I have a deeper respect for the sacrifices you make
WHAT better way to see Outback Australia than from the elevated, air-conditioned comfort of a Volvo 540, towing 20 tonnes of stock feed as part of a convoy.
Ably led by Peter Wright and Glenn "Yogi” Kendall, the Great Southern Hearts Drive for Life has just delivered over 140 tonnes of feed to drought-affected farmers, and I was lucky enough to help out along the way.
The ATA was only able to help, though, because of the generosity of MaxiTRANS and our foundation sponsors, BP, NTI and Volvo Trucks.
MaxiTRANS generously loaned the ATA a drop-deck tautliner trailer for the convoy, because they recognised that providing free access to a trailer to help deliver much needed supplies allowed them to stretch their contribution to help many more people.
I collected up my load in Ceduna from Darren Revel who started the convoy in Kojonup WA with the others. Because he needed to turn back at Ceduna his feed was cross loaded onto my trailer, which I then delivered to Hay NSW a few days later.
The community spirit was alive and well in Ceduna as Sharon Middleton led the kids in an inspired rendition of the National Anthem, and the locals cooked up a hearty breakfast.
That day we made our way onto to Kimba and with lots of things to fix and people to wrangle, it took the whole day to make a short mile. In spite of the hold-ups, the team kept smiling and making me feel part of the family.
Kimba to Mildura was a much bigger day. With almost 12 hours in the log book, I started to fully comprehend the challenges of managing the written work diary, and my fatigue.
At the end of a long day, the banter on the UHF had not changed, in fact it had lifted as members of the convoy kept checking on each other's energy levels and well-being. What struck me was the thought of being on this piece of tough road at the end of a long shift, alone and tired. How would I manage?
These people do that every day without the benefits of a convoy. I am sure they check in with other drivers but when something goes wrong you really are on your own. That doesn't stop these trucking operators though. The resilience, sense of humour and "she'll be right” mentality is alive and well, and an inspiration to see.
These people are what Australia is made of, and there are over 200,000 of them in the trucking industry as a whole. Whether it is up and down the Hume, dragging mining equipment up the Tanami, or donating your skills, time and trucks to drought relief, it takes a strong constitution to survive in this business.
One of the convoy was Terry, driving a Volvo road train. At 70-something, Terry is part of a family that has three generations on the journey and he drove every mile like the rest of us. In spite of his years, Terry also held onto a sense of humour and good spirit as he led the conversation and kept us in line over the radio. He is a true gentleman in every sense and a proud Australian, and I feel honoured to have spent time with him.
I know this convoy will do good things for drought-affected farmers, it will promote trucking and what the industry does, and it has helped me to better appreciate the challenges of life on the road.
The real benefits are that it has shared pride and hope amongst other members of the community. The convoy of drivers and their families giving up their time is a simple theme yet it should not be underestimated as to the impact it can have.
I take my hat off to all the convoy and their families who welcomed me with open arms. I have a deeper respect for the sacrifices you make, and the work that you do.
I ask all Australians to remember that behind the wheel of these vehicles is a professional person with a family at home and a community that relies on them, so let's show them the same respect and empathy that they show all of us.