Trucking Around the World: Australia

Australia is about the size of the U.S., but most of our people live within ten miles of the sea in a handful of cities. The inland of Australia is made up of a few cattle ranches that we call cattle stations. They are hundreds of square miles in size, but because the land is so dry and there is not much water, few cattle are spread over a lot of land. Most of the land is still unused government land.

After 100 years, there is still no railway from north to south so everything goes by road. We do not have a freeway from coast to coast. The numbers of cars are few and the roads are narrow with one lane in each direction. When you get two trucks passing each other, they are only a few feet apart.

With thousands of miles of road between the cities and no hills to cross, the Australian Road Train makes good sense. The normal road train is made up of three, 44-foot trailers with a twin axle turn table dolly under the front of the trailer hooked up to the back of the trailer in front of it with a ring feeder and a dolly bar. The load is 120 tons, spread over the three trailers. The normal road train is made up of three trailers, but in the mining game they haul six trailers or more.

For training to get a road train license you have to be over 18 years old and you start with what's called a TAFE course that is held at a collage. I am a old-time driver that has not done this course, but from what I have been told you learn everything from how to tie ropes to how much air to put into the tyres--you notice we spell tyre differently than you. After a passing the TAFE course, you then have to do a heavy truck-driving test on the road.

It is one thing to get a license, but another thing to get a job driving a road train. You have to get a permit from a company that will give you a job. So, it is a catch 22. No one will give you a job unless you have experience and unless you know someone who will give you a go at it, it is hard to find a job driving a road train.

The best way is to start driving small trucks and do that for a number of years. Then start driving bigger trucks. As you progress, then someone will let you loose with a road train. There's no quick way.

Australian Road-TrainsMost of the trucks (tractors) we use are U.S. makes. The big two are Mack and Kenworth. They have to be made to road train standards (which listing all those details would take all day). The chassis are made stronger with more cross members and the chassis are not allowed to be too long, so you do not have room for big sleeper cabs. We have to double the number of air tanks, plus add more fuel tanks on both sides and lots more.

In Australia, you can drive four hours without stopping then you must stop for half an hour. You cannot drive for more than 12 hours in one day, but most drivers break regulations every day. A driver has a logbook to fill out, but that means nothing. It's called the "book of lies."

These days a lot of trucking companies run two drivers to each truck. While one drives the other one rests, that way they can go straight through.

There are some differences in terminology. In Australia truck drivers are called "truckies" not truckers. The tractor is called a "pri-mover" not a tractor. (A tractor in Australia is what a farmer uses to dig up his field to grow his crop.)

Most trucks have fuel for at least one thousand miles because, as you leave the big cities on the coast and head into the outback, the price of fuel goes up. There are truck stops every 150 miles and most of these are small compared to yours. They seat ten or so people. The food is home-style cooking: steak and eggs, plus burgers and fries (what we call chips). It's simple food, not conveyer-belt food.

The wages are not too bad for Australian truckies. They earn around 600 a week. The average wage in Australia for other blue-collar jobs is about 375 a week. There are two Australian dollars to one U.S. dollar.

Australia is very large and its seasons are reverse to the U.S. December is the start of our summer so Father Christmas is pulled by kangaroos not reindeer. In the south, the summer is hot and dry, and the average temperature is about 95 degrees F with a lot of days just over 100. In the winter, the weather is mild and I have never seen snow. The north has just two seasons, the wet and the dry, with a yearly average of 95 degrees. The middle of Australia is always dry and hot.

As to what you see driving in Australia, near the coast there is normal farmland, but in the outback you do not know what you will see next. At night there are lots of kangaroos. They are heavy on most roads and that's why our trucks have big "roo bars" on the front of the trucks. It is not unusual to hit four or five kangaroos on one trip and they can do more damage than you think.

In the daytime you see a lot of wildlife--birds, big eagles and falcons; emus, which are big flightless birds; snakes; wombats, which are a bit like a fat dog; and dingos. There are all sorts of Australian wild life.

The good part of doing the job is that there is no boss looking over your shoulder and every trip is different. You are so far away that you have to do your own thing. You have to be a jack-of-all-trades. If the truck stops running, you have to try and get it going by yourself. Help is hundreds of miles away.

The bad part about the job is that you have a timetable to keep up with and you are paid only when you are working. If you breakdown and have to wait for someone to come hundreds of miles to get you going, you do not get paid for the waiting time. But it's a good time to catch up on your sleep.

Written by: Kingsley Foreman