IT'S mid-morning the eve of Australia day and the temperature is climbing, dust and a mix of hay surround a convoy of trucks lined up in southern New South Wales as they are loaded for the Burrumbuttock Hay Run.
A pure act of Aussie mateship this, the 13th run, is charged with the task of delivering donations of hay and feed to drought-stricken farmers, with the 2018 run heading to Cunnamulla in southwest Queensland.
Under the cloudless sky and slowly intensifying sun, Burrumbuttock's Geoffro Amarant is operating a JCB telehandler, deftly picking up large square bales of straw and loading them, with the yard a flurry of activity as trucks are shifted and straps thrown and tightened.
Matt Reeve is doing his first hay run and has come down from Sydney in his Mercedes Benz and flat-top trailer to take part and pulls his truck out to strap down, with the final truck to be loaded pulling into his place.
Within 20 minutes the job is done and a mini-convoy of five trucks is assembled in the paddock, including Geoffro's Kenworth T401, and BHR organiser Brendan Farrell's Kenworth T600, which will be driven to Cunnamulla by Jessica Edwards, better known to all and sundry as Jillaroo Jess.
All the other trucks except Geoffro's head out to the meet up with the rest of the convoy at Darlington Point, whilst Geoffro loads the telehandler and another tractor on his quad float which will be pulled by his Kenworth T909.
With the late afternoon arrival of driver Paul Betts who will steer the T401, the two Amarant Trucking vehicles head off into the twilight, pulling into Darlington Point around 10pm and the overnight stop at the golf club.
Pre-dawn on Australia Day and the parking area is a hive of activity as trucks are prepared to head out the gates and onto the Kidman Way for the 816 kilometre trip to Cunnamulla.
Almost every vehicle is adorned with an Australian flag, green and gold banner and in some cases an inflatable boxing kangaroo has been affixed to the bullbar or tailgate - a magnificent sight.
Walking around it is a truck-spotter's delight, with trucks varying from current model Western Stars, Freightliners and Mercedes Benz through to older classic International Transtars, W-Model Kenworths and R-Model Macks, with trucks ranging from rigids through to B-Triples and double road trains loaded high with round and square bales of hay and straw.
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With traffic stopped, the convoy of 150 trucks and 200 trailers slowly pulls out onto the Kidman Way, farewelled by a large crowd of well-wishers lining the roadside.
Over the Murrumbidgee River into Griffith, the convoy makes its way through irrigated orchards and pasture, with large puddles of water on the roadside from an overnight storm, then onto Hillston.
The convoy weaves its way through Hillston through another crowd of well-wishers, and the pace picks up out on the open road.
Paul Betts works his way through the 13-speed Roadranger in our T401 and we are soon cruising along at 90 kilometres an hour, about halfway along the line of trucks which is stretched out over a few kilometres.
There is plenty of good- natured banter over the radio as the kilometres tick by and before long we are slowing down to wind through the settlement of Mount Hope, which consists of a Pub and a phone box by the side of the road.
About 30 kilometres south of Cobar the call goes out that the convoy will pull up to have lunch on the side of the road (given the complexities of parking 150 trucks in town), and as we step out of the truck the shimmering heat is rising off the blacktop with the lineup of vehicles extending into the heat haze as far as the eye can see.
Tyres are checked and straps are tightened on trailers as a number of utes work their way up and down the road distributing lunch and drinks. Moving again, the Cat C-12 in the Kenworth is purring along nicely as we make good time into Cobar.
The UHF crackles into life reporting a kangaroo on the side of the road - in this case an errant yellow inflatable boxing boomer which has come adrift - within minutes one of the support crew has rounded him up for safe keeping.
We pull up for a drink and truck check in Bourke, with the temperature at 40.4 degrees a bit of a shock after getting out of the air-conditioned cabin.
Just beyond the Darling River at North Bourke the call comes over the radio that a couple of bales have shifted on a truck ahead.
Within a couple of minutes three trucks have pulled up to help and extra straps are thrown to get the load to Cunnamulla safely.
Rolling again we are in a group of five, with Jillaroo Jess heading our mini-convoy, however a rising temperature gauge has caused her some concern.
Nearing the border the temperature has stabilised and once again the pace picks up with the kilometre peg showing that we are only 140 kilometres from our destination.
Crossing into Queensland at Barringun, storm clouds are brewing and within 10 minutes the wipers are on as we pass through a brief shower, unfortunately not the solid, steady rain that is so desperately needed out here.
As we near Cunnamulla the convoy is spread out over 19 kilometres and half an hour later we are pulling into town to a huge welcome at the showgrounds as the trucks line up to park in two lines.
The ramps are dropped on Geoffro's trailer, the chains undone and machinery is unloaded for the morning before the hay runners head for an evening meal, a few beers and stories.
Already over 30 degrees at 8am the following morning, the Cunnamulla Showgrounds are a hive of activity with trucks being unloaded for hay to be collected or sent to outlying properties.
Over 100 trailer loads are being delivered direct, with some trucks travelling up to 260 kilometres beyond Cunnamulla, whilst back at the showgrounds Paul and Geoffro, along with a number of other tractor and telehandler drivers are buzzing around shifting bales between trucks and stacking hay for collection.
With the temperatures at 42.5 degrees, the support crews are vital.
By early afternoon over 2000 bales of hay have been unloaded or sent out, and the trucks are starting to come back in after making their deliveries.
Upon completion of the delivery runs, the truck drivers who are staying in town for the Saturday night concert head over to cool down and relax and swap stories with a few hard-earned beers.
Unfortunately trucks rarely stay still, and a number of drivers have to leave on the Saturday to get back to their regular duties, having donated their trucks and time for the cause, with trucks having come from as far as Tasmania to take part in the run at considerable personal expense.
Such is the case for Paul Betts, who has to return to work on the Monday, and with Geoffro having secured a backload south, the tractor and telehandler are quickly loaded and secured on Paul's T401 before the return trip to Burrumbuttock begins.
Back down into New South Wales via a quick photo stop at the border and into Bourke we make good time before pulling into the Caltex at Cobar around 9pm for a meal break.
Another 110 kilometres down the Kidman Way, camp is made for the night at the Gilgunnia Goldfields, with the swag rolled out on top of the trailer in the cooler night air.
From there it is a relatively short day via a brunch stop at Narranderra before the truck rolls into Burrumbuttock around 1.30pm.
Paul was also undertaking his first hay run and, like a number of others, is keen to volunteer his time and services for the next one.
From a personal perspective the BHR shows the generosity of people donating hay, stock feed, trucks, fuel, supplies and most importantly time to help others.
A pleasant end after bearing witness to Australians at their finest.