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Popular Big Rigs columnist celebrates 50th anniversary in industry

In August 1970 I joined the Australian trucking industry.  

At the time I was an unaware 13-year-old who had no idea that a decision made by my parents to buy a family business would lead to a career spanning 50 years with many more to come, God willing.

Back then the trucks were very basic and the conditions such that they would be totally unacceptable today.

The laws were ludicrous and there to be broken, we had many trials and tribulations but so much fun.

We also had lots of laughs and plenty of mates.

A lot of those laughs were at my expense and continued to be so until we got far too politically correct.

I was a very spoiled teenager and my parents had purchased a general store, fuel stop and hamburger joint.

The very first time I had to cook an egg I needed to call on my Dad as I had no idea how to do that and as I still manage to blow them up in the microwave, nothing has changed much.

But I fell in love with the trucks, I was happy to pump the fuel and talk to the drivers about anything and everything.

We were the last fuel stop before the Queensland border and general freight road trains were not allowed in New South Wales so those wanting to hook up further south had run the gauntlet past the Enngonia policeman and be over the border into Queensland before daylight.

They would call from the phone box outside the shop and we would get out of bed, fuel them and keep them moving otherwise they had to take the trailers to Barringun as singles or hang about until night and then go, thereby wasting a full day.

A policeman that I met in 2010 said this was aiding and abetting an illegal activity, I think it is called making trucking companies more efficient and financially viable with the saving in fuel and drivers hours etc.

Of course back then there were no airconditioning in trucks, let alone bunks, no automatic gearboxes or power steering or other comforts we have today.

None of the horsepower capacity either! Due to the lack of airconditioning, we often returned from school to find truck drivers asleep on the lounge room floor under the airconditioner.

The drivers loved my Mum and Dad as they were always welcome.

Many of the roads were dirt and when it rained the drivers could be stuck, sometimes for weeks until the roads dried out.

There were no mobile phones or even radios in the beginning but news seemed to travel via some mysterious grapevine so you always knew what was happening with everyone.

There were no tautliners so all the freight, beer, onions and nitro etc for Mt Isa and Darwin went on tarped flat-top trailers and the wool and watermelons returned the same way.

The precision with which these blokes loaded and tarped was incredible.

Their skills were simply amazing.

We also saw huge heavy equipment and construction pieces taken north to build the Gunpowder mine near Mt Isa.

In 1978 I moved to Dubbo and began working for Bruce Dickinson Transport.

I already knew Bruce and many of his drivers and subbies so it was an easy transition.

I worked for Bruce for 17 years and many industry changes took place in that time; with his backing I became involved in industry associations and advocacy.

The trucks got bigger and better, more powerful and much more comfortable and we had some wins with the authorities such as getting the legal height raised to 4.6 metres west of the Newell Highway and particular routes east of it.

We had tachographs taken off the agenda and truck speed limiting to 100kph introduced, the Road Transport Forum was formed leading to the Australian Trucking Association.

B-doubles were invented and road trains were allowed much further south into NSW, the campaign for volume loading of livestock was commenced and didn’t come to fruition until years after I had left the livestock industry.

Bunk airconditioning and truck fridges became the norm as many old style road houses disappeared to be replaced by ones you see today owned by the fuel companies.

Conditions improved for drivers in scheduling and driving hours, the comfort of the new trucks and all the technology that has been embraced by the industry is almost overwhelming.

Of course, the introduction of the mobile phone made an outstanding difference to everyone in the industry.

They gave drivers the ability to keep in touch with family and friends while allowing flexibility for operations personnel and small businesses who were no longer tied to the office waiting for calls from customers, drivers, the mechanic etc.

They also made it much easier to manage accidents and breakdowns far from your base.

I managed my first accident as a 22-year-old at the roadside with police, tow truck operator and sightseers late at night with no way to contact my boss for advice.

Thanks to random drivers and understanding police we were finally able to get the accident cleared and off the road.

At any accident I have had to manage, the assistance given by everyone, industry people and the police has been amazing and very welcome.

We have seen introduction of the Chain of Responsibility laws and while they may not be perfect, they are better than what we had before when everything was blamed on the driver.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator was formed and we are closer to uniformity than we have ever been.

The NHVR has been so proactive in education and co-operation rather than using a big stick to beat us.

This is a plus for everyone.

I moved from being a bowser girl to operations in livestock, general and refrigerated freight to the “dark side” of warehousing and compliance.

When joining Oxford Cold Storage as the transport manager, I joined the largest cold storage facility in the southern hemisphere.

Oxford has now been sold and has become part of the largest cold storage company in the world.

So the next chapter is just beginning, and I look forward to writing about it in Big Rigs.

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