PETE'S LIFE ON THE ROAD: Cold Storage supplied 75 per cent of Darwin's frozen needs at one stage.
PETE'S LIFE ON THE ROAD: Cold Storage supplied 75 per cent of Darwin's frozen needs at one stage. Contributed

No dull moments for driver

PETE Bottoms lowers himself into the chair, his knees having passed their use-by date thanks to years of climbing in and out of cabs.

He lounges forward, a smoke in one hand and a drink in the other.

The lines in his face could be a roadmap of every highway, byway, rutted track and pothole in Australia.

A quietly spoken man, his eyes gaze off into the distance as he reminisces of a life of trucking.

"I drove the South Road from 1970 to '74. It was a good period, and although you would only see them occasionally on the road - there were no CB radios back then,” Pete said.

"Like attracts like, and doing the Darwin run we had a lot in common. I guess a lot of us were pretty similar in personality.

"We (Cold Storage) supplied 75 per cent of the tucker for Darwin. Everything we carted was individually packed - even the T-bones.

"When the floods were on in '73 I was stuck, along with eight other drivers for 13 days. We had just enough fuel between us to keep everything cold over that period. Donnie Murray had nine pallets of beer on board. By the time we left he had two.

"There were around 200 tourists there as well and they didn't have a lot of tucker. A couple of them had babies so we took milk to them every day.

"Donnie and I found a wheelbarrow and loaded it up with freight from the trucks. Everything in it was 20 cents - from beer right up to those T-bones.

"We did the rounds every morning, and with their tummies full everyone was happy. From memory the boss lost around $25,000 of food. He was on to the government about it and they did an air drop. Guess what they dropped?

"Fly spray, Spam and tins of fish. They dropped it from such a height that the whole lot splattered everywhere. When we got to Adelaide River the cops were there to escort us in. They only had about one day's supply of food left in Darwin.

"Cold Storage had the largest privately owned fleet of Kenworths (13) in the southern hemisphere back then in the early '70s.

"Cameron's may have bought the first Kenworth into the country but they didn't have the biggest fleet.

Pete Bottoms tells great stories.
Pete Bottoms tells great stories. Graham Harsant

"I did my last trip after Cyclone Tracy hit. I decided that I'd had enough of the Top End. I ran into a mate who offered me a weekly run to Perth.

"One day I'm coming down Greenmount Hill going to Perth in an F88 Volvo.

"I'm just feathering the brakes when something goes 'bang!' and the pedal goes straight to the floor. I'm off, I'm gone. No Jake brakes in those days. I had a mate in the cab with me and he's yelling 'We're gone, we're gone! What we do?'

"I said 'jump' so he jumps out and I'm hanging on for dear life. About halfway down there's a left-hander and you've got houses there. There was a house with a cutaway drive in it. This is about 9am, so the traffic is pretty heavy. I've gone bang, into the side of this cutaway driveway, then up out of that and I'm heading straight towards the side of this house.

"There's this big thick edge and you wouldn't believe it, the truck hit it and that's how it stopped. The trailer dug into the cutaway and that slowed me up one hell of a lot. The hedge did the rest...

"I'm sitting there looking at the clouds thinking 'that's fine. I'm alive'. I get out of the truck and walk around the back and there's my mate running down the road. 'Are you all right?' he yells, and with that he collapses in a heap. When he jumped out of the truck he shattered his ankle.

"So they bring a tow truck, but it's only a small one. I'm back behind the wheel. We're slowly getting it out, backing up the hill.

Getting stuck on the South Road.
Getting stuck on the South Road. Contributed

"Meanwhile the cops have arrived and are directing traffic.

"The silly buggers are letting cars through. We're nearly done when the cable breaks and I'm off down the road again.

"There's a bloke in a brand-new F100 ute and I'm coming straight at him.

"I'm thinking 'this blokes gone' I don't know how I did it but I got around him, then bang, crash, bang - and I'm back in the hedge, looking up at the sky yet again!

"At some stage a copper, white as a ghost, comes up to me and asks if I'm all right? 'Yeah, as good as gold.' He says are you sure? 'Yeah, no worries'.

"He said 'I've been to a lot of truck accidents mate, and you're the coolest and calmest I've ever come across'. I said 'it hasn't hit home yet, pal!'

"I called it quits going across the Nullarbor one night after travelling 90 miles that I couldn't remember. That's one hell of a blackout in a truck doing 100km/h.

"I decided to stick to Melbourne and local work.

"In '77 I bought an F8000 and the turntable had a fair bit of slack in it.

"At short notice I was asked to pick up some 30 foot lengths of angle iron - about 16 tonnes. I only had one chain which worried me a bit but I wasn't going very far.

"I'm puttering along doing maybe 30 miles an hour and I notice there's a cop car behind me.

"I'm hoping to get through the lights ahead but of course they change at the last minute and with the cops behind me I figure I'd better hit the brakes. The next thing, my belly button is touching my vertebrae.

"Two lengths of steel whizzed by me and about 13 feet past the bonnet.

"Another two went through the back of the cab and into the back of the seat which put me into the steering wheel. I look over and there's the copper standing there as white as a ghost - he expected to see my guts hanging off the end of the steel.

"Another foot and I would have been cut in half. That copper was so glad to see me alive that he didn't book me.”

Very sensibly, Pete is now retired.

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