jobs in the world.
    Mr Hogg has it exactly right. In this modern era, railways that used to service rural agricultural communities scattered along hundreds of miles of branch lines, are now effectively limited to carrying bulk freight such as grain and mine products over mainlines. Trucks, being much more flexible and economical, have taken everything else.
    Yet we continually see ridiculous calls for Japanese and European-style high speed rail lines between capital cities in the blissfully hopeful expectation that some idiot government will happily sign blank cheques to the builders while knowing full well that with our low population density such trains will never recover their capital costs or cover anything like their operating costs.
    So, It makes perfect sense for some of that money to be diverted to the main interstate highways to build special dedicated high quality lanes exclusively for trucks. Toll charges for those roads could help cover costs.
    Anyone who drives the Hume Highway knows that the least of their worries are the semis and B-doubles, and that Mr Hogg’s contempt for other road users is well-justified.

  • Sindri says:

    In an ideal world, and if cost didn’t matter, a high speed rail link between Sydney and Melbourne, with Canberra in the middle, would be fantastic. Two to three hours from city centre to city centre (look at the Eurostar). The air route between Sydney and Melbourne is incredibly busy; the trains would surely be well patronised.
    I suspect that if we had a bit of the Singapore spirit, it could be built as a cost that, while no doubt horrendous, might ensure a return. The real problem would be the fantasy-land environmental, planning and “feasibility” costs, with all the associated bureaucracy, rent-seeking and litigation, which would add billions and billions to the costs. They would be astronomical even before a sod was turned.

  • Lonsdale says:

    They’re still publishing The Monthly? That’s a surprise

  • sfw says:

    I normally like Christopher’s musings, however I’m at a bit of a loss to understand what he’s trying to say here. It’s more a incoherent rant against trucks and transport companies without an actual purpose.

    For the record I’m now 67, in my late 50’s I ended up out of work for reasons beyond my control, like many other white men in their 50’s I found that no one wanted to employ me in the jobs for which I had qualifications and experience. The only jobs offered were truck driving. I had long held a HC licence, this permits the driving of semi trailers but not B Doubles or bigger. So I started on the road, it was a reasonably well paying job but the hours are terrible. I had what’s called a fatigue management qualification, this is gained by doing a short course designed to keep training people employed, once gained you can work up to 14 hours in a 24 hour period, with a minimum 7 hours continual rest period in that 24. Depending on how you work your Diary (logbook) you can sometimes work six days a week. You leave home say early Monday morning and get back home late Saturday or Friday and start again on the following Monday. You are continually exhausted after the first day but with the schedules you must use every available minute to do the work required. You live in the back of the truck, eating at service stations and using the showers at the service stations when and if they are available and you have enough time.

    Your wife and family only see you once a week at best, sometimes you can be away for a month or more. For this you earn between $100,000 and $150,000 a year. Not bad money for a job that can be got after a few years of training and driving smaller trucks. Driving heavy vehicles is remarkably stressful, you have to be constantly alert especially so in traffic, by the end of the day you’re exhausted and then you get up and do it again. Thankfully for me, after a few years of this my situation improved and I no longer have to drive big heavy things to keep a roof over my head. My point is that Christopher and others shouldn’t be flippant or disparaging of those who keep the goods flowing around the country, every single thing in the country is moved from where it is to where it’s needed, often multiple times, without it being moved nothing else happens.

    • Brian Boru says:

      I think I am with you sfw. Some humour in there but to what end? Thank you for your description of the real world.

    • James McKenzie says:

      CA warns that transportation infrastructure is at the beck and call of the Unions.

      • Brian Boru says:

        I think I am still with sfw. I would prefer it that I and my family only had to share the roads with drivers of heavy trucks who were not pushed into unsafe driving practices by the pressures of the industry. I think the TWU have an obvious role in that which is to the benefit of all us road users.

  • Alistair says:

    Hey, Doubting Thomas – I dont think you have factored in “Net Zero”. I see France has banned all short-haul flights in order to make high-speed rain journeys more viable. Watch out for that here … until they discover that once you have banned short-haul flights – you dont need High Speed rail anyway – any old train stopping at every station will then be competitive.

    • Doubting Thomas says:

      I tried to separate the sublime from the ridiculous.

    • Botswana O'Hooligan says:

      Yairs, if I walked down the hill and caught the Metro into town, then the TGV to Lyon, I would be in the centre of Lyon faster than I would by going to work, signing on, taking a flight to Lyon, signing off and going to the pub. There is some logic in what they are doing but in a democracy one would think that if you wanted to crawl, walk, cycle, drive, catch a bus or train or fly to wherever you wanted to go, then you could, your choice.

  • phicul19 says:

    Regarding grain, prior to deregulation in the 1980’s, the mode of transport was controlled by law with state owned railway systems getting preference over road transport. Would other businesses be agreeable to this control.of their products?

  • cbattle1 says:

    Rail is the choice for delivering bulk cargo from point A to point B, coal and iron ore being obvious examples. But what rail freight doesn’t do well is everything else! A truck can arrive anywhere to pick up a load, and can deliver it anywhere. To send stuff by rail, it has to be loaded on to a truck and taken to the rail, then loaded on to the train , and the same process has to be done at the destination end. Traditional industries had their own sidings, but today there are so many diverse products from so many sources being sent to so many diverse locations.

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